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Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook (4e)
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Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook (4e)

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The Darkness Beckons

Being an adventurer is a hard business. Dungeons offer adventure, treasure, and glory, but they are fraught with deadly traps, vicious monsters, and sinister puzzles. It takes more than a stout heart and a sharp mind to survive. A hero must be equipped with knowledge and tools if he or she is to face the unknown and live to tell about it.

Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook is a guide for players and Dungeon Masters who want to play in a Dungeons & Dragons game that explores dungeons and plumbs the blackest reaches of the Underdark. Whether you're a Dungeon Master seeking to create a fantastic location populated with beholders and mind flayers, or a player looking to equip your character with the means to fight such threats, this book is for you. Players will find an assortment of new powers, equipment, feats, character themes, and player races, including the kobold and the goblin. For Dungeon Masters, the book is a trove of dungeon-building advice and details, including lore on classic dungeon monsters, some quirky companions for adventurers, a few timeless treasures, and tips for incorporating players' character themes into an adventure.

Product History

Into The Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook (2012), by Logan Bonner, Matt Sernett, and Jeff Morgenroth, is an Underdark-focused splatbook for D&D 4e. It was published in May 2012.

The End of 4e. D&D 4e (2008-2012) production became wobbly in the year following the Essentials (2010) experiment, then on January 9, 2012, Wizards announced that the edition was coming to an end. A few mass-market 4e books trickled out in early 2012, but Into the Unknown was the last of them, leaving D&D 4e with a lifetime of less than four years. Compared to eight years of 3e, eleven years of 2e, and about a decade of 1e, it was the shortest-lived D&D edition on record.

A few 4e-statted books later appeared in giveaways and as part of the Encounters programs, but following Into the Unknown, Wizards' mass-market production turned to edition-neutral books — repeating the pattern of the 3e transition, where Wizards became reluctant to publish edition-specific books about a year out. This time it would be over two years before the release of the Next D&D (2014).

Another Dungeoneer's Survival Guide. The idea of a hardcover rulebook that focused on the exploration of dungeons and the Underdark went back to the '80s, when TSR was looking for new rulebooks to expands its core line. Douglas Niles' Dungeoneer's Survival Guide (1986) laid the groundwork for this category of book.

After that, it was a long time before D&D returned to this fertile ground. Dungoenscape (2007) covered some of the same material, but with most of its focus on dungeons. Then Dungeon Survival Guide (2007) reused the original name, but was mainly a nostalgic look at classic dungeons. Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook (2012) consigned the classic name to a subhead but was still the book most in tune with the original: it includes player mechanics, GM advice, the Underdark … and even a look at a few classic dungeons.

Into the Unknown was actually the second major 4e book to touch upon the Underdark. However, the earlier Underdark (2010) had been largely fluff, while this new release was more focused on playing the game.

The Product Tie-In. Though it had been foreshadowed in April with a convention adventure, Into the Unknown was the major release that kicked off "Rise of the Underdark", Wizards of the Coast's biggest multimedia metaplot ever, running from May 2012 through the end of 2012. The crossover focused on Lolth driving the drow to attack the surface world, but Wizards went further than that by using it as an excuse to generally spotlight drow and the Underdark in all of their media.

Wizards' mass-market releases including five roleplaying products. After Into the Unknown in May, Wizards published Urban Underdark Dungeon Tiles (2012) in June, Vaults of the Underdark Map Pack in July, and Drow Treachery Fortune Cards (2012) in August. The last RPG product was originally advertised as the "Menzoberranzan Campaign Setting", which would have been D&D 4e's fifth setting Setting book. However by the time that last release arrived in August it had become the edition-neutral Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue (2012).

Rise of the Underdark was also well-supported in Wizards' organized play roleplaying programs. The Encounters program ended its pure 4e run with a trilogy of Underdark adventures: "Web of the Spider Queen" (2012) in May, "Council of Spiders" (2012) in August, and "Web of Everlasting Darkness" (2012) in October. Meanwhile, the Lair Assault program featured "Spiderkiller" as its fourth season in June, then presented the drow-focused "Kill the Wizard" as its fifth season in September.

However Wizards envisioned Rise of the Underdark as a multimedia event, so they also linked it to their other game lines. Most importantly, they kicked off their new Dungeon Command miniatures game with the Sting of Lolth (2012) set in July. Meanwhile, Dungeons & Dragos Online launched the "Menace of the Underdark" expansion in June, which crossed the Eberron-based game into the Forgotten Realms for the first time — foreshadowing the changing interest in D&D's two prime settings between the days of 3.5e (2003) and 5e (2014).

Fiction crossovers were also numerous, beginning with a pair of War of the Spider Queen (2012) omnibuses in April and May that reprinted a classic Underdark sequence of drow-related novels. Surprisingly, there was only one new print book: Charon's Claw (2012), which appeared in August as the third book in R.A. Salvatore's Neverwinter saga (continuing on from Wizards' Neverwinter multimedia event of the previous year!). The rest of the event was consigned to eBooks: Spinner of Lies (2012) in July and then Spider and Stone in November, which climaxed the whole event.

There were some additional products by Gale Force 9, and a few other books and a Dungeon Tile set that were very weakly connected. In all, it was a rather impressive product release of over 20(!) linked books and events!

The Resurrected Races. Into the Unknown includes three PC races for D&D 4e: the goblin, the kobold, and the svirfneblin — all of which had long histories in D&D.

The goblin and kobold first appeared as PC races in D&D's GAZ10: "The Orcs of Thar" (1988). They made the jump to AD&D with PHBR10: The Complete Book of Humanoids (1993). The svirfneblin deep gnomes had made their PC debut some time earlier in Unearthed Arcana (1985), then returned for 2e in PHBR9: The Complete Book of Gnomes & Halflings (1993). All three then reappeared in Player's Option: Skills & Powers (1995).

In more recent days, all three races appeared as playable races in the Monster Manual for D&D 3.5e (2003). Goblins and svirfneblin were also popular in various Forgotten Realms books, while the kobolds made their most notable PC race appearance in Races of the Dragon (2006).

About the Creators. Logan Bonner had been writing for D&D since 2006, including over a dozen D&D 4e books, while Matt Sernett had been doing the same since 2004, but only worked on a half-dozen 4e books due to his focus on digital properties and Magic: The Gathering. This was Jeff Morgenroth's one and only book-length work for D&D.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

 
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Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
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January 18th, 2016
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/06/05/tabletop-review-into-the-unknown-the-dungeon-survival-handbook [...]
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