Hey, we've got stuff coming out in December this year!
You gotta understand -- this is really extraordinary, considering that for as long as I've been doing this column (since 2001), we've not had an RPG-related product hit shelves in December. Even better news: We've got two books scheduled to arrive at your Favorite Local Game Store this month -- Races of Destiny and Map Folio 3-D. So your friends and family have a couple great choices when it comes to last-minute holiday shopping. And if you should receive some cash amid your holiday gifts, you'll have plenty of things to spend it on next month and in the months after that -- the release schedule is nonstop from here to the horizon. (I've not actually checked to see what the late 2005 calendar looks like, but it wouldn't surprise me if December 2003 was the last release-free month we'll ever have.) But here and now, we've got all kinds of great stuff percolating at the printer and the plastic factory.
Check it out:
December: Races of Destiny
On sale this month, this new 192-page hardcover details the highly adaptive races that inhabit virtually every corner of the D&D world (focusing on humans, half-elves, half-orcs, and an all-new race: illumians). Back in October, you got the back cover copy. Last month, I gave you an overview of the all-new character race introduced in the book: illumians. This month, I thought I'd grab a couple more things to show you. First, the opening two paragraphs from the front of the book, which give you an even better idea of what you're going to find inside:
One of the signature characteristics of the races of destiny is their remarkable ability to adjust and adapt to new situations and challenges. (That's why you can find human cultures, for example, in virtually every region, climate, and geographical area.) While this facility for (and familiarity with) change is something all humans, half-elves, half-orcs, doppelgangers and other races of destiny manifest to some extent, some remarkable individuals have a talent for it. These exemplars of adaptability are the multifaceted characters known as chameleons. (Just one of seven prestige classes you'll find inside the book.)
I'll also toss in a couple of the new spells you'll find tucked away in Chapter Seven: Magic. These 1st-level spells help your party win friends, influence enemies, and accumulate information. Any bard or sorcerer will find friendly face invaluable in social situations; scholar's touch is a spell that my wizard would rush to add to his spellbook while on the way to the nearest library (not to say that bards, clerics, and sorcerers wouldn't find use for it). Check them out.
December: Map Folio 3-D
I passed along the back cover copy in October. Now, all that remains is for you to pick up a copy of Map Folio 3-D with your scissors and glue on hand. This latest addition to the Map Folio line of accessories will make cool addition to any D&D game, home-brewed D&D miniatures skirmish scenario, or display shelf.
Last month, I gave you the back cover copy for this, the fourth product in the "Complete" series. This month, I can offer a look at some of the stuff you'll find inside this 192-page hardcover sourcebook focused on creating and developing highly skilled and talented characters of all classes, with new and updated core classes, prestige classes, and new uses for skills. I'll just rattle through each of the chapters to give you an idea of what the book covers and toss in a couple bits and pieces for you to really sink your teeth into.
Chapter One introduces three new 20-level character classes: the ninja, scout, and spellthief. With over two dozen prestige classes (including the dungeon delver, fochlucan lyrist, nightsong infiltrator, and vigilante), Chapter Two offers an almost overwhelming number of directions in which your skillful character can be taken. If you've flipped through Song and Silence, you'll be familiar with the 10-level thief-acrobat prestige class, but when you crack open Complete Adventurer, you'll be amazed at how irresistible the updated and improved 5-level version is. (You might also notice the little nod to the old Dungeons & Dragons Saturday morning cartoon.)
Not surprisingly, Chapter Three: Skills and Feats provides several particularly useful new rules and options -- especially the opening section on skill checks (which allows skillful characters to greatly assist less-talented party members) when acting as a group (e.g.: sneaking through a dungeon), using the "aid another" action, or applying skill synergies to other character rolls (such as applying one character's Handle Animal skill synergy to another's Ride check.) You'll also find expanded descriptions for a backpack full of different skills and over 50 feats (some will be familiar, but most of them are new.)
Tucked away in Chapter Four: Tools and Equipment, you'll discover a handful of new weapons and a laboratory's worth of really interesting new alchemical items (many of which provide a +1 alchemical bonus to a particular skill check for an hour -- very cool). You'll also be introduced to a new type of alchemical equipment -- alchemical capsules -- which allow a prepared character to quickly make use of a number of new alchemical substances. The chapter is rounded out with a collection of new equipment, kits, masterwork instruments and, of course, magic items.
Chapter Five: Spells offers a swath of spells that your skilled characters will want access to (either personally or via another party member) -- my favorites are golem strike and grave strike, which allow the caster to deliver sneak attack damage to constructs and undead, respectively (so sweet). Chapter Six polishes off the remaining pages of the book with a dozen organizations, guidelines for creating your own organizations, and rules for advancing beyond 20th level as an Epic Adventurer.
January: Grasp of the Emerald Claw
Last month, I gave you the back cover copy. This month, I can do no more than just reiterate that you'll find this third adventure for the new Eberron Campaign Setting to be an exciting and challenging conclusion to the storyline. (Even if you've not played through Shadows of the Last War and/or Whispers of the Vampire's Blade, you can still jump right into the adventure with a party of seasoned 6th-level characters.) Written by Bruce R. Cordell (who also wrote Bastion of Broken Souls and Heart of Nightfang Spire for the Adventure Path series), this jaunt across Eberron and into the dark jungles of Xen'drik is full of really interesting and exciting situations and scenarios that will be as much fun for a DM as they are for the PCs. Even if you're not running an Eberron campaign, you could adapt and use Grasp of the Emerald Claw in your game -- it's 32 pages of pure, good, solid Dungeons & Dragons adventure from cover to cover.
February: Races of the Wild
If you've seen Races of Stoneand Races of Destiny, you should know just about exactly what to expect inside this third installation to the "Races of" series of supplements. Races of the Wild is a 192-page hardcover (written by Skip Williams) that details the tenacious races that inhabit the "uncivilized" regions of the D&D world, with a focus on elves, halflings an all-new race: raptorans. Sadly, I have no galley from which I could pull cool pictures and excerpts. But I do have the back cover copy:
February: Lost Empires of Faerūn
Just as Istanbul was formerly Constantinople, Lost Empires of Faerūn is the title of a book first announced as Ancient Empires. That name switch aside, nothing else about this 192-page Forgotten Realms hardcover has changed -- it's still a supplement full of fluff-n-crunch that delves into the ruins and remnants of many of the fallen kingdoms that once held sway over Faerūn.
Since my own preview of this book apparently booked passage on the same boat as the Races of the Wild galley, I don't have anything to show for Lost Empires of Faerūn, either. (Next month -- I'll have something for you next month.) Until then, as a way of explaining what you'll find inside the cobwebbed covers of this dusty-paged sourcebook about the Forgotten Realms' past, here's the back cover copy:
March is a long way off, especially when you're waiting for the DeathknellD&D Miniatures expansion to come out. It's a little sad, but as soon as I've got a good handle on amassing "enough" of the current release, I start chomping at the bit for the next one -- I don't think I'm alone here, though. So, even though you might be looking for a few more kobolds, sahuagin, or yuan-ti to add to your collection of Aberrations, like I am, you're probably just as eager as I am to lay your eyeballs on Deathknell. If this is the case, you'll definitely want to check the D&D Minis page for Rob Heinsoo's articles. (We'll both end up, eventually, showing you the same minis, but he gets to show off some things first, and I get to spill the beans on other things first.) He goes into a little detail about how each mini he shows will work in your D&D minis warbands, as well as a little about using them in your D&D game. For my part, I just like to look at 'em, turn 'em around, and point out the bits that I think make these guys so cool. Like this:
Undying Soldier: Since Deathknell is an undead-themed expansion (like Aberrations featured aberrations and Dragoneye was dragon-flavored, etc.), it's a moral imperative to show you one of the cool dearly departed minis. Of course, to be technically correct, the Undying Soldier isn't undead -- he's deathless, a new monster type you'll find on page 275 of the Eberron Campaign Setting. Keep flipping pages, and you'll arrive at the monster entry (on page 302) for the Undying Soldier, complete with the illustration upon which this uncommon mini was based. The first thing you'll notice about the Undying Soldier is the masterwork-quality armor and shield -- this isn't rusty and tattered gear that's falling off the guy; it's really good equipment worthy of a noble warrior. Fashioned of bronze and brass, the Roman centurion-esque style of the armor evokes the ancient origin of this warrior from beyond the grave. (The breastplate and skirt are what give it the Roman touch. The shield and spear just drive it home.) The large metal shield is a really interesting, somewhat biomorphic shape with a gaping, fanged maw motif -- stylish, yet fearsome. The rich, blue plume affixed to the top of this guy's helmet hangs all the way down his back, just past his waist, gently flowing with the mini's subtle appearance of movement -- he seems to be shifting forward in order to attack someone or something. With that overhand-and-choked-up-all-the-way-to-the spearhead grip, he's either going to stab at a target directly in front of him (possibly cowering on its knees) or is going to throw that spear down from a castle wall or other location from which he'd get a +1 for height advantage. (He could also be chipping away at a mid-sized ice sculpture, but that's unlikely.) The dark gray flesh of the Undying Soldier coveys its unnatural existence but doesn't come across as being putrid or rotting (like you'd expect from a zombie, ghoul, or other semi-fleshy undead). The red-pinpoints-of-light-for-eyes thing does give a sense of intelligence coupled with a touch of menace and intensity: This elf took a raincheck on the afterlife for a reason, and you don't really want to mess with that.
Rask, Half-Orc Chainfighter: Yes -- Finally -- It's a mini with a spiked chain -- something you and I have been waiting for since that supersweet attack-anything-within-ten-feet-including-adjacent-squares weapon first appeared in blacksmith shops. (The only thing that would make this rare mini any better for me is if it were a dwarf/half-troll in spiked platemail so it would match my spiked chain-wielding character exactly.) If you take a moment to absorb the goodness that is the spiked chain, you'll see that it's got some nice asymmetrical detail in the business ends. You'll also notice the little wave of motion coursing through the center section of chain, right between Rask's hands. It's pretty clear that he's not actually attacking anything just yet -- he's just rattling the chain a little to either intimidate his opponent or to encourage his next victim to "bring it." In just a glance, you can tell that Rask is a tough customer. The bare arms and unarmored legs kinda give you the impression that he's going to hit you so fast and so hard, he doesn't need to be slowed down with any extraneous armor -- his chainmail hauberk affords him all the protection he needs. (I kinda get the notion that this half-orc might have spent some time in a gladiatorial pit.) The heavy leather belt and spiked shoulder piece lend an additional "piecemeal" feel to the gladiator theory. (Though the nice, large beltpouch that's hanging off the back of his right hip suggests that he's got places to go and treasure to collect.) His long, braided top knot is swinging out to one side as if he's either just whipped his head around to size up his opponent or there's a particularly strong wind (or he's a fan of Pippi Longstocking). The detail on Rask's face lends a lot of personality to the mini -- he's got a tusky grin that just gives you the idea that he's about to have a lot of fun putting the smackdown on whoever's in his way.
Bullywug Thug: If you ever watched the old D&D Saturday morning cartoon, you might remember bullywugs -- but they weren't anything like this fierce frogman. The Bullywug Thug is a stout and strong warrior ready to send interlopers to the bottom of a marsh, after perforating them with several uncomfortably gaping holes. (If you want to check out monster statistics for the bullywug, flip to page 25 of your Monstrous Compendium: Monsters of Faerūn.) The Bullywug Thug checks in as my favorite "can't-get-too-many-of-these" common miniature in the Deathknell set. (I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that he's a common -- he looks cool enough to be an uncommon.) The Bullywug Thug is a big-boned, densely packed mass of amphibian muscle and meanness. His dark green hide is speckled with bumps and other warty texture that just emphasizes his anthropomorphic froglike nature. (The tympanic membrane you can see on the right side of his head is a nice touch.) The particular shade of yellow used on the corneas of his eyes doesn't actually glow in the dark, but it does really make his eyes stand out as if they're reflecting the light around him (like a frog's eyes will if you catch one at night in the beam of a flashlight or something.) The dark russet-colored armor (nicely shaded with a black ink wash) was crafted from several symmetrical pieces of leather and augmented by a collarlike addition that seems to afford a little extra protection to his neck and the back of his head. His sturdy spear is held in a stance that makes it seem as if the Bullywug Thug is steadfastly holding his ground against an oncoming attacker, holding a prisoner at spearpoint, or is prodding a captive to get moving. Though, if you look this no-necked brute right in the eyes, you'll notice that he's holding his spear offline -- it's not pointing directly at whatever he's looking at. It's as if he's already got one opponent under control and is sizing up a second target with just a bit of a menacing scowl.
Beholder -- If there's one mini that everyone has been clamoring for, this is it. All of us here at Wizards have wanted to do a beholder from the very beginning, but we also wanted to make sure that it was done right. And, wow, was it worth the wait. I can easily imagine that all of us are going to tear into every single Deathknell booster pack hoping to pull a Beholder every time. (Remember how hot the Troll was inHarbinger? That's going to be nothing compared to this guy -- I will never, ever, have too many beholders.) Just glancing at this rare mini, the first thing your brain will notice is how big it is: Unlike beholder minis you may have assembled in the past, this guy actually clocks in as the Large creature it should be -- making that Gauth you might have been using as a placeholder look even more pitiful by comparison. (One of my groups has been using aFist of Emirikol (55mm d20) as its beholder stand-in.) If you flip to page 26 of yourMonster Manual, you can compare the mini to the illustration and see how well the eye tyrant made the transition from 2-D to 3-D. So, once you get beyond the initial "look at how big it is" stage, you start to notice the other beholdery features -- like its central eye. It's big. It's blood-red. It's got a little glint of light detailed on there, just to give it a touch of life. I really like the way the single, cyclopean eye looks completely normal and anatomically correct -- you look at it and know that, yes, that's what a single eye would look like. Adding a nice touch of menacing character to the mini is that heavy brow that's furrowed to one side, giving the impression of being evilly narrowed and focused upon some unfortunate victim. (If the whole brow furrowed at once, he'd just look sleepy.) So, there you are, staring into that intimidating, supremely intelligent eye, helplessly awash in its antimagic cone. What would shift your attention? A gaping maw full of flesh-rending, daggerlike teeth, that's what. You're not just magic-free, you're about to be lunch. And just past the teeth is its tongue, disturbingly split down the center. I'm not quite sure why it's divided, maybe the two halves are somewhat prehensile in order to grasp and hold on to food that's still trying to put up a fight. Whatever the reason, it works -- it just makes the beholder all that much more monstrous and alien. Now, finally, there are the eyestalks. Sprouting up in an orderly but not symmetrical pattern, all ten eyestalks really seem to be operating independently and quite interested in whatever it is that's got the central eye's attention. While they're all facing forward, to some extent, they're still looking off in ten different directions, giving the impression that the beholder is contending with multiple opponents and/or is intensely aware of the area it's moving through. While the eyestalks might have looked thin and delicate (compared to the bulk of the beholder's body), they actually have a sturdy toughness about them. The wrinkly texture and warty details really go a long way toward conveying the thickness of the hide covering each eyestalk. (They remind me of the nice detail on the tentacular bits on the Otyugh we did back in the Giants of Legend set.) The fact that each of the ten eyestalks is packing a different magical ray is implied by their assortment of black and orange pinpointed pupils. (At first, I kinda wished that they'd each been painted a different color so you could imagine that, for example, the disintegrate ray comes out of the green eye and the telekinesis ray comes out of the purple eye. But, thinking about it a little more, I realized that it would just end up looking like some sort of kooky rainbow-eyed critter, rather than the unfathomably evil and deadly creature that is the beholder.)
Okay, so that's the front-facing mugshot. Turn this guy ninety degrees, and you get an entirely new perspective on the beholder's anatomy -- it looks like a giant skull (which makes sense, considering most of its component parts belong in one). This is also the point at which you're more likely to take note of the heavy, tendon-like bands of tissue in the corners of the beholder's mouth that fill the gap between the jawbone and cheekbone. My impression is that those are what keep prey from falling (or crawling) out of the beholder's mouth when it opens extra wide (possibly even unhinging its jaw like a snake). As you keep turning the mini around, the last major detail is the collection of short tentacle-like protrusions that sprout out around the lower hemisphere if its head. If you look at the left side, you'll notice that a couple of the "tentacle buds" are much longer than that others, which makes me think that they can be extended or retracted (like a sea anemone's tentacles), giving the impression that these things might be a little like biological curb-feelers. (As if the beholder needed more sensory input.) At the very back of the mini, a short column of black plastic holds the beholder aloft. As beefy as that chunk of plastic is, you don't really notice it (especially when viewed from the front, where the beholder's sharp chin obscures it). Once you've turned this guy around in your hands a few times, you're sure to have noticed the seams where the mini was put together. (Though they do sort of blend right in to the mottled rust- and chocolate-brown color of its tough hide.) You'll easily count two seams, for a total of three pieces, and will then try looking closer to discover where the other seams are. Don't bother -- the bulk of this guy really was cast in just three unbelievable pieces. And, amazingly, only three of the eyestalks were attached with a pin-and-socket construction. (Man, have the minis gotten better and better with each set.) So now, having spent several hours staring at this fantastic mini, I've got to trudge back down the hall to give it back to Chas (the guy who gets these things produced). And then I'll get in line with the rest of you and start waiting, impatiently, for Deathknell to release in March so I can get my hands on a beholder or twelve of my very own.
There it is.
About the Author
Mat Smith is a copywriter who's been playing roleplaying games for a disturbing number of years, and now gets to spend an astonishing amount of time thinking about clever ways to get more people to do the same.
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