I made a comment in my review of Into The Unknown that I felt WotC should have released the 7 NPC’s from the book via D&DI and allowed their use in the Encounters season. Taking the suggestions of race and class from each NPC’s section, and have built level 1 characters for them. I’ve tried to build more skill based characters where possible, but these contain elements from older, non Essentials books and thus would not be valid for use in the Web of the Spider Queen Encounters season.

Meliera – Eladrin Paladin

Karl Deepwalker – Human Ranger

Mord – Half-Orc Warpriest

Thorry the Unlucky – Svirfneblin Thief 

Ella – Halfling Warlock

Khiira – Drow Bard

Korag the Clanless – Dwarf Warlord

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Whats Next?

Posted: May 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

So whats next in the claendar of UK events for Rise of the Underdark?

If you’re in Leicester, Nottingham, or St Albans, you’ve got a chance to redeem the reward card from The Sun Never Rises to receive your ruby medallion of lathander and hope that it helpes you survive the Web of The Spider Queen encounters season that starts this wednesday.

And then, on the 9th of June, gamers from around the country will once again descend upon Mondo Comico to attempt to survive and beat the new Lair Assault season, Spider Killer…

Drawing on previous adventures such as Journey the River Sargauth,Undermountain: The Lost Level, and Expedition to Undermountain, our foolish brave adventurers will descend into the depths of Undermountain, the ancient playground of the mad wizard Halaster Blackcloak…

Signup for this event here: http://www.meetup.com/EMRPGG/events/63232992/

Photos from First Assault

Posted: May 20, 2012 in Pictures

This weekend saw @banjotheclown run his own Rise of the Underdark launch event, First Assault, in the Chaos City Comics store in St Albans. The intro adventure to the storyline, The Sun Never Rises was run by acclaimed DM @symatt (wearing his official Gencon DM’s Shirt), while other tables ran homebrew adventures we hope to host here in a few days.

Because @banjotheclown managed to make it to the Drowathon, we were able to give him one set of the 3d terrain to take back to use at the event, and Efka’s wife Elaine managed to snap some awesome photos: http://s152.photobucket.com/albums/s191/elxxxy/CCCMiniConvention/

Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast asked me to review the Into the Unknown book and provided a review copy. Because I already bought my own copy, the review copy has been donated to a member of the UK community who is currently unemployed.

Into The Unknown: Dungeoneers Survival Handbook

Into The Unknown is not the first book in 4e’s history to look at Dungeon Survival. The previous one was written by Bill Slavicsek and Chris Perkins (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dungeon-Survival-Guide-Dungeons-Dragons/dp/0786947306/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top) in the run up to 4e’s launch, and featured no rules materials. Much of that books contents can be found within the new book, expanded and improved.

Into The Unknown contains a mixture of player material and DM’s material, with plenty of rules material backed up by oodles of well written and imaginative background material. This background material surfaces in the character themes section, presenting us with 7 personalities, one for each of the new themes presented in the book, and expanding on their backstory, history, thoughts, and experiences throughout the book. I was dubious about this when it was first announced, but it works really well, and as they suggest in the book, gives you ideas to base your own roleplaying on.

The seven new themes follow the structure of those from Neverwinter and Dragon #399 contain the bulk of the new player material.

* Bloodsworn are adventures who seek to destroy one creature or one species at the expense of all others. Their starting feature is a once per encounter re-roll when you are bloodied. Unlike most themes that give a skill bonus at level 5, bloodsworn strengthens your attacks when you second wind, and instead gives the bonuses at level 10. The background material covers Meliera, an eladrin who once tried to help oppressed drow, but after one murdered her husband, she has vowed to seek out the drow involved and wipe them out.

* Deep Delvers are experts at exploring the Underdark. Gaining bonuses to dungeoneering skills and the ability to re-roll their dungeoneering checks, it’s a great theme for more skill based campaigns rather than combat focused ones. The background for Karl Deepwalker is that him and his caravan guide company were betrayed from within, with Karl only surviving by fleeing deeper into the caverns of the underdark.

* Escaped Thrall’s are the altered, warped individuals captured by aboleths or illithids. A perfect theme for players wanting a psionic theme that isn’t Dark Sun based, you gain an extra power point, and a powerful interrupt against charm and psychic attacks. Its background is of Mord, captured as a child by aboleths, and still under their influence. It’s my favourite theme out of the seven, having probably the most flavour out of all the themes we’ve seen so far.

* The Trapsmith theme does what it says on the tin. It’s a theme thats a long time coming, but I feel its massively flawed. Unlike other themes that use your highest statistic, the Trapsmith is solely based on Intelligence, making it a great theme for mages and artificers, but not many other classes. In addition, at the themes heart it is a single encounter power with minimal damage, even the optional utility powers are weak, being dailies. Its background, of Thorry the Unlucky, a svirfneblin with a knack for dealing with traps is poor… if he is so good, how come he’s managed to lose two fingers to traps?

* Treasure Hunter’s are viewed as selfish money grabbing fools, thrill seekers, mercenaries… Again, its features are better suited to a skill based game. It’s got some of the best optional utility powers in the book and of the themes that have been released. It’s also got a brilliant background for Ella, showing exactly how a warlock pact can be used to form a character.

* I suspect Underdark Envoy will be a popular theme in the upcoming Encounters season, as it gives a reason for surface dwellers to deal with the Underdark and vice versa. Its also got a great Combat Advantage granting starting power. Khiira’s background is not quite what I was expecting, but works well, with her betraying her drow roots to form a relationship with a duergar, and now lives on the run.

* The Underdark Outcast covers a wide range of characters, exiled beings, people lost in the underdark who have survived on their own etc. It’s starting power reflects this, giving characters who move away from the rest of the group a bonus, while its later features cement the characters ability to survive. Korag the Clanless is another good background, a dwarf who disgraced his clan, and was shaved, branded and exiled. He’s got plenty of roleplaying potential.

Next up in player material are the races. Much like Heroes of Shadow, we get some rehashed races and some new ones. The goblin and kobold races have been updated, gaining the essentials idea of a primary and option of secondary stat bonuses, while the kobolds overpowered racial ability has been replaced with a slightly more balanced version. We get a great choice of racial utilities and more importantly, and a massive improvement over the Heroes of Shadow, we get a nice selection of racial feats for these.

The one new race we get is the Svirfneblin, a race of deep gnomes. I know the name is a part of classic D&D lore, but come on, can you honestly tell me that everyone round a gaming table is going to be able to pronounce that without it sounding stupid? The svirfneblin are not inherently evil, have a strange speech pattern, and their racial powers are generally earth based. It’s not a particularly exciting race, but conversely it should suit a lot of the essentials classes allowed for the Encounters season.

The last of the players material are the dungeon themed powers, which see’s the return of psionic powers and skill powers from PHB3. While the other Heroes of books have given new powers to fairly specific classes, Into the Unknown turns it on it’s head, offering a random selection of power types to a random collection of classes at a random selection of levels.
It works however, because the powers are collected into categories with added background material to explain their grouping and uses the new layout style with additional flavour text per power. The categories are Fear of the Dark, Secrets of the Deep Guides, Shadow of the Ziggurat, Seekers of the Lost Lore, Thieves Guide of Maelbrathyr, From the Vault of the Drow and Battle Tactics of Cor Talcor. I tend to play at much lower level than most of these powers are given at, so this section is of limited use to me.

While much of the rest of the book is aimed at DM’s, its also got plenty of player related material. From sidebars about why not to use herd animals to check for traps, to advice on what rituals should be used, to looking at different dungeon types. I really like the dungeon types section, I’d never considered that a floating castle dungeon would require similar exploration tactics as an ice palace or a mine.

Dungeon Dwellers is where the player backgrounds from the themes section really begin to shape this book. Each monster is introduced with a quote from one of the seven, and then an explanation of the creatures place in the underdark’s food chain. I felt this section could have been better, a second quote and a brief passage on tactics for dealing with the creature in question would have been nice to see.

Infamous Dungeons is where the majority of the earlier Dungeon Survival Guide resurfaces, with the classic dungeons of D&D lore highlighted, and a background or feat related to characters linked to that dungeon is given. I’d have liked to see Castle Ravenloft’s mention here give the castle a definitive place in Nerath or the Shadowfell, but with D&D Next on the horizon, that was never going to happen…

Dungeoneers Tools highlights a flaw in 4e, that mundane equipment has a minimal impact on the combat side of the game. The tools here, like those in other books, give plenty of flavour and skill bonuses, but how many characters entering the Underdark will really worry about carrying a hacksaw when their 22 strength slayer can smash through anything… The Alchemical items are a nice touch, but suffer the usual problem of these items, their attack bonuses are often 3 or 4 less than your normal attacks.

Masters of the Dungeon is the last chapter, an immense 50+ page section designed for DM’s, covering lots of different aspects of creating an adventure, and it’s advice is solid, whether you’re designing one for the Underdark or a standard adventure. Its such good advice that I’d say this section is essential for any 4e DM, as it show you how you can improve your game with better adventure hooks, skill challenges, and environments suited to the monsters you’ve chosen. The sidebars give an example of how handouts can improve a dungeons backstory, and it show how to link themes into the adventure, which is something that has been lacking given themes are a relatively new addition to the game.

This chapter, also covers special rewards, and its nice to see Power Word Kill and Wish, almost legendary aspects of the game when I started in 1990, see their 4e return, and I admire the way they’ve been incorporated into the game. Dungeon Companions gives us 4 monstrous companions, including the iconic Meepo from 3rd edition. I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting this section, and while its brief (3 pages) its pretty good.

The books ends with 2 appendices. The first, Build Your Own Dungeon, reminds me of the DM’ing advice I first saw in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia regarding drawing it out and detailing it. The second appendix gives us random tables… For some, these might seem out of place, but I love this nod to the past, and I’m hoping that the trend of including some random elements continues into D&D Next.

Whats missing…
With the Heroes of Shadow, I felt the lack of racial feats was a mistake. With Heroes of Feywild, it was the lack of lycanthrope or fey related clerical domains, with Heroes of the Elemental Chaos, i’d have liked to see the genasi reprinted with added racial options… So what’s missing in Into the Unknown?

The Drow… While mentioned lots of time, their is a distinct lack of Drow related goodness. This book would have been a perfect time to print the racial utilities that were featured in Dragon, and add in some new feats or make ones like the Xendrik Weapon Training from Eberron a core feat.

Paragon Paths… Presumably, the new powers are meant to replace these and Epic Destinies, and maybe there’s an assumption that Underdark adventures are only used in the Heroic tier?

Tactics… Monsters are mentioned but no real advice from the seven npc’s on how to deal with these threats is given.

New Monsters… As a DM, I always love new critters to throw at players, and it would have been nice to see some new Grimlock options for example.

NPC’s… Our seven NPC’s are given backgrounds and quotes, but we never actually see their abilities. I’d have tied this into D&DI, with the NPC’s available on the website for use in the Encounters season.

In summary, if you’re a 4e player, this book once again gives you plenty of new material that can be used in the current Encounters season, which is a great benefit. Outside of this season, its usage is much more home campaign focused and may take months of play before its benefits become obvious. For DM’s I’d put this book up there with Neverwinter as being an essential purchase for its advice on how to build better adventures.

Created primarily to take the sub-optimal Drow race and give them a reason to become blackguards, which are a wholly underused class, I present to you the Vice of Seduction, a way for blackguards to embrace the shadows and their own sensuality.

Vice of Seduction
The life of a drow is tense and deadly. From conflicts with rival houses, to raiders from the Underdark, to assassination at the whim of the matriachol mothers and priestess’, it is a surprise that lust and sex is a large part of their society. But sex, whether it is consensual or not, lust, and seduction are a huge factor in their culture. It offers a momentarily release from the fear of inevitable death, a feeling of closeness, of bonding with others of your species. Few drow live to old age, so procreation is viewed almost like immortality, a way to beat death.
To this end, the drow have taken their natural strengths: self-confidence, deceit, betrayal, and learnt to wield it as a force of power, crafting their armour and weapons to take advantage of their agile forms and exotic sensuality. Those that embrace the shadows and the pleasure that come with them, do so without regard for morality, enjoying the emotional gain from the physical release of tempting and eliminating a foe.
Alignment: Those who follow the teachings of the drow temptresses and pleasure-mistresses do so becuase they have an evil heart and worship evil goddesses such as Lolth.

Level 1: Spirit of Vice (Seduction)
While some blackguards punish those who oppose them, embodying wrath, determination, and self-mutlation, to you, a battle is merely a playground for you to tempt and seduce within, capturing your foes hearts before slaughtering them when they are weakened by your beauty.
Benefit: When you use the bluff skill to gain combat advantage against an adjacent enemy, you make the check as a minor action.

Level 1: Vice At-Will Power (Seduction)
Your presence upon the battlefield is a distraction, your disregard for the social norms of sexuality a key to your success.
Benefit: You gain the seductive strike power.

Seductive Strike * Paladin Attack 1
“Even underneath your armour, your foe can sense your lithe movements, distracting them.”
At-Will * Divine, Enchantment, Weapon
Standard Action * Melee Weapon
Target: One Creature
Attack: Strength vs AC
Hit: 1W + Strength modifier damage. The target takes a penalty to it’s next attack roll against you equal to your Charisma modifier.

Level 7: Improved Shroud of Shadow (Seduction)
Drawing on the shadows to empower you, you weave them around you to emphasise your body’s natural assets.
Benefit: When you use your shroud of shadow power, you gain a +2 bonus to bluff checks until the end of your next turn.

The Drow Blademaster is an awesome mini, and a great foe in D&D 4e, so here’s my (incomplete) take on it as a theme.

Blade Master
Drow society is, at its heart, a matriachial one, with the men subervent to the matron mothers whims and plans, but all serve under the greater scheme of the drow goddess, the spider queen Lolth. While all drow men are excpeted to serve as guards to the many houses, and as such, all are trained in the use of swords, some males are raised through the ranks and given additional training, becoming blade masters. These rare individuals view the sharpened edges and pointed tips of their dual blades as extensions of themselves, striking swiftly and with precision.

Creating a Blade Master
While most blade masters are found within the ranks of the raiding parties, and militia that defend the noble house from outside attacks and internal squabbles, some are found within the ranks of the arcane users, or from heretics who have fended for themselves in the primal wastelands.
Pre-req Race: Drow

Starting Feature:
Blade Masters are singled out early in the ranks of the drow militia for their ability to wield two weapons effectively. Once selected, they are drilled for months in the tactics, attack postures, and feints needed to turn their dual bladed fighting into a deadly form.
Benefit: You gain the Two-Weapon Fighting feat even if you do not meet its pre-requistives. If you already have this feat, you gain the Two-Weapon Defense feat instead.

Level 5 Feature:
Blade Masters train long and hard to be the best warriors of drow soceity. Vigorous excercise, and the finest diet mean they are at a peak of physical ability, capable of out running, out jumping and out climbing the lesser examples of their race.
Benefit: You gain a +2 bonus to Acrobatics, Athletics and Endurance skill checks.

Level 10 Feature:
The blade master is both an expert with swords and a graceful so it strikes at multiple foes before they have a chance to react.
Benefit: You gain the following encounter power: Whirlwind Flourish

Whirlwind Flourish * Theme Power
“Your movements are so swift that you seem to blur with speed of your motion, striking once, twice, and again with your blades.”
Daily * Martial, Weapon
Standard Action * Melee 1
Requirement: You must be wielding two melee weapons.
Special: You can shift up to 3 squares before making this attack.
Target: One creature
Attack: Your highest ability score vs AC
Hit: 1W + highest ability modifier damage, make a secondary attack with your off-hand weapon.
  Secondary Attack: Your highest ability score vs AC
  Secondary Hit: 1W + highest ability modifier damage.
Effect: You deal 1W damage to the target.
Special: You can shift up to 3 squares after making this attack.
Special: When making an opportunity attack, you can use this power in place of a melee basic attack.

The flavour text isn’t complete, and its missing some encounter powers, but I thought it would be good to post it up to get some feedback and see if I’m heading in the right direction. So, here is my take on a Warpriest (essentials Cleric) domain for worshippers of Lolth:

Spider Queen Domain
The drow are a devout race, their worship of Lolth and her children a reflection of the daily torment of their life in the Underdark. Her clerics are considered to be amongst the purest of their kind, embodiments of the ambition, desire and lust of the Spider Queen herself, chosen for their physical beauty as much as their devotion, widely reverred and deeply envied.
It is the Spider Queens’ clerics who understand the great web of power that Lolth has spun from her home with the Demonweb Pits, who see how each strand of Lolth’s manipulations has linked the noble houses, how renegades and heretics believe themselves free of the sticky strands of the drow’s influence, but are only truly struggling to escape captivity from Lolth’s preyful nature.
At their core, the spider queens clerics spin a web of lies and deception, tempting their allies and foes alike to garner power and influence, plotting to one day rule over all with an iron fist and posioned fang.

Level 1: Spider Queen Domain Feature
While the Spider Queens power is felt strongest in the dark recesses of the Underdark, she has begun to cast her web ever wider, using renegades and heretics to extend the boundaries of her influence into the surface world. The clerics who are chosen to bring the Spider Queens message of betrayal and blood do so with impunity, fighting viciously with whatever they have to hand, and taking any advantage of mistakes and openings their opponents make.
Benefit: You gain a +2 bonus to Bluff check used to gain combat advantage against an enemy. In addition, you can use the check as a minor action, and the target can be within 5 squares of you but must be able to see you. In addition, when you use healing word, each ally in the burst gains a +2 bonus to Bluff checks until the end of your next.

Level 1: Spider Queen Domain At-Will Powers
Lolth demands absolute obedience from her followers, and uses this obedience to strengthen her web of power, constantly scheming to betray the other gods and gain sovereignty over all of existence.

Fickle Favour * Cleric Attack 1
“Lolth’s trust in your abilities varies…”
At-Will * Divine, Implement, Shadow
Standard Action * Ranged 5
Target: One creature
Attack: Wisdom vs Will
Hit: Roll a d6. If the result is even, the target takes damage equal to you Charisma modifier and grants combat advantage on the next attack made against it before the end of your next turn. If the roll is odd, the target regains hit points equal to you Charisma modifier and can make a save to immediately end one condition affecting it.

Inevitable Betrayal * Cleric Attack 1
“Your strikes manipulate your foes position within the Spider Queens web, setting them up for a greater sacrifice.”
At-Will * Divine, Weapon, Shadow
Standard Action * Weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: Wisdom vs AC
Hit: 1W + Wisdom modifier damage. If the target was granting combat advantage to you, deal additional damage equal to your Charisma modifier
Effect: The target grants combat advantage on the next attack made against it before the end of your next turn.

Level 1: Spider Queen Domain Utility Power

Manipulate The Weave * Cleric Utility 1
“You can envision your foes placement on the strands of Lolth’s web, allowing you to tweak the weave to your advantage.”
Encounter * Divine, Shadow
Free Action * Personal
Trigger: You hit a target with the Fickle Favour power
Target: Triggering target
Effect: You can choose whether the roll of the d6 would be an odd or even result.

Level 1: Spider Queen Domain Encounter Power

Ceremony of Torture * Cleric Attack 1
“While other fight with grace, or power, your strikes raise a cacophany of screams as your weapon tears away flesh and your victims resolve.”
Encounter * Divine, Weapon, Shadow
Standard Action * Weapon
Attack: Wisdom vs AC
Hit: 2W + Wisdom modifier damage, and make a secondary attack.
  Secondary Target: All enemies in close burst 5
  Secondary Attack: Wisdom +2 vs Will
  Secondary Hit: The target takes a penalty equal to your Charisma modifier to attack rolls made against you until the end of your next turn.

Level 1: Spider Queen Domain Channel Divinity Power

Traverse the Web * Cleric Utility 1
“Following the strands of the Spider Queens web, you teleport to an advantageous position.”
Encounter * Channel Divinity, Divine, Shadow
Move Action * Personal
Effect: You teleport up to 10 squares. If you end your move adjacent to a drow or spider, you gain a +2 bonus to all defenses until the start of your next turn.
Special: You can only use one channel divinity power per encounter.

Level 5: Spider Queen Domain Feature
Having proven your worth to Lolth by eliminating her foes and extending her web, she releases more of her power to you. When you call on her to heal your allies, the web loosens allowing them to move freely
Benefit: When you use healing word, the target of the power immediately ends any slowed or immobilized condition effecitng them.

Level 10: Spider Queen Domain Feature
Your devotion to the mastery of the Spider Queens power is recognised and she entrusts you with the ability to directly bind her foes into her web of schemes and plots.
Benefit: When you hit with a divine attack power, the target is slowed until the end of your next turn. If the power already slows the target, it is immobilized instead. In addition, you gain an additional use of Manipulate the Weave per encounter, though the power can only be used once per round.