D&D 4th Edition Review of Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue by Wizards of the Coast


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    Review of Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue by Wizards of the Coast

    It was only one day after returning from the “best four days of gaming” at GenCon 2012 - where I had an absolutely AMAZING time, by the way – there was a knock at my door, and I was greeted by a guy from UPS with a package from Wizards of the Coast. Now I had debated all weekend whether to buy a copy of the new Menzoberranzan setting which was on sale in the WotC booth, but on the last day, I was told by the PR folks that I could expect a copy in the mail very soon. Well I have to hand it to the WotC PR staff – when they say soon, they really mean SOON!

    As fans of older D&D editions might well remember, TSR released a boxed set of Menzoberranzan in 1992, offering three booklets and maps revealing the “Famed City of the Drow”. Ed Greenwood, R.A. Salvatore, and Douglas Niles took on the project for 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, and it was released with a whopping 210 pages and included an adventure module.

    The current release is a much by Brian R. James and Eric Menge is hardcover format, and does a re-treatment of the setting in a very different style. Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue has been design to be edition-neutral, offering an in-depth look into the infamous Underdark metropolis without any “crunch” content whatsoever!

    So how does this new version of Menzoberranzan stack up against its predecessor?

    Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue

    • Design: Brian R. James and Eric Menge
    • Development: Jeremy Crawford, Tanis O’ Connor, Chris Sims
    • Cover Illustrators: Jesper Ejsing
    • Interior Illustrators: Eric Belisle, Melivoj Ćeran, Jesper Ejsing, Wayne England, Jason A. Engle, Brian Hagan, Ralph Horsley, Tyler Jacobson, Chris Malidore, David Martin, Lee Moyer, Jim Nelson, William O’Connor, Chris Seaman, Mike Schley, Craig J. Spearing, Matias Tapia, Francis Tsai, Ben Wooten
    • Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
    • Year: 2012
    • Media: Hardbound (130 pages) + Map
    • Retail Price: $29.95 ($24.88 from [ame="http://www.amazon.com/Menzoberranzan-City-Intrigue-Dungeons-Dragons/dp/0786960361?&linkCode=waf&tag=neurogames-20"]Amazon.com[/ame])

    Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue is a new supplement for the Forgotten Realms Campaign setting featuring the Underdark city made famous by R.A Salvatore’s Drizzt novels. The setting supplement is designed to be rule-system-neutral, and provides information on running the city in any D&D edition and in almost any fantasy role-playing game system. Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue provides information about the city and surrounding environs of the Underdark, as well as its drow inhabitants and rulers, and their way of life. Further, the setting supplement provides for creating and running a campaign as drow, with adventure hooks, campaign ideas, and plots, plus detailed background and faction information to allow for a completely drow-centric experience.

    Production Quality
    Overall, the production quality of Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue is stunning. The layout of the pages provides the content in a logical format, and the writing is excellent and a pleasure to read. The book contains uses shaded sidebars to highlight important additional information, particularly information which players might need to create and develop drow characters.

    The illustrations in the Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue range from very good to downright breath-taking, and all the artwork appears new for this book’s release. Obviously given the evil nature of the drow, the images in the supplement are quite gothic and downright creepy, but it does a great job to enhance the reading experience.

    The map of the city is beautifully rendered with great details, and is actually double-sided. One side is done as a full color version, with names and reference codes attached to specific locations to be used with the book. The other side is printed as sepia ink on parchment with only place names on the map and no reference codes – presumably, this is the map that players get to see as they scheme and adventure their way around the city.


    Welcome to the City of Intrigue

    Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue is divided up into six chapters, three of which specifically deal with a different aspect of the city of the drow – societal, political, and geographical. The other chapters offer insight on creating a drow-centric campaign, creating drow characters, and on dealing with the Underdark wilderness beyond the city’s environs – the dangerous Northdark of the Forgotten Realms.

    The introduction and first chapter of Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue delve right into creating a campaign in the city, and what it means to run a Menzoberranzan campaign. The authors make no illusions about it: this book is primarily designed to be used to create a campaign in which drow characters are the “heroes”, and the campaign adventure goals will likely be evil in nature. From there, the authors reveal a wealth of ideas for designing a campaign. They touch on campaign flavor such as ways to introduce political intrigue and schemes, as well as campaigns of raids against the surface, wars among drow, or against creatures in the Underdark. Dungeon Masters are also given a fairly extensive history of the city, allowing them to place their campaign in eras ranging from the Founding through the Time of Troubles and even into the era of the D&D 4E Spellplague. The content is presented “edition-agnostic” here, as in the rest of the book, offering a chance to run not only a wide variety of campaign styles but also game systems. Literally, one could create a dozen different campaigns from ideas in Chapter 1, and each one would have a unique and different flavor than all the others.

    Chapter 2 is entitled The Way of Lolth, takes a look at the goddess and the drow from a range of sociological and religious angles. Obviously the Spider-Queen is discussed here in some detail, as are other gods worshipped by the drow, such as Eilistraee and Ghaunadaur. There’s a pretty decent overview of drow psychology and social structure as well, along with information about their caste system and how the matriarchy works. The authors include some interesting aspects of culture like how commerce functions, what drow do for fun and revelry, festivals in the city, and even a collection of drow proverbs and sayings. Good material here for both DMs and players wanting to embrace the inner workings of drow society in Menzoberranzan.

    As those familiar with the Drizzt novels would expect, there is a sizable section of the book devoted to the various Houses of the drow in the city. In Chapter 3, Drow Factions, each of the major and minor noble Houses of the drow are discussed in some detail, as well as other groups which hold power in Menzoberranzan - the infamous academies of the Tier Breche, the roguish mercenaries of Bregan D’aerthe, and the assassins of Jaezred Chaulssin. Each House and faction is given a unique entry in the book, and a wide range of details, including their ranking, goals, leadership, glyph, religious leanings, and other important facts. Much of this is quite similar to the 1992 boxed set House summaries, and in fact some of the stats, like the Membership stats and numbers of soldiers and slaves were lifted directly from the previous work.


    However, the authors do offer some quite new and different stats/characteristics from the previous work by including the Houses’ “personality” traits and their Power rating - this latter stat is determined from a Houses’ Might Rating, it Favor Rating, and its Wealth Rating. This gives a nice abstract idea about how powerful a House is, and how it would fare against another House in a power-play or intrigue. There are even rules for creating a new noble House to add to the city, presumably by having a minor or non-noble House rise to power – and there’s another campaign hook one could use.

    I particularly enjoyed how each of the Houses and factions in this section include a couple of character backgrounds in a sidebar – or in some cases, a half-page bar – to assist in bringing depth to a drow player character or NPC. Again, like the rest of Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue, the information is presented as system/edition neutral, with a lot of background information to use in character development, some general characteristics, and sometimes a pre-requisite - usually drow/male or drow/female as their roles in society are rarely the same. So a player could decide to be an Elite Guard of House Baenre, a Dread Fang of House Melarn, or a House Wizard trained within the Sorcere. Illustrations in this chapter show major NPCs in the House or faction, presumably to give players a good idea what their enemies or allies look like.

    Chapter 4 delves deeply into the City of Spiders, and covers all the major areas on the map in a gazetteer-style format. The chapter opens with a discussion of major geographical areas, like the great rock column Narbondel or the Overways and Underways which run through the cavern above and below the city. In addition, there is a section on life in the city, including patrols and various types of creatures that might visit Menzoberranzan.

    Most of the rest of the chapter concentrates on the Districts in the city, and the places of business there. Specific locations within Menzoberranzan use of an iconography similar to that of the famed Volo’s guides, with stacks of coins representing expense, stars for quality, and skulls for threatening areas. The chapter closes with a couple pages about major locations in the Dark Dominion – the patrolled wilderness of the Underdark a few miles around the outside of Menzoberranzan.

    Chapter 5 takes the reader outside Menzoberranzan and beyond the Dark Dominion into The Northdark – the untamed wilds of the Underdark beneath Neverwinter and the North. The authors discuss major regions of this dangerous area, and include information on lairs, creatures found there, and other important facts. Some areas are treated with greater detail, and include histories to allow them to be synched up with a Menzoberranzan campaign of a particular era. And there are plenty of sidebars with adventure hooks and ideas, making the whole Northdark a wilderness setting, with Menzoberranzan, ironically, as the “point of light” in which to seek haven!

    Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue concludes with a final chapter on what it is to Be a Drow. The chapter discusses what it is to be evil characters in an evil setting, and throws in a rather shameless plug about obtaining a Drow Treachery deck which is like the D&D Fortune Cards – except that using these cards in a game will also directly affect the “Worth” score. The authors have created a rather nifty Drow Station system in which the character’s background and role-playing actions taken during the course of play affect the Worth Score of a drow, as compared to their Houses’ Power Rating.

    Some circumstances and actions raise worth, while others lower it. If it drops too low, your character could end up as the next sacrifice to Lolth, while those characters with the high Worth Scores can actually gain control of a House! In fact, one sidebar actually delineates the life of Drizzt and demonstrates how low his Worth Score sunk over the course of his career. Chapter 6 ends with a nice section on role-playing tips for drow characters.


    The supplement includes a final two-page Appendix with a Map Key to all major locations in the city, along with their reference codes.

    Overall Score: 4.25 out of 5.0

    Conclusions

    There is a lot of reasons to love Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue, and it offers a great deal of potential to Dungeon Masters for running a very unique style of evil campaign in any edition of D&D, and a wide variety of other fantasy role-playing games as well. And not only does the book present DMs with ideas, but also offers players a pack of character creation options which are all about their story, and not concerned with their mechanics or gear. And honestly, the book is a great read for anyone who likes drow or Salvatore’s Drizzt novels.


    Overall, I also like that this supplement is edition neutral as well, meaning that any D&D DM can use it in their campaign. But I have to admit to a bit of chagrin about this as well, given that there is no 4E specific information – it simply underscores the end of my personal favorite edition all the more. I can only hope that WotC considers releasing some 4E specific content like themes, backgrounds, magic items, and monsters as part of DDI, so that fans of the current edition can enjoy the book a little more fully.

    The only negative thing I can say about Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue is that it’s yet another example of shrinking page length and high priced supplements. I’ve complained about this trend of WotC’s in previous reviews, and yet here we have an even shorter book priced at 30 bux. It’s a frustrating trend to watch, and I hope WotC reverses it before the Next edition of D&D comes out.


    So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

    Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

    • Presentation: 4.25
    • - Design: 4.5 (Fantastic layout, great writing, easy to peruse)
    • - Illustrations: 4.0 (Gorgeous cover; very good to excellent inner illustrations)
    • Content: 5.0
    • - Crunch: NA (There is no Crunch! Love the Fluff!)
    • - Fluff: 5.0 (Exceptional system-edition-game neutral Fluff! Tons of campaign and adventure ideas!)
    • Value: 3.5 (Pricey book for its only 130 page length)


    Author’s Note: This author received a complimentary copy of this product for use in writing the above review.
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    ø Ignore flyingcircus
    I would like to have had the crunch for 4E included, think I will pass. They're only doing no crunch because of 5E.

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    ø Ignore Blackwarder
    I wasn't planing to get that book since I figured that it will be heavy with 4e crunch and focused on the new FR but after reading this review I'm actually intrigued (see what I did there? :P )

    Can we get this in PDF format?

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    But does it have wingless wonders?

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    Nice review, and since it has no 4th ed crunch will be added to my FR collection.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Blackwarder View Post
    Can we get this in PDF format?
    Currently, no. But WotC stated that, starting in 2013, they will make available (some of?) their back-catalog in an as yet unspecified electronic format.
    'Can a magician kill a man by magic?' Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. 'I suppose a magician might,' he admitted, 'but a gentleman never could.'

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    Nice write-up, too bad it's good enough to lose a sale. The book is useless to me without crunch and ties to the outside world. It's great for emo-Elf fanboys and those who don't have other material about the city but I do.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Herschel View Post
    Nice write-up, too bad it's good enough to lose a sale. The book is useless to me without crunch and ties to the outside world. It's great for emo-Elf fanboys and those who don't have other material about the city but I do.
    Good for you, no need to be a dick about it...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Blackwarder View Post
    I wasn't planing to get that book since I figured that it will be heavy with 4e crunch and focused on the new FR but after reading this review I'm actually intrigued (see what I did there? :P )

    Can we get this in PDF format?

    Warder
    Quote Originally Posted by Blackwarder View Post
    Good for you, no need to be a dick about it...

    Warder
    Pot, meet kettle.

    Mod Note: Please see my post below ~Umbran

    What I'm saying is if you're a drow fanboy or don't have previous material, it's nice, but when you've been reading/collecting (hoarding? ) this stuff as long as some of us have, it doesn't offer us really anything new.
    Last edited by Umbran; Friday, 24th August, 2012 at 03:37 PM.

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    A friend of mine opened to a random page. I'll try to recall the exact phrasing.

    Entertainment
    Drow love to party. Their revelries typically involve gathering for dancing, food, and the consumption of strange alchemical substances.



    Now replace 'drow' in that sentence with any other group of people of any race from any planet ever, and you'll get a sense why I didn't find the writing that compelling. Drow should drip sinister evil. Instead they sound like frat-boys.
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