Friday, September 30, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Monster List - Dwarf to Lycanthrope

I just checked, and I started this series back in November of 2013. I had planned to cover both books during that year, and move on to the Expert Set the year after (I also had thought I'd have Chanbara finished around mid-2014 as well). Three years later, I'm finally closing in on the end of the Basic Set. Well, better late than never, I guess!

Here we go with thoughts and observations on some more monsters from this set.

Dwarf: The dwarf is the first version of a PC playable character type listed as an NPC (unless you count bandits, which are listed as NPC thieves but don't explicitly have any signature thief abilities other than the Thief saving throw). NPC dwarves often have a leader (one for every twenty dwarves, and the maximum listed number appearing for the wilderness or a lair is 40, so possibly two) with higher class level (3 to 8). One thing I like, and I think is easy and useful is the system used to determine if they have any magic items (Elves also get this): take their hit dice x5. That's the percent chance they have a random item from lists of items they can use. Simple, easy to use, and much better than 3E, where it was a nightmare having to look at the "expected wealth per level" tables, the sample NPC blocks in the DMG, the magic item lists (and prices), and maybe the CharOp boards to see what are the best things for that NPC race/class to have - and considering which you want your PCs to get a hold of. What a nightmare that was! With this, you figure out a percentage, and check each magic item subtype table to see if there is an item, and then determine it randomly.

Dwarves get to roll on all the tables except Scrolls and Wand/Staff/Rod. The second makes sense, but considering that "Scrolls" contain treasure maps and protection scrolls that any (literate) character can use, I don't know if disallowing that is so great. Yeah, it might be strange if the dwarf leader has a clerical scroll of bless, but it might also be strange if he's got a pole arm +1 which he also can't use.

The dwarf also has our first instance of a racial/species animosity, stating that groups of dwarves "hate goblins, and will usually attack them on sight" (p. 29). I love notes like this, because they allow the players, once they figure it out, to more easily negotiate with monsters they find in the dungeon, but can also provide problems. Ally with the dwarves, and your chances of keeping your truce with the goblins, which you made so you could focus on the orcs, goes WAY down!

Elf: And we get the second demihuman class as monster right away. It suggests choosing the spells elves get (each gets a single 1st level spell) randomly, and I think that's a good idea. Monsters/NPCs don't need to be optimized the way PCs should be. Recruiting elf allies because you expect them to all have memorized sleep is not a good plan. Elf leaders who appear if there are 15 or more elves, may be from level 2 to 7, and check for magic items the same as dwarves, but get to roll on all tables.

In OD&D, Holmes and Moldvay (and into AD&D), I'm pretty sure elves as a monster type have damage 1d10 listed, to simulate them having access to magical swords. Here, the attack is "1 weapon" and the damage is "by weapon" so they're slightly powered down from previous editions. This may be the only time in D&D history where Elves were made LESS powerful than before! (Or at least the first.)

Ferret, Giant: A giant animal that can be tamed and trained, but are unpredictable. I never had any players try to capture and train them, although to be honest I don't use them in dungeons very often. I am sort of partial to them, and always connect them with Elves in my mind, partly because their stat blocks are right next to each other, but also partially because of the Endless Quest book Return to Brookmere, where you play an Elf and one of the paths you meet with a giant ferret that was trained by the elves and helps you.

Gargoyle: This is the first monster presented that can only be damaged by magical weapons, and they're also immune to sleep and charm. That, combined with four attacks per round make them pretty dangerous, even though the claws each do 1d3, the tail 1d4, and the bite 1d6. Oh, and they can fly, and are often mistaken for statues (although the book doesn't give them a bonus to surprise). On top of all that, they also "attack nearly anything that approaches them" (p. 30).

The text is explicit that they are magical creatures, but doesn't say whether or not they are magical creations/constructs. It says they are at least semi-intelligent, and back in the general rules section, they are listed as having their own language. Having a language implies having a culture, which argues against them being constructs (as in later editions). I've always imagined them as relatively humanoid, sort of like demons. But thinking of actual architectural gargoyles, to which they are compared, they should really be more draconic. Maybe in some campaign in the future, I'll have two races of gargoyles who hate each other...

Gelatinous Cube: One of the iconic D&D monsters. When I ran a 3E OA game years ago, I threw one in, and one player's post game comment was, "It wouldn't be D&D without The Cube." But you know what's interesting? This: "This monster is made of clear jelly, usually in the form of a 10' x 10' x 10' cube (though other shapes are possible)" (p. 30, emphasis added). How often have you encountered a gelatinous trapezoidal prism? Or a gelatinous box? Probably not very often. Of course, this raises a question: can a gelatinous cube change its shape? Can it squeeze through small spaces, or is it doomed to perpetually patrol the 10' x 10' corridors of standard dungeons forever?

I like how whatever incidental treasure they might have is actually inside it. PCs need to dig through the gloppy remains after it's dead.

One other question comes up, since this is the first of the slime/ooze/jelly category of monster (or the "dungeon cleanup crew"). Weapons and fire harm a gelatinous cube, but not cold or lightning. Other slime/ooze monsters have different immunities. Why was it decided that each type should be vulnerable to some attacks but not others? Yes, it makes them all different, and keeps players on their toes, so there is some added challenge with this class of monster. I'm just curious about the design decision early on to add this feature to all of the slime group monsters.

Ghoul: The first undead creature in the book (there are a lot of firsts I'm mentioning, and that's a good thing, it shows what variety there are among the monsters in this set) is a pretty nasty opponent for low level PCs. Like all undead, they're immune to sleep and charm (and later hold when we get to the Expert Set), but vulnerable to turning. Of course, a 1st or 2nd level Cleric doesn't have great chances to turn these guys. They also have 3 attacks per round. While each does low damage (1d3), they each force a save vs paralysis unless you're an Elf. And the text states that they don't stop to feast, but instead once you're paralyzed they'll attack other mobile targets until the threat is gone. Like the carrion crawler mentioned previously, this makes them a nasty opponent for even mid-level adventurers.

Gnoll: The name seems inspired from the story by Margaret St. Claire, writing as Idris Seabright, The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles. The description seems to be taken from Egyptian mythology: hyena-headed humanoids. The rumor of their creation (hybrids of gnome and troll) seems to be based on nothing more than the spelling chosen for the monster (although St. Claire's 'gnoles' are fairly gnome-like). So really, gnolls are a strange creature. They also are the first instance of a humanoid getting a leader type with just a set number of greater hit dice or hit points. Bandits, dwarves and elves all get classed/leveled leaders using PC rules. Gnoll leaders, one in every 20, simply get maximum hit points and attack as a creature one hit die higher (or +1 to hit). Of course, because gnoll number appearing is 1-6 in dungeons and 3-18 outdoors, gnoll leaders are rarely going to be encountered outside of a wilderness lair (by the book, anyway).

Gnome: Gnomes are described as "a human-like race related to (but smaller than) dwarves, with long noses and full beards" (p. 30). In temperament, they are listed as excellent metalsmiths & miners, greedy and reckless when it comes to gathering treasure, and fond of machinery, favoring the war hammer and crossbow as weapons. So yes, the "tinker gnome" cliche predates Dragonlance, although the setting did run with the idea to comedic excess. Gnomes also are listed with a racial predisposition to dwarves, but hatred of goblins and kobolds, the latter are usually attacked on sight.

Gnomes get a 2HD leader type (11 hit points) for every twenty encountered, so in a maximum wilderness encounter (5-40) there could be two. In their lair, there are a tougher chieftain and bodyguards (another first, this appears later). The chieftain has 18 hit points, counts as a 4HD creature, and gets +1 to damage. Bodyguards have 10-13 hit points (1d4+9) and count as 3HD creatures. I often like including these leaders/elite type humanoids in my dungeons, but it's something I rarely see in other published adventures.

Goblin: No one seems to be able to agree as to what color goblins should be, but here they're described as having earth-tone skin, from tan to gray. They've got a king and bodyguard similar to gnomes (I assume these were inspired by the Great Goblin in The Hobbit, but I may be wrong). There are two things that I often forget when using goblins in my games. The first is important - in sunlight they get a -1 penalty to hit. I've had plenty of times when goblins were attacking the town, or encountered during the day in the wilderness, but almost always forget about the -1 penalty. The second is that when encountered out of doors, 25% of the group should be mounted on dire wolves. I really should use more wolf-riders in my games.

Gray Ooze: I've often thought this to be the "safe" introductory member of the slime family of monsters. It's only 3HD, and is harmed by weapons and lightning (but not cold or fire). But this is because I usually forget something mentioned in the description: once it hits a target, it sticks to it, doing automatic 2d8 damage each round and automatically destroying armor. That can take down even a mid-level fighter fairly quickly. No way is mentioned to stop the autodamage, other than I assume killing the ooze. At least it's incredibly slow. Its move is 10' (3'). You can always run away (unlike the faster gelatinous cube, at 60' (20') which can catch your armored up characters).

Green Slime: In more recent editions, this monster has been reclassified as an environmental hazard, but here, it's obviously got some level of awareness, as it has a move speed of 3' (1') [yes, even slower than gray ooze] and a Morale of 7. The fact that it can always be hit may be more due to its alien mindset not caring about taking damage rather than an indication that it's just a puddle of dangerous goo. Green slime can dissolve cloth or leather instantly, and wood and metal in six rounds.

Green slime is nasty because instead of doing hit point damage, it just sticks to you and very quickly turns the victim into slime. Because it can only be damaged by fire or cold, once it gets on you you have a limited number of rounds to burn (or freeze) it off. We get a very detailed description of the procedure for treating green slime (burning does 1/2 damage to the slime, 1/2 to the victim). So if you have hit points equal to or lower than the slime's, you're just dead. And not just dead, you become a new green slime!

There is a bit unclear about this. The entry says that it dissolves cloth and leather instantly but takes 6 rounds to eat through metal or wood, right? Later, when discussing the 'burn it off' procedure, it mentions that it turns a victim into a new green slime in 1d4 rounds "after the first 6-round (one minute) period" (p. 31). Is that assuming it's taking 6 rounds to eat through plate or chain armor? Does a Magic-User or Thief only get 1d4 rounds to burn it off? Or does everyone get 6+1d4 rounds? If so, and you're wearing metal (or wood) armor, then you've got 12+1d4 rounds to burn it off. I think in the past I went with the latter, but going forward I'll go with the former.

Halfling: Like the other two demi-human classes as monster, halfling groups can be encountered, but their leader (level 2 to 7) and village guard (5 to 20 members, 2HD) are only encountered in the village (population 30 to 300). Unlike the other two demi-humans, there is no mention of randomly determining magic items for the leader. Is this an oversight, or do halflings dislike magic? You make the call.

Harpy: This is the only creature in the Basic Set with an innate ability to charm victims. Spell-casters like NPC humans, elves and dragons may have the ability or not. Only the harpy can be guaranteed to try and charm the party. And as the sample dungeon earlier in the book warns the novice DM, this can make them very challenging creatures. One interesting thing to note in their stat block is that their attacks are listed as 2 claws/1 weapon +special, and damage is listed as 1-4/1-4/1-6 rather than 1-4/1-4/by weapon. I'd guess this is another editorial oversight due to making "optional weapon damage" the default assumption.

Hobgoblin: Not much to say about the hobgoblin, actually. They've got no penalty in sunlight, and their king has 22 hit points, fights as a 5HD creature with +2 to damage, his bodyguard count as 4HD creatures with 3d6 hit points each (figure that one out).

Human: This is a long (stat block-less) entry that both serves as a reference listing (like "Animal, Normal and Giant") but also gives advice about how to stick human NPCs into a dungeon. There will normally be 1-3 of them, according to Frank, and they can be used to add role playing opportunities and "create a more realistic mood for the adventure...provide goals for player characters, and lead to entire adventures" (p. 31). Then we get some advice on just this - how a human encounter may cause you to adjust nearby monsters or treasures based on the explanation/reason for appearing, and a warning that making a human encounter may take more work than other monsters, but can be very entertaining. Also, a suggestion that demi-humans might use the same system presented here to give them some variety.

Next, we get some random tables to determine the type of humans encountered. Find number appearing (1-3 apparently), roll (or select) each human's class (3 in 6 chance they are a fighter, 1 in 6 any other class), alignment (3 in 6 Lawful, 2 in 6 Neutral, 1 in 6 Chaotic), select or roll for the reason they are there (another table below), select their equipment and possible magic items (but make sure they use them and be prepared for the PCs to acquire them), and any other details you need (AC, HP, spells, etc.).

The one thing it doesn't tell you is what to roll to determine their level, since these are all classed NPCs (for "0-level" NPCs see Normal Man in the next post).

The next table, as mentioned, has 8 possible reasons they might be in the dungeon:
1. Alone (and scared)
2. Bait
3. Escaping
4. Looking for a friend
5. Looking for an item
6. Not what they seem
7. Running away
8. Sole Survivors

This is not a bad selection of motives for NPCs in a dungeon, but they do have consequences. #2 and #6 will only work so many times, then the players will become suspicious that any humans encountered may be trying to trap/trick them. #4 and #5 give some motive to the players - either to cooperate to find the missing friend/item, or as competition to find them first! #1, #3, #7 and #8 are nice in that it gives the DM a way to warn the party of extraordinarily tough monsters or traps in the area. Of course, it's possible to make up all kinds of other motivations in addition to these eight.

I really should use more encounters like this. Too often, I just have monster lairs be full of monsters, and any humans encountered are prisoners/slaves (current, not escaped), or a full NPC party (described next post).

Insect: Another reference listing, covering Bee, Beetle, Centipede, Locust and Robber Fly, and explains why insects aren't on the "Animals, Normal and Giant" listing. It still doesn't explain why the giant lizards and snakes aren't counted as "animals" in the game.

Kobold: Let the great debate begin! Kobolds are described as "small, evil dog-like men...They have scaly rust-brown skin and no hair" (p. 32). So are they little dog men, or little lizard men? Their skin is scaly, but not explicitly reptilian by this description. I always assumed (even as a kid) that 'scaly' in this case meant diseased, like shingles. And the "dog-like" bit is there, too. I used to think of kobolds-gnolls as similar in a way to goblins-hobgoblins-bugbears because of the dog/hyena similarity.

Frank tells us they "prefer to attack by ambush" (p. 32), which has come to mean, thanks to Mr. Tucker, they set lots of traps everywhere. Their chieftain has a whopping 9 hit points, and fights as a 2HD monster, while the bodyguard have 6 hit points and fight as 1+1HD monsters (or functionally the same as the chieftain).

Living Statue: I love living statues. Not sure why, they're just fun. Maybe it's because statuary should be common in dungeons, and there are so many fun things you can do with these guys. I'm always wondering why other editions don't include them (probably someone says "But we already have golems in AD&D/3E/[current edition]! Why do we need these guys?" completely oblivious to the functional similarity of the multitude of humanoid opponents in any edition invalidating this argument.

Living statues are explicitly mentioned as animated creatures created by wizards (Constructs in later editions), unlike gargoyles. They are all immune to sleep, but not immune to charm or hold! Three types are given, and it's suggested the DM should create more.
Crystal Statue: No special powers, just a living rock guy. It says they're often human but could be anything. I usually make them human-shaped. Probably I should add more variety.
Iron: These guys are fun, because metal weapons may stick to the body, making them tactically challenging foes to defeat.
Rock: These guys shoot liquid hot magma from their hands (or whatever other appendages if they aren't human-shaped). Very cool. I love these guys!

Lizard, Giant: Not animals, apparently. We get four varieties, the gecko, draco, horned chameleon, and tuatara. While I like lizards, so use giant lizards often in my games, they aren't really that interesting. They can climb walls, draco lizards can glide down to attack, horned chameleons surprise on 1-5 on d6 (!) and can shoot their tongue to grab opponents, and tuatara (as mentioned several posts back) get 90' infravision. Oh, and horned chameleons get a tail knockdown attack listed in their description but not in their stat-block, making it easy to forget.

Lizard Man: Did I mention that I like lizards? I love lizard men as humanoid opponents. And here, we get some motivation for them that many other monsters don't get -- they like to capture humans and demi-humans to take back to their tribes and feast on them. If you see them, they're probably going to be hunting you. And if they capture some of your party (or some friendly NPCs), you've got an adventure hook right there. Go rescue them before they become dinner! Oh, and lizard men are 2+1HD, and get +1 damage to their weapon attacks, making them kinda tough among the Basic Set humanoids.

Locust, Giant: Of the giant insects in the Basic Set, giant locusts are probably the most tactically interesting, but because of that, kind of a challenge to use well. They pretty much always flee combat (Morale 5, plus the description also says the usually just flee instead of fighting), yet they aren't very smart and have a random chance to flee toward the threat, getting a hit roll against a random member of the party for a bump attack. If they actually fight, they have a bite (only 1d2 damage) and a spit attack (and we get an early version of 3E's "Touch AC" in that the spit only has to hit AC9, regardless of the target's actual AC) which can debilitate the target with its stench if the target, and anyone within 5', fails a save vs poison. Oh, and they make a shrieking noise, which likely draws wandering monsters to investigate the noise.

So that's a lot of stuff for the DM to keep track of, and a treasureless pest monster for the PCs...but wait, there's more! They eat fungus and mold, and are immune to yellow mold. I've never thought to try it, and never had players try it either, but if you could capture or corral some of these guys, they could totally be exploited to remove yellow mold or shriekers or some other fungal/mold monsters in another part of the dungeon.

Lycanthrope: Yeah, yeah, yeah, the group name should be "therianthrope" but hey, lycanthrope sounds a lot cooler, right? The general description before each of the five types are described lets us know that they are people (rats) who change into beasts (humans), so they don't wear armor. They can summon 1 or 2 normal animals of their type, which arrive in 1d4 rounds -- something I often forget to have them do, since I often have old Universal Wolfman movies in mind when I use werecreatures. Wolvesbane, of course, is their weakness, forcing them to save vs poison or flee. I often have my PCs buy wolvesbane, but when the lycanthropes are encountered, the party is usually packing enough magical weaponry that it doesn't get used (or it's just been on the equipment list unused for so long I've forgotten about it).

Next, we get some tips about animal form, in which only silver or magical weapons harm them and they can't speak normally but can communicate with their animal type, and human form in which they tend to have some physical features that resemble their animal form (hint hint, your buddy suddenly looks more wolfish than he did before...better watch out next full moon!) but can be harmed by normal weapons.

Lycanthropy as a disease only affects humans. Demi-humans die instead. If a were creature takes away more than half of your hit points, you become one in 2d12 days (and yes, it says the victim begins showing signs in half that body changes in human form, and I would assume taking on some animal-like behavior traits under stress?). High level clerics, of course, can cure the disease, otherwise your PC becomes an NPC controlled by the DM.

There's no mention of the moon anywhere in the description, actually, so the change is apparently voluntary on the part of the lycanthrope. 

Wererats: I've always wondered, since they are rats who can change into humans (inspired by Lankhmar stories), do humans contract lycanthropy from them? If so, aren't they then humans who turn into rats? Does it matter?
Werewolves: Something I often forget but think is cool is that werewolves in the game are said to hunt in packs together with normal wolves, and they have a leader (30 hit points, 5HD creature, +2 damage). Again, old werewolf movies and TV shows make me think they are normally solitary creatures, when they should be dangerous pack predators!
Wereboars: These guys count as berserkers in human form, which may make them a bit less of a normal threat, unless they can stop berserking long enough to change into boars if they get hurt. Otherwise, they may fight to the death in their weaker, more vulnerable state. They are Neutral, so it's possible they can be bargained with or even become allies.
Weretigers: Due to stealth, they can surprise on a 1-4 on d6, but like actual big cats are curious and not always hostile. Again, Neutral alignment allows them to be potential allies.
Werebear: These guys are obviously taken from Beorn in The Hobbit, and the text says they retain their full intelligence in animal form (only wererats also retain full intelligence) and may be friendly at times. Like all bears, they get a bear hug in bear form, so if you get in a fight, they are very tough opponents!

Alright, that was a long one. Two more monster posts to come, then we'll move on to treasure.


  1. Lycanthropes: the majority are drawn from a list of mammals, specifically...


    Spotted lion
    Mountain lion
    Sabretooth tiger
    Black bear
    Polar bear
    Cave bear
    Grizzly bear
    Normal dog
    War dog
    Normal wolf
    Dire wolf
    Giant ferret
    Normal skunk
    Giant skunk


    Giant elk
    Normal boar
    Great boar

    Normal Rat
    Giant Rat
    Giant Porcupine

    Normal bat
    Giant bat

    The prospect of a werecamel or wereporcupine should scare pcs to death. So a weredog would be a...kobold? Or a gnoll?

  2. The off-hand remark about the gelatinous cube was not lost on Steve Jackson Games; Munchkin has a "Gelatinous Octahedron" (complete with numbers!) as a monster card in the base set.