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When the line up of D&D books was announced for this year at D&DXP I wrote in on this blog that we were only getting four new 4e books in 2012. As it turned out, we got two, Heroes of the Elemental Chaos, and Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook. This book, which came out in May is, at the time of writing this, the last book from Wizards for 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. The other two books on the schedule, Menzoberranzan and Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster’s Forgotten Realms are edition neutral, and no new 4e books have been announced, just more AD&D reprints*

So, what’s Into the Unknown like, then? Like the original AD&D Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide and 3.5’s Dungeonscape (another book released in the twilight of an edition), it contains both player and DM content. The player content occupies the first half of the book and includes several Underdark-based themes, including the interesting Escaped Thrall (a PC that’s successfully legged it from his scary aberrant captors) and Underdark Envoy (a nice theme for drow bards and other roguish types), and the more obvious Treasure Hunter and Trapsmith. There are also three races – the goblin, the kobold and the svirfneblin. I was pleased to see that the svirfneblin can still summon an earth elemental, albeit a toned-down “earth friend” and he has to wait until 10th level before he can do it in 4e (good old Unearthed Arcana!**).

The races are followed by some dungeon-themed powers tied in to various organisations and locations such as the Dark Lake Ziggurat and the classic Vault of the Drow. This was my least favourite bit of the book – as with 3.x feats c.2006, I think we’ve reached saturation point as far as PC powers are concerned. I wasn’t that surprised when the latest DDI submission guidelines said they didn’t want any more pitched.

The first, very crunchy, PC section takes us up to p. 71 out of 160. The next section is entitled Strive to Survive and is full of fun, well-written advice on dungeon and Underdark adventuring. That’s one thing that’s a little bit odd about this book – I would say it’s more Underdark-focused than dungeon-centric. Not that that’s a bad thing – the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide included information on the realms of Deepearth after all – but it was a bit of a surprise, particularly as we’ve already had a 4e Underdark book. Anyway, the Strive to Survive chapter has advice on how to clear rooms, find secret doors, deal with traps and even how not to use sheep (yes, really!) while dungeoneering. This is followed by a section on the various different types of dungeon, aimed squarely at the DM rather than the players, covering the characteristics, hazards and occupants for floating castles, magic laboratories, sewers and so on. After this, we get a nice overview of classic dungeon monsters (aboleth, grimlocks, cave fishers et al) – these mini-ecologies are nicely done and work well with the section before to provide inspiration for a cool dungeon adventure.

The next bit, Infamous Dungeons, is my favourite. Featuring Castle Ravenloft, the Pyramid of Amun-Re, the Tomb of Horrors and other iconic dungeons from D&D’s rich, storied past, this part of the book encourages 4e DMs to revisit some of these locations in their campaigns, with cool background options for PCs providing neat adventure hooks. The chapter ends with a few pages of dungeon equipment and magic items. Nothing remarkable here but it sure is good to see the ten foot pole back in 4e!

The final chapter, Master of the Dungeon, is full of advice on how to get the characters involved in the DM’s dungeon (linking back to the themes) as well as tips on how to create an Underdark adventure complete with interesting skill challenges and combat encounters. More dungeon-building info follows – this time focusing on who created the dungeon. Was it dwarves, a mad cult of Elemental Evil or a minotaurs? Sitting somewhat strangely at the end of this chapter, are rules for “special rewards” which bring wishes (and Power Word Kill) back into the game, as well as dungeon companions that PC adventurers can pick up on their travels, including good old Meepo from 3.0’s The Sunless Citadel. The book is rounded off with two appendices – one on how to build a dungeon, the second, a series of random tables for dungeon creation which refer back to what has been covered in the earlier part of the book.

Overall, this is a solid book for the 4e D&D player and DM, full of useful content. I much preferred the DM-focused sections, but that’s probably because I mostly DM and yet more PC powers don’t do much for me. Some of the dungeon-building advice goes over similar ground to that covered in Dungeonscape but there was more than enough new material here to give me some inspiration for the big dungeon beneath Parsantium I need to start writing soon. And, of course, the art is top notch. It’s just a shame this could well be the last 4e book we get from WotC.


* I’m more interested in these than I was when I wrote this post now I’ve learned that the Slavelords and the beloved S series are two of the reissues on the schedule!

** the first of 2013’s AD&D reprints. We had a lot of fun with that book, despite the fact half of the rules in it were a bit bonkers.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 13th, 2012 12:32 am (UTC)
YOOOOOooooo that is pretty.
Oct. 13th, 2012 07:35 am (UTC)
Definitely my favourite picture in the book! There are plenty of other good ones too.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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