Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Monsters - Shrieker to Zombie

After a short delay for real world stuff, here are the final three pages worth of monsters in the Red Box, with commentary.

Shrieker: Similar to many of the slime group, these guys have very slow movement, 9' (3'). It's so slow that I rarely even bother to move them around when encountered, but it could be fun to describe to a group how, as they desperately pound and slice away at the shriekers to shut them up before wandering monsters show up, how they're slowly and pitifully shuffling away.

One interesting note: the text says "Shriekers look like giant mushrooms" (p. 37). Look like? Are they not actually mushrooms? If not, what are they really? Interesting possibilities there.

One thing I often forget with shriekers is that each only shrieks for 1-3 rounds, then stops. There's a 50% chance (4-6 on d6) chance each round of a wandering monster hearing it, and investigating within 2d6 rounds. This means that if, as a player, you do run into shriekers and don't have (or want to waste) a silence 15' radius spell, you could play the odds and just let them shriek, and hope that either they don't shriek for long (but with up to 8 in one encounter, there's a good chance at least one will shriek for 3 rounds), and/or that if they do shriek no monsters hear it, and/or if they do hear it, it the party will have enough time to get through the area and get away or hide before the monsters show up, and/or that the wandering monsters aren't very tough. That's a lot of good risk/reward management decision making right there.

Skeleton: The text says that skeletons are usually found as guards set by a high level MU or Cleric that animated them, which suggests that unlike other types of undead (besides zombies), this is the only way they are encountered, but in practice that's rarely the case. Unlike AD&D, skeletons in Basic have no special resistance to bladed weapons, but they are tenacious, with a Morale of 12, so once a battle starts, they never stop until destroyed. Also, the minimum number appearing (indoors or out) is 3, so while they can be turned fairly easily, in numbers they can still pose a threat if the Cleric can't turn them all in one round.

Snake: The text tells us that, like many other normal animals, "snakes do not usually attack unless surprised or threatened" (p. 37). However, in practice I tend to use snakes like most other monsters, with them in a hostile mood unless I remember to roll reaction dice and see what that tells me. Players, also, tend to encounter snakes and instantly go into attack mode.
Spitting Cobra: These guys have a poisonous bite, and of course the ability to spit poison in your eyes and blind you, and the text says they prefer to spit. A parenthetical note in the text tells us that there's a cure blindness spell in the Expert Set, but the DM may allow other methods to cure the blindness. I think early on, I let players douse their eyes with a waterskin worth of water to wash away the poison when we were young, but once we got the Expert Set, and had Clerics able to cast the spell, we just did that. I may still allow the eye flushing method in the future, if it happens really soon after the attack. Like, 1d4 rounds later, the damage is permanent unless cured by magic. Oh, also the poison in its bite takes 1d10 Turns before it affects (kills) the victim.
Giant Racer: This "giant" snake is only 4' long. That's not actually giant, real racers tend to be anywhere from 2' to 5' long. Still, it's got a 1d6 damage bite, which can be dangerous at low levels. Plus, Frank tells us to sometimes put in larger ones, 2' long per HD, and increase the bite damage accordingly. This is the second instance of "monster scaling" in the Basic Set, the first being dragons. And now I want to use some 10 HD, 20' long racers with 1d12 damage bites in an encounter.
Pit Viper: As I mentioned several posts back about infravision in general, pit vipers have it (60' range). They also have poison, and because they are fast, they always win initiative. There's no time limit given for the effects of their poison, so I can only assume it's instant death if you fail.
Sea Snake: Like giant racers, sea snakes are listed as explicitly scale-able (which in this case makes sense since more nautical adventures are likely to happen once you get the Expert Set). They have an unusual rule, which is that their bites go unnoticed 50% of the time. If the DM rolls in secret, this is easy to hide, but could feel like a "gotcha" to the players when later they need to save vs poison or die. If you roll in the open, though, it requires a trust in the players that they will not metagame knowing they've been bitten if the PC fails to notice the bite. Their poison description is a bit inconsistent, saying that it is "slow-acting; its full effects take 3-6 turns to be felt if the Saving Throw is failed" (p. 37). It doesn't explicitly state what the full or partial effects of the poison are, however. Like most poisons, we can assume it means death, but it suggests there may be other effects. Oh, and it says that unlike the others, sea snakes think humans are tasty and will be more aggressive.
Giant Rattlesnake: These guys are 10' long, so I think that for sure counts as "giant" (compared to the giant racer). Of course, they've got the patented tail rattle to scare off potential threats. Their poison takes 1d6 turns for its effects to be felt, when you die. So it's potentially faster acting than the "slow acting" sea snake poison, potentially taking the same time (and the spitting cobra above's poison may be faster or slower than the sea snake's...sea snake poison must be slow acting simply due to the fact that it will always give you more than one turn to deal with). Giant rattlesnakes are fast, and always get to attack twice in a round. The book says to always roll the second attack at the end of the round, but I find it simpler to keep track of if I just have it bite twice on its turn.
Rock Python: These snakes are 20' long (so about normal python size, and they're not listed as 'giant'), and have only 5 HD, which goes against the 2' long per HD basis most of the other snakes abide by (giant rattlers get a bonus 2', being 4 HD and 10' long). Pythons are 4' long per HD. The big danger of these guys, of course, is that after their bite hits, they wrap around the target for automatic squeeze damage each round. It doesn't mention how hard it is to escape the coils, so I assume you're meant to be trapped until dead or the snake is killed, but I'd likely allow a check of some sort to escape. It doesn't say the victim is helpless, so I'd let the victim attack or try to escape or maybe even cast a spell while tangled up.

Spider, Giant: An interesting general note about spiders, "they are rarely intelligent, and will often flee from fire" (p. 38). I've never used a 'rare intelligent spider' (not counting aranea or other spider-monsters), but it's an interesting idea, I guess riffing off of Shelob in LotR. I also should remember to have spiders (and other normal animal types, really) flee from fire more often.
Crab Spider: These guys have a chameleon power, so often surprise (1-4 on d6), when they jump on their prey to attack. They don't have webs. They have a weak poison, so the victim gets a +2 on the saving throw, but it's fast acting, killing you in 1d4 turns if you fail the save.
Black Widow Spider: Black widows have webs (actually the only one of the three that does!), and the text says, "The webs should be treated as the magic-user's Web spell for the chances of breaking free, once entrapped. The webs may also be burned away" (p. 38). This then implies that the webs can be burned to damage anything in the webs (including the spiders, of course), but real spider webs don't go up in a conflagration that way, so I'd be more tempted to say the webs burn away realistically. PCs can clear a space with a torch around themselves in one round, but the whole web doesn't go up in flames. Anything trapped in a section of webbing would be burned, though.
Tarantella: This is a magical spider, as per the text, which looks like a tarantella. Again, maybe I'm being pedantic, but saying it "looks like a 7' long tarantella" (p. 38) makes me question it. Maybe it's just worded that way to say that this is different from a giant natural tarantella? Anyway, this is a fun monster, because its magical nature makes it interesting. When it bites, its poison doesn't kill the victim, it makes them spasm rapidly, as if dancing. And the magical effect is that anyone watching it must save vs magic or also spasm in the same way. Victims aren't helpless, but they do get -4 to hit, and opponents get +4 to hit them while they dance. Interestingly, the spasms last for 2d6 Turns, but if it goes on for 5 Turns, the dancers drop from exhaustion and are now helpless.

Sprite: There's yet another formatting error in the Sprite entry. The opposite of the Rat entry, here everything is bumped up one line, so that the AC line has hit dice, HD has move, etc. This means that for years, until I got the Rules Cyclopedia, I had to just make up my own best guess as to what the Sprite's AC should be. Yes, I guess I could have checked with a friend who had the AD&D books, but I never did. Since I'm going off of my pdf copy to write this entry, not my old hard copy, I don't remember exactly what I penciled in for the AC. Pixies are AC 3, so maybe I went with that.

Sprites don't have a damaging attack, but they can, in groups, cast a curse spell. The curse is something relatively harmless but funny, which makes these monsters the sort players will either love or hate. I'm of the opinion that making the party magic-user fart audibly and stinkily every time they cast a spell to be funny. Your mileage may vary. Anyway, if you get cursed, you need to wait until the Expert Set to get a remove curse spell.

Stirge: This is another one of those "wouldn't be D&D without it" monsters, at least for me. It's described as "a bird-like creature with a long nose" which has always colored my image of the creature. While it attacks like a mosquito (and I remember hearing someone somewhere on the internet expound authoritatively about how Gygax based it on Wisconsin mosquitoes...take that for what it's worth, i.e. not much), the "bird-like" portion has always colored my image of these guys. In my head, they're feathered, two-legged monsters, not like the insectile things from 3E.

One thing I usually forget when running the game is that they get a +2 bonus to hit on the first attack by diving at the target.

Thoul: One of the creatures unique to Classic D&D (well, maybe it's been ported into more recent editions, I'm not sure), a thoul, you'll remember is a cross between a ghoul, hobgoblin and troll. How does that work exactly? Ghouls are undead, but can they serve as an incubator for a baby thoul? How do the hobgoblin and troll impregnate the ghoul without getting paralyzed and eaten? I guess some crazy wizard did it, right?

Thouls are meant to be a gotcha monster, since they look exactly like hobgoblins, but have a paralyzing claw attack of a ghoul and the regeneration of a troll. I don't know if I've ever successfully fooled a group with thouls mixed in among hobgoblins, which seems to be their purpose. Maybe my players are just able to metagame, since if the "hobgoblin" tries to claw them, they realize it must be a thoul. I'll have to try to work some into an adventure I run for some newbies some day and see how they react.

Troglodyte: I remember when I was a kid and found out the word "troglodyte" was an actual word, and not just made up to name this monster. I thought that was so cool. And since I've always been partial to reptiles, I love to use these guys. They can change colors like a chameleon (surprise 1-4 on d6), and if you're in melee with them they can nauseate you with their stench (-2 to hit if you save vs poison). The stench only affects those in melee, and doesn't ruin their chances of surprise, so it must be only a close range effect, or controlled by the troglodyte (although the text doesn't say that). These guys are given a "hate everything, usually attack" motivation, which helps foster the idea that monster encounter=combat encounter that D&D is prone to, but they're still pretty fun to use because of their two special abilities.

Undead: This is a reference listing for the four types of undead in the Basic Set. It mentions that all undead are created by "dark magic" (p. 38), but there's no mention in the ghoul or wight write-ups of that. It reminds us that undead are immune to sleep and charm spells (since hold is in the Expert Set, it's not mentioned here). Finally, it tells us that undead "make no noise" (p. 38). While this is intended to mean that listening through doors or down passages won't warn you that there are undead, I misinterpreted it as a kid to mean that undead were always silent, and that even intelligent undead like mummies, spectres and vampires couldn't talk! I always thought it was strange, but figured that was just a unique D&D aspect. Of course, I was never shy about breaking the "rule" for vampires, because of course Count Dracula can talk...

Were-creature: Another reference listing, which lists all of the were-creatures, and says to see Lycanthrope (where they all are anyway). Why this is here, I don't know. Maybe some people were confused, looking for werewolves and not finding them?

Wight: The third undead creature in the set is the first and only level draining creature in the Basic rules. Energy drain is of course greatly feared. All those months and years of hard earned experience points getting sucked away in an instant really sucks, and the higher level you are, the worse it gets, thanks to the quadratic increasing of the XP needed at each level up to Name Level.

Wights are described as evil spirits animating dead bodies, so they're presumably intelligent, or at least semi-intelligent. Silver or magical weapons are needed to damage them. And if they kill you, your body also gets animated by an evil spirit 1d4 days later, under the slayer's control. I really need to build and adventure around a "pyramid scheme" wight leader some day. The alpha wight has X wight minions, and each minion has Y wight minions of its own, who each have Z wight minions of their own...

Yellow Mold: The final member of the icky, oozy, group of monsters (sort of), yellow mold is just a fungus that covers areas of the dungeon, so it's immobile, and can always be hit, but it can only be damaged by fire. The description says "It can eat through wood and leather but cannot harm metal or stone" (p. 39), but since it is immobile, and attacks through releasing spores in response to being attacked, that sentence seems out of place. I assume this is either a mistake, or it means that in the places where it grows, only metal or stone objects will be left after it's cleared out.

Wolf: There's no general text for the wolf, just specific descriptions for the two types:
Wolves: What's interesting about wolves is that it's explicitly stated that cubs can be captured and trained (low level quest objective!) and that since they are pack animals, if there are 3 or fewer, or the pack is reduced to 1/2 their number, their morale drops from an 8 to a 6. They aren't the super aggressive, vicious beasts they're portrayed to be in the media.
Dire Wolves: Bigger and semi-intelligent (based on Tolkien's wargs, with no mention of prehistoric dire wolves), these guys get used by goblins as mounts. Like normal wolves, though, they are neutral, and cubs can also be trained (low to mid-level quest objective!).
With only four illustrations of monsters in this section, why were wolves one of the choices? Granted, this is kind of a cool picture, but an illustration of an actual monster might have been a better choice.

Zombie: The final monster! Zombies are listed as having a claw attack or a weapon attack, but since the claw does 1d8, I rarely have them use weapons, most of which are 1d6. The text tells us they are mindless, and, like skeletons, animated and used as guards by NPC magic-users and clerics. They don't have any weapon resistances like in other editions, and since they are apparently Romero zombies, they always go last in combat.

Alright, that's all for the monsters. Next post in the series starts my examination of the treasure section.

1 comment:

  1. I just learned something when I searched tarantella. It's apparently a form of folk dance ( This makes the monster a lot more fun to me. I always thought it was weird in the bad way.
    The text does say it looks like a tarantula, not a tarantella. So it's not that strange, really.
    I'll admit that I didn't realize most of this until this evening.