It’s been a few weeks since GenCon, and I don’t know how about you, but I’m still trying to figure out how the big news has affected me. It was 12am here when the keynote was supposed to start, but with inevitable delays it was closer to 00:30am. Me and a few buddies where huddled at our respective PC screens, chatting over Steam, wondering what the big announcement was going to be.
And then it came. No, not Ed Greenwood announcing a series of novels that will reboot Forgotten Realms, nor the confirmation that the default campaign setting will indeed be Forgotten Realms (although important in its own right). And no, it wasn’t the addition of two new classes to the DnD Next playtest. It came matter-of-factly, as if not really that important. A kind of ‘oh and by the way’ thing, uttered by Mike Mearls. It’s going to be two years until they publish DnD Next.
Believe it or not, this fact, might even influence our day to day lives. Some of us run campaigns, they last years. We play them every week. A new edition release date is seen by many as a good day to aim to end a campaign at. So that statement kind of makes a difference. Specifically, I know now I have two years in which I could run a campaign, start to finish, and still make it in time for the new edition. Oh look, WotC have released a campaign book, how convenient.
Sorry, I’m not really being sarcastic, it makes perfect sense. Menzoberranzan has quite a few things going for it, and it is in fact good enough to make me consider using it as a basis for my next DnD campaign. So what’s inside that’s making me like it?
Let’s have a look:
This. Yes, this. I mean, I know we’ve come to expect a large poster map in our campaign books but oh how do I love the maps that WotC makes. It’s gorgeous all over, and I don’t think I need to say anything more about it. Oh wait, there’s another side to it! Effectively a color version of the first one, it comes with location markers that point to certain places within the book, becoming a handy reference for the DM or players.
But it’s not just aesthetics, it’s the content that shines as well. 4th edition books seemed to have this thing where they were completely oblivious to the existence of previous editions. Yes, they would re-use material from them but only as a recycled kind of thing. Even the Forgotten Realms book was deliberately vague on past events. Finally, Menzoberranzan embraces all the Forgotten history of the Realms (see what I did there? Eh? Eh?) and, for example, events that happened during the Time of Troubles see a lot of discussion, not just the post-Spellplague stuff. I am aware that this is due to an internal shift of how WotC are going to approach DnD lore material and I am very happy about this.
Whilst there is a chapter on playing Drow and choosing your house and creating a good background, this book shouldn’t be mistaken for anything else but a DM tool. Almost all of the recent DnD books, even the DM ones have recently featured themes, and this is not the case now. Which is a good thing I believe, there is enough theme support through Dragon magazine and the previous sourcebook, Into the Unknown. This way the supplement gets to stay on focus and provide enough material to spark DM creativity.
I was mostly impressed with the information on all the Drow houses. There’s a table on how they interact with each other and how high they have ranked over various periods of history. Don’t like the current houses? Twist and shape FR history and make your own with a section that’s focused solely on that. But then every house gets royal treatment with a good amount of information provided on them, including membership numbers, strength, affiliation, rivals, outlook, beliefs – anything you’d ever need to know about them. The book treats the Drow houses as campaign factions, suggesting to include three in the forefront of your game for a good amount of intrigue. But why stop there? Include seven and you’ve got a Drow version of Game of Thrones going in your living room once every week, as long as you think you and your players can juggle the amount of information.
Geography takes up as much space in the sourcebook as the factions, and I am happy to say that it’s written just as well as in any previous WotC supplement. Quality is what we’ve come to expect and what we’ve got. In addition to scrutinizing Menzoberranzan itself, it explores the Northdark in detail, providing plenty of locations for your ‘heroes’ to travel and explore.
This book goes hand in hand with the Book of Vile Darkness. There’s no escaping the fact that most Drow are evil, and if you’re playing a group of them, chances are that your character is evil too. This book explores how to handle ‘evil’ characters and ‘evil’ campaigns, but the Book of Vile Darkness was written to accommodate a game like that. Having said that, I’d also like to warn some groups about running a game where every character is an evil scheming Drow out to get other players. Make sure all your players are good friends, and understand that you’re all roleplaying, and not bringing your antisocial agendas to the table. It seems like an obvious thing to say, but so many times I’ve seen players who just want to ‘kill’ other characters or wreak havoc. This sort of person spells campaign doom to me.
It’s competition time! I’d like to give away a copy of Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue to my readers. I’d also like to have new readers discover my blog! So I’m giving out one brand new copy of the book to one lucky person who retweets this tweet! I’ll mail the book to any part of the world, free of charge, no ifs no buts. In addition, as a bonus, anyone who subscribes to my blog will be entered into the raffle twice. Good luck!