You know how it takes a while to recover from a vacation? That's what it's like around here at the beginning of the year. Since the office shut down between Christmas Eve and January 3rd, we've got a lot of catching up to do. Or at least, we've got a lot of stuff that we would've gotten done during that two-week-or-so break had we all not been off enjoying the holiday. Anyway, it seems like January is always crammed full of more stuff than any other month of the year since everyone is furiously trying to make sure everything gets out the door in time. Anyway, I figure that by this time next month, everything will be moving along smoothly and I'll have the luxury of really sitting back to enjoy flipping through the upcoming products. (Realistically, I'm sure I'll be just as slammed then, just by different stuff.) Regardless, it's always good to take a peek at the things we're working on around here, so check it out:
(If you missed last month's article, you should pop over there and check it out, just to read the boxed text titled "A Public Service Announcement." It's nothing earth shattering, but you may find it helpful when you're trying to sort through any disparities between what you see here and what you see in finished products.)
February: Races of the Wild
Once you've pored over Races 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. Back in December, I passed along the back cover copy. Last month, I showed you the new race introduced in the book -- the raptorans. This month, the book goes on sale and I know we'll be posting another excerpt or two on the main page. Between that excerpt and being able to actually flip through a copy of the book, you should be all set on this one.
February: Lost Empires of Faerûn
You also have to see the back cover copy from this one back in December. Last month, I passed along a chunk from the introduction, a look at a map of ancient Faerûn, and a glimpse at a little piece of history from a region in the southwestern corner of Faerûn once known as the Imperial South -- the ruined imperial capital city of Shoonach. Again, with another excerpt or two hitting the D&D Home Page and the book hitting the shelves at your FLGS, you should have all you need to figure out how to make this book work for your D&D game.
March: Deathknell Booster Packs
With just one month left until the Deathknell expansion releases, I find myself pleased that it's not a Leap Year, so February's as short as a month can get. This means that we're all that much closer to cracking open boosters for this newest set of 60 minis. By now, you've seen bits and pieces of the set in these articles and in the ones Rob Heinsoo posts over on the D&D Minis page.
Back in December, I showed you the Undying Soldier, Rask, Half-Orc Chainfighter, the Bullywug Thug, and the amazing and cool Beholder. Last month, it was the Mummy Lord, Dire Bear, and Large Blue Dragon. This month, it's three more rare minis for you. Check 'em out:
Spectre -- When I first saw this guy, I thought "Cool -- a medium-sized statue." You know, to go along with the large-sized statue that some people call a Stone Golem. I have to say, I was more than ready to be satisfied with this mini as some sort of animated statue (a caryatid column, perhaps). But when I picked him up and took a closer look, I understood that there was more to this mini than a somewhat stone-toned color scheme. The snapped-off sword could've been the wear and tear that you might expect on a statue long stationed in a dungeon, but that huge gash through his right shoulder -- the one that goes clean through the torso cleaving through collarbone, shoulder blade, and ribcage (not to mention a fair bit of armor) -- that's not the kind of damage you'd expect to see on a statue. And something is not quite right about the face -- its mouth gapes open in a way that might imply that it's calling out, but it really just looks like it's letting out a low, gravelly moan. Hmm. Flip over the mini, check the name on the base: "Spectre" AH! I see. Yes. That's not stone; it's the ghostly pallor of an incorporeal spirit. (That makes this the Undead candidate of this month's article, by the way.) When you take another look at the mini from the perspective that it actually is a Spectre, a lot of the interesting bits stand out all that much more. First off, you have to revisit that horrendous cut that went right through armor, flesh, and bone to deliver a killing blow that probably resulted in a sucking chest wound. The snapped sword is probably a souvenir from a successful Improved Sunder that happened immediately beforehand. So, now we've got a good idea of how this poor soul died, but not exactly when. Interestingly, his armor is somewhat reminiscent of the style of protective wear that you would have seen long, long ago (say, 1st or 2nd edition), which is a really nice touch that makes this Spectre feel ancient (or at least exotic.) Once I finished looking over the armor (and puzzling over what's going on with his helmet -- is that part of the helmet, a plume, or a ponytail rolled up samurai style back there?) I noticed other details like the little belt pouch hanging in back and the mini's pose. For an incorporeal nasty, this guy gives you the idea that he's moving slowly, carrying a lot of weight and pain, as he advances toward you. His head is lowered, but in that horror movie way that allows him to keep his eyes fixated upward on his next energy drain victim -- man, I hate fighting Spectres.
(By the way, for those of you keeping score, Mike Donais mentioned that the Spectre's point cost and power in skirmish play are what really qualify this mini for the star on its base -- I can't wait to see what it can do.)
Greenfang Druid -- It has been a couple months since we saw Rask, Half-Orc Chainfighter, so it's about time for another heroic mini. And the Greenfang Druid fits the bill nicely. This guy will quickly make the top of the list of minis I'd want to use as my PC or NPC druid -- no contest. He's standing tall, scimitar raised, but waiting -- someone else is going to have to make the first hostile move. (Though that large shield, styled to look like a large leather-covered leaf, is held ready to come up to block that initial strike.) His green eyes (which match his simple, flowing cloak) are definitely fixed on whatever caused the druid to have a readied action. The long, auburn hair, held back with a simple black, leather band, could be covering the tips of elven ears, but doesn't seem to be. (This mini does strike me as one that could be human, elf, or half-elf. And, though his build does seem more masculine, this druid could just as easily be used for a male or female character.) There are a lot of small details not to be missed on this guy. You'll notice the bright green leaves attached to straps (and tucked into his belt) on his right hip. Check out the cuff of his right boot (or puttee, to be geekily accurate), and you'll notice what appear to be a string of white claws or teeth -- trophies of a kill or totem animal -- very cool. My favorite detail probably won't be visible in the image you're looking at, but when you get a good look at his dark leather armor, you'll see that it's not leather -- it's a suit of armor fashioned from wood. (Or at least it's crafted to appear so.) The black ink wash on the armor picks out the wood grain detail on each of the armor's plates. The organic and asymmetrical lines of that bit of detail suggest that this armor really was carved, not cured or forged.
Griffon -- You might have already got a look at this guy back in December in Rob's Deathknell Preview 1 article. Nonetheless, I shall show it to you here in all of its feathery glory. Okay, I'm going to ignore the wings for now (which is awfully hard -- they're enormous). Just check out the body on this large, skybound predator. If you cover up the head and claws (and ignore the wings), all you see is a powerful, muscular lion in the midst of leaping forward. Reverse that, and you've got a fierce-looking giant eagle with a formidable set of talons -- one is firmly planted on the ground and the other is reaching out to pluck off your head as if it were a dandelion. So, put all of those bits together, including those wings, and you've got one nicely sculpted Griffon. But about those wings -- they're just over 4 inches, wingtip-to-wingtip (that is, as the wings are sculpted, if you could really spread 'em out, you'd probably have a good half-foot wingspan.) The sculpt on the wings alone is enough to make you go cross-eyed -- each feather is detailed, with little bits and pieces where the barbs on some of the quills have separated. (You know, like feathers do.) And, each of the different types of feathers that comprise a bird's wing is differentiated. The covert feathers (the small ones on the forward edge of the wing) are short and broad and picked out with a tan-colored drybrush that echoes the feathers on the Griffon's head. The secondary feathers (the big ones that make up the bulk of the wing) are medium-length and densely packed, providing all the surface area necessary for getting some air beneath them. And the primary feathers (the ones used for fine control) are long, broad, and fanned out at the ends of either wing -- ready to maneuver. The wings themselves are unfurled and seem to undulate upward in preparation for that first downstroke that will send the Griffon hurtling into the air in search of someone's horse.
Next month, you can start your Deathknell collection. I know that Rob's articles will keep posting between now and then, so you should get a good look at several more. (And it won't be long after release until the gallery of all of the Deathknell minis is posted.) Regardless, there are still a few minis that I'd like to pull out and show off. Now I just have to find someone that'll let me hang on to them.
March: Sandstorm: Mastering the Perils of Fire and Sand
If you've taken a look through Frostburn, you've got an idea of the kind of ground that's going to be covered in Sandstorm. As the second hardcover installation in the "Environment Series" of supplements for your favorite D&D game, Sandstorm offers up 224 pages of material focused on exploring (and, more importantly, surviving) deserts and other wastelands. Sandstorm is kinda like the Yang to Frostburn's Yin. Check out the back cover copy:
Take the Heat
Sweltering temperatures, bone-scouring windstorms, and other dangers threaten explorers in waste environments. From arid deserts and volcanic regions to ash-choked dungeons and the lava-filled layers of Gehenna, unwary travelers may fall victim to the unrelenting hazards that await.
This supplement for the D&D game explores the impact of desert conditions and extreme hot-weather environments on every aspect of game play. Along with rules for adapting to, navigating through, and surviving hazardous hot-weather conditions and terrain, Sandstorm also includes new races, spells, feats, magic items, prestige classes, and monsters associated with deserts and other wastelands.
So, you've got an idea of what's in there, but just to give you a better idea of where the book is taking you (so you'll have enough water and appropriate clothing), I'll paste a bit from the beginning of Chapter One, which starts to explain a little about the Waste (akin to Frostfell environments in Frostburn):
The shrieking wind whips and stings exposed flesh, driving sand into everyone's eyes
and mouth, and into the smallest crevices of the best desert burnooses. For five days, the sandstorm
has pummeled nerves and will. The water is rapidly disappearing, and all fear to sleep, lest the storm
bury them beneath the drifts. Prayers are offered up to deities, spells of protection are cast, and more speculative strategies are discussed. But to what end? Nothing can survive an excursion into the black sand.
A waste can encompass far more than the traditional image of a sandy expanse dotted with cacti. One waste wilderness might be just dry, packed dirt, while another might have towering dunes of endless sand. It can be as exotic as the endless expanse of howling wind on the plane of Pandemonium, or as mundane as a dust bowl caused by overgrazing on a ranch on the Material Plane. Each different zone has its own unique combination of hazards, from choking pits of regolith to parching duststorms and whirlwinds of flaying sand.
This chapter outlines the major types of waste environments, the various types of terrains within those environments, and the dangers that exist therein.
And, just so you don't think that we've got a whole book dedicated to drudging through endless dunes of sand, where dehydration and lack of proper sunscreen are your most vicious enemies, here's a snippet from the book where the Waste really starts to feel D&D-ish: when you stumble into an area of the Waste created by supernatural means.
Supernatural Waste Hazards
In desert wastes, where one's survival always hangs by the narrowest of threads, heat and thirst are not the only dangers. Many kinds of waste terrain occur in unnatural environments, such as on the Outer Planes, or are created through magic. In such places, magical and supernatural perils add even more formidable hazards to those of the mundane waste, although magic traps and supernatural hazards can occur anywhere.
Supernatural terrains and hazards are places where the earth is infused with deadly power, and most magical hazards can easily lure the unwary to dusty graves. Some supernatural terrains and hazards are noticeably different at a glance, such as the bloody tint of a red sea or the swallowing darkness of a patch of black sand. Other forms of supernatural terrain resemble ordinary terrain and can be identified only by someone who knows exactly what to look for.
A few supernatural waste hazards are magical without being particularly threatening, and desert denizens, such as the sand shaper (detailed elsewhere in Sandstorm), put them to good use. Even those who can tame this awesome power know to always respect the magic of the waste, for it has risen up against countless conquerors and buried their mighty works and cities under mountains of sand and silence.
Avoiding Supernatural Hazards: Unless otherwise noted in a hazard's description, a character approaching an area of magical terrain at a normal pace is entitled to a Survival check to notice the danger before entering the area. The DC of this check varies with the particular terrain. Charging or running characters, or characters whose rate of movement exceeds the extent of their current vision, don't have a chance to detect the threat before blundering in. Usually, characters who enter dangerous terrain without noticing the danger complete their intended movement before becoming aware of it.
Just one of the many supernatural hazards you'll find listed in Chapter 1: The Waste is a terrible storm known as a Flaywind.
The terrible flaywind is feared throughout the planes. It propels sand with such velocity that it reduces a living creature to bare bones within hours, and exposed bone to fine powder in a matter of days. Minethys, the third layer of Carceri, is constantly scoured by flaywinds. A flaywind might exist on its own or as the sinister core of a larger sandstorm. The storm typically lasts 1d4x10 hours, but some flaywinds of legend have lasted for days.
The strength of flaywinds can vary. However, one is always of at least sandstorm grade (see Table 1-5, for details on storm grades and their effects).
A creature caught in a flaywind, or any object with hardness less than 5, takes 1d4 points of lethal damage per round instead of the nonlethal damage dealt by a Material Plane sandstorm. Wearing heavy clothing (or any form of armor) reduces the damage to 1d3 points per round, but it cannot protect entirely from the abrasion. A barricade or enclosed space is the only sure protection. Inhabitants of Minethys have developed a special garment to block the stinging grit, but it is a hazard of its own in the stifling heat of most waste environments, imposing a -6 penalty on Fortitude saves to avoid succumbing to heat instead of the normal -4 for heavy clothing.
Necrotic Flaywinds: When a flaywind arises in an area of black sand (detailed elsewhere in Sandstorm), the storm is known as a necrotic flaywind. A creature killed by such a storm is reduced to bone, which the negative energy of the black sand then animates into a skeleton (use the skeleton template, page 225 of the Monster Manual). When a necrotic flaywind passes on, it might leave behind armies of skeletal beings.
Avoiding Flaywinds: In general, creatures in an area about to be struck by a flaywind are entitled to DC 20 Survival checks to detect the approaching danger 1 minute before it strikes. This might not be enough time to get out of the storm's path, but it could provide an opportunity to seek shelter or make other preparations.
And, as a glimmer of hope, I've got a trio of new feats that your characters will find interesting and valuable (even outside of Waste environments). Check 'em out:
Light of Aurifar
Undead that you turn or rebuke immolate.
Prerequisites: Ability to turn or rebuke undead, access to either the Fire or Sun domain.
Benefit: Any undead that you successfully turn or rebuke take 2d6 points of fire damage in addition to the normal turning or rebuking effect.
While making another attack, you attempt to blind a foe with thrown sand.
Prerequisites: Wis 13, Tumble 4 ranks.
Benefit: In any round when you first move at least 10 feet using your Tumble skill in an area covered in a layer of at least 1 inch of ash, dust, loose earth, or sand, you can supplement an attack made in that same round with flung or kicked material. A foe damaged by your attack must make a Fortitude saving throw (DC 10 + 1/2 your character level + your Wis modifier) or be blinded for 1 round.
Searing Spell [Metamagic]
Your fire spells are so hot that they can damage creatures that normally have resistance or immunity to fire.
Benefit: A searing spell is so hot that it ignores the resistance to fire of creatures affected by the spell, and affected creatures with immunity to fire still take half damage. This feat can be applied only to spells with the fire descriptor.
Creatures with the cold subtype take double damage from a searing spell. Creatures affected by a searing spell are still entitled to whatever saving throw the spell normally allows. A searing spell uses up a spell slot one level higher than the spell's actual level.
March: d20 Past
The d20 Modern Roleplaying Game gave you the ground rules for finding adventure in the modern world. d20 Menace Manual provided bad guys for you to fight and d20 Weapons Locker gave you the hardware with which to do it. Urban Arcana opened the door for charging your modern campaign with magic. d20 Future gave you the tools for creating any futuristic setting you could imagine.
And now, we have d20 Past. Jump in the wayback machine, set it for any time between Columbus setting foot in the Americas and the end of World War II, and you're ready to explore the world found on the 96 pages of this, the fifth supplement to the d20 Modern Roleplaying Game. Check out the back cover copy:
Rally Heroes and Rewrite History
Dash down the gaslit streets of Victorian horror or ride the dusty trails of the Wild West. Board the tall ships of the Spanish Main or raid the trenches of the Great War. In d20 Past, heroes can find excitement in any historical era from the Renaissance to World War II. Whether period-specific or pulp-flavored, the possibilities for adventure in the world of yesteryear are endless.
Just 'cause you read about it in a history book doesn't mean that things are going to go down that way in your d20 Past campaign -- it's up to you (and your GM) to decide how much of your adventures are tied to your History 101 books. (Think about the Indiana Jones movies -- those are certainly set in a distinct historical era, with realistic timelines and technology, but who's to say whether there really was a Nazi plot to uncover the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail?) Check out this section from Chapter One that delves into this notion:
Approaches to Campaigns
History never looks like history when you are living through it. It always looks confusing and messy, and it always feels uncomfortable.
-- John W. Gardner, No Easy Victories
Once you've identified your approach to history, how will you approach your campaign style?
This model is the most restrictive. When playing or running a campaign devoted to accurate historical representation, it's essential to consider the role the heroes fulfill in the world. If the GM wants to keep the events in the campaign world purely in line with history, the players' options are restricted. Two variants exist.
First, the characters could be the macrocosmic force for keeping history as written. The world runs smoothly only because of their efforts. They might act as matchmakers for Henry VIII. The characters may need to ensure the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand, which contributes to the start of World War I.
Alternatively, the characters could be involved in small-scale, microcosmic activities that would not register in a general survey of history. They could seek to apprehend bank robbers in a small town in the Old West, spy for a world power, or scout unmapped regions of Africa.
For most Gamemasters and players, trying to make a campaign adhere firmly to history is ultimately unsatisfying. Few players will enjoy attempting to fulfill a predetermined result or playing an inconsequential role.
Much more in keeping with the playing of a game, a semihistorical approach uses history as the backdrop for the action. The heroes can alter the outcome of history and create change. The degree of alteration to history can vary widely. Options discussed below range from a conservative, mostly historical model to a much looser construction.
Self-Correcting: The major events of history are predetermined, but variations are allowed. History will ultimately turn out the same. For example, if Thomas Edison died in infancy, someone else (one person or many people) would be credited with inventing electric lights. (As a matter of historical record, J.W. Swan, working independently of Edison, also created the electric light in 1880.)
This format relies on the premise that any significant event will happen and that deviations will not last long. For example, if the heroes foil Booth's assassination of President Lincoln at the theater, Lincoln will die that night because of a carriage accident or later that week from an acute illness.
This campaign style is easier for a Gamemaster to administer, because historical texts will be reliable and only need small adjustments to account for the player's actions. Some players find this model of campaign unsatisfying over the long run because, ultimately, what they do matters only on a very short-term basis.
Diverging: A common type of alternative history, a diverging campaign is one in which historical events happened exactly as they did in reality, until a specific moment in time (likely the start of the campaign). After this point, anything can happen. For example, if in 1492, the heroes greet Columbus's arrival in the New World with armed resistance and rebuff the Spanish expedition, the history of the Americas changes dramatically.
This model requires a great deal of thought and flexibility on the part of the Gamemaster. She must be willing to adapt events (local and even global) in response to the heroes' actions. Using the example of Columbus, the Gamemaster decides whether Spain launches another expedition if Columbus returns with little plunder or if he does not return at all.
Players often enjoy the opportunity that a diverging campaign gives them to "do it right," to rewrite history as they'd like to see it. Such a campaign offers satisfying opportunities to extend the Tokugawa dynasty rule of Japan, to avert World War I, or to prevent the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Blended History and Fiction: Some campaign worlds blend history and fiction. This approach relies on history only as a broad canvas. It takes a very liberal view of what can happen in a d20 Past game. These settings often use well-known fictional characters and events. Such a world can take numerous bits of fiction as fact.
Worlds that take this approach vary from remaining very "real world" to allowing multiple fantastic elements. Using this model, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous sleuth, actually battles archvillain James Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. In a fantasy-rich environment, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker might have been writing nonfiction accounts when they related the stories of Frankenstein and Dracula.
When running or playing in such a game, it's very valuable to discuss the extent to which the campaign adopts fiction as reality. Can one really take a balloon to the moon, as Jules Verne suggests? It is fine to make these decisions slowly, as the campaign progresses, but it's a good idea to keep track of what's accepted as fact in the campaign.
Inside d20 Past, you'll find three campaign models that each demonstrate how a fantastic element may be introduced to a d20 Past campaign to create the world of yesteryear you and your friends want to go about saving. You'll find weapons, equipment, and vehicles appropriate for the various time periods (and progress levels) presented in the book, along with a number of new monsters and sample NPCs ready to assist or thwart your most heroic efforts. And, you'll discover a handful of mini-adventures (two for each of the campaign models) that are ready for you to leap in and start making a name for yourself in the history books yet-to-be-written.
April: Lords of Madness: The Book of Aberrations
If you're familiar with Draconomicon and/or Libris Mortis, you've got a very good idea of the kind of thing you'll find inside Lords of Madness. But instead of dragons or undead, this time out you'll be learning more than you ever wanted to know about some of the most truly terrifying (and curious-to-categorize) creatures in the Dungeons & Dragons game: aberrations. I'll find something to show off next month, so until then, check out the back cover copy:
Unnatural Creatures of Unspeakable Evil
Trembling hands have recorded horrifying stories of encounters with aboleths, beholders, mind flayers, and other aberrations. The victims of these alien creatures are quickly overwhelmed by mind-numbing terror -- their only comfort is the hope for a quick death.
This supplement for the D&D game presents a comprehensive look at some of the most bizarre creatures ever to invade the world of fantasy roleplaying. Along with information about the physiology, psychology, society, and schemes of these strange beings, you'll find spells, feats, tactics, and tools commonly employed by those who hunt them. Lords of Madness: The Book of Aberrations also provides new rules, prestige classes, monsters, sample encounters, and fully developed NPCs ready to instill fear in any hero.
April: Races of Eberron
Yes, if you've flipped through Races of Stone, Races of the Wild, or Races of Destiny, you've seen the pattern that's forming here in the Race series of supplements. And Races of Eberron is no different -- it offers in-depth information about an array of character races that are well-suited to explore any D&D campaign. Take a look at the back cover copy:
Heroes Ready for Anything, Anywhere
Dauntless adventurers arise from among the spirited races of the warforged, shifters, changelings, and kalashtar. These bold explorers hurl themselves into the most dangerous quests with an unquenchable thirst for fortune and glory.
This supplement for the D&D game provides detailed information on the psychology, society, culture, behavior, religion, folklore, and other aspects of the races originally presented in the Eberron Campaign Setting. In addition, Races of Eberron also provides new substitution levels, prestige classes, feats, spells, magic items, equipment, and other options for creating exciting characters ready to explore any campaign world.
Just 'cause it has the word "Eberron" on the cover doesn't mean that it is useful exclusively to those who run Eberron campaigns. While the four core races detailed in the books first appeared in the Eberron Campaign Setting, that doesn't mean they can't surface in Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, on Krynn, or in any homebrewed world you've got running on your gaming table. Of course, if you do run a game set in Eberron, you'll find the wealth of extra information about the various races invaluable for fleshing out your characters, villains, and the world from which they hail.
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.