First off, Happy New Year and all that. With twelve full months of cool books and lots of minis behind us, it's time to start looking forward to another twelve. And one way for everyone to do that is by checking this article every month. You may or may not have noticed, but we've moved the release of these Previews articles closer to the beginning of the month. That'll make the information a little more timely and even more of a sneak peek -- so the column is all that much more useful and interesting. Over the next few months, we'll probably mess around a little with what's included in my column and what's not. Since the redesign of the D&D home page, some of the stuff we put here (like the New Releases sidebar) is available there, so there's little reason to duplicate it. Regardless of what's added, deleted, or changed, the main reason behind my doing these articles will remain the same: to give you a little glimpse at what's going on around here. I'm going to keep trying to find stuff that'll give you a good idea of what kinds of material will be inside upcoming products, and hopefully, stuff that you can get excited about.
A Public Service Announcement
Every so often, I get to a point at which I need to stop and offer up a reality check on what you're seeing in these articles. Basically, I must point out that just because something shows up in my article (or in any article around here), doesn't mean it's set in stone and will appear unaltered when it hits the shelves. Here's the deal:
The stuff I show from our roleplaying games (RPGs) is usually material I've grabbed hold of when it's about halfway (sometimes two-thirds of the way) through the creation cycle. Sometimes I've got an all-text manuscript (which may or may not have been through editing) and sometimes I've got a PDF or other file. For the minis, occasionally I'll have a master paint mini on hand as reference, which is usually a little different from what ends up coming out of the factory. (The pictures you see are taken of the master paints, which explains why my descriptions and what you find in a booster pack might differ from the images you see here.)
I'll always try to get the most up-to-date material possible. (Hey, nobody wants me to put something in one of these articles that's not going to make it into a final product -- not me, you, R&D, or anyone.) But you should keep in mind that, despite all the best intentions and effort, things can change at just about any time right up to the point at which they're in a box on the way to your Favorite Local Gaming Store. That said, I hope you stop by every month, take a look, and find something you like.
Okay. This month, I've got some good stuff from a couple books you'll be able to flip through in February and a few more Deathknell minis you won't be able to snap up until March. Check it out:
January:Complete Adventurer: A Player's Guide to Stealth and Subterfuge for All Classes
Last month, I gave you a run-down of what you'll find in each chapter, with a close-up look at the updated 5-level thief-acrobat prestige class (just one of over two dozen prestige classes in the book) and an introduction to a new type of equipment: alchemical capsules. This month, with the book being on the shelves, plus the excerpt on our website and the fact that any exposure to the other three books in the "Complete"series should give you more than enough of an idea of what's inside, I'm going to make the executive decision that I'm done showing off this fine book. It's out there -- go take a look and find the stuff you like. (There's a lot to choose from.)
January: Grasp of the Emerald Claw
Back in November, I gave you the back cover copy you'll find on this, the third adventure for the new Eberron Campaign Setting.Last month, I just reiterated the fact that 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 this exciting adventure with a party of seasoned 6th-level characters. And you really should. Like I've said before, 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
Once you've pored overRaces of Stone and Races of Destiny, you'll know exactly what kinds of stuff you can expect to find inside this third book in the "Races of" series.
Last month, I passed along the back cover copy. This month, I thought I'd do the same sort of thing I did for Races of Destiny and let you start examining the new race introduced in the book -- the raptorans. (Again, keep in mind that the stuff I'm laying my hands on is months away from being finalized when I get it, so it's always possible that what you see in the book will be a little (or a lot) different.)
February: Lost Empires of Faerûn
Just as Istanbul was formerly called Constantinople, Lost Empires of Faerûn is the title of a book first announced as Ancient Empires. That name change aside, nothing else about this 192-page Forgotten Realms hardcover is different from its original incarnation -- 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 Faerûn.
Not surprisingly, the first piece of this book I showed you last month was the back cover copy. This month, I had a little time to delve inside and mined a few interesting bits and pieces to give you an idea of the kind of flavor-packed material you'll find hidden between the covers. I figured a great place to start the expedition would be the introduction -- it gives you a sense of the history that permeates the whole of the Forgotten Realms and then goes on to give you an idea of how to incorporate a few crumbling buildings, dusty mementos, and legends into your campaign.
Of course, one of the really interesting bits is the map of Faerûn from long, long ago. You'll want to set it side by side with the map from your Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting in order to really see how much the Realms has changed since -626 DR (the Year of Oaths Forsaken). And, just to give you an idea of what was happening right around the time this map was created, I grabbed a chunk of the timeline that details the notable events from the start of that era (the Shadowed Age) leading up to the year of the map's creation.
Shadowed Age (-696 DR to -340 DR)
-696 Year of Great Rains: Karsus is born.
-681 Year of Nightmares: Netherese arcanists emigrate to the Demiplane of Nightmares. The magical energies of that nightmarish realm transform their descendants into an assortment of horribly twisted creatures known as the Night Parade.
-669 Year of Summer Frosts: Karsus creates the enclave of Eileanar.
-665 Year of Crumbling Ruins: A powerful earthquake rocks the Nether Mountains, causing the lost city of Tzindylspar to collapse. The City of Rubies vanishes into myth.
-664 Year of Turning Tides: The remaining nether scrolls are stolen en route to Eileanar.
-628 Year of Empty Crowns: The dwarves of Clan Ironshield abandon the settlement of Andalbruin for the higher, more defensible Settlestone.
-626 Year of Oaths Forsaken: A group of outcast Netherese wizards known as the Selskar Order builds a school of wizardry called the Tower of the Star in the ruins of Andalbruin.
Lastly, I've got a well-preserved chunk of history from a region in the southwestern corner of Faerûn (you know, down around where Calimshan, Amn, and Tethyr are now) once known as the Imperial South. Hearken with me now, back to 450 (the Year of the Corrie Fist), to the time when Shoonach -- imperial capital of the Shoon dynasty -- was razed. Not only will you learn a little about what was there, but you'll get an idea or two about what you might expect to encounter when you explore the ruins.
March:Deathknell Booster Packs
While it'll be two long months until we can all start tearing into the Deathknell expansion, at least we can all spend a little time staring at jpegs of some of 'em.
Last month I got to show off the Undying Soldier, Rask, Half-Orc Chainfighter, the Bullywug Thug, and the long-awaited, much-anticipated, so-cool-I'm-to-go-nuts-waiting-to-get-one Beholder. Between then and now, the beautiful and talented Rob Heinsoo has probably been showing off minis (and giving you some insight into how they might work into your D&D game and D&D Minis warbands. (You'll find Rob's articles over on the D&D Miniatures page.)
This month, I grabbed three more minis. In case you're keeping score at home, two of them are rares, and one of them is an uncommon -- an uncommon Large. That's the second of two uncommon Large minis in the Deathknell set.
You'll probably figure out which one it is, so I'll let you give it a shot. Check 'em out:
Mummy Lord -- Like I said last month, Deathknell is the exciting and new expansion filled with great undead flavor. And because of this theme, I feel a little obligated to show off another mini that's run down the curtain. However, while the Mummy Lord might shuffle while it wanders around a tomb or sand dune, it's firmly bound inside its mortal coil by about 4,000 square feet of resin-soaked linen bandages that seem to have remained mostly intact (if a little sullied from the aging process and by all the dust, sand, other things the Mummy Lord's gotten itself into over the centuries). When you look closer, you'll notice one unraveled bandage trailing down its left thigh that'll probably give you an urge to tug it to see if the creature would just spin into a pile of bandages and accessories. (You know, as in Scooby Doo.) Of course, even a quick glance at this regal fellow is enough to conclude that this is not your run-of-the-mill sarcophagus-dwelling corpse. (As if the name "Mummy Lord" didn't spell it out.) This powerful creature of unlife is decked out in a rich array of finery that's sure to give you the impression that it's not just for show -- there's some potent magic stored up in that gear (and its wearer.) If you flip to page 191 in yourMonster Manual, you'll see the illustrated incarnation of this three-dimensional menace from beyond the grave. The sculpt really captures a lot of the detail from that drawing and brings it into the unliving, non-breathing world of plastic. Probably the most eye-catching part of the Mummy Lord's accoutrements is the ceremonial collar with its two red-plumed rods, which certainly seem like something you might expect to see on a high priest in the midst of performing some dark and powerful ritual. (And, if you check the Mummy Lord's monster entry, you'll see it's packing an array of unfriendly clerical spells.) All of the tarnished gold jewelry and other raiment is decorated with vibrant blue lapis lazuli stones and leather dyed to match. The combination of all that metal, stone, and leather affords quite a bit of protection (listed as half-plate armor in the Monster Manual.) Its headdress (since it's ceremonial, "hat" just seems too mundane) is interesting in that at first glance, it will probably remind you of a policeman's cap (minus the bill), but if you scroll through your mental files to your "things from ancient Egypt" folder, you'll probably be able to match it up with some profile-view images of the headgear worn by Egyptian nobility. My favorite detail, taken right from the illustration, is the metal piece of jewelry/armor on its right thigh that's fashioned to look like a big gold scarab. The scepter in the Mummy Lord's right hand (also gold and lapis lazuli) is held in a way that suggests that it's waiting for the right moment to unleash its terrible power. Its left leg seems to be dragging behind it (in a very mummy-like fashion) as it lunges forward with its left arm outstretched and ready to grab hold of some unfortunate victim (which would be particularly unpleasant, considering that attack would combine the lingering effects of mummy rot with the right-here-and-now experience of being grappled by something with a 26 Strength).
Large Blue Dragon -- I tell you, if I'd been the one picking the next evil dragon of which to do a large sculpt, it would've been a Blue Dragon (They're my favorite chromatic dragon.) Just to give you some perspective, this fierce customer is a tad smaller than the Large Red Dragon from Dragoneye and a bit beefier than the Large Silver Dragon from Archfiends. If you flip to page 72 in your Monster Manual, you can check out the blue dragon's illustration, which might have been the reference used for the colors and guidance on the sculpt. But if you pull out a Blue Wyrmling (from Dragoneye), you'll notice a lot of similarities between the poses of the two minis. (The position of the tail, wings, and mouth are the most striking.) It's almost as if the Blue Wyrmling (which seems to be pouncing forward) jumped three or four age categories to land as a juvenile/young adult Large Blue Dragon in the Deathknell set. Standing atop an outcropping of black stone, the Large Blue Dragon has gained a slight height advantage in order to look down upon its next victim(s). With its fanged mouth just slightly opened, it's easy to imagine that he's letting out a rumbling static-charged growl, talking in a menacing villain-type voice, or pausing mid-inhale before letting loose with an 8d8 (or 10d10) stream of lightning. That tail, curling around the side of those rocks indicates that he quickly turned around when climbing or bounding up to its perch, and its upraised wings are unfurled and positioned for a powerful downstroke that will either buffet nearby enemies or send the dragon hurtling into flight. The dragon's legs are all well-muscled limbs capable of springing into action and doing horrible damage to anyone or anything that gets too close. The bulk of the body is colored with a medium blue (cerulean) washed with a darker blue. The sand-colored underbelly is nicely done with a yellowish brown washed with a darker brown ink. The webbing on its wings uses the same yellow-brown on top and bottom (as opposed to the Blue Wyrmling's wings, which were blue on top), with a wash of blue to define their striated texturing. Its red eyes glower at whoever is about to enjoy a quick electric bath.
Dire Bear -- Big. Big and bulky. This large specimen of ursine power just fills its 10'x10' square with a dense, muscular, weight that could almost leave paw prints in solid rock. (You can easily imagine it weighing in at the 4-ton mark listed on page 63 of the Monster Manual.) As the poster child from the Dire Animal entry in the Monster Manual, the Dire Bear easily muscles its way past the Dire Boar, Dire Lion, and Dire Wolf to be the most imposing "real" animal mini to date. Just to give you an idea of how big it is, an Elf Archer (from Harbinger) stands just tall enough to come to the base of the Dire Bear's snout -- putting his head at just the right level to become a quick appetizer on an elf-shaped stick. Fortunately for everyone in the forest, the Dire Bear doesn't seem to be in all-out attack mode just yet. Its pose isn't completely static; it just seems to be slowly advancing toward something that needs to either run away or take the first shot -- and really make it count. Bright red eyes menacingly peer out from under angrily furrowed brows, staring directly at whatever is in front of it (something that's probably no closer than 15 feet, which isn't a terribly comfortable distance considering a dire bear has a move rate of 40.) With half-opened jaws, the Dire Bear's sharp teeth and dark pink tongue are visible, giving its prey a preview of the last things they will ever see. The Dire Bear doesn't seem to be biting at something; it's letting out a growling roar sure to send every bird, squirrel, and other critter in a two-block radius scampering for cover. Covered in thick tufts of fur (which understandably afford the dire bear a +7 natural armor bonus), the mini's "dire-ness" takes the form of a bony spinal ridge and other heavy spurs that protrude from its shoulder blades, right thigh, and left foreshoulder. The Dire Bear is easily my favorite of the Dire animals so far, and I'm going to want at least two (or four . . . maybe six) so I can fill a den with a whole pack of them. And, because brown bears and polar bears are both Large creatures, you can ignore the spurs/ridges (and/or pretend the creature is white), and you've got a triple-duty mini for your D&D game. The extra cool bit about this big, bad bear is that it's an uncommon mini -- the second uncommon Large mini in the set. So, you can look forward to getting a few more of these guys than you might have expected. And considering that you, too, will probably want several of them, things are looking good for all of us.
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.