Tabletop Review: Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue (Dungeons & Dragons)

Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue (Dungeons & Dragons)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Page Count: 127
Cost: $29.95 ($19.77 on Amazon)
Release Date: 08/21/2012
Get it Here:

I’ll be honest: I’ve never understood the appeal of the Drow at all. They just seemed overly angsty and dark for the sake of being dark. I’ve been bored by the novels where they are the featured race and I’ve generally avoided them unless someone is making fun of them, like back in Elf Only Inn. I preferred Ravenloft, Planescape and Dark Sun to Forgotten Realms, so over the years, I’ve never really had to deal with Drow unless they came up in a video game. Well, all that’s changed, because here I am, having to review Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue – a campaign setting book that is all about the Drow and the capital city of their underground empire. I won’t lie – this is a book I will probably never personally use or even open again after this review, simply because the Drow don’t interest me. For those that are curious about the Drow to their diehard fans, you’ll find a lot to love about this book, as it’s exceptionally detailed and contains just about everything you want to know about the Jewel of the Underdark.

Let’s start off with the most interesting aspect of the book. Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue tries exceptionally hard to be edition-free. That means whether you’re playing First Edition or testing out D&D Next, the book gives you a lot of substance but little to no mechanics, in order to be accessible to all Dungeons & Dragons fans. Sure, when mechanics DO pop up, they are 4e only, but that’s to be expected. I personally think the writers of this campaign supplement should be applauded for remembering that each edition of D&D has their own passionate fans, and trying to accommodate them all means more sales for WotC.

There are six chapters in Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue, each of which has their own focus. They are: Campaign of Intrigue, The Way of Lolth, Drow Factions, City of Spiders, The Northdark and Be a Drow. We’re going to look at each of these chapters individually and give you a taste of what your thirty bucks buys you.

Campaign of Intrigue

This chapter is pretty much for the DM to help set both the tone and theme of his Menzoberranzan campaign. It is, after all, almost an alien world compared to the above ground societies of Toril. You’re given character and theme concepts ranging from more inter-party fighting than a Vampire: The Masquerade game to trying to find mystical artifacts for Lolth or going on raid to capture more slaves for the Drow empire. Remember that the Drow are an exceptionally evil race and so most of the adventures will have the PCs doing unspeakable things such as torture, murder, and perhaps even wiping out an entire population. There’s also the political intrigue and schemes to try and raise ones social status that will invariably come into play. You’re given rules on faction developments and alternate history possibilities so that your Menzoberranzan doesn’t have to be the same as the one in previous published books and adventures.

Four pages of this first chapter are devoted purely to a timeline of the city. It stretches nearly 5,400 years and given you a decent amount of information about what was going on in Menzoberranzan since the founding of the city up through the Spellplague. Hate what WotC has done to the Realms with 4e? This timeline is crafted so you can set your game long before it ever happened. Play during the Time of Troubles if you want – it’s all good. Although it’s only four pages long, this is definitely a section a DM needs to consult regularly in order to get the most out of this setting. God forbid you get an anal retentive continuity freak in your group that stops the game every five minutes to say, “That’s not how it was in book XYZ!”

The Way of Lloth

The second chapter in Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue focuses purely on the Drow as a race. You are given an overview on the Goddess Lolth, a look at why spiders are the chosen animal of the Drow, the code of ethics and laws their society is governed by, why the society is a matriarchy, and finally aspects like language, currency, and what the Drow do when they are killing, enslaving and backstabbing. Don’t think for a second though that this chapter shows the Drow in any sort of positive light. Laws are a sham and justice is a façade for a society where might makes right and punishments are handed down arbitrarily. You do get a nice look at the old gods of the Drow, some merchant clans and a few things I never new about like the festival of The Open Days, where anyone of any race is allowed into the city without harm being done to them.

Drow Factions

This third chapter is the longest in the book, taking up roughly sixty pages, or a hair under half the book. The first few pages show you how to make a new house for your campaign or if player characters want one not in the book. The rest of the pages are devoted to the ten big houses of the city and multiple organizations that will no doubt see a lot of use in a Menzoberranzan oriented campaign. The house included are: Baenre, Do’Urden, Hunzrin, Oblodra, Melarn, Xorlarrin, Barrison Del’Armgo, Faen Tlabbar, Fey-Branche and Mizzrym. You are given information on key players, the history of each house and some general RPG types.

The more interesting bits of the chapter are the six organizations that also appear in the chapter. Tier Breche is basically the Drow academy. Arach-Tinilith is similar to Tier Breche, but it is the school for the Priestesses of Lolth as opposed to a general school. Melee-Magthere is the training ground for the martial warriors of the Drow and Sorcere is the equivalent of a Tower of Wizardry for the mages of the empire. Finally, you have Bregan D’aerthe, the mercenary guild under the leadership of Jarlaxle. Oddly enough, this group gets the most pages devoted to them out of any house or coterie, but that’s probably because of Jarlaxle’s large fan base.

This chapter closes with three other organizations in the Underdark out to destroy Menzoberranzan. There are the Shadowfell Dragonborn Drow known as the Jaezred Chaulssin, who have travelled to our plane of existence to break Lolth’s hold on their people. You have the Scourged Legion who are made up of half fiends and orcs. This group would live to wipe out the entire race of Drow. Finally you have the Sept of Ill’Ghact – a clutch of evil beings that rival the Drow for cruelty and monstrous deeds. I’ve always preferred Mind Flayers to Drow, so this was my favorite group in the chapter.

City of Spiders

This fourth chapter is twenty-one pages long and is the second longest in the book. The entire chapter is devoted to a description of Menzoberranzan. The book breaks the city down into six districts (The Braeryn, Duthcloim, Eastmyr, Narbondellyn, Qu’ellarz’orl and West Wall), with the Bazaar in Duthcloim getting its own section and being large enough to be considered a seventh. Here you’ll find information on ladmarks, important locations within the city, demographics and even games that can are played by the inhabitants. You’re also given information about areas around but not actually in Menzoberranzan like the Cavern of the Severed Tentacles…which I originally read as Testicles. This is the chapter you’ll get the most use out of if you’re the DM setting a campaign in the land of the Drow, but I have to admit it’s still a bit short considering this chapter is what the book is supposed to be about. Honestly, you could get the second edition AD&D boxed set for the same cost as this book and get more information about the core location. As such, this makes this the one and only real disappointment I had with the book.

The Northdark

The penultimate chapter in the book is similar to City of Spiders in that it is focused on locations and demographics. In this chapter you get to learn about an era of Toril in the northeast of Faerun beyonf Waterdeep and Neverwinter (Which lets you tie into last year’s Forgotten Realms campaign setting. Although Menzoberranzan is one of the large and foreboding places in the Underdark, it is not the only one. This chapter looks at the five most likely places the Drow in a Menzoberranzan campaign will travel to beneath the surface of the earth and what they might encounter.

The Shadowed Ways are the areas nearest Menzoberranzan. They include Blingdenstone where the Deep Gnomes dwell, The Darklake filled with aquatic trolls and ixzan, and Gracklstugh, a city of duergar. Ammarindar was once a great dwarven stronghold, but now it is overrun with the members of the Scourged Legion. Due to ancient dwarven and Netherese artifacts lying around, this will no doubt be a place where many a Drow goes treasure hunting. Araumycos in the land of intelligent sentient fungi people. Chaulssin is a city where the Jaezred Chaulssin hold sway and The Wormwrithings is a terrible placve containing locations like the Dungeon of Death and Phanlinksal, a city of Illithids. All in all, an enterprising DM should find a lot of neat ideas for adventures in this chapter.

Be a Drow

This final chapter is as much for players as it is for the Dungeon Master. It gives lots of great advice on what it means not only to be an evil aligned PC, but an evil aligned party and even an evil aligned city. It also hawks the Drow Treachery deck. Now I normally find this addition of supplement random cards for 4e to be little more than a cheap cash grab by a company that made its billions off of CCGs, but the Drow Treachery deck is quite amusing. Basically the cards give a character a bonus while all his allies end up getting a penalty. Cute idea, but again, not something I would invest in since it comes in random packs instead of a straightforward deck. It also gives advice on what Drow Houses are best for specific characters and, for those playing Fourth Edition, it identifies appropriate backgrounds for Menzoberranzan characters and which Houses or factions should have them. Finally, the chapter ends with a very detailed timeline for the city.

All in all, if you even remotely interested in the Drow as a race, Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue is a book well worth picking up. It has a ton of helpful information, beautiful artwork and it strives to be friendly to all four versions of Dungeons & Dragons. If, however, you’re not likely to use Drow in an adventure, be it as PCs or antagonists, you really won’t get much out of this book except a lot of confusion about how to pronounce a good amount of the words in it. As I said at the beginning of the review, I’m not the least bit interested in the Drow as a race, but I have to admit I was pretty impressed by this book. It may not be for me, but I can’t deny how well written and designed this campaign supplement is.



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One response to “Tabletop Review: Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue (Dungeons & Dragons)”

  1. Ashe Avatar

    Wonder how this compares to the 2nd Ed Menzoberranzan box set I have on my shelf at home. Hrmmmm…

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