Neuroglyph Games Only a Pen is Mightier Catch it on the Rise Dust shaken from a Book

Wizards Watch: Of Podcasts & Unearthed Arcana

Let’s talk of graves and worms and epitaphs…” ~ Richard II (Shakespeare, The Life and Death of Richard II {Act III, Scene 2})
This week started out as a fairly lackluster one in the realm of content from the official Wizards of the Coast site.  It is somewhat understandable, what with the month of August drawing to a close on Monday, there was not a lot that Dungeon Magazine and Dragon Magazine had left to unveil, except their Art and Map Galleries.  Couple that to what is undoubtedly some last minute logistics in preparation for PAX Prime in only a few days, and I suppose a “slow” news week is not too surprising.

[Editor’s Note: Personally, I find myself compelled to download those galleries.  There are usually some wonderful gems in them to use as illustrations in my D&D campaign sessions, crop into portraits for Character Builder, or just simply as a nice bit of art to throw into a blog on my website.]

But I was please see things start to pick up later, first with the release of the D&D Podcast on Wednesday entitled Essentials, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, and then followed by the announcement by Steve Winter of a new Dragon Magazine column Unearthing “Unearthed Arcana” in his September Editorial.

And today, we have seen the first release of the Unearthed Arcana column with an article by Peter Schaefer called simple, Curses!.

D&D Podcast

If you have not checked out the D&D Podcast, and still have some reservations regarding the new D&D Essentials line, I recommend you give it a listen when you have a free half-hour.   Essentials, Ravenloft, Dark Sun was hosted, as usual by Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford, and they open the program with yet another attempt to explain what the D&D Essentials Red Box will mean to the 4E Gaming Community.  Spurred by the recent Penny Arcade comic strip (where Tycho is outraged at the prospect of Essentials), Mike and Jeremy once again stress the importance of the Red Box as a gateway for new Players and Dungeon Masters to learn about D&D 4E, and to have a “complete experience” without having to spend a ton of cash on a stack of books.

[Editor’s Note: By the way, the Red Box will hit shelves on September 7th, and I already have a copy on pre-order to review.  I also have a few gamers lined up to try the new 4E “gateway” out, including a friend who has not played D&D since 2nd Edition, and his wife who has never played D&D at all!  Am definitely looking forward to revealing their reactions as part of my review process, and to see if the Red Box works as intended!]

The hosts of the D&D Podcast went over the materials included in this new Starter Set:

  • Four Iconic Character Class using the new Essentials builds Slayer (Fighter), Warpriest (Cleric), Thief (Rogue), Mage (Wizard)
  • A unique “Solo” adventure by James Wyatt to help guide new Players into a Class best suited to their “play-style”.
  • A Short Adventure, complete with dungeon map and tokens.
  • Plus enough DM Tools to continue creating additional encounters and rooms to add to the adventure.

Personally, having experienced a demo of Essentials using the Red Box Character classes at GenCon – and I might add that our DM was none other than Jeremy Crawford himself – I still am surprised at the concerns over the Essentials line.  Even the hosts of the D&D Podcast admit they feel a bit like broken records having to stress exactly what Essentials is and is not over and over again.  I cringed a bit at Mike Mearls’ World of Warcraft analogy, likening Essentials to the new Cataclysm Expansion, which will change some of the Players beginning experiences, but the game of WoW will remain the same.   It is not an entirely inappropriate analogy, however, as a WoW Player, I know that there will be some pretty sweeping changes made for Characters of all levels, which from what I have seen of Essentials is actually not the case.  Traditional D&D 4E Characters and Builds will remain the same, but there will be some less “complex” builds out there to play as well.  Mike also pointed out that now some board posters are referring to Essentials as D&D 3.9, which is again an inaccuracy.

For my part, I think that the only way to understand Essentials is to play Essentials, and 4E Gamers will have that chance at the D&D Worldwide Gameday on September 11th.  We will have to wait and see if things calm down after more of the 4E Community have experienced Essentials.  And for those lucky enough to be attending PAX Prime next week, Mike and Jeremy will be on hand doing more demonstrations of D&D Essentials!

Mike and Jeremy also discussed their Ravenloft experiences with the old I6 Module, and segued into looking at the new Ravenloft Boardgame which is also due out in September.  Mike claimed that he was looking into creating scenarios using elements from this new D&D Boardgame and combining it with the Wrath of Ashardalon Boardgame which will be released in December.

Having seen the Ravenloft game in action at GenCon, I have to say it is definitely a nifty product, and good for those game nights when a few MIA gamers from a D&D session threatens to ruin the evening.  My only reservation about pre-ordering one is the pricetag:  Amazon lists Ravenloft Boardgame at a whopping $62.75 ($64.99 retail)!  Compared to other popular board games like Settlers of Catan by Mayfair, the new D&D Boardgames are looking a bit steep on their pricing.  Of course, Settlers does have expansions

There is also a nice interview segment in the podcast where Shirley Mazzanoble chats with Dark Sun dark sun ww picLead Developer and Designer Rodney Thompson.  Rodney discusses his experiences as a freelancer and how he got his start as a Designer on the Star Wars RPG.  He also talks about the D&D Train, where a number of WotC staffers traveled from Seattle to Chicago by rail, giving them two full days of gaming time before driving to GenCon 2010.  Overall, it turned out to be a really nice interview segment with one of the pivotal minds behind the new Dark Sun.

And finally, the D&D Podcast closed with couple questions from the Mailbag.  In my opinion, the best question was: Can Ragnar Thunderwhacker climb as part of a charge?

The answer from the experts is a resounding YES – you can move up to your speed, which can include a climb action as part of the movement, and could also swim and jumb as well.  And I agree with the hosts about the name Ragnar Thunderwhacker – an awesome dwarf name if ever there was one!

Unearthed Arcana

As Steve Winter promised in the September Editorial, the new Unearthed Arcana column was launched today with Peter Schaefer’s Curses! I like the idea of this new column, featuring material which the R&D Department has experimented with but have not chosen to release into “official” channels.

Material in Unearthed Arcana will be variant rules, open to playtesting and modification, but will not be published in Character Builder or the DDI Compendium.  Obviously, much of the material can be ignored by Dungeon Masters if they choose, as it will not be part of any official rule set.  But I think that the idea of seeing some of the ideas and concepts that the Designers in the 4E R&D group come up with will be not only entertaining, but insightful as well.

The first installment of the new Unearthed Arcana deals with a different way of looking at curses, which rather than being static effects instead have a progression like a disease.  Over time, a victim can slowly succumb to more and more hideous effects of the curse if they do not resist it.  And even if they resist it, and move back up to a lesser level of affliction, the best the Hero can hope for is to maintain the curse at its basic threat level.  Remove Affliction can help get rid of it entirely, and the Author provided alternative methods of removing each curse which might save time and gold on a costly ritual.

While the actual details of the article cannot be revealed here, as it is DDI Content from Dragon Magazine, I have to say I rather like the idea of these progressive curses.  The Author provided a wide level range of curses, and from a variety of sources – fey, divine, arcane, and primordial – which shows just how flexible the variant can be.  I am sure that DMs who read this first installment of the Unearthed Arcana will be considering how to add these pesky new curses to their own campaigns, or making variants of them up for themselves – so Player-Characters beware!


All told, both the D&D Podcast and the new Unearthed Arcana column are definitely worth taking a listen to and a look at this weekend, in case you missed them.  There is lots of good stuff in there to start off the month of September, and I cannot wait to see what the next Unearthed Arcana has in store for us!

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Acknowledgements: Artwork courtesy of Wizards of the Coast (Dragon Magazine #390).

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


One Response to “Wizards Watch: Of Podcasts & Unearthed Arcana

  1. paul says:

    I do think the Unearthed Arcana column looks interesting. As a rules tinkerer myself, I like to see other peoples’ tinkerings.

    The specific curses seemed of mixed fun value. Some, like the fire one, would be fun to use, but some I can’t actually picture inflicting on a PC for very long: particularly the blind/deaf one. How would you pull it off without making the player feel useless?
    .-= paul´s last blog ..graverobbing over the Glyph =-.

Leave a Reply