Friday, September 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Chanbara Play Test Art!

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

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

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thank You, Alexis!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Descent Most Perilous

A Descent Most Perilous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Monsters in Dragonlance

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Monster List - Dragon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 11, 2016

another f'n cool session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Monsters - Animal to Doppelganger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 5, 2016

Knight of Solamnia (5E class) Trial Balloon

Here is a first (and hopefully last) attempt at a Knight of Solamnia class for 5E. Anyone with a bit more experience in 5E, if something looks too powerful, or too weak, or just generally useless feel free to chime in in the comments. If this class goes over well, I'll have the player-side rules ready to go for a 5E sandbox game in Krynn. After that, I'll just need to modify the modules to fit 5E stats for monsters and I'll be ready to rock.

Class: Knight of Solamnia
The Knights of Solamnia are the defenders of that nation, but they are also known to travel the world, seeking to defend the weak, provide justice to the wronged, and stamp out evil where they find it. Knights of Solamnia follow the Oath and the Measure, which guides their actions. The Oath, “Est Sularus oth Mithas” (My honor is my life), is the general guiding principal of all Solamnic Knights. The Measure is an extensive set of rules, devised in ages past but still updated today, which regulates the three orders of knighthood.
Quick Build: You can make a Knight of Solamnia quickly by putting your highest ability score into Strength, followed by Wisdom. Second, choose the Noble background or the Knight variant.
The Knight of Solamnia
Proficiency Bonus
Fighting Style, Bravery
Focused Strike
Knightly Orders
Ability Score Improvement
Extra Attack
Knightly Order feature
Ability Score Improvement
Focused Strike (2)
Knightly Order feature
Fighting Style (2)
Ability Score Improvement
Extra Attack (2)
Knightly Order feature
Ability Score Improvement
Focused Strike (3)
Ability Score Improvement
Knightly Order feature

Class Features
Hit Points
Hit Dice: 1d10 per Knight of Solamnia level
Hit Points at 1st Level: 10 + your Constitution modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d10 (or 6) plus your Constitution modifier per KoS level after 1st
Armor: All armor, shields
Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons
Tools: none
Saving Throws: Strength, Wisdom
Skills: Choose two from Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Intimidation, Persuasion, and Religion
You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:
  • (a) scale mail and shield or (b) chain mail
  • any two martial weapons
  • (a) shortbow and 20 arrows or (b) any simple weapon
  • (a) a diplomat's pack or (b) an explorer's pack
Fighting Style
You may select any Fighting Style (PHB p. 72) except for Archery. You gain a second fighting style when you reach 11th level.
You have advantage on all saving throws against fear effects.
Focused Strike
Starting at 2nd level, when you succeed on a melee attack, you may choose to have the attack deal an extra 1d8 damage. You may use this a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum 1). You regain uses of focused strike after a short or long rest.
At 9th level, your focused strike improves to deal an extra 2d8 damage. At 18th level, your focused strike becomes so powerful that you deal an extra 3d8 damage.
Knightly Orders
At 3rd level, as soon as you can prove your worth to a Knightly Council, you join one of the three orders of knighthood. Choose from Crown Knight, Sword Knight and Rose Knight. These three knightly orders are detailed below.
Ability Score Improvement
When you reach 4th level and again at 8th, 12th, 16th and 19th level, you can increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or you can increase two abilities of your choice by 1. As normal, you can't increase the ability score above 20 using this feature.
Extra Attack
Starting at 5th level, when you use the Attack action, you can make two attacks instead of one. This feature improves at 13th level, allowing you to make three attacks when you use the Attack action.
At 6th level, as long as you keep to the Oath and Measure, you have advantage on all saving throws against enchantment magic.
At 14h level, your intense physical training regimen makes you better able to resist certain types of attacks. You gain proficiency with either Dexterity or Constitution saving throws.
At 17th level, your dedication to the Oath and Measure make you better able to resist certain types of attacks. You gain proficiency with either Intelligence or Charisma saving throws.
Knightly Orders
A Knight of Solamnia must choose one of three orders upon reaching 3rd level, and their special abilities at certain levels are determined by their choice of order.
Crown Knight
The most common order of knighthood, Crown Knights have no special requirements for entry. Any Knight who fails the requirements for the Sword or Rose Orders must become a Crown Knight. Crown Knights are dedicated to the principles of Loyalty and Obedience. They are also the best warriors among the Knights of Solamnia.
Weapons Training
At 3rd level, select one of the following weapons: battleaxe, lance, longsword, spear, trident, or warhammer. If you select lance, you do not suffer disadvantage when attacking foes within 5' of you. If you select any other weapon, you deal its versatile (2 handed) damage when wielding it one handed.
Bonus Proficiency
At 3rd level, you gain two skill proficiencies from the following list: animal handling, insight, performance, or persuasion. Instead, you may choose to gain a tool proficiency in place of one of the skill proficiencies.
Reserves of Strength
At 7th level, when you take a short rest, if you do not spend any hit dice for healing, you regain up to two spent hit dice.
Power Strike
At 10th level, when you use your Focused Strike ability on a target of large size or smaller, the target must make a Strength saving throw (DC8 + your proficiency bonus + your Str modifier) or be knocked prone.
My Honor Is My Life
At 15th level, when you are the target of an attack that would reduce you to 0 hit points, you may make a Constitution saving throw (DC5 + the damage done). If you succeed, you retain 1 hit point. You must complete a short or long rest before you can use this ability again.
Lord Warrior
At 20th level, the Crown Knight becomes one of the Lord Warriors of the Knights of Solamnia, charged with leading their forces in battle, and is eligible to be elected as High Warrior, the leader of the Knights of the Crown and one of the three High Knights that rule over the organization.
The Lord Warrior also gains advantage on all saving throws against any spell effects, and resistance to necrotic damage.

Sword Knight
Sword Knights are less common than Crown Knights due to their strict requirements. This order is dedicated to the ideals of Heroism and Good, and strive to serve as living examples of a true hero. However, their mystical abilities sometimes cause them to be accused of witchcraft.
To become a Sword Knight, you must be of a Good alignment. If your alignment ever changes, you may no longer advance as a Knight of Solamnia until such time as you regain your Good alignment.
At 3rd level, you gain some limited ability to cast spells. See Chapter 10 of the PHB for the rules for spellcasting, and Chapter 11 for the list of cleric cantrips and paladin spells.
Cantrips: You learn two cantrips of your choice from the cleric list when you gain your spellcasting ability. At 10th level, you gain a third cleric cantrip of your choice. Until the true gods return, this is the limit of your spellcasting ability.
Spell Slots: Once the true gods return (if they return), you gain the ability to cast spells from the paladin spell list. The Sword Knight Spellcasting table shows you how many spell slots you have to cast your spells of 1st level or higher. To cast a spell, you must expend a spell slot of the spell's level or higher. You regain all used spell slots when you finish a long rest.
Spells Known of 1st level or Higher: You know three 1st level spells of your choice from the paladin spell list. As you gain levels, you can learn more spells, as shown on the Spells Known column of the Sword Knight Spellcasting table. When you gain a new spell, it must be of a level for which you have spell slots. Each time you gain a level, you may choose to replace a single spell you know for another spell for which you have spell slots.
Special Note: For all paladin spells that augment or modify divine smite, you may use these spells to augment or modify your focused strike ability. You must expend both a spell slot and a use of focused strike in order to do so.
Spellcasting Ability: Wisdom is your spellcasting ability. Use your Wisdom modifier any time a spell refers to your spellcasting ability. Wisdom also affects the DC of saving throws against your spells and your spell attack bonus:
Spell Save DC = 8 + proficiency bonus + Wis modifier
Spell Attack modifier = proficiency bonus + Wis modifier

Sword Knight Spellcasting
Spell Slots

Channel Divinity
At 3rd level, you gain the ability to channel divine energy (regardless of whether the true gods have returned or not). You have two choices of how to use this divine energy. Once you use it, you cannot use it again until you finish a short or a long rest. You have the following powers:
Champion Challenge: You issue a challenge to your enemies. Any enemies you choose that you can see within 30' of you must make a Wisdom saving throw (DC equals your spell DC). Those that fail cannot willingly move more than 30 feet from you. This effect ends if you are incapacitated, die, or if the creature is moved more than 30 feet from you.
Turn the Tide: As a bonus action, you can bolster other creatures with your Channel Divinity. Each creature of your choice that can hear you within 30' of you regains hit points equal to 1d6 + your Wisdom modifier (minimum 1) if it has no more than half of its hit points.
Divine Shield
Starting at 7th level, if an ally within 5' of you is struck by an attack, you can use your reaction to shield the ally from the blow. Your ally takes no damage, and you suffer the damage of the attack instead.
Heroic Swordplay
At 10th level, you gain the ability to undercut the resistance of your enemies to your spells. When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, that creature has disadvantage on any saving throws made to resist a spell you cast before the end of your next turn.
Unyielding Spirit
At 15th level, you gain advantage on saving throws to avoid becoming paralyzed or stunned.
Lord Clerist
At 20th level, the Sword Knight becomes one of the Lord Clerists of the Knights of Solamnia, charged with leading their forces in battle, and is eligible to be elected as High Clerist, the leader of the Knights of the Sword and one of the three High Knights that rule over the organization.
The Lord Clerist is an inspiration to all allies on the battlefield. You can use your action to gain the following benefits for 1 hour:
  • you have resistance to damage from bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons
  • your allies have advantage on death saving throws while within 30' of you
  • you and all allies within 30' of you have advantage on all Wisdom saving throws
This effect ends if you are incapacitated or dead. Once you use this feature, you can't use it again until you finish a long rest.

Rose Knight
Rose Knights are less common than Crown Knights due to their strict requirements. This order is dedicated to the ideals of Justice and Honor, and strive to right wrongs and act as champions of order. However, their dedication to laws and rules sometimes leads them to excess.
To become a Rose Knight, you must be of a Lawful alignment. If your alignment ever changes, you may no longer advance as a Knight of Solamnia until such time as you regain your Lawful alignment. In the past, royal or noble blood was needed, but that restriction has been relaxed.
Rallying Cry
At 3rd level, you gain the ability to inspire your allies to fight through their injuries. As an action, you regain 1d10 + your level hit points, and up to three allies within 60' regain a number of hit points equal to your level. Once you use this ability, you cannot use it again until you complete a short or a long rest.
Solamnic Envoy
Starting at 7th level, you gain the persuasion proficiency if you do not already have it. If you have it already, you gain one skill proficiency from the following list: animal handling, history, insight, or intimidation. In addition, your proficiency bonus for the persuasion skill is doubled, whether you gained it from this ability or not.
Inspiring Surge
At 10th level, as a bonus action, up to two allies within 60' that can see and hear you can each make a melee or ranged attack as a reaction. Once you use this ability, you cannot use it again until you complete a short or a long rest.
At 15th level, when you have to make an Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma saving throw and are not incapacitated, you can use your reaction to gain advantage on the saving throw, and one ally within 60' also gains advantage on the saving throw. After using this ability twice, you cannot use it again until you complete a long rest.
Lord of Justice
At 20th level, the Rose Knight becomes one of the Lords of Justice of the Knights of Solamnia, charged with leading their forces in battle, and is eligible to be elected as High Justice, the leader of the Knights of the Rose and one of the three High Knights that rule over the organization.
Your Rallying Cry, Inspiring Surge and Bulwark abilities all improve, being able to affect double the number of allies. Rallying Cry now affects up to six allies, Inspiring Surge now affects up to four allies, and Bulwark now affects up to two allies.