I don’t get to play Dungeons & Dragons as much as I’d like (I know: Who does?), so I look forward to Wednesday nights, when I drive to my Friendly Local Bookstore for a few hours of D&D Encounters.
Since the current adventure has our party tangled in the Underdark-based Web of the Spider Queen, it seems appropriate to scratch the RPG itch between sessions with Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook. (Wizards of the Coast provided GeekDad with a copy for review.)
Into the Unknown is divided into three chapters – Dungeon Delvers, Strive to Survive and Master of the Dungeon.
Chapter One makes up almost half of the 160-page volume. This covers the new “nuts and bolts” character-building content like new races (kobolds, goblins and svirfneblins), character themes like Trapsmith, Treasure Hunter and Underdark Envoy, and dungeon-themed skill and class powers to augment existing character builds. There’s a lot of information packed into this chapter, and some intriguing new possibilities for players looking beyond the usual roles. And the features, skills and powers offer plenty of inspiration for those who like to focus on unique, specialized combat and encounter tactics.
(The section on goblins brought to mind Jim C. Hines’ Goblin Quest, which twists the standard dungeon crawl tale through the perspective of one of the underground dwellers who must repeatedly deal with often obnoxious parties of surface adventurers.)
Chapters two and three are more about the big-picture storytelling aspect of D&D for both players and dungeon masters. There are sections on delving tactics (“Don’t split the party” is Rule No. 1, of course.), types of dungeons and monsters who typically inhabit these places.
One of my favorite parts of the book is its Infamous Dungeons section of chapter two, which details eight well-known D&D settings: Castle Ravenloft, the Ghost Tower of Inverness, The Lost City, the Pyramid of Amun-Re, White Plume Mountain, the Temple of Elemental Evil, the Gates of Firestorm Peak and – naturally – the Tomb of Horrors. Each classic location is fleshed out through not only its in-game backstory, but with a sidebar look at its original D&D adventure module, several of which took me back in memory to my brief middle-school exploration of the game. (True story: I bought my first computer for ten dollars and my played-out copy of The Lost City.)
The final chapter provides inspiration, outlines and dungeon-creation advice to DMs. I haven’t taken the step to sitting behind the screen yet. GeekDad Chuck Lawton’s posts on the subject remain an inspiration, though, and this section of Into the Unknown nudged me even further in that direction. Two appendices to chapter three provide additional insight into building dungeons from scratch.
With the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons in development, the long-term usefulness of Into the Unknown‘s specifics based on game mechanics – specifically the powers, etc. in chapter one – will depend on whether or not you stick with fourth edition rules.
But if you turn to supplements like this for more than the numbers – for things like quest ideas, character motivations and new settings – then Into the Unknown deserves a spot on your D&D shelf.