Saturday, October 8, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Monster List - Medusa to Shrew

Time for some more Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover! More monsters! With plenty of time before Halloween!

Medusa: Now, anyone who's read some Greek mythology will know a medusa will turn you to stone if you look at her. The medusa in D&D is pretty nasty in that regard, but that's not all. Even if you shield your eyes, giving you a penalty to hit and the medusa a bonus to hit, her attack is with the snakes that make up her hair, so there's poison damage to consider. If you don't get turned to stone, you're likely to get poisoned instead. Also, medusae get a bonus to saving throws against spells (but not other attack types) due to their magical nature.

One thing I think is interesting is that they can also use weapons (and we all remember the great Harryhausen medusa from Clash of the Titans with her bow, don't we?). Of course, unlike in Clash or the Castlevania games, a medusa is fully humanoid, rather than having a snake-like lower body. There really should be a "greater medusa" that fits that mold, along with the standard humanoid one.

Minotaur: This may seem incredibly irrelevant, but as a kid (and still today), the fact that the minotaur is AC 6 and has 6 HD was so easy to remember made it the only monster in the book for which I could remember its AC exactly every time. Hit dice were usually easy enough for me to remember, but not AC, except for these guys. The minotaur is another nice example in which it's given some motive - they like the taste of human flesh, and pursue relentlessly as long as they can see you (they aren't that smart). Of course, they live in mazes and twisty caverns, so it might not be that hard to get out of their sight...
We have to get all the way to Minotaur to get a second picture in the monster section. Illustrating monsters was definitely not a priority for the Classic D&D line, like it was for AD&D.

Mule: If you see a mule in a dungeon, there's likely an NPC party nearby. Rob from or kill the mule at your own risk! 

Neanderthal (Caveman): These guys are fun and interesting monsters. Not only because they're a "lost world" staple like the cave bear and sabertooth tiger, but because of their leaders and reactions to other humanoids. The neanderthal is listed as squat and muscular, but the leaders of a group (one male, one female), usually encountered in the lair, are 10' tall! And they have 6HD compared to the 2HD of the normal neanderthal.

Frank tells us that they often keep white apes as pets, and hunt cave bears (no mention of mastodons, they're in the Expert Set, or the other Pleistocene creatures in The Isle of Dread). So there are two related monsters. Also, they are shy around humans but get along well with dwarves and gnomes. Similar to the dwarves and gnomes, they hate goblins and kobolds. Are dwarves and gnomes descended from the (squat, powerful) neanderthal, while elves and humans are descended from the (not listed) cro-magnon? Food for thought. But there's more. Not only do they hate goblins and kobolds, but they always attack ogres on sight! Maybe ogres are descended from those 10' tall neanderthal leader types?  Or the other way around?

Normal Human: In the previous post in this series, I covered the "human" listing, which was both a reference list for all "human" monsters, and notes on how to add a small number of (classed, leveled) NPC humans to dungeons. Normal humans here now, are what AD&D calls 0-level humans. These are your typical townsfolk, serfs and slaves, nobles and merchants, etc. What's interesting is that while they are 1HD creatures (not 1/2), the DM is advised to select how many hit points they have depending on their profession. So a blacksmith or soldier would have 6 or more, a child, beggar, or scholar might only have 1 or 2. The other interesting note is that as soon as a Normal Human gains any XP, they must then select a class (becoming a Human in game terms). It doesn't say if they get the class abilities instantly, though. It's basically the DCC "funnel" concept, done 30 years ago.

NPC Party: The third (and final) listing for encountering humans in dungeons, although I guess technically this one also can include demi-humans mixed with the humans (or maybe even all demi-humans). An NPC party could be keyed into an encounter (I did that a few times when I was younger), but I tend to prefer to put them on Wandering Monster lists, as like the PCs they are probably moving around the dungeon a lot compared to many of the monsters.

Normal player character creation rules should be used to create the NPCs (a good reason to have a few parties pregenerated if, like me, you like to use them as wandering monsters). Frank suggests that the party should be similar in number and class selection to the PCs' party, PLUS 1d4 Fighters to discourage combat (which, he notes, could be deadly and complicated). Instead, Frank gives us a specialized and simplified reaction roll table (still on a 2d6) for determining if the NPC party gets pissed off and leaves, negotiates, or makes an offer to buy/sell information. I like the fact that Frank gives a price range of 10-500gp as the amount offered to buy information from the party, or to sell their own information. It's a good range to use for buying information in town, as well.

While the text doesn't mention this, if you place an NPC party in a dungeon, you might want to consider placing some mules in a nearby room.

Ochre Jelly: Another slime-group monster, and this one can only be damaged by fire or cold (the most common set of weaknesses among these types, it seems). Unlike the gray ooze or green slime, these guys can destroy wood or leather in 1 round, but can't dissolve metal or stone. The cool thing about them is that if you use the wrong attack type (weapons or lightning), it splits them into several smaller jellies, each with 2HD and doing half damage. Ochre jelly apparently doesn't stick when it hits, which may be the reason why I often forget to have gray oozes stick to their targets.

Ogre: There's not so much to say about ogres. They're fun monsters (I think Disney's Gummi Bears cartoon made me partial to them), and lucrative, too. Any wandering group of ogres "will be carrying 100-600 gp in large sacks" (p. 35). Better than you'll get with most wandering monsters, although ogres aren't pushovers for parties level 1 to 3. Of course, it's mentioned here that the hate is mutual, they attack neanderthals on sight.

Orc: Orcs get a lot more information written up about them than the other humanoid types. It's about double that of goblins, and triple that of hobgoblins, kobolds or lizard men. While it doesn't specify pig-faced features, it does say they have a combination of animal and man. They've got a daylight penalty like goblins, which again I often forget about. Any group encountered (the minimum number appearing is 2) will have a leader with maximum hit points and a +1 damage bonus. Kill the leader, and morale drops.

They're often used as soldiers by "Chaotic leaders (both humans and monsters)" (p. 35). Like Professor Tolkien's orcs. But, we've got a note that orcs (unlike gnomes) hate machines and only the leaders mentioned above know how to operate them. So not so useful in a siege, unlike Professor Tolkien's orcs.

Finally, we get some information that's absent from all the other humanoids. There are many different tribes of orcs, and each tribe's lair has an equal number of male and female adults, and a number of children equal to the number of adults. No other humanoid types have family listed. Finally, the tribal chieftain is a standard humanoid leader type, with 15 hit points, who fights as a 4HD creature with a +2 bonus to damage (but no bodyguard). Also, there's a 1 in 6 chance of an ogre in the lair, and if you have the Expert Set a 1 in 10 chance for a troll to be there, too. I don't know about you, but in my campaigns the chance is a lot higher. If I'm making an orc lair, there's likely going to be one or the other, if not both an ogre and a troll!

Owl bear: I've preserved the name as it appears in the text. Should it be two words, Owl Bear? Should it be one word, Owlbear? Later editions go with the latter, so I usually do, too, but you could make a case that they just forgot to capitalize the B and it should be two words. Like bears, they can stand upright to attack (8' tall), and can hug if both paws hit for an extra 2d8 damage (remember, that's 4d8 total, plus possibly another 1d8 if the bite hits!). They're listed as aggressive, hungry, and preferring to eat meat, so a fun (and dangerous) monster for low level PCs to face.

Pixie: Similar to the way that gnomes are related to dwarves, pixies are stated to be related to elves. These guys are fun, because they have the ability to become invisible and stay that way while attacking, making them dangerous opponents even though only 1HD and with an attack that only does 1d4 damage. Oh, and they fly, too. They always get surprise if invisible, and depending on how you interpret the passage "They may not be attacked in the first round of combat, but after that their attackers will see shadows and movement in the air" (p. 35), they could get two rounds of free attacks. I've never run it that way, but it's a valid interpretation of the wording, I think.

There's a note that pixies can only fly for 3 Turns before needing to rest 1 turn. I think if it weren't for the invisibility, they'd make an interesting PC option (and with invisibility, they're an interesting cohort option). They'd be severely limited in weapons, armor and carrying capacity, but could make up for it with mobility, but at the risk of attracting more wandering monster rolls due to more frequent resting... Maybe even with the invisibility they'd make decent demi-human PC class. I should check what the Creature Crucible series did with them (I never had those books, and while I now have them on PDF I've never looked at them).

Rat: There's an editing error with the rats, which lists their stats one line lower than it should be (AC is blank, the AC number is listed on the HD line, etc.), so you'll need to calculate XP for them yourself.

Now there are normal rats (6" to 2' long!) and giant rats (3' long or more! R.O.U.S.s for sure!), and other than the fact that normal rats attack in packs (or swarms in modern edition parlance), they pretty much follow the same rules. The general description says THEY WILL NOT ATTACK unless summoned (by wererats or other creatures), but they swim well and may attack creatures in the water. So those rooms with a few rats and 2000 cp are probably the easiest 2000 cp you're gonna get, unless the room is filled with water or has a wererat in it as well!

Rats have a disease, and it's rather fiddly in how it works. Any time a rat hits, you need to roll a 1d20. On a 1, the target is infected, and must make a save vs. poison or be diseased. If diseased, you have a 1 in 4 chance to die in 1d6 days, otherwise you're bedridden for 1 month. Not the smoothest mechanics there.

Oh, one more thing - normal rat packs are noted as being able to knock victims down, but there aren't any rules given for how. Is it a special attack? Do victims need to make a saving throw? I guess it's up to each DM. I usually forget about that, since I rarely have normal rats attacking players.

Robber Fly: It's only within recent years that I realized these are giant versions of a real insect. I thought they were just made up for the game. They're listed as being black and yellow striped, and easy to mistake for "killer bees" (the name from Moldvay, they're Bees, Giant in this set), but often attack bees as prey. These guys are stealthy, surprising on 1-4 on d6, and can make a 30' jump and attack.
The third picture! It's a robber fly!

Rust Monster: Another classic, iconic monster of the game (like the carrion crawler and gelatinous cube). It wouldn't be D&D without rust monsters. Now, we all know these guys attack your weapons and armor, and I've seen players afraid to attack them because they think their weapon will rust on contact, but the text is explicit that normal weapons damage them and do not rust, only the rust monster's attack does this.

Now, the Basic set doesn't give any listing of preference or order of items destroyed (does AD&D? I think so) so it's up to the DM to decide if shields, weapons or armor are affected by any hit. Magic items get a 10% chance to resist the attack per "plus" which isn't much but is something at least. Still, it's a bit of a death spiral, because each hit will reduce a plus if it doesn't resist. And even in the Masters Set, the best enchanted weapons and armor are +5, so you've got a 50% chance to resist being drained to +4 on the first hit. If you fail that first roll, you've got a 'death spiral' of getting your gear ruined -- although if you've got +5 gear you probably have a friend with spells that can take out the rust monsters without risking your kit.

Shadow: Shadows are the first (and only, IIRC) monster in any of the BECM box sets (I won't include the Immortals Set, as I'm less familiar with it and its selection of monsters) that drains an ability score. Of course, these days, thanks to the d20 system, players are mostly familiar with ability score drain/damage, but it's a unique attack in Classic. And of course, if you get drained to 0 you become a shadow yourself...

Shadows are NOT undead in this set, it's explicit, which marks a point of departure with AD&D. They are only harmed by magical weapons, though, and another editorial mistake - there's no asterisk after the name. I penciled it in in my book years ago. While shadows are not undead, similar to them they are immune to sleep and charm (but hold might work on them?).

Shrew, Giant: I should use these guys more often. They burrow underground, "see" by echo location within 60', and get 2 attacks per round. Because of their speed, they always get initiative in the first round, and have a +1 bonus on subsequent rounds. They go for the eyes, Boo! Any target of 3rd level (3HD) or less has to save vs. death ray when attacked or run away in fear! (It doesn't say for how long.)

The fear thing is actually easy to forget, at least for me. Not that I use giant shrews often. I should though! They'd be great trained attack beasts for any humanoid types (or if players can capture some and hire an animal trainer from the Expert Set...).

Alright, that's all for this installment. One more to go for monsters, then it's on to treasure!


  1. Funny you mention this - I actually just ran a DCC-style "Funnel" using the Moldvay Basic book a few days ago! It worked pretty well; as I wrote on my blog, everyone developed personalities for their squishy 0-level humans pretty quickly.

  2. There are actually one or two AD&D modules that do this, as well. Everyone starts out as a 0-level, and (if they survive) become level 1 in a class determined by their actions over the course of the module.