Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A 4E chocolate box - review: underdark

I've been looking forward to this.  The Underdark is a wonderful environment for games and taps into the essence of D&D. What I didn't expect was a lavish campaign setting in it's own right that gives the setting the mythic quality that it truly deserves, re-invigorates classic locations and brings back some old friends. Drow fans will be delighted at Erelhei-Cinlu's return and Torog, The King Who Crawls is fleshed out - not only do exarchs provide challenges on the way, you can also meet The King at 30th-level if your Dungeon Master so wishes.

Underdark provides plenty of crunch for your buck. New terrain types, combat effects and monster themes (featured in Dungeon Master's Guide 2) as well as combat effects are organised around the different parts of the Underdark.  The monster section at the end not only has new monsters but also suggested monsters (there's your ecology) and where to find them.  This is balanced with lots of information on roleplaying attitudes of Underdark denizens, what surface dwellers know, roleplaying the psychological impact of living underground and reminding you of what is best in Underdark life.  It also brings in where the Underdark bleeds over into the Feywild, the Shadowfell and the Elemental Chaos. This book has epic scope and it does a very good job of bringing it together - it's like a box of chocolates. You know it's going to be nice with maybe a couple you'll definitely offer to a friend instead.

That's a lot of ground to cover in 160 pages yet I got a sense fewer encounters - maybe one encounter per chapter - and slightly smaller chunks of art would have given enough room for the Feydark and especially the Shadowdark to come across as more than milk Underdark and dark Underdark. Both sections could have been fleshed out into full sourcebooks (similar to the recent Dragonborn book) or even web enhancements.  Still I can dream, right?  The other peculiarity was you get lots on Torog and his exarchs, not so much on his clerics and worshippers - people you might expect to meet on the way to Maelbrathyr for example. While different DMs will have different takes, information on typical examples of worship by specific races (e.g. humans, dwarves, troglodytes) would have been helpful.

For those new to the game, Underdark opens some wonderful doors and promises vistas of adventure. More experienced hands will love what's been done to the old stomping ground and note how the advice in DMG2 has been applied yet may feel there were missed opportunities to really open the setting up. Overall, it has something for everyone and maybe I'm being greedy in hoping everything is to my taste. A Bucknard's box of infinite chocolates would be perfect. Underdark is a quality four-tray deluxe Belgian selection delivered with panache by Rob Heinsoo.  More like this please.

Metrics:(out of 5) Overall: 4 (Artwork: 4, Crunch: 5, Fluff: 4)

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