Interview: DDO’s Menace Of The Underdark

Hi mum.

Turbine (now part of Warner Bros, so essentially run by Bugs Bunny) has just announced the long overdue first expansion to Dungeons & Dragons: Online, Menace of the Underdark, six years after the game was first released. We’ve got more details below, excerpted from the coming Sunday’s MMOnitor, but here’s the stuff really worth noting: they’re introducing a new class, new epic classes and moving the setting to The Forgotten Realms – where nearly all of the D&D books have been set, and which is richer in fiction than Craig’s lovelife. More details and an interview after the jump.

Specifically, the expansion will be set in Cormyr, which being the home of the Harpers will get lovers of the D&D books excited. Then there’s the Drow (Dark Elf) empire, which lies beneath the world, known as The Underdark (as featured in the superb Neverwinter Nights expansion, Hordes of the Underdark). Players will travel across the planes, starting in the small village of Eveningstar, moving on into the King’s Forest area, before facing the Drow and their spider-goddess/Queen/girl-with-identity-issues Lloth in their underground fiefdom. (No, I refuse to spell fief with a 4.)

The expansion will also complete the set of core D&D classes by introducing the Druid class, which can shapeshift and use pets, and introduce epic classes up to level 25, which will substantially change how players level after the current cap of 20.

For the dirt from the horse’s mouth (what an appalling mixed metaphor), here’s an excerpt from this Sunday’s upcomin MMOnitor with Fernando Paiz, Executive Producer for DDO and Adam Mersky, Communications Director for Turbine.

RPS: I interrupted you before had a chance to talk about the expansion. Tell me what you’re doing?

Paiz: Oh, yeah! We shouldn’t have skipped that.

Mersky: Yeah, we’re six years old and we’re about to launch our first expansion. If I’d told you that four years ago, you would have been “I don’t believe that.” It’s all a result of the success that F2P unlocked.

Paiz: It’s a testament to what Free2Play has done for us that, this far in, we’ve got approval from Wizards of the Coast to do this expansion and from Warner Brothers to grow the team significantly and, once again, reinvest millions of dollars in this franchise to do another big launch. So; the big news. I don’t know how much of a D&D fan you are, how much you know of the ruleset and the lore of D&D?

RPS: I read my first D&D book when I was ten, Spellfire; played Baldur’s Gate, Planescape, Neverwinter Nights…

Paiz: Oh, great! Well, the big news is that we’re going to go to Forgotten Realms for the first time. You may recall we launched with Eberron just after Wizards of the Coast launched the ruleset for it; Eberron’s been great, it’s a world full of magic and technology, we’ve gotten to shape that world, it has its own flavour in the fantasy space. But since the day we launched DDO, we’ve had players saying “can’t we got to Forgotten Realms, PLEASE?” It’s the fan favourite, from the fiction and so many of the games, like Baldur’s Gate, have taken place there, so many of the stories and locales, that players long for. The establishment of what a fantasy game or setting meant to them, for so many players, was Forgotten Realms. This is a really big exciting change. Our expansion is called Menace of the Underdark.

RPS: Oh, like Hordes of the Underdark (the best Neverwinter Nights)

Paiz: So our expansion deals with Lloth, the Drow being the main evil faction in the Forgotten Realms setting and their deity is Lloth, and they’re up to a nefarious plot for world domination that’s going to end up creating a link between the two universes. So that the heroes of Eberron will be able to get pulled into what’s going on and ultimately help save the world.

RPS: Is the Underdark under the whole of the Forgotten Realms?

Paiz: The Underdark is a huge expanse, it’s a whole realm in itself, an underworld beneath the overworld of Faerun, so we’re not going to Neverwinter, as you may know there’s another MMO in development. We’re going to a few other locales in Forgotten Realms. We’re going to land at a town called Eveningstar in Cormyr. Our players will be able to travel from our world, all the way to Eveningstar, venture into the Underdark and eventually see one of the Drow cities in there and face Lloth and her followers. It’s a pretty epic story for us. It kicks off with Update 13, our next major update that comes before the expansion. It has a series of quests, a free adventure pack, that kicks off the storyline that sets up the expansion.

RPS: I think I’m going to have to find my log-in again.

Paiz: Menace of the Underdark comes this summer, so players won’t wait long.

RPS: You’re not updating the ruleset from D&D 3.5 are you?

Paiz: No, but we are introducing the most demanded class; the Druid class. It’s the last core class that we haven’t implemented in DDO and it’ll be part of the release of Menace of the Underdark.

RPS: What era of the Forgotten Realms is this all set in? Is it current or is it more historical stuff?

Paiz: Well… I’d rather not touch too much on the details of that right now, we’re still working out some of the details with Wizards of the Coast. Our forgotten realms storylines are going to be very resonant with the fiction and storylines that Wizards of the Coast will be releasing for Forgotten Realms next year. At least in terms of the stakes and the backdrop to our stories, they’ll be very much current with the latest stuff that Wizards are doing.

RPS: And levels?

Paiz: The last major point of the expansion is that there’s a level cap increase, we’re extending the level cap to 25, into epic levels. Which, of course in DDO, is more than five levels worth of content, as we divide the levels up into five advancement moments and all that of the ranks. Quite a bit of character customisation, it’s going to work a bit different past level 20, give players more cool ways to customise their characters.

RPS: You’ve not introduced any psionic classes yet have you?

Paiz: No, we never did do full psionics, it was something we came close to and flirted with, but never did. We did introduce the artificier class, they have a special offhand weapon, so they’re a dual-wielding ranged class for DDO, and also our first pet class. You get to advance a pet companion, level them and customise them as your character grows. That was laying the groundwork for stuff that’ll be in the druid as well. The druids main things are the animal companion and animal form.


  1. Hoaxfish says:

    Is the whole thing just moving to FR now, and dumping Eberron?

    • vecordae says:

      If you read the article, they mention that some sort of portal is responsible for the cross-dimensional shenanigans.

  2. vecordae says:

    Fantastic! This looks like a grand excuse for me to fire up my account again. The druid always was my favorite class. Druids and Witchalocks are the only classes that can turn into dinosaurs.

  3. db1331 says:

    Man I loved the Hordes of the Underdark expansion for NWN. I might need to dust that off, still have all my discs…

  4. GallonOfAlan says:


  5. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    It’s nice to see they’re still going. To be honest, I lost interest in D&D a long while back (probably after NWN, though the Hordes of the Underdark XP was very nice), and so didn’t care much about D&D online. Maybe I’ll give it a go when I have the time, though… Drow again? Egads.

  6. MaXimillion says:

    Now we just need warlocks

  7. Orija says:

    More like Harness of The Underboob.

  8. Pantsman says:

    Why would a spider have breasts, anyway?

  9. nizzie says:

    So is the Forgotten Realms setting just available for high lvl characters? Do I have to play through the Eberron quests in order to participate in the FR?

    • vecordae says:

      They’re not likely to make it as full-featured as the core game and there’s already a Forgotten Realms MMO in the works from Cryptic. I’d guess that you’ll have to invest at least some time in the Eberron setting before being able to do the Forgotten Realms quests. Still, the only people who actually know the answer are probably under an NDA at the moment.

  10. Craig Stern says:

    “richer in fiction than Craig’s lovelife”

    Hey now…

    • MiniMatt says:

      Given that phrase was immediately followed by “More details and an interview after the jump” you can imagine my disappointment when I read the article to find nothing more than nerdy elves and a well endowed spider lady.

  11. Blackcompany says:

    Whats up, Doc?

  12. caddyB says:

    The ugliest hooters in the fantasy fiction? Couldn’t they get one from devianTART or something?

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      Driders are abberants, they’re supposed to be disturbing/hideous. And if thats Lolth, she’s supposed to be a mixture of disturbing/attractive.

    • caddyB says:

      She’s neither though.

  13. Screwie says:

    Woah, the thought of extending my character builds by 5 levels is making my head spin. DDO’s buildcrafting was complex enough already!

    • Kaira- says:

      It feeds my alt-a-holic nature like nothing else. I’ve bought like 10 character slots (okay, 6), and constantly just make new alts. I guess I’ve once actually reached level 10. With one character.

  14. TsunamiWombat says:

    I play NWN multiplox on a PW Server all the time (Escape From the Underdark represent)

    I have never played DDO. Will I likes? Hows the gameplay?

    • vecordae says:

      It is nothing like Neverwinter Nights, first off.

      Basically, it’s an action RPG with an even more robust character advancement system. You can move, tumble, block, attack, cast spells, or use abilities all in real time. All of your core skills are present and useful, though adapted to a real-time game. The underlying d20 rolls are all there and a handy little die icon in the lower-right will tell you what your last roll was. 3E’s iterative attacks based on high Base Attack Bonus are also modeled in, with your character being able to make more attacks in the same amount of time as they level up. Fighters do this more quickly/often than rogues and rogues do it more quickly than wizards.

      The leveling system has been modified as well. Instead of going from level 1 to level 2 at 1,000 XP, you go to level 1, rank 2. You’ll get a point that you can either use or save up in order to purchase additional special abilities for your character. These abilities are largely dependent upon your race/class combination and include things like temporary buffs you can activate 3/day, skill points, damage reduction, and stat increases. The more useful these bonuses are, the more points they cost. The game is balanced for them, so it doesn’t feel overpowered. There are five ranks per level (the level itself plus four milestones where you get a customization point), which helps to keep the game from being too speedy.

      Otherwise, you stats and skills work about how you’d expect, with spot helping you to notice enemies and world details, search letting you find hidden doors, balance helping you to stay upright when someone greases the floor and swim letting you stay submerged longer. Your social skills are used to manage enemy aggro, which is a bit different.

      Lastly, the Monk and Artificer classes work very differently from NWN/PnP. Monks are very customizable fighters that can generate multiple short-term buffs or act as DPS machines. The artificer is a sort of jack-of-all trades class that comes front loaded with a lot of power, though it does level out at about level 10 from what I’ve seen.

    • mondomau says:

      When you say ‘Action RPG’, is it actually dynamic combat where you can dodge attacks and you have to physically land blows in melee? Or is it a KOTOResque turn based system masquerading as real time?

    • Porkolt says:

      EFU represent!

    • vecordae says:

      I mean that you attack and dodge and block in real time. If you click your mouse you attack. The roll is immediately resolved as it would be in PnP (attack bonus + d20 roll must equal or exceed the target’s armor class). Dodging is accomplished via the use of the tumble skill (you hold the block button and hit a movement key to dodge in the appropriate direction). Since attack animations are quick and there isn’t much broadcasting, don’t rely on it to help you avoid the majority of blows, but it is there all the same. Simply moving about grants a bonus to your defense and lowers your attack bonus as well.

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      And about how much money do I have to spend to get the real experiance? yeah yeah f2p, but whats it really like down to brass tacks

    • vecordae says:

      For free you get access to the fighter, bard, barbarian, wizard, sorcerer, cleric, paladin, ranger, and rogue classes immediately. You get access to the human, halfling, elf, and dwarf races immediately. You gain access to enough dungeons, missions, and instances to level all the way up to 20 immediately, though you’ll likely need to grind a bit by doing the same dungeon a few times on different difficulty levels. You get two characters slots on every server. You can multiclass to your heart’s content. There are also some gold/inventory limitations you’ll bump into, but I have never found these to be too much of a problem. Also, I don’t think you can create a guild, though you can certainly join one.

      The artificer, monk, and favored soul classes, the half-elf, half-orc, and warforged races, and all of the additional dungeons can be purchased with either cash money, or with the turbine points you collect as you play, The Drow race can be unlocked on a per-server basis by gaining enough favor with the appropriate faction or by buying it as above. There are other perks, such as a veteran start (you start at level 4) and 32-point builds that are available by either getting enough favor or buying with TP. If you are willing to put in the time, you can experience the entirety of the game for free. If you’re interested in just a particular bit of extra content and can’t wait for it, you can buy it.

    • mondomau says:

      Vecorde: Thanks for the info, very helpful. I think I’m going to give it a go. The biggest barrier to trying MMOS I find is the inexcusably dull combat – click once to attack, hotkey, hotkey, hotkey. Loot.
      But more involvement might do it for me.

    • Razcar says:

      DDO has collision detection between mobs and players, and between mobs and mobs (not between players, to avoid griefing). With FPS-like controls (including full mouse look! Hate that many other MMOs don’t have that) that means you can maneuver the mobs around each other, box them in (with help of other players), bottleneck them around terrain obstacles, immobilize one in front to make the ones behind not able to get to you (most mobs have ranged attacks as well though), get around the mobs and attack them from behind (the mobs have facing as well, and you get to-hit bonuses attacking them if not in front) etc. When you get faster in higher levels it can get really hectic, visceral and fun. And yes, you can jump, tumble, climb ladders, grab ledges etc.

      The active combat also means actual targeting (with a FPS-style reticle) of spells and ranged attacks (if you want, there’s auto-attack as well). You can for example target a Web spell in front of advancing monsters instead of on them. You can also jump out of the way of ranged attacks and enemy spells, if you are quick on your feet (or keys, rather). The active combat is what keeps many people in the game, as player skill actually plays a role in fighting – as opposed to just watching cool downs and picking your nose.

      If you find other MMOs slow, static and boring, DDO is something to try. Just give it a little while, in the first levels combat is a bit slow in DDO as well (since they don’t want to scare away the generic MMO crowd too quickly I guess) but it gets more hectic and fun as you proceed.

      I would also like to add that the richness of DDOs character building is absolutely unprecedented in MMOs. If you like to tinker with cool builds it’s heaven. If you don’t, you can copy a build someone already made and tested from the forums. You can build casters than can tank, healers than can DPS, rogues can can heal etc. Very cool and open ended.

  15. Marth Reynolds says:

    If only this was for a game with a better community :/

    the game itself is fairly decent, though really grindy and easy factor goes up tons if you have friends you can level/raid with. biggest downside is easily constant raiding you need to do to gear up (which is mostly random, and for 1 raid which is easy you just need to raid it for 3+ months for your items)
    if you don’t have friends then good luck struggling to find groups that take newbies, and getting insulted cause you’re new.

    and of course the whole warforged “nazi” mentality, which i can hardly describe nor understand…..

    i played in Cannith, was that a really bad server decision? xD
    i do seem to be prone to bad choices though, can’t even count the times people stole from me in the other mmo i loved xD

    • InternetBatman says:

      It had a great community before it went F2P. Did that change? I played it for fiveish months and really enjoyed myself.

    • vecordae says:

      Community’s still pretty decent. It’s just a matter of what server you’re on. You’ll bump into quite a few idiots, sure, but that’s largely the case everywhere.

  16. Lemming says:

    “Then there’s the Drow (Dark Elf) empire, which lies beneath the world, known as The Underdark (as featured in the superb Neverwinter Nights expansion, Hordes of the Underdark)”

    What the…how about citing the far more worthy of praise Baldurs Gate 2 before that NN pish!? *gasp*

    ” so we’re not going to Neverwinter, as you may know there’s another MMO in development. “

    What MMO? First I’ve heard!

  17. 2late2die says:

    Looks like I’ll be dusting off my login. It’d be cool to check out all the changes since I left and the expansion sounds pretty good.

  18. JonathanStrange says:

    I always figured Mask of the Betrayer was the best Neverwinter Nights expansion, unless we’re only counting the first game. Fantastic expansion that!

    As for this news, it’s a big step in the right direction and I highly approve. I just also doubt I’ll ever seen any of that content since as I recall I only got to around level 6 with my Paladin before I stopped playing. What would really get me playing at least for a while again would be if they made new starting areas, perhaps class or race specific ones. Rerolling characters and trying new classes is for me a hallmark of DnD games yet the starting zone in DDO is just so damned boring I’ve never been able to play through it more than once. Ug.

    • Ajh says:

      You know, after you get one person off that island, you can skip it and enter the mainland at level 4 with a few basic supplies right?

    • Randomer says:

      Have you played since they introduced the new starting area (maybe year or two ago)? Now you start on an island, and once you get through the first few small dungeon quests (some of which were taken from the original starting area), you are let out into a relatively big open world area that was pretty awesome. There are various quest instances that you find in that area, culminating in pretty sweet adventure involving a very big white dragon. It’s a vast improvement over what they used to have – tons of fun!

  19. Ajh says:

    They’re FINALLY FINALLY going to give us druids..over a year after I gave up hoping for them…hunh.

  20. yhancik says:

    The “Underdark”? *rolls eyes*

    I’m impressed by those 6 years olds though. I wouldn’t have been able to write a mmo expansion when I was their age.

  21. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    Moving the game to the most generic setting imaginable seems like a bad idea, although I suppose convoluted cross-dimensional BS is as good a solution as any to the problem of self-defeating increases in the level-cap which has plagued MMOs from the dawn of time. Can we all agree that RPG designers rarely know how to make high end content meaningfully engaging and it’s a lot more fun to play as a scrappy low-level or a competent but not-powerful-in-every-possible-way mid-level character?

    Also, Hordes of the Underdark as the best Neverwinter Nights? Maybe for the first game, but the franchise (well, pair of games, I suppose) hit its peak with Mask of the Betrayer. Leaving aside the wonky curse aspect, which can be easily modded away, it had the best writing and setting and hit the sweet spot for the series’ mechanics. While lacking the open-world awesomeness of Storm of Zehir, it didn’t have to compromise level complexity (which incidentally diminished the sting of long load times) or depth of character.

  22. Joof says:

    Is this going to be 3.5 Forgotten Realms, or 4th edition Forgotten Realms. I only skimmed the 4th edition book, but it looked like there had been a whole lot of magical explosions between the two.

    • Hallgrim says:

      Says in the interview they’re keeping 3.5 instead of updating to 4.whatever. I think they’d have to redo a ton of stuff in DDO to update the rules system.

    • Joof says:

      I’m not talking mechanics. A bunch of stuff happened between the two editions to make the setting quite different that I’m assuming could work just fine with 3.5 mechanics. Like apparently there was a huge Spell Plague that destroyed a bunch of place like Neverwinter and Luskan and whatnot.

      I’d be interested in the new setting, because I’ve only skimmed it, and less interested in the old one, because I’m quite familiar with it.

    • DK says:

      They’re not only using the new forgotten realms, they’re using the upcoming forgotten realms. 4th Edition had huge changes (basically a new dark age, the goddess of magic died, every magic user in the setting had to relearn how magic works from scratch, half the planet populated by dragon people came out of timelock, etc.) – one can only imagine what 5th Ed is going to do.

  23. Grey_Ghost says:

    I’ve never played DDO… actually come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I ignored it after release because I couldn’t play a Druid. Well, maybe if I suddenly get bored with SWtOR.

  24. keiya says:

    They’re doing a cross-setting campaign and *not* using it to reintroduce Spelljammer? Cry…

  25. Lars Westergren says:

    > I read my first D&D book when I was ten, Spellfire

    Hey, twins! Curse of the Azure Bonds was another one I remember.

    >Oh, like Hordes of the Underdark (the best Neverwinter Nights)

    Oh yes. Unless we count NWN2, in which case Mask of the Betrayer is the clear winner.

  26. skyturnedred says:

    Yay, druids! That was the first thing I asked for when I first played the game when it was released. Might have to give it another go after they release the expansion.