on July 17, 2000
Dawn of a New Era
Since August 1999, the D&D community has had very little in the way
of real, official Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition material to read
and enjoy. Sure, there have been short articles in Dragon Magazine,
monsters and characters presented on the WotC website, and posts from
game designers on various message boards and newsgroups. Recently, WotC
released what I consider to be the first "real" Third Edition
publication, the D&D Conversion Manual. But that booklet
was more of a tease than anything -- there were tantalizing hints of
what was to come but nothing of real substance.
Today, my mail carrier dropped off issue #274 of Dragon Magazine,
and I can say without much exaggeration that a new era for Dungeons
& Dragons has begun. This report will highlight some of the many,
many fun 3E features you can find in (and with) this issue.
Lots of Extras
The August issue of Dragon comes bagged in plastic, and that
bag contains not only the magazine itself, but several additional
- CD-ROM: For many, this is the jewel of the crown,
the CD-ROM that contains the D&D Character Generator demo program
and an electronic user manual. Also on this disk are the D&D
Conversion Manual (the same PDF you can download from the WotC
site), movie trailers for Icewind Dale, Baldur's Gate 2, and Pool of
Radiance II, and an unpublished 3E adventure from Dungeon Adventures
magazine, "The Dead of Winter," by Keith
- "The Dead of Winter" is a
long (19 pages), meaty adventure with a simple search-and-rescue story
but lots of things to do. You'll find all sorts of useful pieces for a
campaign: 3E stats for about 20 monsters and a dozen NPCs, details of a
small fortified hamlet, and both wilderness and dungeon/cave
encounters. This adventure is recommended for 2nd-level characters.
- Living Greyhawk Journal #0: Just as
the RPGA publishes Polyhedron magazine every other month, so
will it now publish the Living Greyhawk Journal. This 12 page
issue included with Dragon Magazine includes brief LG
character creation guidelines, an overview of a group of Greyhawk NPCs
known as the Circle of Eight, and "news" from around the world of
Greyhawk. Here's a scan
of LGJ's cover.
- Poster Map: A large, two-sided color poster map
(with "Robin Hood Country" on one side,
and "Nottingham Castle" on the other) is
included as part of Ian Malcomson's "Legends of Sherwood" articles
inside the magazine. (BTW, Ian tells me it's "Malcomson" and not
"Malcolmson" as printed throughout the magazine. D'oh!)
- Funeral Card: A tribute to King Azoun of the
Forgotten Realms, who will presumably be killed off in Death of the
Dragon, an Ed Greenwood & Troy Denning novel set for an August
We've been told for some time that this issue of Dragon would
sport a new look for the magazine, and it's true -- in some ways it's
almost unrecognizable. A funky new font (the same one spelling out the
magazine's name on the cover)
is used frequently for titles. Things have been rearranged (the
Convention Calendar and Dragon Mirth are toward the front now, and PC
Portraits are in the back). Every page has color and texture to it.
Well, that's not always true -- the articles themselves (those not part
of a regular column) are relatively free of the blotchy backgrounds,
leaving crisp text on white pages, but with colorful sidebars to draw
attention to important details. However, things like the letters column
(now called "Scale Mail"), Profiles, the Convention Calendar, Sage
Advice, Silicon Sorcery, Dungeoncraft -- the regular columns -- are
presented on pages so texturized that it's hard to tell at times where
the "dark and edgy" advertising leaves off and the "dark and edgy"
magazine content begins. We've been told that this issue would be
"designed" by free-lancers, and that Dragon's new art director
would be on board for next issue, so it will be interesting to see how
the design evolves over the next few months.
Inside the Issue
Now for the good stuff: what's inside!
- Editorial: Dave Gross gets things moving with an
anecdote about a 3E playtest session that not only reveals some of the
depth of the new rules but reminds us that playing D&D is about
having a good time.
- Gygax on a Soapbox: Nothing new here, though more
advice than usual.
- Profiles: Everything you wanted to know about
D&D designer Jonathan Tweet.
- Previews: Next month's Dragon includes articles
about unusual race/class combos (by the inestimable James Wyatt -- go
ahead, you just try to estimate him! ;), the Duelist prestige class,
and new exotic weapons.
- One Roll to Rule Them All: the D20 Core Game Mechanic:
Jonathan Tweet lays down the mathematical and probability-related goods
on the guts of the D&D rules system. Here's a quote for you: "A D&D character sheet has always been a whole
mess of numbers. The point of the d20 mechanic is to make as many of
those numbers as possible work on the same scale, so that a +5 on your
attack roll means about the same thing as +5 on a saving throw or a +5
on a skill check."
- Playtesting Confidential: Kim Mohan takes us
through the macabre world of the 3E Playtest.
- Class Acts: Create Your Own Prestige Classes: DMG
author Monte Cook delves into the whys and hows of
creating new prestige classes. The whys include adding
definition to organizations already in your campaign world and
describing your world's cultures. The hows include how to set
the prestige class's requirements (both game mechanical ones and
role-playing ones), designing the unique prestige class abilities, and
creating unique spell lists for spellcasting prestige classes.
- The Mystic: Monte Cook immediately shows us a
finished prestige class, the Mystic. As rumored, only ten levels of
prestige class abilities are described (this will apparently be true
for all prestige classes). A table shows the attack bonus, saving throw
bonuses, class abilities and spell accumulation by level. This
particular prestige class excels at learning new languages and applying
metamagic to spells.
- The D&D Movie: Justin Whalin: An interview with
one of the stars of the forthcoming movie.
- Legends of Sherwood: Ian Malcomson offers up a
series of interconnected articles that form the backbone of a 3E Robin
- Steal from the Rich: Sets up the historical and
societal background of the Nottingham region, and includes details for
running campaigns in purely historical (no magic), "legendary"
(low-magic), and fantasy (typical magic) mode.
- Wolfsheads: Adventures for Heroic Outlaws: Nuts
and bolts info for running the Robin Hood campaign, including such
things as a list of DCs for persuading peasants to help the outlaw PCs,
discussion of what classes are most appropriate for such a campaign,
four new ranged weapon feats (Ranged Disarm, Deflect Ranged Attack,
Ranged Pin, and Ranged Sunder), tips for handling trick shots, and
several adventure hooks.
- The Great Greenwood: A Mini-Gazetteer of Robin Hood
Country: This list of places is a companion to the poster map
previously mentioned. Included is a stat block for a "Typical Saxon
- Rogues and Royal: Lots of NPCs for the Sherwood
campaign, from "Typical Norman Soldier" to Robin, Friar Tuck, Maid
Marian, and many more. All in 3E format of course.
- General Articles: Some general articles on
role-playing and creating adventures are presented. Nothing especially
Third Edition-ish about them, though they're still good reads. We also
get another installment of Ed Greenwood's "The Adventures of Volo" and
Ray Winninger's "Dungeoncraft."
- Fiction: "Power and Glory," a King Arthur story by
- The Bestiary: Beasts of the Pomarj: Four new
monsters, 3E-style of course, and all of them low-power, suitable for
dropping into a beginning-level campaign.
- Role-Models: An introduction to preparing your
miniatures for painting, along with some photos of the 3E mini line.
- Sage Advice: Ah, this is more like it -- all sorts
of technical Third Edition questions and answers. Sample questions:
- "What's the use of the refocus
action when you can ready an action and go at the highest person's
- "We're confused as to which
skills you can take 10 and take 20 on. Can we take 10 or take 20 on a
Hide check, for example?"
- "Why do half-orcs suffer a net
penalty of -2 to their initial ability rolls?"
- Power Play: Scattered throughout the Forum and Sage
Advice columns are sidebars by Sean Reynolds that highlight some of the
min/max potential of Third Edition. Hey, at least this way DMs have a
chance to see some of the extremes of the game and potentially turn
these tricks into something that can be used against the PCs. Here's a
Spells + Improved Unarmed Strike (+ Stunning Fist)
Trying to punch someone for damage while using a touch attack spell is
harder than just making a touch attack, since doing so still provokes
an attack of opportunity -- unless you have the Improved Unarmed Strike
feat. With the feat, you get to attack with the spell, inflict punching
damage, and don't suffer an attack of opportunity. This is especially
good with chill touch (which you can use multiple times per casting), inflict wound spells
against the living or cure wound spells against undead (where you'll be inflicting two
kinds of damage), shocking grasp (where you get an additional bonus to hit
metal-armored targets), and vampiric
touch (where you heal yourself when
you hit). If you have Stunning Fist, you can include a stun attempt in
addition to punching damage and the spell effect.
Conclusion: Buy It!
This issue is a milestone in many ways, and contains so many goodies,
that you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't buy, beg or borrow
a copy of Dragon #274.
Dungeons & Dragons, D&D
3E and AD&D are all property of Wizards of the Coast.