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  • Title: CITY OF THE SPIDER QUEEN by James Wyatt
  • Price: $29.95
  • Pages: 159 + 16 Maps
  • Grade: B
  • Title: EPIC LEVEL HANDBOOK by Andy Collins and Bruce R. Cordell
  • Price: $39.99
  • Pages: 319
  • Grade: A-
  • Title: THE THOUSAND ORCS by R A Salvatore
  • Price: $29.95
  • Pages: 345
  • Grade: B-

Handbooks and Sourcebooks and Novels...Oh My!

CINESCAPE Studies Three Recent DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS Publications that Every Gamer Should Know About

By James T. Voelpel     October 13, 2002

Hey Gamers! Feeling buried under the veritable landslide of recent DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS releases? CINESCAPE is here to save the day with a brake-down of three recent D&D publications that every gamer should know about.

D&D Publication #1: CITY OF THE SPIDER QUEEN (Sourcebook)

Starting way back in the late 70's one race has been among the most popular enemies in DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS-- the Drow. The 1978 publication of VAULT OF THE DROW, and it's follow up QUEEN OF THE DEMONWEB PITS, introduced us to the vile underground-dwelling race of elves. Noted for their chaotic nature, brutality, and worship of Lloth (dark goddess of spiders) these Dark Elves achieved great popularity in R.A. Salvatore's HALFLING'S GEM series of novels. The character of Drizzt Do'Urden, a rogue drow fighting for the side of good, is one of the main reasons for this rise in popularity. His character is probably the most recognizable from the Forgotten Realms novels and has appeared in over 15 novels, including the newest THE THOUSAND ORCS.

Now Wizards of the Coast has released a mega-adventure featuring these denizens of the Underdark, CITY OF THE SPIDER QUEEN. Written by James Wyatt, this module is being released in conjunction with the new WOTC book series WAR OF THE SPIDER QUEEN and is designed to take DnD 3E characters from 10th to 18th level.

Warning if you intend to play this module there maybe spoilers in the following paragraph.

Set around the WAR OF THE SPIDER QUEEN background, the module follows the drow's loss of their dark goddess Lloth and the anarchy that follows. The setting of the adventure is new city of Maerimydra, a settlement of drow that is under siege by forces from outside and within. The leaders of the Dark Elf cult to Kiaransalee (drow goddess of vengeance and undead) have taken control of the city while an enemy army of Fire Giants and Ogres have invaded. The adventure can be played by heroic characters from the surface world or evil ones from the realms below and involves thirteen new monsters and thirteen new magic items. Also included in this 159-page module are an additional 16 pages of full color maps and over 40 fantastic full color pictures. This adventure test not only the characters combat and trap evading skills but challenges them in the realms of diplomacy and knowledge, giving all character classes a big part in surviving this hero eating module. New creatures such as the Blood Fiend, a demon vampire and the Wraith Spider, an undead giant spider, challenge even the most knowledgeable players (you know the ones with the Monster Manual memorized). The new magic items have a distinct drow/spider feel to them such as Eyes of the Spider and the Fang Scarab really fitting with this mega-adventure's setting.

CITY OF THE SPIDER QUEEN is an excellent addition to anyone's Forgotten Realms campaign or with modifications, any DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS 3rd EDITION game. The layout is the usual excellent Forgotten Realms look and the artwork is absolutely outstanding. The set up of the adventure lends itself to both evil and good characters but sometimes bogs down in a little too much combat. The new monsters are truly terrifying as well as the enemy non-player characters. The addition of powered up versions of these characters (first seen in WOTC's BASTION OF BROKEN SOULS module) in the appendix show the true abilities of this enemies. This adventure is definitely for more seasoned gamers as some of the enemy abilities, monsters, and magic items maybe a bit advance for newbies. With over 150 pages this mega-adventure will challenge characters for over ten average gaming sessions and really worth the $29.95 price tag, that is if they survive that long. With outstanding artwork, cartography but maybe a little too much combat CITY OF THE SPIDER QUEEN is an excellent challenge for more veteran players and Dungeon Masters but maybe above more novice gamers.

D&D Publication #2: EPIC LEVEL HANDBOOK (Handbook)


Since the good old days of DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS first edition there has always been the tales of ridiculously over powered characters. Like fishing stories, gamers like to regale the stories of their 37th level barbarian with his +5 can of whoop ass axe and armor of not getting cleaved in half, taking on the greatest of hell's minions. This is all while having one of his massive arms tied behind his back. There was always a name for these games, named after the legendary game show host Monty Hall, this being "Monty Haul". Games that involved these insane high level maniacs always had crazy magical artifacts, the most powerful of demon lords and stupid amounts of treasure. Almost every gaming convention had a "Monty Haul" tournament usually held at the end, which was not to be taken seriously. With 2nd edition DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS most of the problems that occurred with high level "hack and slash" campaigns were eliminated and "Monty Haul" gamers had to deal with more realistic, less stupid gaming. When 3rd edition was first released the gaming community was abuzz at Wizards of the Coasts promise of rules for high level D&D that made sense and were actually playable. Now a couple of years later we have the DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS EPIC LEVEL HANDBOOK. Written by D&D 3e scribes Andy Collins and Bruce R. Cordell the EPIC LEVEL HANDBOOK is 319 pages of god smacking, world smashing, Titan summoning rules and regulations. It you all you need to create and play legendary heroes that sometimes border on demigods and always deal with the most dangerous of adventures in whatever world they play in.

The book is huge (the biggest hardcover yet from Wizards of the Coast) and is split into nine sections. Covered are epic level characters (which are 20+ levels), how to run epic level adventures, epic skills, spells, monsters, magic items, a new setting, a sample adventure and famous characters from the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk. The rules balance epic level characters in a way that does not become unplayable, giving them the feel of legendary heroes without the over the top stupidity of old time "Monty Haul" characters. An example is the use of epic level feats, could not a high level rogue detect magic by simply appraising objects or an epic level druid change into a dragon with her Wild Shape ability? The skill section does not include high level versions but shows how common skills can be used at high levels. Examples would be how a rogue could use his balance skill to walk on a hair or water. A high level cleric could use his diplomacy to convert an entire army to his cause. This gives much more flavor to the old school version of high level characters, which were essentially geared to combat and had no role-playing feel to them. This means you can now create an epic level bard whose songs are legendary or an epic level sage who is the most knowledgeable person in the world.

The spells listed are really ones of legend, the kind of magic that heroes must use to stop the villain from casting to save the world or bring down a tyrannical ruler. With arcane names such as Raise Island or Dire Winter some of these spells are used to cast during an adventure while others are rituals that involve dozens of mages to cast. The highlight of the spell section is the epic spell creation which gives easy to follow rules to devise your own spells of mass destruction. It uses a "seed" method, which is formula that involves the spell effect, days to research, money required, experience points needed, damaged caused (if any) and magical backlash damage to give you a DC number (difficulty code) to cast it. An example would be the spell Vengeful Gaze of God which causes 305d6 (d6 is a six sided die) points of damage to the target as the heavens themselves unleash their wrath. The spell uses the Destroy seed takes 76 days to research costs 3,771,000 gold pieces, 143,640 experience points takes one action to cast and causes the caster 200d6 points of damage. This spell often kills the caster and takes a DC roll of 419 to cast it (an average high level spell might have a DC 50). This quite a ridiculous example but shows what can be done with epic level magic. Also include in the magic section are rules for high-level psionic (mental) powers and their use.

An overview of adventuring for these high-level heroes follows the spells. This section gives all a dungeon master needs to create and run adventures. From planar travel, campaign setting ideas, trap ideas and a whole whack of adventure hooks. This gives a true feel of how to create realistic adventures for characters bordering on gods and their impact on the world.

Following the adventuring section is the epic level magic items and artifacts. Included are rules for new magic item powers, listings of new powerful items and a return of classic artifacts. For veteran role players the last section is a return of such famous relics as The Ring of Gaxx, The Axe of the Dwarfish Lords and The Invulnerable Coat of Arnd.

New monster listed give some truly terrifying enemies for your characters. Included are creatures such as Abominations (unwanted half children of the gods), The white and black Slaad, and the Elder Titan. Along side these hero slaying creatures are new monster templates such as pseudo-natural creatures (average monsters with a Lovecraftian tentacle touch), the Demilich and legendary animals (huge primordial versions of regular animals).

Also included in this huge tome is a sample adventure taking place on the elemental plane of fire, new organizations (such as the interdimensional assassins The Garrote) and the epic setting of Union. A crossroads dimensional marketplace run by the Mercane, formally known as the Arcane in Spelljammer universe. A haven from free marketeers across the universe, Union is a good starting place for an epic campaign or a good place to send advanced characters to after they have advanced past their own worlds. Union is almost a counterpoint to D&D'smost interesting setting of PLANESCAPE and the city of Sigil. Union is a place where anything can be purchased for the right place and has a semblance of order while Sigil was a city of unabashed chaos.

Finishing up the book are listings for epic characters from the worlds of The Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk. Elminster, Mordenkainen and Manshoon are here along with eleven others.

A landmark book from Wizards of the Coast, the EPIC LEVEL HANDBOOK not only helps dungeon masters run high level games but encourages smart players to strive for it's unlimited greatness. A good idea is go out an purchase WOTC's MANUAL OF THE PLANES as a companion to this tome and create some truly outlandish regions for your legendary characters to romp around in. The only flaw maybe a disappointing level of artwork, especially with WOTC's recent reputation for quality in this area. This is a minor problem in a terrific book, another winner for the DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS 3rd EDITION line of source material and a definite must for any player or dungeon master.

D&D Publication #3: THE THOUSAND ORCS (Novel)


In the world of high fantasy a few authors have ruled over the last fifteen years. Weis and Hickman, Eddings, Brooks and of one the most popular R.A. Salvatore. In 1988, with little fanfare, the late TSR corporation released a Forgotten Realms novel by a new author called THE CRYSTAL SHARD with a drow Ranger named Drizzt as one of it's main characters. The author was R.A. Salvatore and the rest is publishing history. Since that day Drizzt has become a fixture in fantasy circles and Salvatore's last seven hardcover novels have appeared on the New York Times bestsellers list. With hits such as THE DEMONWARS SERIES, THE CLERIC QUINTET and the novelization of STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES he has a legion of fans awaiting his next novel. He is even the man behind the new WAR OF THE SPIDERQUEEN series taking place in the Salvatore created dark elf city of Menzoberranzan. None of his books are more eagerly awaited then stories involving his exiled dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden, a drow that has forsaken his race's evil ways. He has appeared in no less then thirteen novels as well as many short stories and now is center stage in the new HUNTER'S BLADE trilogy. A series that begins with THE THOUSAND ORCS, continues with THE LONE DROW (October 2003) and ends with THE TWO SWORDS (October 2004). The first novel is a return of all the original characters from his ICEWIND DALE TRILOGY that began in 1988. This includes the human fighter Catti-brie, the barbarian Wulfgar, Regis the halfling and the dwarven warrior Bruenor Battlehammer although the true star is Drizzt and his magical panther Guenhwyvar.

THE THOUSAND ORCS begins with the realization that the orc tribes led by King Obould Many-Arrows have formed a dangerous alliance with the frost giants led by Gerti Orelsdottr. Their goals are too destroy and capture the cities of the north and place themselves as rulers. Both Obould and the giantess Gerti have secret plans to do away with the other once their alliance is successful but they will burn those bridges when they get to them. Meanwhile Catti-brie, Wulfgar, Regis, Bruenor and Drizzt are heading to Mithral Hall, where Bruenor will once again become King. This is bittersweet for the companions for it means the end to their adventures together. Changes have already begun within the party, Bruenor seems distant and forlorn due to his upcoming kingship, Wulfgar has found love, Regis has become diplomat supreme and Drizzt and Catti-brie's burgeoning love has reached a crossroads. For Drizzt the decision is should he fulfill his desire to be with Catti-brie or are the ramifications of such a relationship too disastrous. He knows Catti-brie desires children but how would half-drow children be received, Drizzt knows how he is scorned and rejected by society. Will his children have the strength to deal with constant prejudice or is he condemning them to a life of loneliness and despair. As the party journeys toward Mithral Hall they stop off at Mirabar, a walled city ruled by humans and dwarves, a city that views Bruenor and his homeland as competition to be eliminated. His short visit starts a rift between the humans and dwarves that ends with the exile of their greatest defender Torgar Hammerstriker and many dwarven followers. After their departure they meet up with dwarves from a caravan that had been destroyed by Obould and Gerti's alliance and drive into the wilderness to find the culprits. eventually they end up in the city of Shallows and the realization that their foes are more then just a bunch of disorganized orc raiders. They help the town ready itself for the impending orc/giant attack. How will the heroes overcome insurmountable odds once again and survive to conclude their journey to Mithral Hall. With tons of famous characters including Ivan Bouldershoulder and his dwarven druid brother Pikel (from Salvatore's CLERICS QUINTET), action, political intrigue and one last adventure with the heroes of Icewind Dale are the recipe of the day.

THE THOUSAND ORCS is a welcome return to the beginnings of Salvatore's fantasy writing, though it seems to be lacking in some respects. All the characters that fans have been clamoring for are here but the sheer number of secondary stories and characters sometimes drowns them out. Even the would be love affair between Catti-brie and Drizzt seems underdone and somewhat glossed over. Characters such as Bruenor, Wulfgar and Regis are almost afterthoughts with some development to their personalities seemingly tacked on. The plot itself is rock solid and the story points with Obould and Gerti's alliance as well as the rift between the dwarves and humans in Mirabar are really well done. Salvatore is always noted for his ability to write action that you can picture and he doesn't disappoint here. The battles are stupendously done and vividly portray a comic book feel to them. For then fans of Salvatore this is a welcome edition to the Drizzt legacy, albeit lacking a bit, soon enough it will rocket up the bestseller list and have its following clamoring for the follow ups.

Questions? Comments? Let us know what you think at feedback@cinescape.com.


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