Even while Dungeons & Dragons Next passes through the crucible of its public playtest, the fine folks at Wizards of the Coast continue to release some great products for the game’s current edition. Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook is a fine addition to this line.
Into the Unknown focuses on what I consider to be the Dungeons & Dragons experience in its purest form: the dungeon crawl. Like most of the D&D 4E line, the book includes options for both players and the Dungeon Master, all of which is themed around subterranean adventure. There are three new player races – the goblin, kobold and svirfneblin – and a great many new themes, including a couple connected to the Underdark (outcast and envoy). All of these offer plenty of fresh options for players looking to really take on the sunless world beneath their feet. Beyond this, a great deal of player material focuses on dealing with dungeon hazards, from traps and difficult terrain to specific monster types. I’m a little skeptical about introducing this kind of out of game knowledge to players, but I suppose that it’s up to the DM to confound the player’s expectations in any case. (And knowing what they already expect can be an amusing way to trip them up.)
While the player section is a blast, I think the DM’s section is the best part of the book. There’s some nice stuff on creating random dungeons and that’s very welcome. Also, a good bit of this section is devoted to celebrating the classic dungeons from the earliest days of the game. About half a dozen old classics are summarized and accompanied by notes on how new adventures could be based on these old cornerstones of the hobby. It’s good to see the old stuff get its due, and I think – were Wizards to choose to do so – this would be a grand coda for the fourth edition. There’s a sense of completion here that I just don’t think they’re going to be able to beat.