Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Magic Item Subtables

For the magic item subtables in the Basic Set, first you should roll a percentage die to determine the type of item, and then a d20 on the particular item type table. Since the magic item type table has everything in increments of 5%, I'm not sure why it's not also a d20 table. Maybe to keep it compatible with the d% tables for each type in the Expert Set later?

Anyway, one in four items will be a potion (25%), one in every five magic items is going to be a magic sword or a magic scroll (20% each), one in ten will be another sort of weapon or magical armor (10% each, although, as we shall see, armor is sometimes two magic items), and one in twenty will be a magic ring, wand/staff/rod, or miscellaneous item (5% each).

Swords are pretty much the most popular weapon from the get-go anyway, but if you want to be all cool and stylish and use another weapon as your go-to weapon at character creation, by the book at least, you're probably going to switch to using a sword later on, just because magical swords are so much more common than other types of magical weapons. Magical swords are twice as common as all other types of weapons put together. [Of course, what DM hasn't had a player with a stylish but (usually) suboptimal choice of preferred weapon, and not thrown them a bone and had them find a magical version by DM fiat rather than waiting for it to come up by random roll, if ever?]

Anyway, moving on to the specific subtables, the first of course is swords. There are eight types of swords, and there is a 40% chance to get a plain old sword +1 (although at these levels, it's not yet a 'plain old' magical weapon), a 55% chance to get a sword +1 with an ability of some kind, and a 5% chance to get a sword +2. The possible special abilities are a sword +1/+2 vs. lycanthropes, a sword +1/+2 vs. spell-users, a sword +1/+3 vs. undead, a sword +1/+3 vs .dragons, a sword +1 light spell 1/day, or a sword +1 cure light wounds spell 1/day.

Other weapons could be 10 arrows +1 (20%), an axe +1 (10%, either type I suppose), a dagger +1 (15%) or +2 (5%), a mace +1 (15%), 10 quarrels +1 (15%), a sling +1 (5%), or a war hammer +1 (15%). If you're a Basic level character who uses a spear, club, or pole arm, you're out of luck until level 4. It's also interesting that there are no magical bows or crossbows, only their ammunition, but there's a magical sling rather than ammunition.

For magical armor, there are six types of armor to be rolled: leather +1 (20%), chainmail +1 (25%), plate mail +1 (10%), shield +1 (30%) or +2 (10%), and the above mentioned set of chainmail and shield, both +1 (5%). So you've got a half a percent chance to get two items instead of only one when rolling for magical treasure. And really, most parties are going to split that magical armor and shield up if it gets discovered, unless the party unearths a fair amount of magical treasure in one go.

There are eight types of potions: diminution (20%), ESP (10%), gaseous form (15%), growth (15%), healing (20%), invisibility (5%), levitation (10%), and poison (5%). So, healing is the most common, and poison (thankfully) the least common type. And a nice spread of abilities. Growth and strength have the ability to double melee damage, and growth obviously has some other benefits and drawbacks. Gaseous form, diminution, growth, levitation, strength and invisibility are useful "getting around obstacles" abilities.

For scrolls, there can be scrolls with 1 spell (20%), 2 spells (15%) or 3 spells (5%), a curse (10%), protection from lycanthropes (15%), protection from undead (15%), a treasure map to 1~4k gold (10%), or a treasure map to a magic item (10%). I'm not personally fond of having treasure maps as "magic items." I'd much rather just leave maps laying around when I think it's appropriate, and give out actual magic items when I roll them. But that's just me.

There are six types of magic rings: animal control (15%), fire resistance (25%), invisibility (10%), protection +1 (25%), water walking (15%), and weakness (10%). Half of all rings at this level of play will be protective, three have utility powers, and one is cursed. Not too shabby a spread of powers.

There are three wands, two staves and one rod on the lists: wand of enemy detection (30%), wand of magic detection (25%), wand of paralyzation (15%), staff of healing (15%), snake staff (5%), and rod of cancellation (10%). Back in the day, I used to think the "detect X" wands (and later in the Expert and Companion Sets magic swords) were kinda lame. Now, being older and wiser, I like them a lot. They allow a clever group of players to scout out information about dungeons that can help them to level uneven playing fields (or tips scales in their favor) before entering combat, or to get the gold without a fight.

There are ten different miscellaneous magic items: bag of devouring (10%), bag of holding (15%), crystal ball (5%), elven cloak (10%), elven boots (10%), gauntlets of ogre power (5%), helm of alignment changing (10%), helm of telepathy (15%), medallion of ESP (10%), or a rope of climbing (10%). There are actually some powerful items here, for low level play. And since they become much more rare in an Expert level game, it's nice to be able to find them at low levels. Of course, unlike some of the other treasure types, there are two cursed items on the list, while each other type of item called. 

More on magic item descriptions tomorrow (at least I hope tomorrow, by the end of the month at least!).

Monday, December 19, 2016

How to Succeed in RPGs

Starting next week, I'll be doing winter workshop classes for my university. My morning workshop is the ever-popular "Screen English" where we watch movies and talk about them. My afternoon workshop is "Improving Conversation through Role Play" which, you guessed it, means I'm playing D&D with the students who sign up.

Last year it was a bit of a bust, so I'm taking steps to make it easier to grasp, more fun (I hope), and also helps my students improve their English more. One thing I did was simplify the character sheets. There's no combat information on them other than their hit points and what weapons/armor/spells they have. There is some physical/mental/social description of each PC, and general exploration chances (like finding traps, secret doors, foraging for food, etc.). Also, each class's special abilities are listed, including a set array of spells, once per day each, for the spell-casters.

Another is to make a list of Achievements (like in modern video games) which should help them both to get an idea about the sorts of things that happen in D&D, but also give them goals to achieve in the game.

Finally, I just wrote this short description of what role playing games are all about, and some questions that the students can ask when they are stuck for information about what to do. I'm copying it here:

How to Succeed at Role Playing Games

What is a role playing game (RPG)? It's a type of shared story-telling game. One player is the referee (usually given a specific name for each game, in D&D the referee is called the Dungeon Master or DM), who plays the part of the imaginary world, and also applies the rules of the game and judges success or failure of actions. Each other player plays a single character (player character, or PC) and had nearly complete control over that character. Together, the referee and players tell a story, using the rules of the game and dice to determine how the story plays out.

How do you play? The referee describes the scene, and the players describe their characters' actions. The referee plays the parts of non-player characters (NPCs), monsters, and the world itself (weather, environment hazards, etc.) and decides what actions they will take. For actions that are simple or easy, the action happens unless the referee decides there is some reason why it would not (starting a fire may be easy, unless it is in the middle of a storm). For actions which may succeed or fail, dice are rolled to determine success or failure.
Once the players are content with a scene (called an encounter), it finishes and they move on to the next one, usually because of their choices. A connected series of encounters is called an adventure and a connected series of adventures is called a campaign. Players play the same character in a campaign, and as they meet the goals of the game, they get experience points (XP) and level up, gaining more power, more abilities, or more options – until the character dies. Then the player makes a new character to continue playing.

What is Dungeons & Dragons (D&D)? D&D is the oldest commercial RPG, first published in 1974. It is a fantasy game (other games are sci-fi, horror, mystery, pulp adventure, martial arts, post-apocalypse...) where the PCs live in a world with medieval technology, magic, and monsters.

What should my PC do in a D&D game? There are three main activities in D&D: exploring the game world, interacting with NPCs and monsters, and combat. The goal of the game is to defeat monsters and earn their treasure. Both defeating monsters and gathering treasure give XP, but usually more for treasure. Smart players try to get treasure with as little risk as possible.
When you have an encounter with an NPC or monster, you have several options, but usually players choose one of four: don't interact/run away, talk to the NPC or monster, attack the NPC or monster, or wait and see what the NPC or monster does first. Not every monster is going to try to kill or eat you, and likewise not every NPC is going to want to help you.

You said I could do anything in the game. I have too many options! What should I do? If you're ever not sure about what to do, you need to start asking questions to the referee and other players. The fun of RPGs comes from exploring unknown areas, having encounters, and surviving (although it can sometimes also be fun when your PC dies!).
Good gaming is about making choices. You need to be able to decide on the size of the risk involved in an action against the size of the reward you may gain. In D&D, staying in town can be fun, because you can interact with many interesting NPCs. But it is safe, and XP rewards are small. In the wilderness or a dungeon (dangerous places), there is more danger, but also greater XP rewards for success. Similarly, some monsters are less dangerous but have small treasures, while other monsters, like dragons, are powerful and very dangerous, but have very large treasures! Deciding on the amount of risk you wish to take for the amount of reward you think you will earn is part of the game. If you can't make a choice, try asking the DM some of the questions on the next page.
Using Your Senses
  • What can I see?
  • Can you describe what ____ looks like in detail?
  • How big/heavy/etc is _____?
  • Do I hear anything?
  • What does this place/thing smell like?
  • How does the air feel? (hot, cold, humid, dry, charged with energy, etc.)
  • I touch ______. How does it feel?
  • Can you describe _____ again?

Checking the Environment
  • What kind of area are we in?
  • How many ways in and out are there?
  • Where can I go from here?
  • What kind of things are there in this area?
  • Does anything seem strange or out of the ordinary here?
  • How far can I see?
  • How much light is there here?
  • I want to search for ______. What do I find? (secret doors, traps, clues, etc.)
  • How far is it to ______?

Checking Your Knowledge
  • What do I know about _____?
  • I want to know more about ______. Where can I go to learn more?
  • Who can I ask about ______?
  • Do I feel like I can I trust this information? (or trust this NPC, or book, etc.)
  • Did we learn anything about this before? [Taking notes can help with this!]
  • Would my PC know how to ______?

Taking Actions
  • I want to try to _____. Can I do that?
  • What are my chances to ______?
  • If I fail to _____, what will happen?
  • What can I do to stop the NPC/monster from ______?
  • Can I _____ before the NPC/monster does ______?
  • Can I _____ on my turn? (this may be more than one action!)
  • If I _____ [plan], could I _____ [action you want to succeed]?
  • Does my PC see or know of any way to _____?

Remember, the game is about making choices, and to do that, you need to know your environment and what is happening in it! Ask questions when you are stuck.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Gaming as an Ex-Pat Part 3 (Final)

Here it is, the final post I made on Facebook, when asked by an acquaintance to describe how different it is trying to play/run games in Korea compared to back home. Yeah, I blathered on for a long time before actually answering her question. She dug it, though, and then wanted to take a look at Flying Swordsmen, so I consider that a win.

I arrived in Korea and in less than a month was a new father (my wife wanted to be close to her family when she gave birth, and she's a Busan native). So for that first year or so, I didn't get any gaming in. Soon, though, I met some guys named Josh, Alex, Pat and Steve who were interested in playing board games. We'd meet once a week or once every two weeks in Seomyeon to game. After a year or so, we started occasionally playing RPGs instead of board games. A few more people were interested, so we ended up with more players including a few Koreans, and running several short campaigns.

I ran Classic D&D. Josh ran 3E. Dave tried to get a d20 Conan game going, but it didn't gel. Alex tried the same with RIFTS. Eventually Pat got the 4E books, so we gave that a try. Josh picked up the 4E version of Gamma World, and we gave that a try.

During this time, I was working on my Dragon Fist retro-clone, which I titled Flying Swordsmen. Eventually I had it ready, so we played some Flying Swordsmen too. It's an odd feeling to run your own game at first. I felt this pressure to "get it right" since it was my own game. Presidents of the Apocalypse was just this little goofy game where everyone tried to be as silly as possible, but Flying Swordsmen tries to emulate Chinese wuxia fantasy martial arts using essentially D&D rules. I think I pulled it off well, but there were a few little things about it that bugged me (mostly because it was a retro-clone copying another game, so some design choices were out of my hands).

Then, as happens in ex-pat circles, people moved away. New people came in. I found myself next in a Pathfinder group run by a guy named Brian, along with one or two other people from the first group. Around the same time, Pat and Bill were putting together the Busan Bored Gamers group, so I feel like that group is a direct descendant of our Seomyeon group.

When the PF game finally finished, I ended up without a face-to-face group to play with, but through Google+ Hangouts (popular with gamers, especially the OSR), I ended up in a group run by Justin in Pohang. Thanks to the power of the internet, we've got members in other places besides Korea. A few Aussies played early on, and a Scottish guy has been a regular in our various G+ games ever since. Justin ran Labyrinth Lord (BX D&D clone) for a long time, then tried Stars Without Number (BX D&D rules for sci-fi gaming) for a while.

I ran a few Classic D&D games. Jeremy ran a wide variety of his home-brewed games he was trying out. Dean started a 4E game, which attracted a few different players, who aren't really into the OSR stuff. Now Dean's game is 5E, and still going strong. We've tried a few other things here and there over the years, too.

Because Flying Swordsmen got good reviews but I wasn't satisfied with it, I started working on my current project, Chanbara (fantasy feudal Japan set to basic D&D rules). I've been play-testing it now and then with this online group, and it seems to hold up pretty well. I'm hoping to release the game soon (real world concerns have delayed it, though).

As far as gaming supplies, I haven't really found much I need to buy anymore. I've got tons of dice and minis. Rulebooks can be downloaded in pdf form or ordered from Amazon (and sometimes Whatthebook). Since most of my gaming takes place online, there's not a lot of need for extra stuff. Also, I'm primarily a player instead of primarily a DM these days, which also reduces my need for stuff. All those minis I collected in Japan are locked in a cabinet where my baby can't get to them.

In a few years, though, I plan to be gaming with my boys, and putting all those gaming supplies I don't use now to good use!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Gaming as an Ex-Pat Part 2 Addendum

I originally was going to post both this and the main "part 2" post together, then decided not to. Somehow, I just saw, Blogger posted the draft backdated. So if you've already read this, apologies.

Gaming in Japan Addendum: Miniatures

I forgot to mention this part, which was one of the cool things about living in Japan. I mentioned that in my first location, there weren't a lot of places to get gaming material. In the second place I lived, Yaman
ashi, I was able to amass a sizeable miniature collection in interesting ways.

As I mentioned, Yellow Submarine in Tokyo had Reaper Minis, so I did buy a small number of minis there. But Japan has so many other ways to get fantasy/sci-fi minis that work for gaming.

First of all, there are random collectible miniatures that you can buy in many stores, including most convenience stores. In the years I was there, they had several series of mythological creatures, both Western and Eastern. So I have rubberized plastic minis of dragons, griffons, chimera, unicorns, pegasi, and Greek/Norse gods that work well for giants from the Western mythology series, and bakemono, tengu, oni, and so on from the Eastern series.

There are also series of figures based on games like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy and Pokemon, comics like Devilman, and things like that that I picked up over the years. You can find them here in Busan, in limited numbers, at places like Art Box.

Then, there are the cola promotion figures. Every now and then, there are promotions to sell Coke or Pepsi, where they have a randomized figure in an opaque cellophane package around the neck of 500ml bottles of soda. Back when the Star Wars prequels were coming out, I collected lots of Star Wars bottle toppers. The ones in the stores were from the Prequels, of course, but if you collected enough of the inserts and payed a small fee, you could send away for sets from the original trilogy (which I did, although I wasn't able to get all of those sets). In other years, there were Final Fantasy VII and VIII figures, Lupin the Third figures, Dragonball characters, and even Lego minifigs. I collected many.

If that weren't enough, in my town there was this resale shop. They'd buy just about anything for pennies and then sell it for dollars. Clothes, books, CDs, sports equipment, toys, games, and of course they had a section devoted to all of these sorts of little collectible minis I've been describing. I'd go there fairly often and add to my gaming collection.

I also got into HeroClix, and would buy lots when I was home on vacations, so if I ever want to run a Marvel or DC supers game, I've got the figures for it!

Oh, and one more thing! Daiso (those of you in Busan are familiar with the chain, it's from Japan) in Japan sells (or sold, at least) little green army men, and also similar sets of pirates, knights, cowboys & Indians, ninja, construction workers, police/fire/rescue figures. Have sets of all of them, as well. They work great as NPC figures.

So while I don't feel like minis are a necessity for RPGs, I do enjoy using them, and Japan was a great place for collecting a variety of minis for gaming.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Gaming as an Ex-Pat Part 2

I lived in Japan from the summer of '98 to the spring of '08. I didn't get into gaming until 3E came out, though. That's when I found some other teachers were also gamers, and we picked up the new rules and gave them a go. This was in Toyama prefecture, pretty far from the big cities (about 4 hours by train to Osaka, 5 to Tokyo). I picked up the brand spanking new 3E PHB when I was in the States over the summer, and used my 2E books until I was able to order the other core books from Amazon. There wasn't anywhere to get stuff locally, although some boutique shops sold polyhedral dice. I'd occasionally check in second-hand bookstores for Japanese RPG books, but never found any.

Oh, and there was this little bric-a-brac shop that sold airsoft equipment and collectible figures and stuff. I found a pack of vintage Grenadier "Knights of the Round Table" minis there and snatched them up. Still have them. For the most part, we were limited in what we had to game with to what we ordered from overseas or could access via the internet. One of those internet goodies was a free pdf game WotC released called Dragon Fist (fantasy martial arts RPG using the 2E rules). We played that a few times in addition to 3E.

In 2001 I moved to Yamanashi prefecture, just an hour and a half outside of Tokyo. Again, it took me a little time to get into the local gaming scene, because I wasn't sure who gamed and who didn't, and people were still kinda reluctant to bring up gaming in casual conversation. But gamed online with some of the Toyama guys about once a month. We tried d20 Modern and the d20 Star Wars rules, along with D&D 3.5.

Then, I got invited to a group playing White Wolf's Trinity around 2003 or 2004. After the Trinity game ran its course, some of the same gamers ended up playing D&D with me. We played a 3E OA game that I ran for a while.

Through the WotC message boards, I came in contact with a couple of guys in Tokyo and we formed a group. One of the Toyama guys was now living in Chiba (also near Tokyo) so we invited him, too. A few other players came and went. We'd meet once a month for marathon 6-10 hour sessions, mostly of 3.5, although I ran a successful d20 Future game set in the Aliens/Predator universe.

Gaming in Tokyo was great, because there's a chain of hobby shops called Yellow Submarine. They had minis, dice, rule books, modules, Dragon and Dungeon magazine, plus board games and other related stuff. Whenever I had time before or after the sessions, I'd usually stop by because the bus or train from Yamanashi pulled into Shinjuku station, and a Yellow Submarine was just around the corner.

One of the Tokyo guys was trying to develop his own Story Game RPG, so we play-tested many versions of it. And from the Forge message boards (once the home of story gamers online), he got interested in playing Classic D&D again, which got me interested. And so I discovered the OSR (Old School Renaissance) just as it was kicking off.

Before Steve got transferred back to the States, we played a few games of old school D&D. And I got my Yamanashi group to play it, too. And it was pretty fun. I also tried a bit of Star Frontiers with them.

Oh, and my buddy Paul and I developed our own "story game" type rules light system, Presidents of the Apocalypse. This became our "someone in the group is leaving, let's go out with a fun game" game. We're still not 100% happy with the rules, but eventually we plan to publish it in some form or other.

The OSR back then was all about making "retro clones" that were rewritten versions of the classic games, released under the d20 OGL. So OSRIC is basically AD&D 1E, Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game are Classic D&D, and Swords & Wizardry is original D&D. I remembered having fun with Dragon Fist in Toyama, and started thinking about how I might make a retro-clone of it. But then my wife got pregnant, and we decided to move to Korea to be near her family...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Gaming as an Ex-Pat Part 1

A friend of a few friends (she used to live in Busan and play board games, but I never met her) was asking on Facebook about RPG gaming in Korea. She's now in Cambodia and has a gaming group there, and was curious as she only ever played board games while here in Busan. One of my friends tagged me in the post, and since I'm the sort of guy who will ramble on about this sort of stuff, I did. And I figure I might as well re-post it here on the blog, because it might be interesting and also because I'm curious about your experiences, if you have any, as a gamer living outside of countries with big gaming communities.

Glaiza's question that set this off:
Out of curiosity, are any of my friends in Korea playing or have played in tabletop roleplaying games (like D&D or games like it) while living in Korea?
Like is their a dedicated group that you know of that meet on a regular basis? What was your experience in that? Did you DM or where you a dedicated player?

 I decided to break my responses into three parts:
1) my gaming experiences in the U.S. which also had some issues with gaming not so different from those I've experienced overseas
2) my experiences gaming in Japan (which actually I ended up writing two posts, because I forgot to write about how great living in Japan was for collecting gaming minis, but I'll combine them here on the blog)
3) my experiences gaming in Korea (which at the time of writing this blog post, I still need to write...)

Here's my gaming background in the U.S. I know I've covered a lot of this before on the blog, but it's been years since I did so, and I don't expect all of you to have kept notes, so I don't mind reposting.

Gaming in the U.S. in the 80's/90's
I'm from rural Illinois, so growing up, access to RPG stuff was sort of limited. Our local bookstores stocked mostly D&D and other TSR stuff, but I remember seeing Palladium and some other RPG stuff as a kid. Toy stores and big box stores like Sears or JC Penny (this was before Wal-Mart came to the area) also had the D&D box sets. For extra dice, minis, etc. we were out of luck. We had our rule books and the dice that came in the box sets, plus extra six-siders scrounged from old board games.

We mostly played Classic (box set) D&D. Some friends had AD&D, and we'd mix stuff in from there if the books were available. When we weren't playing D&D, we mostly played Star Frontiers (also a box set with its own dice). My best friend got the TMNT game (not sure where), so we played that a bit, too. And WEG Star Wars a few times. But mostly D&D.

When I got to college, I had access to a great comics shop that had plenty of RPG stuff (and Magic: The Gathering), and I ended up getting involved with a group of AD&D (mixed 1E and 2E) players through my part-time job. I picked up the 2E books at a discount because I worked at Waldenbooks. Also, back home, a hobby shop had opened up, and I could get dice cheap there. Cheaper than the comics shop in my uni town, anyway. I started playing Gamma World and tried a few other games in those years. At home or at school, though, my groups were limited to friends of members already in the group. Not a lot of cross-pollination of gamers going on then.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Land of Dinosaurs and Pastry

Dean continues to show us what Eberron looks like when meshed with Candy Land. In the past, we've met with turducken monsters, cookie gnomes, a pumpkin spice dragon, and other food/confectionery themed monsters in his game. We also had a fuller than full group last night, with eight players in addition to Dean as the DM. Here's my latest (in character) play report from our game last night:

The Giant's Tomb
Being a continuation of the journal of Jack Summerisle, Green Knight of the Eldeen Reaches, and companions various and sundry, in search of the City of the Titans within the hollow world of Pellucidar, far below the surface of our world of Eberron.

Having rested following our battle with the pair of fierce dinosaurs that dwell in this strange, hidden world, we set out towards the confluence of the great river and the forests, where our divinations had suggested the City of the Titans might be found. As we traversed the plains, we saw more of these giant reptiles, only these ones seemed different. Having prepared myself with an ancient druidic incantation that allows converse with nature's beasts, I approached, along with Yuv the Dragonborn Cleric of Radiance and Thia Moonbrook, Elven Tempest Cleric. While the beasts were able to converse like natural creatures, they were actually some sort of blend of prehistoric beast and dessert. They indicated that there were some ruins connected with the Giants in the hills before the Great River. They also, when asked about the "hats" which had been fused to the skulls of the two great saurian beasts that beset us previously, suggested that we look to the river, or possibly to the south. Also, they wanted the "hats" destroyed. I promised, on my honor as a Paladin, that the "hats" would be put to no evil use while in our possession. They seemed to sense the truth of my words, and were satisfied.

We traveled onward, and came to a series of burial mounds. Rhea the Witch detected faint magic in the largest of them and Yuv's augury suggested danger in opening the mound, so we set about examining the door, and found it trapped. Odraynne the Human Bard, Thia, Flagan the Halfling Pugilist, and Jade the Elf Ranger attempted several methods to disarm the trap mechanism, which resulted in blasts of rocks and dirt with each failed attempt. Finally, they succeeded, but a secondary trap was sprung when the door was opened. The ground fell away, and in an instant sand began to fill the pit, trapping several of our group completely engulfed. Not only that, but giant scarab beetles infested the sands, biting at us as those of us who were not trapped tried to free our companions. Eventually, Thia's gust of wind dispersed the sands and beetles.

Inside the mound, there were three passageways. We chose the one to the left, which descended into the darkness (or ascended, I should say, as we are in the upside down world of Pellucidar!). We came to a chamber with, as Thia and I noticed, had a soft, rubbery floor. We tested it in several ways, and finding it suspicious, found a way to bypass it. Flagan used his gymnastics ability to cross the room on the solid walls while holding a rope. We secured it, and the party was able to cross safely.

At the bottom of the tomb, we found a room long ago looted by treasure hunters or vandals. One of these long ago looters' skeletons lay beneath the ruins of a golem or similar guardian, and seemed to be a human, but with a tail. There were also tracks of some sort of serpentine creature. The sarcophagus had been cracked, and most of the grave-goods despoiled. It was then that we sensed a chill presence, and found the ghost of the Giant Priest that we assume was buried in this mound blocking our escape, and angry at our presence.

We set to attacking it, although some of our party, such as Makarak the Orc Barbarian, had mundane weaponry which seemed to be less than full effect on the undead horror. Additionally, it let out a fearsome moaning which caused Rhea and both of our Clerics to freeze in fear for some moments. It also had a chill aura, but by focusing my mind on the goodness of the Greensong, my own aura was able to partially mitigate this chill glammer. With a combination of Makarak's and my axes, Flagan's fists, Jade's arrows, and spells from Odraynne, Rhea, Thia and Yuv, we finally put paid to the haunt. And now, we know, thanks to the carvings on the walls, that the missing rod of this great priest of the ancient Giants may be necessary if we are to awaken the Mountain above, so that it may rid itself of the Ghoul Kingdom.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Curses from the Library!

My mother is a retired librarian so books have always been a big part of my life. And just this morning, I came across this article describing some actual Medieval curses used to protect books from theft or disfigurement.

Of course, in the game, there is all sorts of potential for fun with this, since the curses can actually have an effect.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Treasure

The section on treasure starts out with a bit of description of what treasure is, and its purpose in the game. That purpose, of course, is to help characters go up in level, as the value of the treasure determines how many experience points it is worth. There are a few interesting notes in this preamble:

It mentions what to do with treasure, including better gear, hiring retainers, and buying spellcasting or other services from NPCs. Interesting that it leaves out the end-game goal of eventually building a stronghold. Maybe Frank is including that in "better equipment" (p. 40)?

Magic items (contrary to AD&D), are explicitly stated as not being worth XP. The value of magic items is in what they can do for you.

Payment for services rendered, or rewards for service, are counted as treasure (and hence worth XP).

"The DM should always determine the contents of a large treasure hoard before play, to decide how best to hide and protect the treasure from theft" (p. 40, emphasis in original). I'm not sure how much time Gygax spent in the AD&D DMG discussing how to hide/conceal treasure, but Frank gives us just a few lines like this (and one or two more later). While these days I can appreciate the concise nature of the advice, it pretty much passed me by early on. Treasure was sometimes in a chest, but often just piled on the floor in dungeons in my early (and even many later) games. Again, I think this was some video game influence, where treasure just appears after defeating the enemy, and you can just pick it up. I think a bit more about concealing treasure would have benefited my games more when I was young.

And finally, we get another note that monsters that can use magic items probably should! This of course, means that potions and scrolls may become rarer finds, as monsters are more likely to use them on the PCs!

Random Treasures
This section gives us a four-step process to determine treasures randomly. First, find the monster's treasure type in the monster list. Second, roll percentage dice for each type listed on that line of the table. Third, find the amount of each type present. Finally, roll for any magic items on the magic item tables, if any are present.

Fairly simple, and easy to understand. The section has another note about how to convert the number ranges to dice notation, to see which dice to roll. I think this is a good place for that reminder, as fledgling DMs are more likely to need reminders right here, when rolling for treasure, than in other places, and who wants to flip way back to the front of the book, or consult the Players Guide for this info when rolling up treasure?

Placed Treasures
Of course, rolling dice is fun, so I like to roll randomly first and see what I get, but I do often revert to simply deciding on the treasure present for many encounters or lairs (or at least partially so, I'm more likely to overrule the percent chances of treasure being present or not, and accept the amounts I roll).

Frank warns us here that it's OK to adjust the values up or down as needed, and to keep in mind that 3/4 or more of all XP is from treasure, not monsters defeated.

Then he tells us that as DMs get more experienced, they may just decide how much XP they want to give out, and decide on the treasure in that way. Of course, this is assuming the players will discover all the treasure (but if it's just scattered across the floor rather than well hidden...). What's most interesting about this is that it's in a way predicting the "XP Budgets" and "treasure parcels" of 4E, two areas where old schoolers tend to reject in that edition. While it's just a suggestion here, it was the standard rule there, which may be why many rejected it. Anyway, Frank ends this section by reminding the DM to "force the characters to earn their treasure!" (p. 40).

Adjusting Treasure
Of course, treasure found should be matched by the size of the lair. A hand-full of orcs shouldn't have a massive treasure, while a village of several hundred (plus maybe an ogre or troll) should definitely have a good sized treasure.

Interestingly, there's a note that if the number appearing is specifically 1-4, don't adjust treasure even if there's only one creature in the lair. This is obviously a reference to dragons, who all have an NA of 1-4 for both dungeons and wilderness encounters. But that would also apply to some bears, great cats, carrion crawlers (if you remember my analysis of that monster, though, this makes sense), some giant lizards, some lycanthropes, medusa, owl bears, giant rattlesnakes (two attacks plus poison and low treasure justifies this one), and some of the slime/ooze types (if they have treasure). It might have been better to just say, hey, single dragons are tough, and worth their full lair treasure.

While it doesn't inform the DM to divide the treasure by the percentages of the maximum number appearing present, it does tell us that in general, smaller lair numbers means smaller treasures. Which makes sense.

Other Treasure Types
This is something that the introductory adventure at the beginning of the book did well - show the DM that treasure doesn't need to only be coins (or gems and jewelry). In it, there are hat pins, plates and silverware, and a few other non-standard treasures. I never paid much attention to this section, though, until I got the Companion Set years later. It had much more detailed lists for making interesting treasures. These days, I love to add in tapestries, books, kegs of spices, letters of credit or deeds, and other valuables besides just coins. It's more fun that way.

Average Treasure Values
This is really handy - a table with the average amount of money each treasure type can produce. As the book says, after random rolling, or if deciding to place treasure, it gives you a good idea of how much the treasure may need adjusting. I've tried replicating the math (for Chanbara), and maybe I'm doing the calculations wrong, but I get some odd numbers when I try to multiply the average amounts by the percentages of treasure being present and adding the values together. I suspect it's the gems that mess up my calculations, but it's not a big enough deal for me to have to worry about finding the discrepancies between my method and however Frank calculated them.

Treasure Type H (dragon treasure) is of course the largest, with an average value of 60k. Treasure Type M, however, is similar with an average of 50k. There aren't any creatures in Basic with TT M, however. I'll have to go through my books sometime (or the RC, it's got them all together) to see what creature has TT M (if any).

Anyway, the lowest average value for a lair treasure is TT J at a whopping 25 gp. And who gets that? Kobolds. Yeah, they're really not worth the effort. Orcs or goblins have similar numbers in their lairs, and aren't THAT much harder to beat than kobolds. Orcs get TT D, average 4k, while goblins get TT C, average 750gp. You know what, take on the orcs. The risk/reward is best.

OK, here's the thing lots of people get hung up on. Coins in D&D weigh 1/10 of a pound. No, it's not realistic, but then D&D isn't a simulation, it's a game of risk/reward, and managing your encumbrance to maximize rewards and minimize risks is part of the game. Making treasure hard to carry makes players more likely to take risks rather than just spend every adventure trying to clear out weak monsters for piddly (but safe) treasures.

Anyway, we get an explanation that electrum is an alloy of gold and silver, and the coin exchange rates.

We've got a chart to roll for gems, with a percentage roll to determine the value, with a few examples of gems of each value. If only giving the players the names of the gems, they should be able to get them appraised in town. Frank suggests a fee of between 1-5% of the value of the gem for the appraisal.

Next, we get an optional rule, about combining or splitting the value rolled into different types/values of gems. I'm not sure why this is listed as an optional rule, instead of just a suggestion, since doing so has no effect on the value of the gems, and really only affects players as they try to divvy up treasures found.

Unlike gems, which have a flat distribution of values, jewelry values are on a curve, found by rolling 3d6 and multiplying the value by 100gp. This gives us an average value of about 1000gp per piece of jewelry. There's a table with some examples of different types of jewelry for different value ranges (and again, the Companion Set has much more detailed tables, but for early games, this was definitely sufficient).

There's also the rule about damaging jewelry. Fire, lightning, crushing, etc. can damage jewelry, reducing its value by half. I rarely remember this rule. If the PCs get hit by a fireball, or fall 20' or whatever, I should have them check to see if any jewelry they are carrying is damaged, but usually forget. Since jewelry is one of the best values for the encumbrance, I should really track this more often.

And again, we've got a section (not listed as an optional rule) about combining types of jewelry, and even combining gems and jewelry if they're found together.

Group Treasure Types Table
Type A: Bandits and Troglodytes have this type (and I think most human groups in Expert, like pirates, dervishes, etc. also get A). It's a nice sized hoard, the fourth largest with an average 17k gold, and with chances for all coin types, plus 50% chance of both gems and jewelry (6d6 worth of either!), and a 30% chance for any three magic items.
Type B: A fairly common type, the value isn't so high because it doesn't have much gold, lacks platinum, and there's only a 25% chance of 1d6 gems or 1d6 jewelry to be present. There's a mere 10% chance of a magic item, but it will always be a sword, weapon, or armor. It's likely there will be copper coins in this treasure hoard (50%), but the average value of 2000gp isn't bad, if you can lug out all the small denomination coinage.
One thing I noticed when I was looking through these just now is that Halflings and Green Slimes (next to each other in the monster listings) have the exact same Morale, Treasure Type: (P+S) B, Alignment (yes, green slime is Lawful - take that, Flumpf!), and XP value (5, which is obviously wrong for the 2HD** slime). Yes, there was apparently a copy/paste error here.
Type C: Another fairly common type (Lycanthropes, Minotaurs, Ogres and Neanderthals, for example, have it), which is limited to copper, silver and electrum coins, and 25% chance of 1d4 gems and 1d4 jewelry, and a 10% chance of any 2 magic items. It averages only 750 gp value, most of which will come from silver coins.
Type D: This is the treasure type for tougher humanoids (orcs, gnolls, hobgoblins, lizard men). It averages 4000gp, much of it gold (60%), and never has electrum or platinum. There's a 30% chance each for 1d8 gems or 1d8 jewelry, which is not bad. And for magic, there's a 15% chance of any 2 plus one potion. Not bad, if you can defeat or outwit some of the stronger humanoid types.
Type E: Doppelgangers and elves get this type (maybe a few more). It averages 2500gp, slightly better than B, and is unlikely to have coppers (only 5%), although again no platinum. It has only a 10% chance for 1d10 gems or jewelry, but a 25% chance to get any 3 magic items, plus one scroll. Not too shabby.
Type F: The medusa and shadow are the only creatures that get this type. It's fairly sizable, with an average 7600gp. It never has copper, with low chances for silver and electrum, and decent (45%) for gold and (30%) platinum. It's likely to have more gems than jewelry, 20% chance for 2d12 gems but only 10% chance for 1d12 jewelry...this is the first type to give different percents/amounts for the two. It's also got a 30% chance of magic items, consisting of any 3 non-weapons, plus 1 potion and 1 scroll. Medusas and shadows can be tough opponents, but they provide pretty nice treasures.
Type G: Only dwarves get this type, and I've seen it noted recently that dwarves are maybe the best treasure haul for the risk involved based on their numbers and hit dice. The treasure averages 25k, with only gold and platinum coins (lots of gold), and 25% chances to have 3d6 gems and 1d10 jewelry. Plus, there's a 35% chance to get any 4 magic items plus one scroll.
Type H: Dragon treasure. Need I say more? This is the most valuable type with an average of 60k gp value. Copper and platinum coins are only 25% likely to appear, with 50% for the other coin types, and with large amounts for each type present. 50% chance of 1d100 gems and 10 to 40 jewelry. The only down side is there's only a 15% chance of magic items, but when they appear it will be any 4 plus a potion and scroll. I think probably more than 15% of the dragon lairs I've placed have had magic in them, though. It just seems to me that dragons should have magic items. But really, with such a high monetary value, maybe the magic items are overkill. Let the PCs battle dwarves or medusa if they want magic.
Type I: No creatures in Basic have this type. The only coins it might have are platinum (30% chance), and it's got a high percent chance to have gems and jewelry, 50% for 2d6 of either, but only a 15% chance to have one magic item. The average value is 7500gp, which is pretty good, but you're never gonna find it until the upper levels.
Type J: As I mentioned above, this is Kobold treasure, and the average value is only 25gp. It will only ever be copper or silver coins, but on the up side, it will never be more than 7000 coins total... Do you really want to face a bunch of kobolds just to have to lug out a few thousand copper coins?
Type K: Again, no monster in Basic has this type of treasure. It's made up of only silver and electrum coins, mostly silver (30% to electrum's 10%). The average value is 250gp. Again, not great.
Type L: This is the treasure type for normal rats, of all creatures. The average value is 225gp, and it consists of a 50% chance to get 1d4 gems. That's it. So while facing rat disease may not sound so good, you're likely going to come out ahead of taking on the kobolds...
Type M: Like I mentioned above, this is the second largest type, with an average value of 50k gp, but no creatures in Basic have it. For coins, only gold or platinum appear, with a better chance and more platinum (50% for 5~30k coins compared to 40% chance for 2~8k gold), plus high chances for gems (55% for 5d4) and jewelry (45% chance for 2d6), but sadly no magic at all. If there are creatures in the later sets with this type (I'm too lazy to pull up my RC pdf right now and check), they're likely worth the fight for the loot you're likely to get.
Type N: This type consists of a 40% chance to find 2d4 potions, and that's it. No listed creatures have this type.
Type O: This type consists of a 50% chance to find 1d4 scrolls, and that's it. Again, no creatures in Basic have this type of treasure.

Individual Treasure Tables
The first five have no percentages, so creatures (usually human, demi-human or humanoid) with these types always have some coins in their pockets. The last two seem to are often used for either wealthier individual types, or for lair treasure of animal/unintelligent monsters, and to me seem to represent stuff you might find on the carcasses of things they were eating.
Type P: You get 3d8 coppers. Kobolds, gnolls, gnomes and normal men are likely to have coppers in their pockets.
Type Q: You get 3d6 silvers. Bugbears will have P and Q, dwarves get Q and S. Hobgoblins have only type Q.
Type R: You get 2d6 electrums. Goblins carry electrum. I wonder why? Someone should do a Gygaxian Naturalism post about why goblins always carry electrum coins.
Type S: You get 2d4 golds. Demi-humans always have some gold on them (and green slimes, if you don't realize the error like I just did).
Type T: You get 1d6 platinums. Elves (who get S and T) are the only creatures in Basic to commonly carry platinum. So elf lair treasure isn't amazing, but picking off random groups of elves is more profitable than picking off random groups of other humanoid types. Interesting, no?
Type U: Now, we get a "proper" treasure type entry again, with percentage chances of various types of loot being present. As I mentioned, lots of creatures (bears, great cats, giant lizards, oil beetles, some snakes) get this as their lair treasure. Bandits get this as their individual forget elf hunting, go hunt bandits! There's a 10% chance of 1d100 coppers and similarly silvers, and a 5% chance of 1d100 golds. No electrum or platinum (the goblins and elves must have taken them all...). No gems, either, but a 5% chance for 1d4 jewelry, and a 2% chance for any 1 magic item. I rarely check each bandit I place for the 2% chance magic item, but I should from now on..."One of the bandits has a staff of wizardry in his breeches, another has a potion of invisibility."
Type V: The biggest normal animals (cave bears, sabertooth tigers, etc.) of groups that get type U for lair treasure instead get this. It doesn't have coppers, and instead has a 10% chance for 1d100 of both silver and gold coins, and a 5% chance for 1d100 of both electrum and platinum coins. Again no gems, but a 10% chance for 1d4 pieces of jewelry, and a 5% chance for any one magic item. Prehistoric animals seem to eat only the higher class sorts...

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

What a horrible night. Have a curse!

Again, multiple influences have congealed in my brain to inspire a blog post! Original content that isn't about Chanbara or Mentzer Basic or my latest game session. What a rarity!

Anyway, I've been reading some pseudo-science crap because it's interesting (but not believable), and reading about sprites and their curses, and not getting to do much for Halloween this year, and then I thought, curses are in the name of my blog. Why don't I blog more often about them? In fact, I don't think I've ever made a post dedicated to curses before. So this is the first of what may (or may not) become a series on interesting curses to inflict on your players.

Since I've been reading pseudo-science stuff, these two are of course based on those wacky, almost make sense ideas.

Curse of Spontaneous Combustion
The target of this curse has a percentage chance of bursting into flames each time they enter combat equal to the character's level (or hit dice, whichever is greater). Upon bursting into flames, the PC must Save vs. Spells or die instantly. If the save is made, the character burns for a number of rounds equal to the difference between the number rolled and the number needed (minimum one), suffering 1d6 fire damage per round, but being treated as an efreeti in its "pillar of fire" form while burning.

[Behind the scenes, I like this because the curse scales with level, becoming more likely to happen as you go up in levels, but less likely to kill you outright, and having some potential benefit, but with a risk of death still involved. Low level characters might feel the chances of it happening are low enough not to feel screwed over. High level characters might feel ballsy enough NOT to remove the curse, due to the potential for cool bonus fire damage, but at risk of draining more party resources to keep the PC alive. And really, the game could use more spontaneous combustion.]

Curse of Xavitna
The target of this curse suffers a loss of 1d6 points of Charisma any time they are the recipient of a cure disease spell, or similar magical effects, to a minimum of Charisma 3. As Charisma drops, the target becomes more withdrawn and easily annoyed, speaks in short, choppy bursts or rarely at all, does not react to others speaking to him or her, or shows other physical or verbal tics. The Charisma loss remains until the curse is removed, at which time lost Charisma returns at a rate of 1 point per day.

[Behind the scenes, your game may be different, but disease doesn't come into play often in games I've run or played in in the past. So, this curse is likely to be ignored as it's not such a common situation in which one gets diseased, unless you're commonly fighting rats and mummies, or the DM likes to keep things "real." And Cha is most players' favored dump stat, and draining it serves as a decent enough approximation of autism.]

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Dungeons & Dinosaurs

Dungeons & Dinosaurs

A new chapter in the journal of the stalwart Green Knight Jack Summerisle, and companions various and sundry, as they emerge into the hollow world of Pellucidar

After climbing downward for many hours, our group encountered an oddity: a zone where we went from climbing down to suddenly climbing up! Without changing our heading, we began to ascend from the pit, which eventually opened up enough that those not riding climbing mounts (Flagan the Halfling Pugilist, Jade the Half-Elf Ranger, Yuv the Dragonborn Cleric of Radiance, and Thia the Elf Tempest Cleric) were able to walk, as if on a mountainside. Rhea the Witch remained on her enlarged spider-bat familiar, and I of course rode Cassius, my giant cave weta companion.

It was at that moment that stone-skinned snakes attacked our party. At first we believed them to be magical creations of stone, but our weapons bit through their calcified hides, and lo, they bled. Only one of the serpents, captured by Rhea in her bag of holding and then let loose, escaped our blades.

We emerged onto a plain or prairie with many strange creatures grazing hither and yon. Some were large mammals with downward pointing tusks and trunks like elephants, only covered in fur. Some were great reptilian beasts with triple-horned frills upon their heads. Flying creatures flitted overhead, but did not seem exactly to be birds. We set out for a high prominence not far away, in order to survey the lands. From the heights, we could see a forest and later mountains to the 'north,' an ocean to the 'west,' a great river flowing through a canyon before another stretch of mountains to the 'east,' and a rough and broken desert also leading to mountains to the 'south.' Divination magic hinted that our quest, to find the means to awaken the mountain so that it could rid itself of the infection that is the Ghoul Kingdom, lay in a ruined city in the mountains...and likely to the northeast. We set out north, towards the forests.

While we traveled, a great thunderstorm passed over, and the lightning started a fire in the prairie. Finding a massive herd of the local animals headed our way, we used a magical drill device to carve out a trench for us to take shelter and avoid being trampled, while our spell-casters burned away an area of grasses so that the conflagration would pass us by. We weathered the stampede of three-horns and furred elephants, and waited until the fire burned itself out.

Resuming our travels, we noticed sometime later a pair of giant lizards headed our way. At first I took them to be dragons, because of the sail-like fins on their backs, but they were not dragons, but some sort of primitive reptiles, like the three-horns, but aggressive and hungry. They attacked.

During the battle, my companions focused on one of the beasts, while Cassius and I focused on the other, which was partially distracted by one of Rhea's illusion spells. Despite the distraction, it destroyed my mount and even took me into its great jaws, crushing and biting at me as I relentlessly brought my battle axe down around its head and neck. Without healing magic from Yuv, I would have been joining my companion Cassius in the Feywild, or some other, farther Realm. With great effort, we brought down both beasts.

We stopped to recover from this ferocious confrontation, and I used a spell to recall Cassius, but this time in a form suitable to the strange land of Pellucidar - a form Cassius tells me is called an Andrewsarchus. Rather than a gigantic insect, Cassius is now a beast that looks like a cross between a wolf and a hyena, and the size of a destrier.

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.

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!