Menzoberranzan: Digging D&D’s latest drow supplement

MenzoberranzanIt’s been a while since I picked up a new D&D sourcebook. For one thing, I don’t get much chance to play anymore, and I’ve moved away from my regular gaming group. But there’s also the impending shift to 5th Edition (or “D&D Next” as it’s being called, hopefully temporarily). The certainty of new rules and possibility of obsolescence always seems to have a chilling effect on purchases of new system material.

But recently the folks at Wizards of the Coast sent me a review copy of the latest supplement, Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue, which as D&D and Forgotten Realms fans would know centers on one of the most famous drow, or dark elf, settlements in the subterranean Underdark — the home of FR icon Drizzt Do’Urden, no less. It’s available from Aug. 21 at $29.95.

Is it worth it? At first glance, the slim 128-page hardcover seems disappointing, and one wonders whether it wouldn’t be a better value as a softcover release, especially this late in the 4th Edition life cycle. But the content is engrossing, mining all eras of the extensive Forgotten Realms archives — more than enough for a DM to run a set of adventures or even an entire campaign in Menzoberranzan and its immediate surroundings (the gorgeous fold-out map sees to that).

Newcomers to the Realms and its Underdark will be impressed, and so will spelunking veterans. But it’s not just a DM’s book — players are presented with the resources they need to join one of the scheming drow households or other Underdark organizations, and to match their political machinations with their own.

Wondering what happens if you end up with members of two or more different treacherous houses in the same party? There’s a strategy for that — several, in fact. The book also offers several bits of wisdom dealing with the issue of player characters depicting a party of evil adventurers — always a thorny topic — and creating a successful band of bad guys who don’t necessarily have to end up killing each other before accomplishing their great tasks. At least not right away…

The artwork, while rather sparse for such a slim volume, is inspiring as an RPG book’s illustrations should be. There’s more color than you would expect in a guidebook to the subterranean depths, but it still manages to convey the dangers and horrors below. Several pieces evoke classics like 1st Edition AD&D’s Deities & Demigods.

Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue is rich with flavor — “fluff” to match its “crunch,” but the crunch seems to have staying power that will make it useful well into the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The book shows that the transition between D&D Editions doesn’t have to be a dark void of lackluster content, and it appears that WotC’s stated goal of making the next edition as all-encompassing and plug-and-play as possible seems to be an achievable one, if this product is any indication of what’s to come.

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