Product Spotlight03/05/2007

Designer Interview
Interview by Bart Carroll and the Wizards of the Coast Community

In this month's exclusive interview, Rich Burlew and Jason Bulmahn, designers for the new Dungeonscape emerge from the hidden corridors of a forgotten tomb to discuss the latest sourcebook! In the interests of better involving the player community with the D&D website, questions for this interview were solicited in part via the message boards. Our thanks to everyone who took the time to submit their questions.

Wizards of the Coast: First off, congratulations on Dungeonscape! Of course, what could be more iconic to the game than a sourcebook all about the first half of its name. Fittingly, the book looks to be split with information for both players and dungeon-designing DMs. If you don't mind, let's start with a few questions on the players' side:

Dungeonscape introduces a new base class, the factotum (previously known as the journeyman), advertised as a jack-of-all-trades. How so? What sets it apart from the other classes, and from the previous "jack," the bard? (Some have criticized the bard as such, as it can't find traps, turn undead, cast spells like fireball, finger of death and magic missile, and--arguably--survive melee.)

Jason Bulmhan: Unlike the bard and other jack-of-all-trade classes, the factotum can be truly skilled at nearly any role he is called to fill. Utilizing an ability called "inspiration", the factotum can cast spells like a wizard (with a bit more flexibility), master any skill, take extra actions, sneak attack, and swing a sword with the best fighter. Since these points refresh at every encounter, the factotum always finds a way to be useful in practically every situation. The class has a number of other great features as well, such as having every skill as a class skill, trapfinding, the ability to heal like a paladin, and turn undead. What I find really appealing though, is that this is perhaps the best class out there for running a campaign with only a single player. The factotum really can do it all.

Rich Burlew: I don't have much to add here, this class was really Jason's baby. I will say that I was surprised when I first read it that it was capable of temporarily filling a role without doing it so well that the class dedicated to that role would become obsolete.

Wizards: As for the standard classes, what might Dungeonscape offer them? What new features, feats, or gear could help make them all the better intrepid dungeoneers?

Jason: Each of the standard classes has at least one alternate class ability in Dungeonscape, designed to make the character a better dungeon delver. While some of these options are as simple as giving the ranger trapfinding, others have a twist more suited to the class focus. Take the barbarian, for example; his alternate class ability allows him to attack traps to disable them, using his attack bonus instead of Disable Device. That is not to say that all of the class abilities deal with traps. The druid's alternate class feature gives him the ability to empathize with vermin, move over difficult earthen terrain, and resist the powers of mind flayers.

Aside from alternate class abilities, Dungeonscape gives a host of new feats and a sizable list of new gear options. We pulled many of these items from old supplements like the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and gave them fresh new rules and uses. Old favorites like the drill, collapsible pole, listening cone, and hacksaw are back. The book also includes a number of new alchemical and magical items, as well as item kits: simple lists of items no respectable dungeoneer should go without.

Rich: With the equipment options, we tried to focus on noncombat utility. The game already has a long list of items that are useful in battle, but far fewer that aid in exploration and movement. So we added items that help an adventurer deal with the physical obstructions that are common in dungeons, from an adamantine hacksaw to the good old iron spike. We took the same approach with magic items, providing new items that assist in security, mobility, and trap avoidance rather than combat power.

Wizards: What of prestige classes? I see the trapsmith: how does this PrC relate to (and better deal with) its namesake traps?

Jason: There are two prestige classes for PCs in the book (and one for DMs... the Dungeon Lord). The first is the Beast Heart Adept, who takes a druid's affinity for animals and uses similar skills to harness and befriend monsters. The trapsmith is a really a master at dealing with all sorts of magical and mechanical traps. He also learns a number of useful abilities allowing him to set up quick traps to secure a camp, guard a hallway, or otherwise harm or delay intruders. The trapsmith also learns a limited number of spells, most of which function like traps or allow him to deal with traps more effectively.

Rich: Basically, both prestige classes are about putting the dungeon's tools into the hands of the players. The Beast Heart Adept really lets the players get their hands on one of the cool iconic things about D&D that they never really get to touch: the monsters. Everywhere he goes, he gets to bring with him a monstrous companion (similar to a druid's animal companion) that might be anything from an owlbear to a hippogriff. As he gains in power, he gains additional monster allies. Players who enjoy tactical strategy will really appreciate the class, too, since it gives the character benefits for coordinating his attacks with those of his pets.

Don't forget the Dungeon Lord, though. Designed strictly with villains in mind, it gives them a variety of powerful abilities while in their own dungeon. It's the ultimate "home field advantage" class. Personally, I find it very helpful when creating a dungeon overlord that is not a primary spellcaster for once, since Dungeon Lords gain limited ability to move through and spy on the dungeon with spell-like abilities. But its entry requirements are also easy for many monsters to meet; the example dungeon lord is a mind flayer with no other class levels beyond those from this class.

Wizards: This takes us into the dungeon design side of things, as traps and their functionality raised quite a few questions on the message boards. For starters, can we assume the book introduces new traps? Are there variations on the standard death traps (essentially, find them or die)? Perhaps intricate devices on the order of the Book of Challenges?

Jason: Dungeonscape provides an entire chapter devoted to traps. Of that, most of it is devoted to encounter traps, a concept first introduced in Secret's of Xen'drik. Basically, encounter traps are mechanical or magical devices that function more like combat encounters. The goal is to engage the entire group in a trap, instead of just the rogue making a few skill checks. When an encounter trap goes off, every party member has something to contribute, from attack trap mechanisms, disarming parts, or simple defending themselves. Dungeonscape presents all the rules needed to design and run encounter traps as well as a large host of sample traps ready to be used in any dungeon.

In addition to encounter traps, this chapter also provides a bunch of rules to present high level standard traps, including more deadly poisons, gigantic weapons, and various other options. Finally, the trap chapter provides info on how to design complex traps (with diagrams with a number of examples), boon traps (meant to help dungeon defenders), psionic traps, and a number of hazards. I have to say I am most proud of those hazards. Plus, finally the rot grub is back, to the woe of players everywhere.

Rich: This is basically the book on traps. I know a lot of DMs who don't use many traps in their adventures; they claim that they slow the adventure down by turning every corridor into an endless series of Search checks. Alternately, they might say that traps aren't very effective, because the PCs can just heal any trap damage they take moments later. This book will show you how to use traps in a fun and exciting way, and how to get the most bang from your trap buck. Traps that are more clever, work better with other encounters, and just add something to the dungeon experience other than a bunch of extra skill checks. Plus, if you've ever wanted to literally fling your PCs 2000 feet out of the dungeon? We've got you covered.

Wizards: To continue venturing to the DM-side of things. As one DM has challenged: What's in Dungeonscape that could convince me to include more dungeons in my game? How does it make the prospect of dungeon-crawls more attractive?

Jason: Dungeonscape covers all the reasons why a dungeon should exist, giving you a ton of ideas on how to incorporate these iconic settings in a seamless and believable way. The book attempts to explain why the dungeon is an important component of D&D , while at the same time giving you a mountain of options to make your dungeons unique and exciting for both the DM and player.

Rich: Dungeons are most associated with combat encounters in the mind of many players, and while they can be so much more (and we discuss how), we didn't want to disappoint those players who like combat encounters. One of the sections of which I'm proudest discusses combat encounters in a dungeon and how to use the dungeon's inherent qualities to enhance your battles. Using a dungeon grants you more precise control over the manner in which an encounter transpires than you could hope to have in the wilderness. The DM gets to control, within limits, the range, direction, and exact location of a given battle. Knowing how to use these tools allows you to build tactics into your encounters from the beginning, rather than struggling to decide what monsters will do after the battle is joined during your game session. We also give you a lot of tips on how to keep a fight that should be a challenge from being a pushover; if you've ever had your BBEG killed in one round, we have advice for you.

Wizards: As for the dungeons themselves, does the book focus on the traditional dungeon (that is, underground with multiple levels, each one deeper than the last and populated by tougher monsters)? Or does it venture into stranger locations, encounters, features (and, any of which you'd care to share)?

Jason: The book tries to service both the traditional dungeon, like those found under a keep, and stranger locations, like the fleshy labyrinth of a demon lord. One portion of the design chapter in specific gives ideas for both the mundane and unusual, describing each of the room types typically found in a dungeon while covering a number of options to make them better fit their environment. The library in most dungeons consists of stacks of old musty tomes, but in the dungeon of a fiend, it might consist of bound souls who are forced to answer the questions of their tormentors. There are also rules to support all sorts of dungeons, from walls of magma to doors of ice to floors of angry zombie flesh.

Rich: In terms of story function, it mainly focuses on the traditional dungeon--where the traditional dungeon is defined as: "A series of rooms connected by corridors that feature combat encounters, traps, and obstacles that are unknown before they are encountered sequentially." In other words, if you have to explore room by room to determine what's there, and the avenues of travel between rooms are limited, then it's a dungeon, whether it's below ground or in the clouds. If the various locations are either known or easily identifiable (as in a city), or there are a near infinite number of paths you could take between Point A and Point B (as in the wilderness), then it's not a dungeon.

Wizards: Any favorite creatures to populate the dungeon with? Or creature types?

Jason: While there was not enough room for too many monsters, a couple did manage to find their way into the pages of Dungeonscape, including the ascomoid and the rot grub swarm. In addition to these classics, there are a host of templates that allow you to import monsters into a dungeon or to make them more deadly inhabitants. One of my favorite bits in that part of the book are alternate feat lists for some classic monsters, giving them an interesting twist and keeping your PCs guessing.

Rich: The templates will really broaden the use of some monsters that are otherwise difficult to use in a dungeon. In particular, the Dungeonbreed template allows you to shrink a monster to fit the confined spaces of a dungeon without weakening its combat power. And there's a stat block for a giant shark that swims in acid, and seriously, what evil mastermind doesn't want one of those for his dungeon?

Wizards: Finally, in creating the book, were you able to reach back to memorable dungeons and adventures you experienced, either as a player or DM, that you incorporated into Dungeonscape? Any famous dungeon modules you went through that may have inspired questions or features?

Jason: I have played a through a lot of dungeons in my day. From my first doomed character who picked up a yellow mold-covered dinner plate in the red box adventure to the hoards I lost in Tomb of Horrors, dungeons have always been a favorite game setting for me. When writing Dungeonscape, I tried to instill a lot of the things that made some of those dungeons great, from unexpected challenges to cunning and deadly traps. I remember digging through Queen of the Demonweb Pits when drawing up some of the wall and door ideas when I quite suddenly realized that I had not included surfaces made out of webs. Some of the horrible traps in Tomb of Horrors inspired some of the ideas for encounter traps (along with a heaping dose of Indiana Jones).

Rich: Funny that Jason mentioned that: I actually watched all three Indiana Jones movies with a notebook while brainstorming for the traps chapter!

But yeah, I agree that our goal with this book is to inspire players to really take a look at the dungeon as part of the core of what the game is about. There's something thrilling about stocking up with all forms of survival gear and descending to the depths of the earth with no knowledge of what awaits you. The dungeon removes players from the safety of the city and forces them to deal with an alien environment that is, in all likelihood, actively attempting to kill them. Honestly, just rereading my copy of it in preparation for this interview put ideas in my head for an old-school actually-below-ground dungeon campaign. If you like it best when D&D is actually about literal dungeons and/or dragons, we tried to write this book for you.

Jason: Of interesting note with this book, a lot of the mood and tone of classic dungeon crawls went into the art of this book. We had an interesting idea for the art of this book and attempted to tell a tale with the illustrations, starting with the heroes preparing to go on an adventure, only to have the mighty dungeon claim them one by one. I'll let you guess which iconic manages to survive.

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