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Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook (Dungeons & Dragons) [Hardcover]

Rpg Team
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

15 May 2012 Dungeons & Dragons
D&D ENCOUNTERS SUPPORT: This product supports the D&D Encounters in-store play program by providing Dungeons & Dragons players with exciting new options for their D&D Encounters characters. The player material in this book is also suitable for home game use.

CHARACTER THEMES: This book presents several new character themes tied to dungeon exploration. Themes are popular with Dungeons & Dragons players, as they provide more depth to each character's back story and provide intriguing in-game benefits.

This book also includes advice for Dungeon Masters on how to integrate character themes into an ongoing campaign that features dungeons and other subterranean environments, as well as dungeon-building tips.
This product has tangential ties to the drow-themed marketing campaign.

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Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook (Dungeons & Dragons) + Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue (Dungeons & Dragons Supplement) + Halls of Undermountain: A 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Supplement
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 1 pages
  • Publisher: Wizards of the Coast (15 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786960329
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786960323
  • Product Dimensions: 28 x 22 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 449,947 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surviving the Dungeon 18 Jun 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A well written addition to the 4e D&D product line, useful for players and DM's alike.

Although released with the Web of the Spider Queen encounters series in mind, the new races/classes within the DSG can be used in any campaign with a little thought.

Well done WotC.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rounding up from 3-1/2 stars... 16 May 2012
By William M. Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It's tough to get a good read on this book. It almost feels like a few underdark- and dungeon-themed articles and an editionless fluff book got sewn together into a single product. On the up side, the content here is solid. On the downside, it's of questionable value to both players and DMs; there's not enough of value for either to justify the full cover price. I also found it a tad unfocused... The player information is mostly underdark-oriented, rather than dungeon-crawly, as if it escaped from the upcoming Menzoberranzan supplement. [Edit: It appears that it very well might have, because Menzoberranzan is now an "editionless" supplement.]

Anyway, let's start with the good - the player stuff, which is found (mostly) in the front half of the book. As has become the norm, we begin with themes - 7, here, to be precise, in a mix of dungeon-focused and underdark-themed adventurers. Do we really need more themes? Ummm... No, not really. Are they still good to have? Sure! As long as they're good.

And these, fortunately, are good. They are generally fairly potent, mechanically, which is fine by me... Top of the potency list are the Bloodsworn, who get a slightly less-powerful Elven Accuracy at 1st, second-wind-based features at 5th, and initiative at 10th. Deep Delvers are also notable - they make up for some lackluster low-level features with a whammy - Blindsight - at 10th level. Trapsmiths are pretty cool too - they have evocative flavor, and an interesting off-turn Reaction attack which can pick up control effects. There's even a largely out-of-combat theme in the Treasure Hunter, but while their 10th level feature is interesting, it's overall kind of underwhelming. For each theme, there's some good flavor text stating the character's role in dungeons and/or the underdark along with "sample characters" (more fluff text, which I could honestly take or leave). I wish more of the themes used "highest attribute" for their attacks rather than specific stats, but that's more an issue of taste than anything else.

Moving on. I'm on record for basically hating most of the races WotC has come out with since (and including) PHB3, but what do you know? I love all three of the new races presented here! Without them, this would have been a 3-star book at best. Goblins and Kobolds at long last get the full racial write-ups they deserve! And svirfneblin are back!

All three races are given a lot of attention, similar to what was seen in Heroes of the Feywild, but a little deeper. Goblins are mostly in-line with their original MM1 write-up, but presented here with a wealth of fun flavor text, evocative feats (Sneaky Stabber is particularly great), and a full suite of 2-10 Utility Powers. Living Shield looks like fun, but Fast Filch - which lets Goblins pick pockets in combat at will - seems kind of nightmarish to me from a DM's perspective.

So, anyway, Kobolds! Yes, their Shifty power from their original MM1 writeup got nerfed. You knew it would happen. Shifty Maneuver is a pretty good substitute, though, and they can use their Utility 10 to get a twice-encounter Minor Action shift if they're hurting too badly from the loss. Their feats are pretty decent, too; I can see players taking Dragon's Indomitability (roll twice vs. Daze/Stun) and Eldritch Momentum (which is a more direct way for Warlocks to gain combat advantage after moving, rather than relying on Concealment-based feats).

I've loved svirfneblin since AD&D's epic D123 and their original super-overpowered Unearthed Arcana racial write-up, so it's nice to see them here. Yes, they're a marginal race of sorts, but they're one with as deep a pedigree as drow. They are geared more towards Defenders than normal gnomes, and I think one of their feats is probably scheduled for nerfing. (This would be Deep Durability, which lets multi-marking defenders get a theoretically insane number of temporary hit points while using their racial power.) Deepstone Blessing is likewise kind of awesome for Warpriests. Their utility powers are solid, and it warmed my heart to see that one of their Level 10 Utilities lets them summon an earth elemental of sorts. (Ahhh, the memories... That was one of the craziest bits of the AD&D deep gnome. That, and spell resistance.)

So those are the two strongest parts of the book, in my mind, and it takes us all the way to page 52. You might expect classes here, but you'd be mistaken. Instead, WotC tried something new, and the next 20 or so pages are a random grab-bag of class and skill powers - primarily Heroic tier - grouped into loose associations with some organizations the PCs might want to join. I'm ... not really a fan, frankly. On the one hand, it's awesome to finally see new Artificer, Invoker, Battlemind, Psion, Shaman, Seeker, and Runepriest powers. On the other hand, it's scant support (one power! yay?) with kind of miserable organization. Now, granted, with the Character Builder, that's kind of a moot point, but I found the whole chapter rather befuddling. Some of the powers are pretty awesome (Enter the Crucible is a killer L10 Utility, for example, and Timely Dodge is incredible for a skill power at any level) but I'd rather have seen a tighter focus on just a few classes like Rogues and Artificers, or skill powers. I like fluff mixed with my crunch, but the fluff here felt like so much filler.

And that's largely it for the player sections... But, look down a bit. This book has some weird organization.

The next section is long, but I don't have much to say about it. It's generalized information on building and running dungeons, but it's almost more like a field guide or classification system than DMing advice... There's not much here for DMs about building or running the various kinds of dungeons (examples: "Volcano," "Ice Palace," "Death Trap," etc). It more gives a few basic features of each. The next section about dungeon denizens has an equally "mechanics-free filler" feel and provides amazing insights like how people don't much like rust monsters, and that mind flayers are basically big jerks.

That's followed up with Infamous Dungeons, which is a fun walk down memory lane, but pretty useless for actually putting together and running a game. Like I mentioned at the outset, it's like an edition-less fluff book (like the sort of between-editions filler WotC put out in 2007/early 2008) got transplanted into a 4e book and mistaken for DM advice. (With that said, I *liked* this section; I've read through and/or run a good many of these classic adventures. It's just out of place in a game book.)

Seemingly out-of-order, the next (short) section on Dungeoneer's Tools is more player focused, again. My heart was once again warmed to see a 10-foot-pole and ruby lenses on the equipment list. So, the book earned back some of my good will.

Then we're back to more orthodox DM advice (see what I mean about weird organization?) with the next chapter. This has specific, good direction for DMs similar to that found in the Neverwinter book, to help tie the book's themes with potential adventure hooks. It's solid and immediately useful; the kind of DM tips I've started to value. The section on Exploration, Puzzles, Mysteries, etc. is likewise solid DMing advice that's often been overlooked in 4e, to the edition's detriment. There's a good, meaty section following which should help inspiration-starved DMs come up with new ideas for future adventures. This section is 36 pages or so of solid material, but probably not worth the full cover price for DMs who have no interest in the player section.

I don't really know what to think about the Special Rewards section. I get what they're going for, but it's basically single-use, game-breaking Rare items that can be thrown in for exceptional rewards. It's mostly notable for Power Word Kill and Wish, neither of which I'd be very eager to add to my own game.

Not much to say about the next section on Dungeon Companions. Meepo is here, so that's good? I guess? I seem to remember him being a useless mascot sort of character, but he looks effective here. I'd have rather seen Splug get some love!

Appendix 1 is more DMing advice. Appendix 2 is - awesomely - a Random Dungeon Generator! Hooray! I know what I'm doing tomorrow!

So, I'm not exactly disappointed with this book, overall, but I'm not really thrilled either. It has more of an Underdark (as opposed to Dungeon) focus than I was expecting, and the coffee-table-style bits are out of place, but it has some good new stuff to offer. 3-1/2 stars seems fair; I just wish Amazon would let me pick that. So when you see my 4 stars? It's really 3-1/2

(edited for clarity 5/16/12)
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Your DM may not be happy with you 23 Jun 2012
By Michael J. Tresca - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Since the debut of Heroes of the Feywild, the bar has been set very high for subsequent 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Supplements. Can the Dungeon Survival Handbook meet the challenge?

The first sign that this is a different sort of book is the lack of the words "Player's Option" in the title. This book isn't just for players, and that lack of focus makes for some odd design choices. But the first chapter is all player goodness. Character themes include the bloodsworn (a single-minded slayer out for revenge), deep delver (specializing in subterranean survival), escaped thrall (a psychically-damaged and possibly insane survivor of eldritch torture), trapsmith, treasure hunter, and the uninspired Underdark envoy (bard-type) and Underdark outcast (rogue-type). All of these themes include optional powers and a sample character, sans stats. Why are these characters presented without stats? Is it assumed players will adopt the character or is it left for Dungeon Masters to use as a non-player character...in which case stats would have been useful?

The best part of the book includes new races: goblins, kobolds, and the hard-to-pronounce svirfneblin. It's interesting to see how 4th Edition handles the svirfneblin as a race, who have traditionally been very powerful opponents. The presentation seems balanced, with the opportunity to even summon earth elementals at higher levels.

Dungeon-Themed Powers follow next, an overview of powers grouped by different concepts. So for example, you might have powers from the Vault of the Drow. Curiously, there's no drow race. The exclusion is peculiar given that the skull-bodied spider symbol of the drow invasion is on the cover of the book.

The second chapter begins to meander as we receive some useful rules for dungeon delving titled Expert Delving Tactics, like climbing and sustenance in dungeons. Although there's not a lot of statistics in this section, the tactics are valuable. Dungeon Types and Dungeon Denizens are merely lists of possible dungeons with no statistics. Things really get confusing in the Infamous Dungeons section, which takes a walk through dungeon history: Castle Ravenloft, The Lost City, White Plume Mountain, Tomb of Horrors, Temple of Elemental Evil and more. With the exception of the Ghost Tower of Inverness and the Gates of Firestorm Peak, my gaming group played through them all. There are quotes from game designers telling tales of their own group's survival (or lack thereof). And while there are feats and backgrounds associated with each dungeon, many of the dungeons have never been converted to 4th Edition. As Chris Perkins explains in a sidebar on page 98:

"If any of these descriptions whet your appetite, urge your DM to take a crack at running them. Although many of these adventures were written for earlier editions of the rules, a skilled DM can usually convert the necessary rules. If doing that sort of thing doesn't interest your DM, then at least you can use any description that sounds appealing to give him or her an idea of the kind of dungeon you'd like to explore."

Really guys? I have converted hundreds of modules as a DM, and I can tell you that one does not casually take one on because a player read about it in a book. This advice is particularly galling given that that Wizards of the Coast stopped producing older editions of these scenarios as PDFs, meaning any DM who would convert some of these out-of-print adventures would have to go through the trouble of finding the adventure AND converting it. This is curious advice in a 4th Edition product...but it may well be a hint of what we can expect from 5th Edition, which embraces all previous versions of D&D.

The last chapter is clearly aimed at the DM, explaining how to run a dungeon, providing plot hooks for the aforementioned character themes, and finally a few rules you can use: skill challenges associated with the Underdark, scrolls of power, and dungeon companions. Some of this information could have easily been grouped together - the theme hooks should have been with the character themes in the first chapter - while others only make sense when you see the random dungeon generators in the appendices. Many of the statless entries -- Dungeon Denizens, Dungeon Makers, Types of Dungeons - are all part of the dungeon generator rolls at the end of the book.

Given that the credits mention that this book "builds on the design of previous editions by E. Gary Gygax" and "Dave Arneson," it seems The Dungeon Survival Handbook is a cross between the ill-fated Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide. This makes for a schizophrenic experience that's torn between looking forward to the future of Dungeons & Dragons and reminiscing about the past. As a result the Dungeon Survival Handbook serves merely as an encounter along the way to the biggest dungeon delve of all: D&D 5th Edition.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars cool book 8 April 2013
By John Jenkins - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I would say this is possibly my favorite of the player options books. The new playable races add some interesting possibilities for character building and story development.
5.0 out of 5 stars For hardcore delvers only 26 Mar 2014
By Matthew Flanagan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If your group enjoys reality-based, hardcore delving- being pushed to the limits of their ingenuity and endurance- than I would wholly recommend this book. If your group is a bit more casual, the book contains advice on dungeon design, character building, and more.
All in all, I'd say there is something in here for every group.
4.0 out of 5 stars A good fluff book, but nothing is necessary 4 April 2013
By PghDrake - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Want to create Kobold, Goblin and Svirfneblin characters and NPCs? Then this book is great to have for sure.

There are also some good tools listed, some other dungeon references and a way to do some random dungeon generations near the back which can be pretty useful in a pinch. There are themes that help more with dungeon and underground focused characters.

Overall some good info, but again it's not something that you HAVE to spend your hard-earned money on. If you have the extra cash and need some fluff for your games, go for it! Especially if you want to create characters using the above mentioned races.

-D
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