A massive new storyline will creepy-crawl across every aspect of the D&D landscape this year, as the Demon Queen of Spiders and her drow minions rise from their underground domains to take on the surface world. Rise of the Underdark will impact D&D RPG books, organized play, novels, a new miniatures game and even D&D Online, the free-to-play MMORPG. Hope you like drow (or killing them).
The drow have always made excellent villains — more capable and nefarious than orcs, more relatable than dragons and mind-flayers, they’ve spent millenia living in the Underdark, a vast subterranean domain in the Forgotten Realms. There, they spar with other underground races, but mostly vie amongst themselves for control of the major ruling houses in each drow city. Their matriarchal society worships Lolth, their Demon Queen, in all her half-spider, half-exotically-alluring-female-drow deadly beauty. But, as she explains in the cool trailer Wizards of the Coast put together to promote Rise of the Underdark, Lolth never meant for the drow to live in the Underdark forever. She calls it “a crucible.” All that striving, conniving and backstabbing? Accelerated evolution. The drow that remains are the strongest, the most ruthless, the ones with a true penchant for evil plots and a serious talent for dastardly manipulation.
Now that her drow are all finely honed weapons, Lolth is ready to take to the surface world. The timing couldn’t be better. All arcane magic in the Forgotten Realms is drawn from Mystra, goddess of magic, but Mystra is dead. Lolth seeks to take her place. This means war.
In case you think I’m speculating, Wizards will be releasing two compilations of the War of Spider Queen series of novels. R.A. Salvatore will also be taking part in the new war with the third book in his Neverwinter Saga, Charon’s Claw. A bunch of ebook only releases (which seems kind of lame) will detail specific events in and around the Rise of the Underdark. The one with best title is Spinner of Lies: Sword of the Gods by Bruce Cordell. Richard Baker has Prince of Ravens coming out this year, and I always enjoy his D&D novels. Marsheila Rockwell’s Skein of Shadows will take place in another D&D campaign world, Eberron, but will lead up to the opening of a portal in the Underdark that connects Eberron to the Forgotten Realms. Got all that?
That portal will take on extra significance for players of D&D Online (DDO). The MMORPG has been set in Eberron for years, but an upcoming expansion will allow players to step through the portal and play in the Forgotten Realms.
For players of the pen and paper version of D&D, Wizards will be throwing plenty of drow all up in your business too. First up, Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook. Part of this book is probably going to be lame (more themes and other mechanics for the dying Fourth Edition), part of it could be amazing (“Dungeon Masters will uncover advice and tips that will shed new light on creating dungeons and exploring the depths of their campaign worlds”). That last bit sounds a lot like the old 2nd Edition Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide, one of the best DM books in D&D’s history.
The most exciting D&D book will be the Menzoberranzan Campaign Setting. The most famous of drow cities hasn’t received the splatbook treatment since 2nd Edition. It should be awesome to see the various houses and all their intrigues detailed. Plus, physically, Menzoberranzan is one of the coolest, most unique fantasy cities ever. This will be awesome if only for the art.
The least exciting D&D product will be the Drow Treachery Fortune Cards. Fortune cards are, frankly, terrible. Don’t bother with those.
If your own D&D campaign isn’t ready to take part in the Rise of the Underdark, you can participate at a nearby gaming store. The upcoming season of D&D Encounters, the in-store D&D organized play program, will tell a lot of the story of Lolth’s rise, with the players taking part.
There is, somehow, still more. Wizards is unveiling a new line of D&D miniatures this year, but instead of random booster packs, they come in prebuilt warbands for use with a new skirmish game. Called Dungeon Command, each box gives you a bunch of minis, map tiles and stats, plus rules for fighting head to head against another player’s warband. The first set, Sting of Lolth, features a pack of drow. Reports are these are the same sculpts from the old D&D minis line, but with new and better paints. The sets also include stat cards for using the minis as monsters in the D&D board games (Wrath of Ashardalon, Legend of Drizzt). With quality map tiles, nicely painted minis and a lot versatility built in, Dungeon Command looks to be a solid product and a good value for gamers. I’m looking forward to it.
The only way you’re going to fit more drow into your 2012 is with a whole lot of black body paint.