Thursday, April 13, 2017

Menace of the Mer-Mongrels [Mini-Dungeon]

Here's a quickie dungeon for you, featuring mer-mongrels (essentially aquatic orcs), just in case you need something dark, wet and dangerous for your game.

Overview

This is underground and near the sea. Sea water flows down the entrance corridor. Everything is slimy and the water is about 2 feet deep (so gnomes and halflings might need floaties) throughout.
There are clumps of phosphorescent sea weed here and there, giving a dim glow to the caverns - so dim as to be useless, but enough to create weird, wavering patterns on walls.

Mer-Mongrels

HD 1, AC 13, ATK Claws (1d4) or weapon (1d6) or barbed net (1d3 + entangled), MV 20' (Swim 40')

Room Descriptions

1. Corridor is broken here by a waterfall - water leaking in from the ceiling. Just on the other side of the waterfall there is an aquatic assassin vine attached to the ceiling. Just beneath the waterfall, to the extreme left of the corridor, is a pit that leads to the corridor just to the right of [1] on the map (the one that leads to area [14]). That corridor is completely submerged until area [14].

2. Two lacedons are chained to the walls here. The mer-mongrels have a winch in [11] that shortens the chains, but otherwise the lacedons can wander throughout the room.

3. Water swirls around the walls, ceiling and floor of this tunnel, creating a vortex of confusion. Save vs. confusion or become dizzy (-1 to hit, AC and save) for 1 hour.

4. Three mer-mongrel guards are in this room playing a gambling game that involves plunging half a coconut into the water and seeing which player gets splashed. Each has a shagreen pouch holding 1d10 gp. One mer-mongrel has a barbed net, the other two have tridents. All three have daggers.

5. A small natural chimney in this room leads to the surface. The air is fresher here.

6. This is a supply room, containing bits of flesh wrapped in seaweed and stuffed into cubby holes, floating bottles of wine, floating boxes of candles and an odd assortment of tridents and daggers (1d6 of each).

7. Two mer-mongrel acolytes dwell in this room. They have silvery bodies, and each can cast one 1st level anti-cleric spell (chosen by GM). They are armed with footman's maces with heads shaped like octopi with opal eyes (worth 35 gp each). A curtain of barbed chains blocks the passage to [9].

8. The high priest of the mer-mongrels (3 HD) dwells here. He can cast two 1st level anti-cleric spells and one 2nd level anti-cleric spell, and wields a mace like his acolytes (but with pearl eyes, worth 150 gp). The room is also occupied by three white fish who roam around randomly, but who can be commanded by the high priest to swim in a circle, creating either a magic scrying pool or a magic whirlpool (per a water elemental). A sunken iron chest holds 250 sp, 50 gp, a gold bracer (65 gp) and a potion of healing in an old rum bottle.

9. Mongo, the living clam god (a giant clam) dwells in this chamber, the temple of the mer-mongrels. The clam rests in the alcove in the far portion of the cave, and a coral altar has been set before the clam. A young man in rough shape is chained to the altar as a sacrifice. The altar juts about 1 foot above the water, and there are many candle stumps and a few burning candles on the altar. Right before the altar there is a submerged pit (save vs. falling - no damage from fall, but 5% chance of drowning do to an accidental inhalation of water).

10/11/13. Each of these chambers is inhabited by 1d6 mer-mongrel males armed with daggers and blowpipes from which they shoot poisoned sea urchin darts (save vs. poison or slowed for 3 rounds). Each chamber has a small stone chest containing 1d4 x 50 sp and 1d6 x 100 cp. One of the mer-mongrels has a small topaz (30 gp) hidden under his loin cloth.

12. Several sea urchins are kept in this alcove. The water here is envenomed by their presence (save vs. poison or 1d6 damage).

14. This spawning chamber is home to five female mer-mongrels. They are armed as the males, but also carry two nets. There are three young in the room, and they will fight to the death to defend them (and send them fleeing into [16] at the first sight of trouble. A stone chest here holds 200 gp and three bottles of fine wine. The chest is trapped with a sea urchin spine (save vs. poison or 1d6 damage).

15. I forgot to put this number on the map!

16. This is the lair of Yort, the chief of the mer-mongrels. He is a erudite man (he trained in the humanities at a sea elf university) who returned to his tribe when his father was slain by adventurers. Yort carries a +1 trident that can make the water boil in a straight line up to 20 feet long (1d10 fire damage, save for half damage) three times per day. He also has a silver dagger and a chest containing 500 gp, 1,200 sp, a small sapphire (200 gp) and a bottle of giant octopus ink. Yort will offer to pay adventurers off if they leave he and his people alone, but if a child is harmed will pursue them to the ends of the earth to exact bloody revenge.



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Dragon by Dragon - November 1981 (55)

Getting back on the blogging track means getting back into the Dragon by Dragon articles.

This week, I'm going to take a look at Dragon #55, from November 1981. This one has a really good beginning - a cover by Erol Otus. The best thing about the cover - I have no idea what that monstrous thing is. This, to me, lies at the heart of old school games - the freedom to invent something new every game, or to add all sorts of fun details to things old and well-known without the need to invent new mechanics.

I think one of the downfalls of 3rd edition D&D was the attempt to standardize fantasy. Standardization may be important for "branding", but it's terrible for creativity. I think many corporations these days are cutting their own throats by pushing "branding" over creativity.

On to the review ...

First, a moment of righteous anger from the letters page:

"A lot of people seem to have a warped view of how to create a character. Some think you start off at 20th level with all the magic you can carry. Others have the strange notion that you get experience from taking damage. (A character in my world was nearly cut in half by a weapon hit and demanded he get experience for it: Why didn’t he just beat his head against a wall until he achieved godhood?)"

I enjoyed that bit - well said Greg Fox of Scotia, New York

Second, a note of the beginning of the end of Old School in Ed Greenwood's review of the Fiend Folio ...

"The beauty of the AD&D rule system is its careful attention to detail, “serious” (i.e., treating monsters as creatures in a fantasy world, not as constructs in a fantasy game) tone, and consistency. The FIEND FOLIO Tome mars this beauty. In its pages this DM finds too much lack of detail, too many shifts in tone, and too many breaches of consistency."

Here we see the cleaving of the playership - one side needing a "serious" imaginary world and the other just needing a fun place to play for a few hours. I'm in the latter group, and of course love the Fiend Folio. It's probably not a surprise that I don't much are for Mr. Greenwood's Forgotten Realms setting - though I mean no disrespect to Mr. Greenwood. He's a hell of a creator, and deserves great respect in the gaming world. It just sounds like we're looking for different things from our gaming.

I'll note one more line from the review:

"Perhaps it should have been a D&D® book, not one for the AD&D™ game."

Guess that's why I always liked the D&D rules better than the AD&D rules.

I will indulge my sense of humor for reviews one last time here, with this peach from a second review of the Fiend Folio.

"First, the names of the dragons are given in the wrong order. If you look in the Monster Manual under the entry indexed as “Dragon: White” you would see at the top of the description, “White Dragon (Draco Rigidus Frigidus).” The Latin name of the dragon is put in parentheses after the English name. But in the FIEND FOLIO under “Dragon, Oriental” a subtitle will read, “Li Lung (Earth Dragon),” with the Chinese name first and the English name in parentheses. Now, who is going to call this dragon “Li Lung” when “Earth Dragon” is much easier to remember? The names should have been given in reverse form (Oriental name last) for the sake of convenience, if nothing more."

The joy of writing for nerds. At least the reviewer was focusing on the big picture, and not nitpicking.

Now to the feature articles:

Dinosaurs: New Theories for Old Monsters by Lawrence Schick raises the problem we still face with these creatures that we don't face with fantasy monsters - we don't know enough. We know more now than we did then, of course, which means we could well be revising monster stats for these beasts forever. This is why I prefer using dinosaurs in my games as though they were fantasy monsters based on what you got in old movies ... with just a dash of what we now know (the potential for brilliant plummage, for example) to make them weird.

Gary Gygax has a nice article covering some of the peoples of Oerth. This was reprinted in the old Greyhawk boxed set, and I remember reading it there and thinking "Wow, I didn't realize you could make this kind of thing up." It was one of those "unknown unknowns" to me as a kid. I mean, the world is full of people, so I guess people in a D&D world will look like people in our own world, so you don't really need to describe them. I had a lot to learn about the joys of fantasy.

Katherine Kerr has a nice piece on Robin Hood (he has a price of 200 gp on his head, you know). She makes him a 12th level fighter, Chaotic Good, with some pretty high ability scores. This brings up a thought - that D&D is actually better at depicting cruel reality than heroic fantasy in some ways. After all, when we try to model heroes of fantasy literature in D&D, we have to make them very high level and usually give them very high ability scores. Much of the "evolution" of D&D over the years seems to have been an effort to make it more amenable to fantasy heroes than the original game. Sounds funny to say this, given the presence of "heroes" and "super-heroes" in OD&D.

Oh - I should add that Will Scarlet is an 8th level thief, Little John a 10th level fighter, Friar Tuck a 7th level cleric and the evil Sheriff (lawful evil, to be precise) a 6th level fighter.

"It has been recorded, in the lost scrolls of Caractos the Scribe, of which only fragments now exist, that... from the ice-world of Northumbria, many ages ago, there came a youth named Niall, son of Thorkon the Mighty, who was destined to roam the world as he knew it, and to whom was to be given the appellation, the Far-Traveler..."

So begins another tale of Niall by Gardner Fox.This is good, old-fashioned pulp barbarian stuff, so worth a read for old school sorts like myself.


Speaking of old school, this issue has a Basic D&D adventure called The Creature of Rhyl by Kevin Knuth (could this be him?).

The adventure scores one old school point with reversed names - King Namreh (Herman) and Prince Laechim (Michael). It involves treking into the wilderness to hunt a giant monster and rescue the prince from an evil magician.

My only quibble with this dungeon is the presence of some pretty decent magic items on the upper level without too much guarding it. This may be because there are a couple tough monsters lurking in the lower levels that have to be dealt with. There is a nice puzzle room here, and overall it seems like a good rescue mission sort of adventure.

Pat Reinken (perhaps this fellow?) has a nice article on the tactics of escaping danger, mostly covering magic items that help you get away from danger in one piece.

The Dragon's Bestiary features the Devil Spider with awesome Erol Otus artwork, which makes sense since Otus invented the monster. The monster is predicated on trying to escape from sticky webs, in such a manner as to make for an exciting fight. It's a tough monster, so don't play with it unless you're high enough level not to end up spider food.

Jeff Brandt introduces the Surchur, which is quite a horrifying thing, humanoid with a mass of tentacles in place of a head. It's a mid-level monster that doesn't have many tricks up its sleeve, but which could still give a party lots of problems. Kind of a good Lovecraftian thug.

Ed Greenwood presents the dyll in this issue, essentially a swarm of flying leeches.

The final monster is Craig Stenseth's poltergeist, the spirit of chaotic gnomes from Limbo and Gladsheim sent to the Material Plane to spread chaos. Nice origin idea for them.

Speaking of monsters - the magazine reviews a cool miniature called the "gorillasaurus", which is actually a hybrid of gorilla and rhinoceros (so maybe gorillaceros would have been a better name). The image is terrible in the magazine, but I found a good shot at the AD&D 2nd Edition Holdout blog that tells a good story about using it in-game.

For comic fans, this issue has an early Snarfquest, a nice Wormy entry and a What's New?.

As always, I'll leave you with some Tramp and his wonderful little tree trolls ...


 God bless - be kind to one another - and have some fun for crying out loud!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Dread Kisthenes

Well, it is time to get back into the swing of things here at NOD after an unfortunately and unavoidable absence. Though I haven't been as active online these last few weeks, I have been writing in what spare time I had, so I thought the easiest way to get back into blogging would be to share some of that material.

The Kisthenes hex crawl is proceeding apace - I can wrap up the basic writing in another 12 days - and then comes the editing and the writing of supplemental NOD articles. I need to commission art here really soon as well, but I think I can get the next NOD issue out by early May without too much trouble. This weekend I'm going to finally find time to get the paperbacks of the last issue of NOD and Barbarians & Basilisks up on Lulu, in case anyone has been waiting.

Without further ado ... a few tidbits from the (unedited) Kisthenes hex crawl, which is based loosely on Mesopotamia and features a mad conqueror attempting to bring Tiamat (not exactly the copyrighted version from you-know-who, but something bigger and more Lovecraftian) bodily into the material plane, and other city-states competing to bring their own super-beasts into the world to oppose him. So a little Mesopotamian kaiju action for the adventurers to either stop or run away from.

(Note - the outlined areas in the map are the bits I have left to do. I usually write one chunk per weeknight, or two on weekends.)


Kisthenes map, plus a bit of the Nomo hex crawl to the left and Motherlands hex crawl at the bottom

0104. Damisu the Damned | Stronghold

Damisu is a necromancer whose ill-repute extends well beyond the grasslands of Kisthenes and the sands of the Crimson Waste. A waxy-skinned wastrel, he speaks in a timid soprano, pausing here and there to apply an unguent made of tallow to his dry, cracked lips. He dresses in a silk loincloth which, thankfully, he hides beneath a robe of crow feathers. Upon his head is the skull of his former master, the Mistress Utena. Her remains went to making one of several patchwork women who now serve in his manse, a decrepit old sandstone structure in a low spot on the grasslands that is soggy from a natural spring and littered with bones. The hex is patrolled by a dozen grey gnolls (encounter on a roll of 1-3 on 1d6) armed with composite bows and falchions.

Damisu is a petty man, very competitive with other magic-users (sorcerers are beneath his contempt). He is an obsequious man when presented with a possible challenge, offering hospitality in his shady domicile. In the night, the patchwork women set upon the magic-using guest and drag them through the dungeon into what Damisu calls “his arena”.

In the arena, dozens of zombies gather around two stone pillars, each pillar being about 6′ in diameter and raised 10′ off the ground. Damisu stands atop one pillar, his foe on the other. Whoever falls to the zombies is torn apart (unless it is Damisu, for they are his zombies and thus under his control.

If presented with a halfling girl with rosy cheeks and ebon locks, Damisu’s heart will stir and his mind flash back to a time long ago and a love long ago departed. How he reacts to this stimulus is up to the TK.

0540. Hawk Men | Monster

A tribe of hawk men has taken up residence in an old Chimerian citadel, a basalt nightmare stretched around a narrow peak and overlooking three valleys thick with fungal monsters. The hawk men have been raiding the surrounding settlements and then selling their plunder in Galardis. Their prince, Voltaro, has in his possession the adamantine sword of a Chimerian brave. The brave, Ull, is on the trail, and may be seen climbing the mountain and being harassed by the hawk men by adventurers moving through the hex.

0803. Pit of Despair | Monster

This hex of grassland is always strangely calm, and yet those who enter the hex feel a vague unease. Animals will not willingly enter the hex, and so the hex has mostly been left alone.

Towards the center of the hex there is a 10′ wide pit ringed with ancient stone slick with slime. The pit looks endless, and perhaps it is. It is inhabited by a caller in darkness who is summoned by tapping some-thing metal on the stone that rings the pit.

When summoned, the monster erupts suddenly from the pit, attacking all it can reach. If presented with a holy symbol of Ishtar it recoils and then one of the faces within the monster comes to the fore, a priestess of Ishtar who fled here when Ishkabibel was taken.

The priestess, while in control, will say something to the effect of, “The Mother of Chaos is coming, fed on the milk of human suffering, and with her coming the gods will again walk the earth, bringing destruction in their wake! Stop her coming, or flee this world.”

1735. Zephos | Village

Zephos is a large village (pop. 320 urban, 2,560 rural) of farmers who want nothing more than to be left alone. About 5% of the population are halflings, who work as scouts and swineherds in the village, and who help their kin from the Golden Steppe make their way to Blackpoort and other points south. The village has two competing taverns, the Sneering Pony and the Hole-in-the-Wall.

The Sneering Pony is mostly frequented by humans, the farmers gathering in the large room to drink golden ale and mead and eat roast lamb while listening to a woman bard, Hannah, past her prime but with a fantastic voice – perfect for laments. They sit, drink, eat and cry. In the room above, the merchant and artisans gather to drink spiced wine and eat pungent stews while gambling or watching bare-knuckle boxing.

The Hole-in-the-Wall is a tiny bar for halflings that is literally accessed via a hole in the wall of the Sneering Pony. It is a cozy place with many chairs with thick cushions, root beer par excellence, food not to be beat and some of the finest storytellers in the region, who weave the legends of old with fragrant pipe smoke.

2231. Monastery of Valor | Stronghold

A monastery of monks dedicated to Ninurta, the god of heroes, occupies a high ridge in this hex. The ridge is surrounded by an acacia forest populated by numerous wild goats, which are held as sacred to the deity.

The monastery is a mud-brick fort consisting of a small citadel (wherein dwell the monks) and a court-yard for their training. Several small outbuildings permit monks solitude for their meditations.

The monastery enjoys occasional visits from the knights of Lyonesse. Many young knights journey to the monastery for training, especially in the areas of courage and fortitude.

The 20 lesser monks of Ninurta fight with forked weapons used for disarming and bludgeoning foes. They pray to a white crystal formation beneath the monastery that is reached by crawling through a narrow, twisting tunnel. The cavern of the crystal is filled with warm, salty water and the walls are encrusted with smaller crystals which the monks chip off and turn into charms worn around their neck as proof they have seen the crystal.

Ninurta’s monks go bare-chested and wrap white cloth around their legs and abdomens. They paint a grey triangle on their faces and are permitted a crystal charm and leather bracers, but no other costume. Their leader is Shursab, a tall, stately woman with an abrasive personality. Only perfection is good enough for Shursab. If she meets a “perfect specimen”, there is a percentage chance equal to his or her charisma score that she falls in love with them. Shursab’s badge of office is a pair of opals on her bracers.

2844. Bacchanalia | Monster

Cultists of Bacchus have a gathering place here in the woods around a bloodstained stone table. The table sits on a low hill, the base of which is overgrown with red wild roses, a narrow stair of white stones leading up to it from a mucky gully. On new moons, a procession of fey and elven women moves through the woods lighting their way with torches and drinking from silver goblets of mind-altering wine. They become drunker as they approach the stone table, two or three men they have charmed in tow, and when they reach the top of the hill, they are joined by a trio of maenads. Under their direction they lash the men to the table and ply them with wine until they are blitzed out of their minds, before finally plunging knives into them. Satyrs watch from the woods, and gather the bodies when they have left, giving them a proper burial in the woods.

3348. Count Down to Pudding | Monster

A strange tan globe hangs from the bough of an oak. The sphere is one of force, and holds a dun pudding. The leaves of the woodland floor hide a steel box that, when the center is stepped on, forms a cube, the roof enclosing the victims of the trap and the pudding. Immediately, the force bubble begins to dissipate from the top down – it will take 30 minutes before the pud-ding can escape.

In the floor of the steel box there is a key hole which, if picked (or unlocked with the key inside the pudding), grants entry into a quasi-dimensions where the gnome thief Braba hid his treasure. The opening of the floor reveals stairs leading down into a weird cavern lit by the walls, which glow in shades of red and yellow. It will take 10 minutes to get to the treasure cavern, and another 10 to get back (though you might want to roll 3d6 to determine how many minutes it takes to get there and back). Among the treasure items is a tuning fork of no value, but which can cause the cube to unfold, allowing people to escape unharmed if the dun pudding remains contained in its force bubble.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Flights of Fancy

MAGIC!
The fly spell is a good example of a spell that succinctly (at least in old editions) explains what the spell does, but does not describe what the effect looks like. It's easy enough to assume the flyer looks something like Superman, but how about some other possibilities:


1. Magic-user rides a rainbow, with sparkles descending like a gentle rain on those below

2. Magic-user sprouts golden wings of energy

3. Magic-user sprouts bat wings and leaves a sulfurous smell as he passes by

4. Magic-user rides a small cloud

5. Magic-user sprouts two silver discs from the bottom of his feet and rides them through the sky

6. Bottom of the magic-user's body becomes a whirlwind (no extra effect from the wind) and he flies like a tornado through the sky

7. A bubble of magic energy surrounds the magic-user, who sits in the lotus position within

8. A giant hand descends from the sky and picks the magic-user up, depositing him where he wishes

9. Dozens of magical balloons on strings sprout from the magic-user's hand and lift him into the air

10. The magic-user becomes a flock of sparrows (she retains a general humanoid shape and keeps the same combat statistics as the magic-user if attacked)

That's ten possibilities - anyone care to deposit a few more in the comments?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Dragon by Dragon - October 1981 (54)

Has it been that long since the last Dragon by Dragon? Time flies and time is tight, but there should always be time to travel down through that great gaming oak to the roots and ferment in the brew of our elders.

What the hell am I talking about? The bourbon is doing its job. Let's get started on issue 54 of the venerable Dragon and see what inspiration we can pull from this issue. Yeah, this will be less review and more "what's cool that we can use today".

Cool Cover

How about those angry trees on the cover by Jack Crane. How about a high level druid illusion spell:

Maddening Wood
Level: Druid 7
Area of Effect: One 6-mile hex of woodland per druid level
Duration: One season

The druid enchants a woodland with terrible phantasms. When one approaches the woods proper, the trees loom over them and seem to animate, with grotesque faces and bony claws. Creatures with fewer than 3 HD must pass a saving throw vs. fear or be frightened away. Those who are not afraid initially may plunge into the woods, but things grow worse before they get better. With each step, a save is required for creatures one additional HD higher (i.e. one step in and creatures with 4 HD must save, the next requires creatures with 5 HD to save, and so on). If a creature becomes frightened, all creatures with fewer HD must save again. As one moves deeper into the woods, the wind whips up, the owls hoot, the foliage closes in and becomes more noisome ... until one has gone 10 paces in, when the illusory magic ceases and the woods become normal once again.


Eternal Complaint Dept.

"My “lack of realism” argument is very well supported in all of the AD&D entries. By taking a close look you will find an incredibly large amount of monsters in a relatively small area, which, in most cases, has not the means to support even a few of the creatures presented."


Ruins: Rotted and Risky - but Rewarding by Arn Ashleigh Parker (R.I.P.)

Here's the first article I dug in this issue, covering ruins - the much neglected cousin to dungeons in D&D. The article contains ideas on designing ruined cities (and thus non-ruined cities), and I love the asumptions made in the article. These are fantasy cities from the mind of Mr. Parker, and they're awesome. Here's a few thoughts I enjoyed:

1. Give the players a map showing the perimeter of the ruins, with credit going to the party thief. This saves time, and doesn't give too much away.

2. Go through the map and decide which buildings are monster lairs; don't determine what the building actually is until the players investigate.

3. The table of buildings that might be in a ruin (and thus also useful for randomly determining building use in a city)


4. Random bank vault contents! (also useful in modern games, I would think)


5. "The chance for a given thief to open the lock on a bank vault is computed by multiplying the height of the vault (in stories) by 20, and subtracting that number from the thief’s normal percentage chance to open a lock. Thus, a 17th level dwarven thief with a dextereity of 17, who would have an adjusted open-locks chance of 119% for normal locks, has only a 49% chance of cracking a third-story vault, and no chance to open a vault on the sixth story, because the adjustment for the vault’s height (6x20=120) is greater than 119."

This is what made AD&D great.

6. Private residences are 1d4 stories high. 10% are unusual and were owned by ...


7. How long does it take to find a particular building:



The Righteous Robbers of Liang Shan P'o by Joseph Ravitts

Cool article with NPC stats for some bad boys of the Water Margin. They include Kung Sun Sheng ("Dragon in the Clouds"), Tai Chung ("The Magic Messenger"), Chang Shun ("White Stripe in the Waves"), Li K'uei ("The Black Whirlwind") and Shih Hsiu ("The One Who Heeds Not His Life").

This is followed up by a Giants in the Earth covering E. R. Eddison's Four Lords of Demonland.


I Want One of These


Would also be a great game - Wizard Dragon Dwarf Assassin


Beware the Jabberwock by Mark Nuiver

This one presents stats for the Jabberwock, along with a stunning piece of art. The B&T stats are:

Jabberwock

Type: Monster
Size: Huge
Hit Dice: 10 to 12
Armor Class:
Attack: 2 claws (4d4), bite (3d12 + swallow) and tail (2d12)
Movement: 20 ft.
Save: 12
Intelligence: Average
Alignment: Chaotic (NE) or Neutral (N)
No. Appearing: 1
XP/CL:

SQ-Surprised (1 in 6), darkvision 90 feet, detect vorpal blade (1 mile range)

Notes: Jabberwocks mature as do dragons. They have a fearsome gaze (creatures less than 4+1 HD; frightens; frightened creatures must pass a second save or be paralyzed with fear for 2d4 rounds). Tail attacks anyone behind the creature, with a -2 penalty to attack.



Cavern Quest by Bill Fawcett

Worth mentioning this module for AD&D, which is also a sort of quiz with a system for scoring. It's strange, but probably worth checking out, especially if you want to prove you're better at AD&D than a friend ... or foe! Each room gives you a number of options, usually preparations and actions. Based on your choices, you score points and prove your superiority over other dungeoneers. Cavern Quest could be a fun thing to run on G+ using the polling function, but it is probably too long to make it work.



Cash and Carry for Cowboys by Glenn Rahman

If you need some price lists for an Old West game, this is worth checking out. I wish I'd seen it before writing GRIT & VIGOR.



Bottle of Undead by Bruce Sears

A magic item in the Bazaar of the Bizarre. It is basically an efreet bottle that spews [01-20] a ghost, [21-35] banshee, [36-55] 1d3 spectres, [56-70] 1d2 vampires or [71-00] 1d6 wraiths.



This Makes Me Happy ...




As always, I leave you with Tramp ...


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

New Spells and a Way to Use Them

New magic-user spells - fun to create, but hard to get into a game. After all, a magic-user only has so many spells he can cram into a spellbook, and when it comes time to choose, the average magic-user is going to go for the most useful, and thus usually the most standard, spells in the game. Detect evil might be boring, but it sure is useful.

Since I was inventing a bunch of new spells yesterday, I also went to the trouble of inventing a way magic-users can actually use them. It's a highly complex set of rules ...

FIRST, A MESSAGE FROM OUR SPONSOR

NOD magazine begins its fabulous eighth year with a full hex crawl covering the crumbling empire of Nomo, a Romanesque city that has lost its emperor. As the empire slowly falls, opportunity for adventures abound. The hex crawl includes three mini-dungeons and hundreds of places to visit.

Other features include:

Two old school classes, the Centurion and Dervish, as well as ideas for anti-classes designed to foil fighters, magic-users and thieves.

Rules for playing poker in GRIT & VIGOR, as well as a gambler sub-class

A host of new "eye monsters" for Blood & Treasure and other OSR games

Plus some ideas on votive orders and on introducing the most horrific concept into fantasy gaming ever conceived ... Taxes!

AND NOW, BACK TO OUR STORIES

... that are actually not complex at all, and very simple. I call it Quasi-Spell Research

With an hour's meditation, a magic-user can prepare any magic-user spell permitted by the Referee. The magic-user must have an open "spell slot" for the spell to do this. Once a spell has been prepared in this way, it can never be prepared with quasi-spell research again. It can, at some point, be learned and added to the magic-user's spell book in the normal way, but not using this method. The magic-user also cannot use quasi-spell research to acquire a spell for making a magic item - she cannot use it to scribe a scroll, brew a potion, etc.

Since we have a rules lite way of accessing all sorts of new spells, how about a few new spells?

Black Sun (Necromancy)
Level: Anti-Cleric 3, Magic-User 3
Area of Effect: 120′ radius
Duration: 1 minute per level

Sunlight in the area of effect becomes gray and wan. It does not harm creatures normally harmed by sunlight, such as vampires.

Fantastic Transformation (Transmutation)
Level: Magic-User 9
Range: Touch
Duration: 10 minutes

This spell requires three subjects plus the caster. All four participants must be holding hands. Upon casting the spell, a bolt of cosmic energy erupts from the spell caster’s hands and travels through the subjects. When it ceases, all four participants in the spell are transformed. The subject with the highest strength score gains the benefit of the stoneskin spell. The subject with the highest dexterity score gains the benefit of the fire shield spell. The subject with the highest wisdom gains the benefits of the improved invisibility spell. The subject with the highest intelligence score takes in the properties of an ooze. If one subject qualifies for more than one of these transformations, they choose which one they want, and the runner-up then takes on one of the other transformations. All transformations last for 10 minutes and then cease.

Freak Out (Illusion)
Level: Magic-User 5
Range: 30′
Duration: See text

You may target all creatures within 30 feet of you with waves of psychedelic weirdness. Creature with 0 to 4 HD are confused for 1 minute. Creatures with 5 to 9 HD begin dancing around like crazy beatniks for 4 rounds and are fatigued for 10 minutes. Creatures with 10 or more HD are stunned for 1 round while they ponder the cosmos, man (and engines that run on water, man - water!), and then fatigued for 10 minutes from the heavy thinking.

Light Fantastic (Evocation)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: See text
Duration: 1 hour

A beam of light departs the magic-user’s fingertip and proceeds in a direction chosen, bouncing off of solid objects as it goes generally in the direction determined by the caster. The light beam extends for a maximum of 90′ and lasts for one hour, suspended in the area cast. Any creature stepping through this beam of light must pass a saving throw or fall prone on the floor, having tripped (over) the light fantastic.

Melt (Transmutation)
Level: Magic-User 8
Range: 90′
Duration: 10 minutes

For ten minutes, the landscape and all inanimate objects around you seem to melt and bend. They become porous and strange. Walls can be walked through with a d20 roll under a character’s Wisdom score, and creatures can walk on walls and ceilings as though they were the floor. Weapons deal only 1 point of damage (plus strength modifier), and rigid objects become flexible. Everything in the landscape changes color into a brilliant, psychedelic pallet, including living creatures. After the spell ends, all sentient creatures must pass a saving throw or be sickened for 1d6 rounds. Creatures who are sickened must also pass a save or suffer 1d6 points of Wisdom damage.

Mystic Fire of Phango (Evocation)
Level: Magic-User 4
Range: 30′
Duration: Instantaneous

The mystic fire reaches out from the spell caster’s fingertips, like hands of liquid white flame, to caress the skull of the target. The spell attempts to erase from the mind of the target their three highest level spells that are also of a level the spell caster can cast. Thus, a 7th level magic-user could erase spells no higher than 4th from a target’s mind.

If the target’s highest vulnerable spells number more than three, then each spell is nominated by the target in turn and the spell caster decides if they wish to target that spell.

For each of the three to be erased, the target can choose to release the spell from their mind, or suffer 1d6 + spell level points of damage to their synapses and retain the spell. Thus, retaining an 8th level spell would inflict 1d6+8 points of damage to the target.

Recharge (Evocation)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: Touch
Duration: Instantaneous

The magician uses their own body as a battery to recharge a wand or staff. For every point of Constitution damage or every 1d6 points of hit point damage they are willing to accept, they add 1 charge to a wand or staff.

Silky Smooth (Necromancy)
Level: Magic-User 1
Range: Touch
Duration: See below

At the magician’s touch, the victim loses all of their hair or fur, being left with silky smooth skin. Creatures without hair are unaffected.

Sinister Suspicion (Illusion)
Level: Magic-User 2
Range: 120′
Duration: 24 hours

The target of this spell scans as evil (Chaotic) to detect evil spells for 24 hours.

Sun Shower (Evocation)
Level: Cleric 3
Range: 240′
Duration: 1 round

Particles of light shower down on an area 40′ x 40′ x 40′. Creatures harmed by sunlight suffer 3d10 points of damage (no saving throw) in the affected area.

Supercharge (Evocation)
Level: Magic-User 4
Range: Touch
Duration: Instantaneous

The magician supercharges a wand. On its next use (and only its next use), the wand can expend two charges to cast its spell at either double the range, double the duration or increased damage. Damage is increased by +1 point of damage per dice of damage it normally inflicts. Thus, a three dice lightning bolt would do 3d6+3 points of damage if cast from a supercharged wand.

Transmute Skin to Tongue (Necromancy)
Level: Magic-User 7
Range: 30′
Duration: 1 hour

This bizarre curse changes a creature’s skin to the texture and color of a tongue. Their skin now tastes whatever it touches, a highly disconcerting sensation that requires a saving throw each turn to avoid becoming sickened (for sentient creatures) or frightened (for non-sentient creatures). Creatures without a skin (oozes, energy creatures) are unaffected. The affected creature’s appearance is likewise disconcerting to others, who must pass a save to avoid reacting with revulsion.

Transmute Sound to Light (Illusion)
Level: Magic-User 4
Area of Effect: 30′ radius
Duration: 1 minute

This spell converts all sound in the area of effect into light. The form of the light depends on the sound; singing, for example, might produce a lovely light show, while arguing would cast a harsh reddish light on the area.

Battles, in particular, create a vivid, violent strobe effect, with each clash of arms producing a flash of light. The effect is disorienting, and each creature in the area must pass a saving throw to avoid becoming dizzy (-1 to AC, -1 to hit, each miss in combat by 4 or more points resulting in the attacker falling prone). The dizziness ends when one leaves the area, for outside the area one hears the sounds and does not see the lights.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Shadowlord! - A Timely Review

Once upon a time, a young me and my best friend Josh played a wondrous game of universal conquest. I have no idea where Josh got the game - maybe a gift, maybe stole it from his brother's room. No idea. But it was awesome. There was this board with all these circles on it, and cards with cool pictures of people, including this one really hot chick that Josh and I both wanted on our team, and you did stuff in it and ... stuff.

That was around about 1985, and years later I had no freaking idea what game I had played and enjoyed so much, and a few searches based on my scanty memories yielded nothing.

And then, one day in 2017, I was searching games on Etsy for some inspiration and found it. Shadowlord!! There are two exclamation points there because the game has a name ending with an exclamation point. I bought the game on Etsy, it was delivered a couple weeks ago, and last night, I finally played it again, this time with wife and daughter.

So how did it go?

Still awesome. Shadowlord! is a cool strategy game, with some nice random events and a requirement to think things through. This, of course, is why I was out on my second turn after going all in on a silly gambit. I was stupid, and the rules rightfully destroyed me.

The game involves playing one of four factions led by the Fire Lord (actually a lady), Air Lord, Water Lord and Earth Lord. The board is divided into numerous "galaxies", including the "Lost Fortress" at the center of the board where resides the Shadowlord. The Shadowlord has many minions, who pop up in the galaxies and who can be used to mess with the other players. On your turn, you roll a random event (usually good for you), build spaceships, move around the board finding new allies in the galaxies to add to your faction and maneuvering to fight. I won't go deep into the mechanics - the rules take a little while to learn, but they seem sound to me and after a few goes the game is pretty easy to play. The art is cool - the game was published in 1983, and the graphics show it in a good way. The game also has a time tracker - eventually, the Shadowlord takes control of the whole universe and beats everyone if the players take too long to win the game.

The game we played ultimately came down to wife vs. daughter, and really to my daughter's quest to rescue one of her captured merchants, Svein, from one of my wife's warriors. Svein, you see, is an anthropomorphic pig, and my daughter loves pigs. Yes, it all boiled down to a galactic Pig War, which my daughter ultimately lost. It was getting late, so we didn't play things out completely to have my wife take on the Shadow Lord for control of the universe, but we had a good time.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Dig Deep

You never know what will inspire an idea, and this one came from watching an episode of Father Knows Best before driving to work. In this particular episode, good old dad tells Bud to use his charm when trying to apologize/ask out a girl. Now, Bud was already in the position of apologizing to the girl because of his so-called "charm", so the interchange got me thinking about the value of putting extra effort behind a task.

In games, we often have characters making skill or ability checks of some kind, assuming they are putting forth their best effort to accomplish the task at hand. Maybe they are ... but I suppose we've all been in the situation of "coasting" by on things we're good at, or even of not trying all that hard to do something we know we're bad at. There are times, though, when something must be done, and so we focus just a bit harder on success. In terms of Charles Schultz's Peanuts strips, it looks something like this:


That tongue sticking out means Charlie Brown is digging deep and putting all his effort into it. So, how do you do this in a game?

The simplest way is to give the players a once a session or even "once per day" chance to really focus on a task or saving throw or maybe even an attack. For attacks and saving throws, you might give a +1 bonus, while for skill and ability checks, a +2 or +10% bonus. You could also just allow a single re-roll on a failed try at something.

So - what does this extra effort cost?

Maybe nothing. I've heard some supposed experts speak on the subject of will power, forwarding the idea that we all have it, but in limited supply. This "extra effort" bonus could just be a free gift to the players.

You could also make it a trade off. Maybe putting forth extra effort involves becoming fatigued for a period of time - say an hour. You could even split mental fatigue from physical fatigue.

If the group is touchy-feely, perhaps the player has to share an episode in his or her past in which they had to dig deep to do something, or in which they goofed off and really screwed up.

If you want to get really nasty, make players spend a few XP for that extra effort - not a huge amount of XP, of course, but maybe 10 or 25.

Oh - and make the player stick their tongue out of the side of their mouth while they're rolling the dice. That I insist upon!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What are Powerful Friends For?

Answer: To get you in trouble!

Quick post today on a trope not uncommon in fantasy fiction, but which doesn't see much use in gaming (at least, not that I've seen). Allow me to paint a picture for you ...

A powerful wizard appears before a startled group of people and declares that seven of them must at once come with him on an errand of terrible importance. Seven step forward, and once they have grabbed what gear they can, they set off from their safe home and into the wilderness. With the wizard's help, they overcome their first challenge, a small army sent by the Adversary to stop them, but must then part ways with the powerful wizard and sally forth alone.

High and mid levels in the back, low levels in the front, please
You've certainly seen something like this if you've read your Tolkien, and I'm sure in other places as well. In game terms, a high level character partners with several low level characters, gets them started on an adventure, and then leaves them to their own devices.

In games, the adventurers are usually the same level (or close to it), and the accompaniment of a much more powerful NPC under the Referee's control would appear to be a colossal mistake. In fact, it would be if that powerful NPC was to follow along for an entire adventure, getting everyone out of scrapes and leaving little for them to do. As the adventure-starter, though, there are possibilities.

For one thing, the instigator, as we'll call them, can fill the players in on the background of the adventure - the whos and wheres and wherefores.

For another, their presence for the first big challenge of the game permits the Referee to make it a whopper - something epic and un-survivable without the instigator. For a long term campaign, this can be an early shot in the arm of XP for the low level adventurers, to help them on their way. More importantly, it is a way to immerse the players into the setting and the quest in a dramatic way.

Finally, when the instigator leaves, the players will find themselves in a position similar to the conquistadors of Cortes. The adventurers might not be able to turn back, and so they must go forward. The challenges they face from this point on are a bit more keyed to their abilities (though some will be deadly if they are not handled properly), but they will always remember the instigator and their first taste of dangerous adventure.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Mannix!

Mike Connors recently passed away. He’s best known for playing Joe Mannix, private investigator, on the TV show Mannix, which ran from 1967-1975. Great show, and one of my all-time favorites. It was also an odd duck for its time because it forewent the idea of a detective with a gimmick (fat, wheelchair-bound, old, etc.) and just created a detective in the hard-boiled tradition.  James Rockford was probably Mannix's spiritual successor on television.

Mannix is an interesting character with an interesting history, and that interesting history makes him a perfect character for a game of GRIT & VIGOR.

R.I.P. Mike Connors, and thanks for the fine entertainment.

Joe Mannix
High school football and basketball star, Korean War veteran, former P.O.W., mercenary in Latin America and current private investigator

5th level fighter, 7th level private eye

Strength: 13 / +1
Dexterity: 14 / +1
Constitution: 16 / +2
Intelligence: 11
Wisdom: 13 / +1
Charisma: 11

Hit Points: 3d6 + 4d10 +14
Armor Class: 11
Attack: +4
Saves: F11 R10 W12

Feats: Pugilist, Power Attack

Knacks: Athletics, Communicate, Drive Car, Endure, Pilot Aircraft

Fighter Skills: Bend Bars, Break Down Doors, Endure*, Jump, Lift Gates, Ride Mount

Private Eye Skills: Cant, Crack Code, Gather Intelligence, Hide in Shadows, Listen at Doors, Move Silently, Search, Sleight of Hand, Track (humans only)

Class Abilities: Note clues and concealed items, mull things over, backstab +2d6, extra attack vs. opponents with 3 or fewer Hit Dice

Equipment: Colt Detective Special (1d6), 1975 Chevrolet Camaro (in final season – Mannix drove an astounding array of cars over the course of the series – check Wikipedia’s entry for a list)

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