Keeping Up: DC 20
It might not hold up to playtesting, or the scrutiny of the RPG development team, but I'd ballpark the difficulty of grabbing everything available and fitting it into an article every month as being somewhere near the challenge of making a Spot check to "notice the presence of an active, invisible creature." (One of the more achievable skill checks listed in the Epic Level Handbook.)
Now, of course, the upside to that is the torrential flow of new stuff to look at and play with every month -- there's almost always (at least) one thing showing up on the shelves at your FLGS every thirty days or so that you can use to improve your campaign, character, or warband. Want proof? Check it out:
June:Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss
Characters, bust out your lawfully aligned weapons and spells -- 160 pages of hardcover extraplanar chaos is hitting shelves this month. Barely contained within this supplement is a fiendish festival of information about demons, demons, demons, and more demon-related material that leans heavily toward the demonic. If you flip through your Draconomicon: The Book of Dragons and imagine that all the dragon stuff is actually demon stuff, you've got an idea of what Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss is like. (You can do the same with undead inside Libris Mortis: The Book of Undead and the aberrations of Lords of Madness: the Book of Aberrations.) This is the next book in the series.
Back in April, you saw the book's back cover text. Last month, I gave you a look at the even more descriptive (but still concise) introduction to the book, a brief run-down of the sorts of things you'll find in each chapter, and the opportunity to explore level 23 of the Abyss -- the frigid Iron Wastes.
This month, I wasn't sure what bit to grab to show you. But we just finished up our weekly Wednesday-night game with an absolutely horrible cliffhanger-type moment (and by that, I mean it was great) in which Juiblex showed up. (Juiblex has been an amazingly vexing recurring threat in the game for all five+ years I've been in the game. Even our epic-level characters haven't taken him down, and we're playing a 10th-level party right now. We're so screwed.) Anyway, I figured that I'd take that encounter as a sign to show you the form taken by the Faceless Lord in Chapter Three: Demon Lords.
A shuddering, glistening cone of jelly and slime striated with veins of black and green rears up from the pit. Baleful red eyes swim in the thing's gelatinous body, and dripping pseudopods of tremulous ooze writhe with latent hunger in every direction at once.
Juiblex, the wretched Faceless Lord, cares little for cultists or companionship. Yet still, there are those who find reasons to worship the lord of slime.
Characters with ranks in Knowledge (religion) or Knowledge (the planes) can learn more about Juiblex. When a character makes a successful skill check, the following lore is revealed, including the information from lower DCs.
||Juiblex is the lord of oozes and shapeless things. He has few cultists and no real goals or schemes other than destruction and ruin.
||Juiblex can crush and absorb those he sweeps up in his acidic pseudopods.
||Juiblex's amorphous body is difficult to damage. Weapons that aren't cold iron and good-aligned can barely harm him, and bludgeoning attacks are useless altogether. Worse, the powerful acids in his body tend to consume or ruin anything that touches him.
||Juiblex can spew green slime at foes and summon both oozes and demons to aid him in battle.
June:Mysteries of the Moonsea
Skulking through the shadows to lurk on shelves this month is the 160-page supplement for the Forgotten Realms Campaign Settingknown as Mysteries of the Moonsea. Focused on one of the most nefarious regions in Faerûn, this thing is a hardcover campaign arc of adventures that will take characters (if they survive) from 1st level all the way to 18th. If you're curious about what deadly secrets lie inside, you should check out the back cover text I slipped into April's article, then head over to your FLGS to flip through a copy.
June:Dungeons & Dragons Player's Kit
Also hitting shelves this month is the best thing for new players since the D&D Basic Game, (Not coincidentally, the D&D Player's Kit is designed for new recruits that've finished the Basic Game, as well as for gamers ready to take their first plunge into the world of D&D.)
Last month, I showed you the "Read This First" insert that tells you what else you'll find inside the box, and what you can do with them. That should give you a really good idea of how useful the Player's Kit will be when helping your friends and/or family to get started rolling those funny-looking dice.
July:War of the Dragon Queen Huge Packs
One month to go. I'm as anxious as anyone to lay my hands on a couple cases of the first Huge packs since the Giants of Legend expansion. (Man, has it really been two years since GoL? How did we survive that long?)With 60 miniatures, 12 of them Huges (6 Rares, 6 Uncommons), it'll take a while for me to get my fill. (Like, say, until the next set comes out in the Fall.) Until those big boxes of minis land on shelves, we'll have to bask in the glory known as sneak previews. Back in April, you saw the Aspect of Tiamat; Meepo, Dragonlord; and the Dragonwrought Kobold. Last month, it was the Dracolich and Cadaver Collector. This month, I've got another pair for you.
Wizened Elder Watcher -- This guy was spoiled in Preview X, so avid fans will have already seen the mini, but you wouldn't have known for certain what the tree-guy actually was. So, here you go. The Wizened Elder Watcher is a Medium mini that makes a simultaneous debut as a new plant creature in the Monster Manual IV.(Stay tuned for another paragraph or two, and you'll get to check out the MMIV entry for the wizened elder.)
Whether windswept, or just leaning over to grab something, the treelike creature stands about 1-1/2 inches tall (slightly taller than an average human mini). If you look closely at the image, you'll notice that little knob protruding from the (concave) right-hand side of the mini -- that's a nose. From there, it doesn't take much at all to see the furrowed brow, dark socketed eyes, and deeply frowning mouth. (Wizened elders aren't necessarily bad guys, they're just a bit testy.) Beyond that, the Wizened Elder Watcher goes back to resembling a tree -- an animate tree with clublike limbs and clawlike branches. The dark brown of its highly detailed and textured wooden surface is sparsely festooned with the olive drab of a few green clumps of leaves and patches of Spanish moss. Being a Rare mini, it'll take awhile to amass a good-sized copse of these guys, but just like its Huge cousin from the Giants of Legend expansion -- the Treant -- I can imagine the Wizened Elder Watcher will find itself also serving as terrain for many a woodland encounter. (Which, of course, will create much paranoia amongst the players of forest-exploring characters.)
Huge Fiendish Spider -- If you start with the entry for a Huge monstrous spider on page 289 of your Monster Manual, and add a full dose of "Creating a Fiendish Creature" from page 108, you'll end up with something resembling this Uncommon Huge of eight-legged doooooom. I'm not sure if the sculpt was based on a real-word arachnid, but it bears a striking resemblance to the black house spider, which you might find lurking around buildings in Australia. (Though, the mini is about five times bigger and has those fiendish, bone-colored bits.) The Huge Fiendish Spider stands comfortably at 2 inches tall, but could easily get another inch of height by going up on its tiptoes (or tiptarsi, if you like etymology, entomology, and made-up terminology). Of course, it could crouch, squeeze, and crawl under a space half its height without much effort. The mini is shifted slightly forward of the center of its base, as if it's leaning in to make an attack. And that clawed, front left leg reinforces the notion as it reaches another 1-1/2 inches beyond the base -- far enough to reach over a human-sized enemy to grab at a more irritating/threatening target. Those two, thin, bony, lobsterlike (fiendish) claws on its forward-most legs are backward, as far as albino lobsters would be concerned, making them ideal for grasping and lifting objects -- such as rocks that might be obscuring tasty PC-flavored morsels. Once you're acquainted with those claws, you might be introduced to the jointed (skeletonlike) pedipalps that are reaching out on either side of the creature's head to help its fangs get to where they're going. Its eight, dark red eyes manage to look familiar, but still alien and menacing, especially when you consider that (to scale) they're slightly larger than a human's fist.
A slight gray wash helps define the full-bodied furriness of the hair covering the uniformly black miniature. Piercing the fur on the back of the Huge Fiendish Spider's abdomen is a number of hornlike spikes (thirty-nine) arranged in five rows that run parallel to its body (from side to side, they're in rows of 6, 8, 11, 8, and 6). The thing that really makes the Huge Fiendish Spider so engaging is how impressive it is, even outside the realm of D&D -- the thing is so big, it nearly fills the palm of my hand (like a good-sized apple -- but black, hairy, and with eight legs and eyes.) And on the battlemat, its creepiness is just disturbing. (If you put a halfling mini next to it, you've got the beginnings of a great shadowbox diorama of the scene with Frodo in Shelob's lair.) I can already imagine all-spider encounters where the Huge Fiendish Spider is accompanied by swarms of Spiders of Lolth (from Underdark), and Large Monstrous Spiders (from Dragoneye). And then, just to push things further, you could toss in the Aspect of Lolth (from Archfiends) and the Drider Sorcerer and Ettercap (from Giants of Legend). Of course, I'll want to get one of these just to leave it on the chair of our arachnophobic media buyer.
If you want to see more minis, pop over to Steve Schubert's articles over on the D&D Minis pageand pick up a copy of Dragon magazine every month to see the exclusive D&D minis coverage they've got.
I mentioned this last month, but speaking of Dragon Magazine, those guys wanted to do something cool to celebrate their 30th Anniversary issue (#344). And that cool thing is an exclusive, limited-run, alternate paint mini from the War of the Dragon Queen expansion -- the first Huge repaint -- Sorcerer on Black Dragon.
There are only 5,000 being produced. They're available only to subscribers. And they went on sale on June 1st. To get more details -- and to order fast -- check out their website.
July:Monster Manual IV
Dungeon Masters and players alike will want to pick up this 224-page hardcover stocked with monsters. Every monster in the book is illustrated and detailed in a new stat block format that was designed to make running the monster better, faster, and easier. In addition, there's also a pile of sample encounters, pregenerated treasure hoards, and advice on seamlessly incorporating many of the creatures into your Forgotten Realms or Eberron campaigns. And, the extra good bit: Many of the monsters are available (or will be) as prepainted, plastic minis. (Chances are good you've already got some, and you'll be picking up others very, very soon.)
Last month, I gave you a look at the back cover text and a peek at three monster sketches.
This month, I thought I'd give you a look at one of the new monsters. And what better way to show off the book than to show you the entry for a new monster that's also got a mini coming out in the War of the Dragon Queen expansion? None better -- take a look at the entry for the Wizened Elder.
What at first you took for a twisted shrub unfurls to become an ancient-looking creature the size of a dwarf. Lichen-covered bark hangs in shreds from its body, and clumps of stunted leaves sprout from its limbs. Suspicious eyes glare at you from deep crevices.
A wizened elder is a stunted, ancient-looking plant creature related to treants but inhabiting forbidding lands at the very edge of the tree line. Although not evil, wizened elders are bitter, cruel creatures that blend perfectly with their harsh environment. They creep across the desolate landscape, watching for and driving off intruders.
July:Secrets of Xen'drik
Also looming on the next-month horizon is Secrets of Xen'drik -- the 160-page hardcover supplement to the Eberron Campaign Setting, that offers Dungeon Masters and players the first in-depth exploration of the lost continent of Xen'drik. This hardcover trove of previously undiscovered material explores the port city of Stormreach as well as the monster-filled, ruin-laden land beyond. You'll encounter new monsters, adventure seeds, ready-to-run encounters, and a number of sites of interest. To aid characters in their trek(s) across, over, through, and under the lost continent, the book also comes fully equipped with a number of feats, prestige classes, spells, magic items, and more.
You stumbled across the long-lost back cover text last month. This month, I felt I had to start by passing along a look at the book's cover art, crafted by Wayne Reynolds. (Man, that adventuring party has seen a lot of action.)
And, why not follow that with a chunk from the introduction that gives you a great idea of what you'll find beyond page 7? No reason. So, here it is:
Using This Book
Secrets of Xen'drik presents a wealth of information about the mysterious continent that has long served as a beacon for adventurers. The shattered land offers a host of treasures: In addition to gold and powerful artifacts, Xen'drik holds new spells, feats, and other character options. A character who studies the secrets of the storm giants of the City of Indigo Shadows can learn to forge the ingots arcanum, while an adventurer who seeks out the claw of Vulkoor can learn the secrets of the scorpion wraiths. Tremendous power lies hidden in the ruins of the past -- but all too often, that power carries a terrible price.
For Dungeon Masters, Secrets of Xen'drik provides a vast array of tools for crafting adventures and entire campaigns set in the lands of the giants and their successor races. Xen'drik is a flexible setting, designed to work with the Dungeon Master. Secrets of Xen'drik provides hundreds of options while still leaving room for individual DMs to make the continent their own.
Chapter One: Welcome to Xen'drik is an overview of the shattered land. This chapter examines the history and layout of both Xen'drik as a whole and the port city of Stormreach, which serves as a gateway to the land of adventure.
Chapter Two: Adventure Sites provides fourteen fully detailed sites (and suggestions for many more) that can provide a starting point for Xen'drik adventures. These universal locations can be placed anywhere in the continent and can be easily adapted to fit any campaign.
Chapter Three: Encounters provides a range of interesting antagonists and NPCs for explorers to deal with, along with new monsters and templates for creatures native to Xen'drik.
Chapter Four: Adventures in Xen'drik uses the location and encounter information presented in Chapters 2 and 3 to create dynamic adventure scenarios. Each seed presents details on specific treasures or locations in the shattered land, as well as campaign hooks to draw PCs onto the path of adventure.
Chapter Five: Xen'drik Unveiled presents the treasures and lore of the mysterious continent. Whether prestige classes, feats, armor, weapons, magic items, magical locations, new spells, or artifacts, the secrets of Xen'drik can bring power and glory to any character.
Scrolling through a PDF copy of the book (snatched up from somewhere between editing, typesetting, and production), I was having a really tough time finding a chunk-of-excerpt to put in here. Not because I couldn't find anything interesting, but because there were too many interesting bits -- some large, some small. Entire sections, sidebars, illustrations, and so on. The thing that jumped out at me as just being a cool snippet that both DMs and players would like -- whether they play in Eberron, the Forgotten Realms, or in a homebrewed world (even a non-D&D game) -- is this little critter: the alchemy beetle.
What at first glance appeared to be an enormous insect is actually some sort of construct. A black iron exoskeleton holds a glass hemisphere churning with a molten green liquid. Smoke rises where the construct's mandibles drip this liquid to the ground.
The giants of ancient Xen'drik created countless magical and alchemical innovations. One of these creations, the alchemy beetle, still wanders the continent.
Alchemy beetles are mindless constructs that do not eat, sleep, or breathe. Created as guardians, they cannot speak or comprehend languages. They follow their original programming until destroyed.
Environment: Though originally constructed for guard duty in giant settlements, alchemy beetles have wandered into every corner of Xen'drik.
Typical Physical Characteristics: An alchemy beetle is 4 feet long and 2 feet wide. It has a black iron head similar to a stag beetle's, but with a flared ridge behind the skull reminiscent of that of a triceratops. Six jointed black iron legs, the front two tipped with hooks, support a metal framework. A glass hemisphere sits in the framework, fused to the beetle by what look like black metal veins.
The glass hemisphere is filled with an alchemical mixture such as alchemist's fire, alchemist's frost, alchemist's spark, or acid. When the alchemy beetle attacks, this liquid drips from its mandibles.
Next month, I'll pull something else for you -- something that shows you around, gives you a short tour, or offers a glimpse at something that's purely Xen'drik-ian.
July:Fantastic Locations: Dragondown Grotto
With three of these standalone accessories already out there, it's entirely likely you've already adventured through or skirmished within a Fantastic Location. (Such asFantastic Locations: Fields of Ruin.) Like its predecessors, Dragondown Grotto provides a 16-page adventure and four double-sided poster maps. The adventure book includes monsters featured in the most-recent miniatures expansion (War of the Dragon Queen) and is designed to challenge mid-level characters. The poster maps provide the setting for all of the adventure's key encounters and offer D&D Miniatures skirmish gamers an assortment of new places to pick a fight with a friend. (This time out, one of the maps needed to be designed as an RPG-only map.)
I gave you the descriptive bits from the back cover text last month. And, as with pretty much everything adventure-ish, I don't want to give away anything more -- you know how it is.
August:Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords
I don't know enough about this book yet -- other than that it's a 160-page hardcover that introduces new rules and combat options -- but I do know that it has been the topic of much buzz down in the R&D department. (Some of the guys in my Wednesday-night game are charting out future character levels based on material in Tome of Battle.) I'll find out more and check back next month. Until then, I leave you with the back cover text:
Master the Secret Magic of Steel
Nine are the disciplines of the Sublime Way -- the path of martial supremacy in which the perfect combination of devotion, lore, and practice allows a warrior to achieve feats of superhuman prowess. The Desert Wind master strikes with the speed and fury of a raging fire. The Tiger Claw master tears his foes apart with the primal fury of a beast. The Diamond Mind master acts in slivers of time so small that others cannot even perceive them. Each discipline unlocks exciting new options for a combat-oriented character.
This supplement for the D&D game describes a new system of combat maneuvers that blend fantastic weapon techniques with pious devotion and mystical blade magic. Within the nine disciplines of the Sublime Way are more than 120 daring martial maneuvers. In addition, this book presents three new base classes that perform martial maneuvers, as well as new feats and prestige classes.
August:Dragons of Faerûn
D'you know what happens every 1,000 years in the Forgotten Realms? Dragon Rampage. The Year of Rogue Dragons (as it's called) is a very long time to be a citizen of Faerûn. But, it's also a great time to be an adventurer (what, with all the dragons). Dragons of Faerûn is a 160-page hardcover supplement filled with information about specific dragons (and dracoliches), dragon-related organizations, and other material that will give DMs way more than thirty-six tendays' worth of ideas. Take a look at the back cover text and come back next month for a chunk of excerpt.
Unleash the Dragons Within
Long ago, dragons ruled the world, and although their power has waxed and waned over the millennia, they never forget the glory of the distant past. Now and then, some world-shaking event or revelation brings out the worst in them . . . and transforms Faerûn forever.
If you want dragons to serve important roles in your campaign, this supplement is for you! It describes some of Faerûn's most notorious dragons and dracoliches and presents information on dragon-related organizations such as the church of Tiamat and the Cult of the Dragon. In addition, this book includes ready-to-play adventures, new traps and treasures found within dragons' lairs, new dragon spells, and new monsters.
August:D&D Icons Gargantuan Black Dragon
Black dragons don't get any bigger than this. (Really -- check your Monster Manual.) In that same vein, D&D Miniatures have never been this big -- the Gargantuan Black Dragon towers over everything else you've got maneuvering around your battlemat. And if you like that, you're in luck -- this is just the first product in the new line of limited-edition minis -- D&D Icons. (The next one, which follows right on the Gargantuan Black Dragon's taloned heels, is a fire-breathing offering for your shelf.)
I don't have one of these guys in front of me right now, so I'll just have to pass along what I recall from staring at it whilst compiling the "Top Ten Dragons" article for Dragon Magazine's 30th Anniversary Issue (#344)
First off, as you'll know from page 149 in your Player's Handbook, a Gargantuan creature fills a 20-foot space -- that's a 4-inch by 4-inch square in miniatures parlance. (When working on the ad for this guy, we discovered that a 1/2 gallon carton of milk is just about the exact same size as the base, and a 5-pound bag of sugar gives a decent impression of the bulk/height. Speaking of height, the GBD's frill puts him at the 8-inch mark. (The wings of the Huge Red Dragon from GoL reach just past 4-1/2 inches.) And his wingspan is just under a foot wide (about 11 inches). The "mini" is, as you'd imagine, uniformly black over most of its scaly, spiky, spiny body. Its underbelly, teeth, claws, and those signature horns are all a dirty bone color. The most interesting part of the paintjob is the dark gray/green mottling you'll see on the membranes of the wings. (Which, for me, is what really made the Medium Black Dragon in Dragoneye.)
That's all I can dredge up out of my swampy memory for now. I know it's kinda hard to really get a good sense of what one of these acid-breathing baddies will look and feel like in your game, just from a little image -- wait until you see this thing for real. (Players, start shopping for scrolls of protection from energy (acid) and potions of water breathing. DMs, download some spare character sheets to have tucked behind your screen.)
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.