Posted on June 8, 2012 by Michael Holland
Available at Amazon.com
Evil has always lurked deep underneath the ground and now Lolth’s children are clawing their way to the surface to consume the realms of Dungeons & Dragons. Few will survive the coming darkness. Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook is the first roleplaying game supplement released by Wizards of the Coast as part of The Rise of the Underdark ongoing event.
Sightings of dark elves on the surface have grown steadily—turning from dismissible rumors into disturbing reports. Brave heroes are needed to discover what plot or purpose is driving the children of Lolth to so boldly intrude upon our realm. Drow-laden encounters and challenges await you in stores everywhere—along with an array of products that will help you in your attempt to survive The Rise of the Underdark.
The Dungeon Survival Handbook is a tool for players and dungeon masters as well as anyone interested in reading about the dangerous world known as the Underdark. Chapter one introduces new themes, races and dungeon themed powers for dungeon delvers. Chapter two covers several topics including the “Top Five Rules of Dungeon Delving,” expert delving tactics, types of dungeons, iconic residents of dungeons and the Underdark, infamous dungeons and tools for those brave enough to venture below the surface. Chapter three and a pair of appendices contribute to the dungeon master’s toolbox with advice on building dungeons, interesting additions to adventures and some tables to help with the process.
Seven new themes appear in this book including the Bloodsworn, Deep Delver, Escaped Thrall, Trapsmith, Treasure Hunter, Underdark Envoy and Underdark Outcast. Some of these themes are very generic, like the Treasure Hunter, and can easily be applied to any number of character concepts. Others, like the Underdark Envoy, are more particular and help to drive characters in new and interesting directions. WOTC has continued the trend to add more depth to character themes making them more important than just their mechanical contributions. These themes develop character and story as much as they develop tactics in game play.
Goblins, kobolds and svirfneblin (deep gnomes) have finally received the complete “player race” treatment and they are a welcome addition.
The book also includes twenty four new class powers spread over twenty one different classes as well as twenty new skill powers available to characters trained in those skills. These powers focus on characters who “delve into dungeons” and it was nice to see a bit of support for classes which have not seen anything new in a while.
The dungeon master portion of the book is much lighter on crunch but this is balanced by a great deal of valuable material designed to help dungeon masters build better adventures. I think this was a good design choice at this point in the life cycle of fourth edition. 4E dungeon masters already have a large volume of “building blocks” to work with at this point but sometimes putting those pieces together still causes problems even for veteran dungeon masters.
Overall the Dungeon Survival Handbook is a nice addition to D&D 4E and players will be using bits and pieces of this material for quite some time. A third of the book will be loved by players, a third of the book will be very valuable to dungeon masters and everyone will enjoy the other third of the book.
Review by Michael Holland