Sunday, September 25, 2016

Chanbara Play Test Art!

Last night was another (in my opinion, at least) successful Chanbara play test session. The big bad boss fight at the end went MUCH faster than I thought it would, and more decisively in the players' favor, but they did do a few things "right" and had a few tactics that I didn't anticipate that went well for them (which is not a complaint at all, I'm not in love with my NPCS, and I'm happy to see the players defeat them when they can).

Anyway, just before the session, Jeff submitted this graphic novel-ish recap of the previous session a couple weeks ago, and I thought I'd share them (with his permission).

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thank You, Alexis!

Most readers of this blog are probably also familiar with Alexis Smolensk, and his blog The Tao of D&D.

Hopefully you're all readers of his blog. How you feel about him personally, well, that's up to you. And honestly, years ago when I first started reading his blog, I didn't like him. He had a brusque, authoritative, pompous attitude -- or at least that's how many of his posts read to me. But one day, a few years back, he posted a video of just himself talking about whatever. And I began to see him as a person, rather than as an internet persona. I haven't always agreed with him, but I do appreciate what he's done on his blog over the years, and how it's helped me to improve my game. And now that I better understand him, and his mission with his blog to encourage gamers to be better, I have nothing but respect for him. I want to take back all the disparaging things I've said about him over the years (and I said more than a few back in the early days of the blog). Alexis, I just didn't get you back then. I think I do now. Sorry.

Since August, I've been reading a series of posts (he seems to have wrapped them up now) about applying Games Theory to look at D&D and RPGs in general. I think it started with this critique of the Quick Primer for Old School Games, although maybe it started before that. I was (and still am) busy in August writing up my dissertation.

Alexis also suggested a book on Games Theory by Matsumoto and Szidarovsky in this post, but I don't really have time to dig into a serious academic work on the subject right now. Maybe next year, if my defense goes well and I don't need to rebuild my dissertation from the ground up...

However, I did find a lighter book on game design, written primarily for video/computer games, but so far much of what it has to say has been applicable to RPGs. Game Design: Theory and Practice (Second Edition), by Richard Rouse III (2005, Wordware Publishing). It's leagues beyond any "made for RPGs" theory like the GNS Forge stuff.

I'll probably be posting some excerpts or thoughts related to what's in the book, and applying the ideas presented to Chanbara as I get it ready for publication.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Descent Most Perilous

A Descent Most Perilous

Being a continuation of the journal of the renowned Green Knight Jack Summerisle, and companions various and sundry, in the cavernous deeps beneath the world of Eberron. 

Having found at long last Connor, the half-elven father of our companion Jade the Ranger (also half-elven), we set about freeing as many of the slaves of the ghouls as we were able. Luckily, no alarums were sounded, due to the battle still raging between the horrid ghouls and our coalition of the many underground tribes. Connor was anxious to return to the surface, as were most of the former slaves, but one of the Dragonmarked we had rescued, an orc shaman, told us of the spirit of the mountain.

It seems that once upon a time, the mountain was alive and awake. While it still lives, it slumbers and the kingdom of the ghouls give it nightmares, or so the shaman told us. Connor asked that we continue to search for the Crown of Air and Darkness, and the shaman asked that we find a way to wake the mountain's spirit. Both had clues leading even deeper into the Kyber, to a subterranean realm known as Pellucidar. The entrance to this realm, a pit going deeper into the heart of the world, was on the far side of the necropolis.

Morax, the half-orc bounty hunter (also among the Dragonmarked) agreed to accompany us on our quest. Jade the Ranger, Rhea the Witch, Yuv the Dragonborn Cleric of Radiance, Thia the Elven Tempest Cleric, and myself made up the party.

We navigated through the necropolis without incident, but a ghoul warrior with a mutant hairless cat-rat beast was guarding the path to the Pit. It attacked Thia, who was scouting ahead, but she managed to resist the paralyzing touch of the undead guardian. Rhea hurled fireballs, Yuv used sacred flame magic, Jade and Morax fired their bows, and I charged it with my axe. The cat beast attempted to hinder Cassius, my giant cave weta mount, but I successfully chased it away, then set on the guard. While he was a tough opponent, we managed to defeat him and his cat-rat.

At the pit, we spied a strange creature. It was a giant, floating undead head with three eyes. While we took cover, not knowing what it would do, Rhea cast a spell to summon a demon from hell. The demon managed to defeat the giant floating ghoul head, and then as it charged at us, we destroyed the weakened fiend. Now, we were at the Pit, which looked to go down without end.

We rested for the night to set out fresh on this next stage of our quest. The pit had a narrow, winding stone stair set in it, which Jade and Yuv negotiated, tied together with a rope. Thia and I rode on Cassius, who had no trouble negotiating the climb, and likewise Rhea enlarged her spider-bat familiar into a mount also capable of climbing and flying. We had one scare, when Yuv and Jade slipped and fell, but with quick action by all of the party, we managed to catch them before they fell far.

Finally, we came to the end of the stairs, but not the end of the Pit. This was a quandary. How could we proceed? We considered all of the magic at our disposal, but none seemed adequate. I sent Cassius to scout if the stairs resumed lower down, but my trusty steed got to the end of our telepathic bond without any good news to report. Finally, Jade experimented with a pair of bladed gauntlets which the ghoul guardian had been wearing, and they allowed him to climb by piercing the walls. Yuv was tied to a rope suspended between Cassius and Rhea's spider-bat. While it was a long descent, we eventually reached the bottom.

And now here we stand, on the threshold of Pellucidar, a strange new underground world to explore!

Play report of Dean Flemming's 5E Eberron game from last night. It was a blast, and that Pit was a real old school challenge that we had a great time solving!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Monsters in Dragonlance

I was searching online for a list of all the monsters that appear in the various Dragonlance modules (or at least the original DL series). I couldn't find one. So I made my own. Below are all the monsters that appear in DL 1 through DL 12, at least according to the "Combined Monster Statistics" pages of the compilation versions of the modules (four per compilation, I forget off hand what their coding was, I think DLC1-3 for Dragonlance Classics?).

Monsters in bold are ones that are in 5E, or could very easily be used just by renaming a creature in 5E, as far as I've checked. There are some of those weird late 1E/early 2E era monsters (or maybe they originated here in DL? My first encounter with many like the Crimson Death, Margoyle and Wemic was the 2E MM, but some must have been from the Fiend Folio or modules before 2E came out) that I'd need to double check before deciding what 5E monster stat block could easily stand in for it.

Axe Beak
Badger, Giant
Baricuda, Giant
Bat, Normal, Giant
Bear (Cave, Ice, Polar)
Bee, Giant (worker, soldier, queen)
Beetle, Boring
Boar (Giant, Wild)
Carrion Crawler
Caryatid Column
Cave Cricket
Centipede, Giant
Choke Creeper
Coffer Corpse
Crayfish, Giant
Crocodile, Giant
Crypt Thing
Crystal Ooze
Death Knight
Death Statue
Death, Crimson
Displacer Beast
Dog, (War, Wild)
Draconian (Baaz, Bozak, Kapak, Sivak, Aurak)
Dragon, (any chromatic or metalic)
Dragon Brood
Dragon Turtle
Dragon, Amphi
Dragon, Faerie
Dragon, Sea
Dragon, Shadow
Dragon, Skeleton
Dwarf (various)
Eagle, Giant
Eel, Giant
Elemental (air, earth, fire, water)
Elf (various)
Elf, Sea
Fawn, White
Forestmaster Unicorn
Frog, Giant
Fungi, Violet
Galeb Duhr
Gas Spore
Gelatinous Cube
Giant, Hill
Golem (Clay, Iron, Stone)
Green Slime [Is this a "hazard" in the DMG like it was in 3E?]
Grim (cat, dog, owl)
Groaning Spirit
Hag, Sea
Hell Hound
Ice Folk
Invisible Stalker
Kender (various)
King of the Deep
Lamia Noble
Leech, Giant
Lion, (Mountain, Spotted)
Lizard, Suberranean
Lurker Above
Mastiff, Shadow
Mastodon, Skeleton
Men (various)
Mimic, Killer
Mold (brown, yellow)
Moon Dog
Naga, Spirit
Ochre Jelly
Para-Elemental (smoke)
Pedipalp, Huge
Porcupine, Giant
Pudding, Deadly (dun)
Quasi-Elemental (light)
Ram, Giant
Rat (Normal, Giant)
Ray, Manta
Salmon School
Sea Serpent, Giant
Shadowpeople Warriors
Skeleton Warrior
Slug, Giant
Snake (Constrictor, Poisonous)
Snow Leopard
Spectral Minion (Berserker, Guardian, Reveler, Philosopher, Searcher, Warrior)
Spider, (Huge, Giant, Whisper)
Stag (Giant, Normal, White)
Stone Guardian
Taer, (normal, Forest)
Takhisis (Dream)
Umber Hulk
Undead Beast
Vulture (Giant, Ordinary)
Water Weird
Willow, Black
Wolf (normal, Dire, Winter)
Wolverine, Giant
Wooly Rhinocerous
Yellow Musk Creeper

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Monster List - Dragon

Dragons. Half of the name of the game. The only monster to get nearly two pages of text in the Basic Set (and the fact that most monsters have gotten a whole page or more in many editions since the 2E days says something about the direction RPGs have taken in the past 25 years, but that's a discussion for a different blog post). The one monster that you really want to be able to defeat, because it's so iconic to be a dragon-slayer.

So, what do dragons look like in the Basic Set? Well, we all know the six basic colors, white, black, green, blue, red and gold. They're all here, each with increasing hit dice (starts at 6), AC, claw/bite damage, and morale (white and black are both 8, green and blue are both 9, and red and gold are both 10). XP and saves, of course, also increase with their hit dice. Movement, attacks, number appearing (1-4, in dungeons or out) and treasure type are all the same. White and blue are neutral, gold is lawful, the remainder are chaotic.

One thing I'm reminded of here, is that the claw damage implies that these dragons aren't super huge. The white dragon's claws are only as effective as a dagger or a brown bear's claw (d4 damage), while a red (1d8) and gold (2d4) have damage equal to a sword or battle axe, or a tiger's claw. The bites, though, those can get nasty, ranging from 2d8 for a white to 6d6 for a gold. The white dragon's bite is slightly stronger than the giant ant or cave bear (both 2d6), while the gold's bite is equal to the T-Rex in the Expert Set. Using that as a guide, I'd estimate that these dragons should be between 15' to 30' long or so, or their hit die size times 2.5'. The Larry Elmore box cover art for the Basic, Expert and Master Sets would seem to be slightly larger than this estimation (the Companion Set shows one of the Large or Huge dragons in that set, so that Green is much larger).

Another thing is that number appearing. 1-4 per encounter. Usually, since dragons are fairly high on the D&D monster food chain, they get used, to borrow modern terminology, as "solo" opponents. One dragon is usually enough. Also, because an encounter with more than one can easily lead to a TPK. At Basic Set levels, one is enough for that TPK, really. But it's good to remember that dragons have families/friends that may be with them, or may be waiting back at the lair, keeping watch over all that phat loot!

Under the standard stat blocks, dragons get several more columns of specialized information that informs a lot of what dragons are, and what they aren't, in the game. These tell us where the dragon colors are usually found, and their breath weapon type, size, and shape. They give us a chance that the dragon can talk (goes from 10% of whites, increasing by 10% each color up to 50% for reds, but golds get 100%. There's a chance of the dragon being asleep, starting at 50% for whites, decreasing 10% down to 10% chance for reds, and then down to 5% for golds. Then we get their spells by level. Whites that can talk can cast three 1st level spells, and black dragons 4. Greens get 3 1st level and 3 2nd level, and blues get 4 each of 1st and 2nd level. Likewise, reds get 3 each of 1st, 2nd and 3rd level spells, while golds get 4 each of 1st through 3rd level.

One thing I had always assumed (even though, as we shall see below, is contradicted by the text) was that dragons that didn't talk were just animal intelligence, or maybe semi-intelligent at best. Like the dragon in Beowulf, it may be smart enough to notice that some of its treasure is missing and that humans probably took it, but if it can't have a conversation it's still pretty much just an animal. I've always had two kinds of dragons in my game, and yes, the non-talking kind are a lot easier to defeat because of that.

Frank tells us that all dragons are big flying lizards with breath weapons, have eggs, eat meat, love treasure, and "will do everything possible to save their own lives, including surrender" (p. 28). That says a lot right there, about how dragons should be played. Each dragon should be a character!

The next paragraph reinforces that impression, telling us about how they tend to behave. Because they live for very long times, they really don't give a rat's ass about others. "Chaotic dragons might capture men, but will usually kill and eat them immediately. Neutral dragons might either attack or ignore a party completely. Lawful dragons, however, may actually help a party if the characters are truly worthy of this great honor" (p. 29). Then Frank tells us that dragons are proud and love flattery, and may not attack anyone who butters it up, if it can understand language. Obviously, this is taking cues from Bilbo and Smaug in The Hobbit.

Then we get a warning that even though they're in the Basic Set, it's probably best to only use young/smaller dragons (explained in the Age section, below, although Frank doesn't reference this here) until the PCs are higher level (Frank suggests at least 4th).

After this, we get some specialized subheadings for specific topics related to dragons.

Breath Weapon Damage: Those who have only played newer editions (2E and up) might not know it, but in these rules, a dragon's breath weapon does damage equal to their current hit points, but the dragon is limited to breathing only 3 times per day. Also, the rules specify that a dragon always uses its breath in the first round of combat. While that might not seem like the most tactically sound method in some instances, it's something that my friends and I would try to exploit when we were young. I assume we weren't the only ones, because later editions added all sorts of extra powers to dragons to keep players from using these advantages. Personally, I think dragons are fairly tough enough without needing the ability to automatically detect illusions, tremor-sense, and the like. Dragons are tough, but they shouldn't be impossible to gain an advantage over. If every encounter with a dragon becomes a battle of attrition hit point slog, that's not very fun, and it makes it a lot riskier for the PCs (or they just wait until they're a lot higher level before tackling dragons).

Anyway, after the first round, the DM can decide how the dragon attacks (claw & bite, or another breath) or roll randomly (there's a chart, of course!).

Dragons' breath weapon, as mentioned, does damage equal to their current hit points, the rules are explicit on that. I remember reading a thread on's forums once where people debated this, and Frank actually chimed in saying that he always had the breath weapon do damage equal to the dragon's total hit points, which makes dragons very challenging. Personally, I'm a fan of the RAW. If players are smart, they attack while the dragon is sleeping, or they gain surprise (invisibility, illusions, etc.) and get a free round of attacks in. That way, they've got a chance to lessen the effects of the breath weapon before it hits them. The RAW rewards smart play. Keeping the damage as the total rewards cautious play. I find the game more fun, both as DM and player, when a smart plan allows caution to be put aside. 
Shape of Breath: We get a short explanation of the cone, line and cloud types of breath, so that the DM can easily adjudicate who is in the breath weapon attack area and who isn't (although if you're playing without minis and a battle mat, you just need to trust the DM to be fair.

And that picture! I'm not sure why, but this picture is what convinced me that D&D was something I needed to have. I'd been watching the cartoon, and had some of the Endless Quest CYOA books, but when some of my mom's old Peace Corps friends came to visit in the summer of '84, and their neighbor showed me his BX books, the version of this picture in Moldvay made me want to buy the rules.

Saving Throws: No matter what, always save vs. breath weapon against a dragon's breath, even if it seems like another type of attack (chlorine gas/poison is the only one that seems like it might get argued the other way by some "reality lawyer" type player.

We have a bit of a curious sentence here, as it could be interpreted in two different ways. "Dragons are never affected by the normal or smaller versions of their Breath Weapons, and automatically make their Saving Throws against any attack form which is the same as their Breath Weapon" (p. 29, emphasis added). So normal versions of the breath weapon, I get. A red dragon is immune to normal fire, a green is immune to poison gas (or specifically chlorine gas?), etc. But what's a "smaller" version? That from a dragon with fewer hit points? Is it a reference put in there for reference when the Companion Set large and huge dragons get introduced? It's open to interpretation.

Talking: Frank explains that all dragons are intelligent (I mentioned this above), but not all can talk. If the dragon talks, it also can cast spells, which are chosen randomly (and it always amused me that a red or gold dragon might have a fireball spell, when their breath is usually better).

Now, I mentioned earlier that I like to have non-talking dragons be only semi-intelligent at best. That's just my personal thing. But recent editions make (most) dragons geniuses by the time they're adults (in addition to all these other powers they've tacked on), so that they're more of a challenge. Nothing in the rules here, though, state that dragons are exceptionally intelligent. It's possible to infer from the chances of talking/spell-casting that whites and blacks are not so bright, in comparison, and reds and golds are smarter. But the rules don't state that explicitly.

Again, I don't think every dragon needs to be super smart. Allowing the players a chance to outwit a dragon now and then can be fun for everyone...if the players think to try and outwit the dragon.

Sleeping Dragons: And actually, now that I've reread a few sections, I start to see why many DMs ignore the Number Appearing range of 1-4 dragons in an encounter. All of the examples, including here, say things like "when a dragon is encountered" which gives the impression that dragons are usually (or should usually be) encountered solo.

So every dragon (or group of dragons? Should the DM roll individually for each dragon? Good luck with that, players!) has a chance to be asleep when encountered. If your party is lucky enough to catch a sleeping dragon, you can get a free round of attacks and spells in (at +2 to hit) while the dragon wakes up. Unlike the sleep spell's description, you can't just auto-kill the dragon, but you can put a dent in its hit points before it wakes up and breathes on you.

Subduing Dragons: A few posts back, discussing Morale rules, someone (JB of BX Blackrazor, maybe) asked what's the difference between a dragon losing morale and surrendering, and a dragon being subdued? I think, personally, that a dragon that loses morale still is in a position to bargain, whereas subdued dragons surrender unconditionally. There's nothing explicit in the rules about this, but from a reading of the morale rules in general, and the rules for subduing dragons, that's how I'd play it.

Oh, and if you don't know, crazily confident (or magically overloaded) PCs can attack "with the flat of the sword" not doing any real damage to the dragon (meaning its breath is still at full strength) and if they manage to get it to "0" then the dragon is subdued, because it knows it could have been killed.

But the dragon will try to escape or cause trouble for the PCs, while grudgingly serving them until allowed a chance to escape, or ordered into an obviously suicidal situation, or sold. Yes, you can sell a dragon for up to 1000gp per hit point! Subduing the dragon is VERY risky, but if you can pull it off, you can get filthy stinking rich. You get the dragon's treasure and can sell the dragon for nearly as much more. I wouldn't advise it until Name Level or higher, when you need crazy amounts of treasure like that to level up, anyway.

My question regarding subduing dragons has always been, who's buying these subdued dragons? And what do they do with them once they're purchased? If that's not on Jeff Rients' list of 20 Questions About My Campaign, it probably should be.

Age: Here's a subsection I sometimes forget, because it's easy to just use the stat block as printed. But in BECMI, young dragons simply have fewer hit dice (up to 3 less), and older dragons have more (up to 3 more).

Again, maybe it's just because these are the rules I started with, but I find this simpler than the OD&D/AD&D way of having a set number of hit points per hit die by age, and the overly complex tables of a dozen different age categories in 2E/3E, each with increasing stats and powers. One reason I like it is that until that first breath weapon hits, players have no idea who many hit points, exactly, the dragon is going to have. The other is that it's a lot simpler just to add or subtract a few hit dice to a dragon to make it older or younger, than to consult all those tables.

Treasure: Their treasures are also proportional to their age, with younger dragons having 1/2 or 1/4 of Type H, and older dragons having up to double. Now, treasure type H is the most generous of treasure types, so even 1/4 of that is a pretty nice haul. So young, relatively inexperienced would-be dragon slayers would still come out alright if they can find a young, 3HD white dragon to battle.

But, as this section points out, dragons rarely leave their treasure out in the open, or unguarded. And now's a good time to once again point out that there should be 1d4 dragons per lair, meaning only 25% of the time should there be a single dragon only. Best scout out that lair before charging in!

Gold Dragons: The final section gives us a few special notes on the lawful Gold Dragon. They always talk, always cast spells, and can shapeshift into any human or animal form at will. They also get a choice of fire or chlorine gas, but still only three breaths per day, and the DM should always decide which type of breath they use.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

another f'n cool session

Last night, the stars were apparently right. Not only did my family schedule work out to allow me to run another session of Chanbara, but Dean, Alexei, Jeff and Jeremy all showed up to play. We haven't had four players since the first session.

We spent a bit of time at the beginning leveling everyone up to 6th, and making sure everyone had the correct version of the rules. I'd also updated a few small things due to feedback from Stefan and his group, so the Bushi characters (Alexei's samurai Ringo, Dean's sohei Monban, and Jeremy's kensei Kuro) all now have a size-up opponent ability, which was helpful for them.

I'd started them off with the prophecy they'd been seeking, and gave them a few clues about things they could do in it, plus had the daimyo ask them to track down a stolen katana (which was in the prophetic dream). I had two paths planned out for them, figuring they'd either do one or the other. They of course did a third. So I had to improvise a bit.

But the session started off with some fun RP, the improv led to a very short combat (morale check in round 1 ended it in the party's favor), then some interesting decisions on the part of the players about how to move forward. They made a choice (one of the things I'd planned for), and that led them to another choice (the other thing I planned, and one which is something I'd run 20 years ago with my Evansville group). It looks like the players are interesting in following up choice #2, so I'll have to update it from AD&D OA to Chanbara, but that shouldn't be too hard.
Many attempts were made to charm these lovely sisters.

After the session, everyone said they had a great time. The title of this post is a quote from Jeff. And Dean gave me a bit of praise that I wasn't expecting. Compared to many other games he's played set in unfamiliar settings, he thinks I've done a great job with my rules of a) not overloading it with new terminology, and b) making the new terminology that is in the game very easy to grasp.

That was actually something I was concerned about. Speaking Japanese fairly well, I knew I had the potential to go overboard with using the language. So that comment from Dean makes me feel like I'm on the right path with the tone of the rules. And the fact that everything is running smoothly makes me feel like I should get the game edited and then into layout. I think it's about ready to go!

Fingers crossed, I'll be defending my dissertation in November. If that goes well, I'll get the manuscript into shape, get a decent cover and back, figure out what sorts of print options would be best, and publish over the winter break.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Monsters - Animal to Doppelganger

Today, we start in on the monster list, with all the stat blocks and descriptions of monsters. I may not have something to say about every monster in the book, but if I notice anything interesting, unusual, or that I usually forget about when running the game, I'll mention it.

Animal, Normal and Giant: this is the first listing in the book, and it's a catch-all reference for all the normal and giant animals listed in the book. I just checked, and this is something that was in Moldvay, but not Holmes (who doesn't have a lot of normal animal types in his monster list), so it's not something Frank came up with. It's an interesting idea to have a reference tag like this, although I don't know if it's really all that useful. I had (and probably still have) all the monsters in each book (Basic, Expert, Companion, or Master) memorized fairly easily. If I wanted stats for a bear, I knew it was in Basic and for an elk it was in Expert.

Also interesting is that the list is basically the mammals, not the reptiles, or insects/bugs. No ants, beetles, bees, spiders, or snakes even! So while there's some slight utility in the concept of the index listing like this, the execution (pretty much just lifted from Moldvay) is flawed.

Ant, Giant: The first actual monster presented by the rules, and it has exceptions to the rules. Ants never make reaction rolls, they're always hungry and will attack anything in their path. Also, despite a listed Morale of 7, they always fight to the death according to the description. At least if you do encounter giant ants (tough for Basic level PCs, since they have AC 3 and 4 hit dice, 2d6 damage on their bite), and you can track them back to their lair and wipe out the tough lair defense, they are 30% likely to have gold nuggets worth "1-10 thousand gp" (p. 25).

Ape, White: I hadn't read any John Carter novels as a kid, so it wasn't until much later that I realized the inspiration for white apes was Barsoom. Still, as presented here they are quite different, being normal Earth two-armed apes, covered in white fur because they live underground. This is the first monster entry to get a connection to another monster entry -- Neanderthals often keep white apes as pets.

Baboon, Rock: Semi-intelligent baboons, larger than normal, and with the ability to use rocks, sticks and bones as primitive tools. And it took 30+ years of me reading the entry for me to get it, finally, as I was on the bus headed home reading the entry for this post the other day. The "rock" in their name maybe comes from a big, black Monolith. The film 2001 may well have inspired this creature.

I don't think Rock Baboons ever made it into AD&D, 3E, or beyond. I wonder why?

Bandit: Here's our first human 'monster' in the list. As it says, they are NPC thieves, and can have an NPC leader of any character class, of at least level 2. One thing they don't say is whether the single hit die should be a d4 as the Thief class. Another is if these guys can use Thief Skills and Backstab. They're easier to run if they don't, but it would be interesting to try and run a non-combat encounter with bandits who try to pick the pockets of the PCs. Or if the PCs have a locked door they can't open, maybe negotiate with the bandits in room 21 to get them to try and pick the lock...

Bat (Giant, Normal): This is the first entry that contains multiple stat blocks for variations of the same monster. We get a bit of text describing bats in general, including a reminder that a silence 15' radius spell will "blind" them. Next, we get the description of normal bats (although the giant bat stat block comes first). Normal bats don't cause damage, but they can cause confusion, giving you a -2 penalty to hit and saves, and preventing spellcasting. I found this quite useful when running Ravenloft years ago. Strahd (or any vampire actually) can summon normal bats, and shut down the party's spells while still able to use his own.

Giant bats are bigger and more likely to attack (as they are carnivores instead of insectivores). One thing I love is the note that 5% of all giant bats are giant VAMPIRE bats, whose bite forces you to save vs paralysis or fall unconscious while the vampire bats suck your blood, and if they kill you in this way, you become an undead creature, possibly a vampire if you have the rules for them in the Expert Set. I'm pretty sure I use vampire bats a lot more than 5% of all giant bat encounters, because they're fun monsters. I've never managed to turn a PC into an undead, though, that I can remember. One of these days...

Bear (black, brown, polar, cave):  Ah, bears in D&D. They've all got that deadly "bear hug" ability, where if both claw attacks hit the bear hugs for an extra 2d8 damage. For Basic or lower Expert level characters, that's DEADLY! Even for the smallest, the black bear, whose claws only do 1d3 each, that's minimum 4 damage and maximum 22, with an average of 12. And cave bears get really scary, minimum 6, maximum 32, and an average of 19. And none of that is considering whether the bite might hit, too! Well, as a wise man once said, "Sometimes you eat the b'ar, sometimes the b'ar eats you."

The cave bear is the first instance of a prehistoric real-world animal in the rules. It also has an interesting note that I usually forget whenever my players encounter one. It's noted that they have poor eyesight, but a keen sense of smell, and will track a trail of blood until they've eaten if they're hungry. That would be awesome for a low level adventure! You've got this beast with hit points equal to the weaker dragons (7HD, the second highest non-dragon creature in the book) that will track you down until it's eaten, no matter how far you run...

Bee, Giant: Here we have another instance of aggressive giant insects. Bees might not always attack on sight, but the book says they are prone to, and do always attack if you approach their hive. Compared to the giant ant, the giant bee is a weakling (AC 7, 1/2 HD, 1d3+special damage, dies after one sting), but they have poison. Deadly poison. That, plus a fast flying speed make them extremely dangerous paper tigers.

I always have loved the note at the end of the description. If you can manage to survive killing an entire hive (or if you're clever smoking them out), you can take the magical honey from the hive and have a half-strength healing potion. While that doesn't make up for the danger of save-or-die giant bees, it is a good way to limit higher level PCs who want to brew healing potions. Just say they need to distill the honey as part of the potion brewing process...

Beetle, Giant (fire, oil, tiger): There are lots of different giant beetles in different editions of D&D, but the three here make a good grouping. First, the good old fire beetle isn't especially aggressive, but players are likely to want to seek them out because of the glowing glands they have. If you can snag a fire beetle gland or three, you don't need to worry so much about running out of torches or lantern oil and being eaten by a grue.

Oil beetles are kinda nasty, because when they attack they spit burning oil on you, which gives you penalties until you get a cure wounds spell (which will not then cure hit points) or until 24 hours pass. In later editions, this isn't such a problem. Hell, even in 1E, most Clerics are gonna be rocking multiple spells at 1st level. Not so here, where your Cleric needs 1500 XP just to be able to cast one spell a day. And if you prepare CLW, and need to choose between healing hit points or removing blisters, that's an interesting situation for the players. The text seems to imply that the beetles each only shoot the oil once, but it's not explicitly stated. Still, with 1-8 appearing in a dungeon encounter, and 2-12 in the wilderness (or a lair), that's still potentially a lot of oil splurting out.

Tiger beetles don't have any special abilities, but they do have slightly better AC, 3 instead of 4, and they have a bite that deals 2d6 damage, which can be nasty.

I should probably check this, because I don't think there's a mistake in my print copy (at home now, I'm at work on my lunch break right now), but the PDF version has the names of the tiger and oil beetles mixed up on the stat blocks. Or maybe I realized the mistake and penciled in the correction. If I remember, I'll check when I get home.

Berserker: Good old berserkers. I love these guys. They have normal reaction rolls, but if you pick a fight with them, or they pick a fight with you, they always fight to the death, sometimes attack their own allies (no rules given for that though, so in the past I've rarely had it happen...maybe give each a 1 in 6 chance each round?), and they've got a pretty good chance to hit in combat. First off, they're HD 1+1* so their base chance to hit is the same as a 2HD creature. Plus, if they're fighting humanoid opponents (like the PCs, they get an additional +2 to the attack. That's like them having an 18 Strength! Or being a 4HD creature. Their weapon damage isn't modified, though. The smart thing to do if you run into berserkers in the dungeon (or wilderness) and they don't automatically attack is to attempt to recruit them. Then go bust up some orcs or hobgoblins with their help.

Boar: Not much to say about them. The book describes them as being found nearly anywhere and being ill-tempered (yes, I just put my pinky finger against my mouth as I typed that). I like to use them as guard beasts for ogres or orcs, or mounts for goblins or kobolds, in addition to the occasional run-in with just some wild boars.

Bugbear: Sneaky, giant hairy goblins. This is the first instance where we see a monster with a bonus to surprise, to represent them being stealthy. They get a +1 bonus to hit and damage, in addition to being 3+1HD and so attacking as a 5HD monster. I usually forget they get the strength bonus to hit, but the damage bonus is listed in the stat block so I rarely forget that. My poor bugbears have been 5% less effective at hitting their targets than they should be! Need to remember that one.

Carrion Crawler: One of the nastiest creatures in the Basic Set, and yes, even when considering the dragons! There can be up to 4 in an encounter, and if they get the drop on the party, that's 8 attacks per crawler to resolve, and a save vs paralysis for each one that hits. If I just did the math right, 8 attacks by a 3+1HD creature against an AC2 opponent (plate and shield) gives them something like a 97% chance of landing at least one attack in a round. Yes, these guys can mess up your day, even if they don't deal any damage to your hit points.

Cat, Great (mountain lion, panther, lion, tiger, sabre-tooth tiger): The great cats are fun, if played as described, because they "will avoid fights" (p. 27) and may be likely to simply follow and observe the party, rather than just attacking. It doesn't say it, but there's a chance then of trying to tame them (for reference, the Animal Trainer specialist NPC in the Expert set is seen training a tiger). However, the last sentence of the general notes on them mentions that they always chase fleeing prey. Once they decide to eat you, you're in trouble!

Mostly there's not a lot to say, but there is one interesting thing. Usually great cats aren't found in dungeons, but it says mountain lions (the lowest HD cat) is the most willing to go deeper into dungeons. But that explicitly goes against the whole risk/reward level system of monsters of usually appropriate level on each dungeon level. Well, best not to think too hard about this one.

Sabre-tooth tigers are the second prehistoric beast presented, and they are also the highest hit-die creature in the set, aside from the dragons. Still, most sabre-tooth vs. dragon fights are going to go to the dragon, thanks to breath weapons. The cave bear, maybe if it gets initiative and bear hugs and bites the dragon, might have a chance. The carrion crawler with initiative might take any of them, though...

Centipede, Giant: Giant centipedes aren't really all that big, only a foot long. Also, they don't do damage with their bite, only deliver a poison -- and this is the first instance of a non-lethal poison in the rules. The poison just makes you sick and unable to do much except move slowly (so like many real world poisons in a way). These are more of a nuisance "might end the adventure early" monster than a threat to your life. So, put them in dungeons/adventures when the mission is time sensitive!

Doppelganger: Another monster I like a lot, but once you've gotten halfway experienced players who've run into two or three, it can make it hard to pull off. They start expecting every NPC in the dungeon to be one. It's interesting to note that they are explicitly immune to sleep and charm spells, and this is the first instance of a creature saving as a Fighter of double their level due to their magical nature.

Well, I guess I did find something to say about each of these monsters. Next post in the series, Dragons. They deserve a post all to themselves, since they're such a big part of the game.