Monday, August 31, 2009

Quick WPM Notes...

I actually got the whole White Plume Mountain conversion written up Saturday evening, but didn’t have a chance to post it (with links and such) till this morning. I took Sunday off from the computer completely to spend some QT with the fam (and get introduced to some community activisim).

It’s been a fairly creative last couple months, and while I realize converting old modules to B/X “ain’t no big thang,” it was still a fun exercise. Plus I figured out a way to do a sphinx which is something I’ve been struggling with for my B/X Companion (I believe my sphinx will be closer to Mentzer’s in the BECMI Master book, but I needed a way to make it more mid-level friendly for White Plume Mountain…the “young sphinx” is a nice compromise). Ugh…once again, struggling with tweaking things “perfect” (doesn’t happen). lack of computer work Sunday, as well as packing tonight and familial obligations tomorrow (Dad will be in town and we’re taking him to dinner!) means I am NOT going to be putting the finishing touches on my Companion prior to leaving for Montana Wednesday. However, while I fully intend to do a ton of hiking with the beagles, I WILL be bringing my laptop and sketch book with me. I need to start working on some line-drawings (I think I’ve managed to round up a couple of amateur illustrators with two more “possibles,” but I’m pretty sure I’ll be contributing my own artwork as well…Siembieda, eat your heart out!).

I suspect posting will be scarce over the next week (though don’t hold me to that) as I should focus any “spare” writing time on my supplement.

Hmmm…although I MAY have an idea for a follow-up to this morning’s WPM work….

: )

White Plume Mountain, B/X Style (Part 2)

(continued from Part 1)

18. This pit is unremarkable save that it is 10’ deep, fills the width of the corridor, and may be missed as it is underwater.

19. The copper plates on the walls of this corridor are 6’ high and 6’ wide and cannot be damaged not removed. Metal passing between the plates becomes hotter the farther it is brought…at 40’ metal armor is hot enough to do 1D8 damage, progressing to 2D8 at 50’, 3D10 at 60’, and 4D10 at 70’. A person attempting to run the length of the corridor in armor will take all this damage. At 50’ metal is hot enough to burn through any cloth wrappings or rope being used to drag it. Fire resistance allow characters to take no damage with a successful save vs. spells, half damage with a failure, and wand of cold or ice storm spell will cool the plates enough for the party to dash through.

20. Behind the secret door, 8 ghouls (HD 2*, Hps 10 each, B35/LL76) lie waiting to ambush the party. They wear necklaces that prevent turning by a cleric.

21. No encounter notes.

22. The two section A areas are 10’ pits lined with rusty razor-sharp blades; anyone falling in takes 1D12 damage and (unless making a save vs. poison) contracts a virulent super-tetanus that is absolutely fatal in 2-5 rounds (curable with a cure disease spell).

23. The frictionless surface of the area B (between the razor pits) is utterly frictionless such that a person so much as setting a foot on the floor will immediately begin sliding and ricocheting like a billiard ball until inevitable sliding into one of the razor pits). The wall at C is illusionary; objects thrown or fired at it simply disappear as they pass through. No movement spells (fly, levitate, teleport, etc.) will work in this room. There are NO monsters in this room.

24. There are SIX small, two-man kayaks in this room.

25. Sir Bluto Sans Pite (AC -1, HD 10, Hps 50, +3 to hit and damage with Strength 18) and his 8 fighter henchmen (AC 4, HD 4, Hps 20 each), all with swords, will ambush the characters here. Sir Bluto is immediately recognized as being wanted in civilization with a reward of 10,000gps. He wears plate mail +2, shield +1, and boots of traveling and leaping. He also carries a key that will open the secret doors for area 25.

26. No encounter notes.

27. The monsters in this area are as follows:

Level B: 6 Giant Crabs (HD 3, Hps 15 each, X29/LL68)
Level C: 6 Giant Scorpions (HD 4*, Hps 22 each, X39/LL93)
Level D: 4 Polar Bears (HD 6, Hps 27 each, B31/LL64)
Level E: 3 Manticores (HD 6+1, Hps 41, 29, 24, X35/LL85); the manticores have had their wings clipped and may not fly.

The safe set in the north wall of level E contains 6000sps and a jeweled scepter worth 3000gps. Failure to disarm the trap on the safe results in the triggering of a vibration device that destroys all glass walls in 1D6 rounds. A magical force wall will prevent the water from flooding room 27 to the south until all water has drained (in about 20 turns, through four small lava tubes). The magical wall disappears once all water has drained.

28. Quesnef the Ogre-Magi (HD 5+1**, Hps 35, see the New B/X Monster section at the end of this document) has disguised himself to look like a doughty Halfling warrior, a captive of Keraptis. In reality, the creature lost a bet with the wizard and is now forced to serve him for 1001 years.

Quesnef’s treasure (casually shoved beneath a sumptuous divan) include Blackrazor and the following: 1000eps, 200pps, a necklace worth 6000gps, a pair of earrings worth 1000gps each, and a jeweled bracelet worth 3000gps, a potion of healing, a scroll with the clerical spell protection from evil, and a set of cursed plate mail (AC 9).

END NOTE: If the PCs are leaving the dungeon for the final time and have managed to recover two or even three of the magic weapons, they will find the force wall back in place at area #2, blocking their exit. The sphinx will be gone (if she was still alive) and in her place will be two efreeti (HD 10*, Hps 40 and 36, X31/LL72), named Nix and Nox, here to re-claim the weapons from the PCs. If the PCs can defeat the efreeti they may leave the dungeon. If not, or if they choose to surrender, they are taken to Keraptis’ Indoctrination Center (see area #9) where they are enslaved, set to be the new guardians of the items of power!

ADDITIONAL REWARDS: Due to the ratio of Monster XP to Treasure XP it is suggested that surviving PCs receive an additional reward of 10,000gps (each) from the owners of the magical weapons upon said weapons return. If PCs are unable to reclaim all three weapons, they should still receive additional reward of 3000gps (each) for each recovered weapon returned to its owners (an extra 1000gps “bonus” would have been paid to each PC for recovery of the entire set). Failure to return recovered weapons will result in the party being tracked and hunted by the rightful owners.

FINAL NOTES: This module works best for 4-10 players of levels 5-10. Experience points for monsters listed has not been included as each compatible game system has slight variations in how XP are calculated for individual monsters. When adapting White Plume Mountain to B/X, BECMI, or LL play it should be noted that XP is not awarded for overcoming specific tricks or traps…the treasure found is commensurate with the XP being given (after including reward for the return of weapons); it is not expected that additional XP be granted for solving riddles and such. However, riddles that result in the bypassing of a monster (for example the sphinx or bone golems) should reward full monster XP as per “defeating” the monster(s) in the encounter.

New B/X Monsters


Armor Class: 3………….No. Appearing 1-4 (1-4)
Hit Dice: 5*………….Save As: Magic-User 5
Movement: 120’ (40’)………….Morale: 8
Attacks: see below………….Treasure Type: D
Damage: see below………….Alignment: Chaotic

Kelpies are a semi-intelligent form of carnivorous aquatic plant. They may shape their bodies into any form they choose, often appearing as beautiful human women, though their substance is still that of green seaweed-like material.

Once per day, the kelpie may cast a powerful charm person spell (-2 to save) that only affects males. They will use this to lure men to a watery doom, beckoning them into the kelpie’s undersea embrace. Wrapped around his neck the kelpie will drown the man in short order (taking 2-20 points of damage until surfacing or slain).

Ogre Magi

Armor Class: 4………….No. Appearing: 1-4 (1-8)
Hit Dice: 5+2**………….Save As: Fighter 7
Move: 120’ (40’)………….Morale: 10
Attacks: 1………….Treasure Type: G
Damage: 1D12………….Alignment: Chaotic

Ogre magi are slightly larger than their normal ogre brethren, but much more intelligent, capable of great cunning and wickedness. In addition to their great strength, they can fly (as the magic-user spell), create darkness, become invisible, and polymorph into any form from the size of a rat to a 12’ tall humanoid. Once per day they may cast charm person and sleep, assume gaseous form (like the potion), or create a cone of cold (like the magic wand). They are fond of magic items and will use any that come into their possession, instinctively knowing its powers.

Young Sphinx

Armor Class: -1………….No. Appearing 1 (1)
Hit Dice: 8**………….Save As: Magic-User 8
Movement: 150’ (50’)………….Morale: 10
Attacks: 2 Claws………….Treasure Type: E
Damage: 2D4/2D4………….Alignment: Neutral

The young sphinx is but a shadow of the creature she will one day become. Incredibly intelligent, she has the ability to cast spells as an 8th level magic-user and can also use the following spells, at will: detect magic, read magic, and detect invisible. Sphinxes read and speak all languages.

Her lion body, while powerful, is still young and she flies at the same rate as the normal movement. She is obsessed with puzzles, riddles, and trivia, and combat may be avoided with one simply by interesting her intense intellect.

White Plume Mountain, B/X Style (Part 1)

Mmm…post #200…has it been only three months? Less I guess. But having a chance to get my thoughts insta-published (not to mention have folks throw commentary like a monkey slinging…well, you know) has been fun.

Plus, it’s led me places I wasn’t expecting to go. Originally the idea was to write about my own RPG experiences (mainly past) and thoughts/critique about the subject. For posterity, you understand? So that when I start to forget things (more than I already do), there may be some record. Um…isn’t that kind o what a blog is all about?

For Post #200, though, I might as well go back to my roots…well the roots of this blog anyway, started SO LONG AGO (in June…jeez!). I’ll make this as easy as possible:

This post is freely distributable as non-copyright material as a free conversion of the Lawrence Schick “adventure module” White Plume Mountain (initially published by TSR, later re-published by Wizards of the Coast). These notes include only conversion notes for use with the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh (“B/X”) Dungeons and Dragons adventure game, as well as compatible game systems like Frank Mentzer’s Basic & Expert set or Daniel Proctor’s Labyrinth Lord; they are not an intended infringement of TSR or Wizards of the Coast copyright and they are not meant for commercial use. In order to use these conversion notes you will need to FIRST own or purchase a copy of the original copyrighted material and maps, freely available at Wizards of the Coast’s web site.


NOTES FOR ENTIRE ADVENTURE MODULE: Because of the moisture and condensation in the dungeon, most areas (except where stairs lead upwards) have a foot of warm, muddy water filling them. This water reduces movement by one-third on all situations and makes it very difficult to keep silent, run (without falling), or depend on invisibility (as a character will be given away by foot-shaped holes!).

Every two turns, the DM should check for wandering monsters. There are few monsters in the area (only encountered on a 1 in 12 roll), but those found have been entirely indoctrinated by the arch-mage Keraptis and are immune to charm spells or the PCs’ powers of persuasion. The DM should keep this in mind when making Reaction rolls for monsters found. The following table should be used when the dice indicate a monster has been encountered (roll 1D6):

1. Black Pudding (HD 10*, Hps 45, page X29/LL65): doing its best to keep the dungeon clean of trash and remains.
2. 5 Bugbears (HD 3+1, Hps 19, 15, 13, 12, 10, page B32/LL61): hired muscle sent on menial step-and-fetch duties for the dungeon denizens; resentful.
3. 2 Gargoyles (HD 4, Hps 21, 19, page B35/LL75): probably ‘sleeping,’ acting like hideous statues. If they surprise the party they will come to life with the party in their midst…otherwise will be groggy in their first round.
4. Invisible Stalker (HD 8*, Hps 33, page X34/LL82): this is the wizard Keraptis’ right-hand “man servant” and has been sent on an important mission. It will never surrender to the party nor betray Keraptis.
5. 3 Ogres (HD 4+1, Hps 21, 18, 17, page B40/LL89): more hired muscle, but better paid and with a bit of swagger. They will attempt to engage the party in a place where they will not be “bottle-necked.”
6. 2 Wights (HD 3*, Hps 18, 15, page B44/LL101): slain adventures, experimented and brought to hideous “life” by Keraptis. They will attack the living with no remorse.

It is recommended that no wandering monster encounter be used more than once.

All encounters below correspond to the numbered areas on the original map. No description will be noted unless necessary to explain a trap or trick of the encounter area. Page references for monsters are provided as “B” for the Moldvay Basic set, “X” for the Cook/Marsh Expert set, or “LL” for the Labyrinth Rulebook.

1. No encounter notes.

2. Access to the three-way corridor is blocked by a young sphinx (HD 8**, Hps 38, see New B/X Monster section at the end of this document) and a mysterious wall of invisible force (the wall may be defeated by a dispel magic, passwall, or disintegrate spell). The bedraggled sphinx squats in the muck of the corridor on the opposite side. If the party can answer the sphinx’s riddle, she will dispel the wall and allow the adventurers to pass. If they defeat the wall through another means, she will attack.

3. A huge patch of green slime (HD 8*, Hps 38, B36/LL79) lays on the floor of this corridor a length of nearly 20’. As it is under the water, it will probably not be detected until it has eaten through the PCs boots and started on their toes! Flaming oil will be ineffective on the slime as it oil will simply float on the water, though a fireball will still wipe it out.

4. The door to this room appears to be a simple iron-bound door, but upon entry it will slam shut, locking the PCs in the room. The door is entirely impervious to any type of magic, may not be forced in any fashion, and will only open to the proper key.

Each globe on the ceiling is easily shattered, dropping their contents into the much. In order they contain:

1. 3 Shadows (HD 2+2*, Hps 12, 10, 9, B41/LL93), 300 worthless lead coins, and a fake key.
2. Potion of gold dragon control, and a fake key.
3. A necklace worth 12,000gp, a fake key, and an enraged air elemental (HD 8*, Hps 33, X31/L73) which immediately attacks!
4. Ring of telekinesis, and a fake key.
5. 11 glass gems (worthless), and a fake key.
6. Fake, paste and glass jewelry and a fake key, entirely obscured by the gray ooze (HD 3*, Hps 16, B36/LL78) covering them.
7. Wand of paralyzation (1 charge) and a fake key.
8. Real key and the fantastic ring.
9. Six 100gp gems and a fake key.

5. This room contains five Bone Golems (HD 8, Hps 30, X33/LL78) each numbered as provided. Unlike typical bone golems, these only have two arms apiece. If the answer to their riddle is guessed correctly, the golem chosen will serve the party faithfully (as a henchman with Morale 12). Otherwise, all five golems attack .

6. This space is blocked by a steel turnstile that turns only one way (forward). The PCs will have to somehow destroy it to move back through the corridor (a bone golem or creature with giant strength can easily do so; a PC with gauntlets of ogre power has a 40% chance to break the turnstile). There is no monster present.

7. PCs will need to use their wits to make their way across this cavern. Falling into the mud 50’ below will result in the character taking 3D6 damage from the fall and 2D10 damage every round as the character is boiled alive. Geyser A erupts every five minutes, and geyser B every three minutes. Characters on a disk adjacent to an erupting geyser must roll a strength check at -5 (see page X51), or be washed off the disk. Characters not on adjacent disk must also make strength checks, but they receive a +1 to their roll for every disk removed between them and the geyser.

PCs also take damage from the boiling mud of an erupting geyser: 4D10 at the point of eruption and reduced one step for each ten feet of distance: 4D8, 4D6, 4D4, 2D4, and 1D4 if at least 50’ away. The algal scum in this cavern is faintly phosphorescent, giving an eerie illumination to the entire chamber.

8. This chamber is clouded by a continual darkness spell. Ctenmiir is a standard vampire (HD 8**, Hps 40, X41/LL99), though one compelled to stay and guard the hammer, Whelm. Being a chaotic creature, he will not wield the weapon, but will do his best to thwart others from taking it.

In a niche beneath the vampires coffin is the following treasure: 10,000sps and 9000gps in six leather sacks, two potions (ESP and black dragon control), and a scroll with the magic-user spells ventriloquism, dispel magic, and teleport.

Whelm is a Lawful +3 Warhammer (+5 when wielded by a dwarf)with an intelligence of 15, and an ego of 18. Its purpose is to slay trolls, giants, and goblins (including bugbears, thouls, and hobgoblins). If wielded by a dwarf it returns when thrown, and it always detects the presence of gold, gems, and goblins (60’ range). Once per day it may be struck on the ground, sending out a shockwave that stuns all opponents (cannot move, attack, or cast spells) within 60’ that fail a save vs. spells; the stun lasts 1D4 rounds. The wielder of Whelm acquires acute agoraphobia (fear of open spaces) and will fight at -2 to attack when not indoors or underground. It is obvious that Whelm is a dwarven weapon.

9. At the bottom of this ten-foot deep pool may be a found a valve wheel. Although it may only be turned by characters with a combined strength of 36, doing so opens several tubes that will drain out all the water in the corridors within 10 turns. Also at the bottom of the pit is a secret door (only discoverable with a detect magic spell) that leads to Keraptis’ Indoctrination Center (see END NOTE).

10. The creatures inhabiting this room are two Kelpies (HD 5*,Hps 26, 27; see New B/X Monster section at the end of this document. They will attempt to charm male characters. Section C of this area is the kelpies’ lair containing 600gps, a tiara worth 2000gps, and a suit of chain mail +3 in excellent condition). Section D contains nothing.

11. This corridor contains thirty feet of a spinning cylinder, coated in slippery oil, and rotating at a constant 8 miles per hour. It is possible to slide through it, but no one can keep their footing while crossing it.

12. Watching though a spy hole at the end of this passage is the fighter Burket (AC 4, HD 4, Hps 18, +2 to hit and damage for 17 Strength). He waits till parties are halfway through the cylinder and then fires a flaming arrow to ignite the oil of the cylinder (damage is 2-16 the first round and 1-4 every subsequent round, burning a total of 2-8 rounds). He then closes the spy hole and moves to guard the door with sword and shield while warning Snarla of the invaders.

Snarla is a 7th level magic-user and a lycanthrope (AC 9, HD 7**, Hps 17). Her memorized spells are: Magic missile, shield, sleep, phantasmal force, web, dispel magic, haste, confusion. If Burket is killed or she is caught and cornered, she transforms into hew wolf form (AC 5, HD 4*, Hps 26, B38/LL84). The only treasure in this room is Snarla’s spell book (contains the same spells she’s memorized).

13. This room is disguised by a phantasmal force to appear sumptuous, when in reality it is rather plain. The chest holds Snarla’s treasure: 400eps, 300gps, 6 gems worth 200gps each, and one gem worth 100gps.

14. While theses iron doors are shut, they open easily by pushing so long as they are not holding back any water from area 15-17 (they are emergency doors to prevent flooding to the rest of the dungeon). From the north they have handles that likewise allow ease in pulling.

15. No encounter notes.

16. No encounter notes.

17. Giant crab (AC 0, HD 15, Hps 60, #Attacks 2 claws, Damage 3-18/3-18, Alignment Neutral). On the creature’s left claw it wears a rune scribed band of copper that renders it immune to all mind-affecting magic. The band is only attuned to the crab and is worthless to anyone else.

The membrane of the chamber may be easily punctured by most any sharp object (missed arrows and sword thrusts for instance). A person who makes a hole in melee will 1D4 damage from a jet of scalding hot water, and major gashes (from an axe or two-handed sword, for example) will cause the chamber to collapse in 1D6 rounds, boiling and drowning those without fire resistance and water breathing ability. Spells like fireball and lightning bolt will have a similar effect.

The heavy chest attached to the floor at the north end of the chamber contains the following treasure: 1000gps in small sacks, 3 large gems (two worth 1000gps, one worth 5000gps), a pearl necklace worth 4000gps, a ring of djinni summoning, and a wand of cold (with 17 charges). The chest also contains Wave.

Wave is a Neutral trident +3 (does damage as a spear). It has an intelligence of 14, an ego of 20, and the purpose of causing death or disfigurement to any that will not worship the sea god Poseidon. It possesses both speech and telepathy, allows water breathing (as the spell) on the caster, and acts as a potion of control animals (though only aquatic animals). When rolling a natural (unmodified) “20” on an attack roll, it dehydrates its target, draining one-half of the victims remaining hit points (calculated AFTER normal damage). Once per day, Wave can create a sphere of force around the wearer (and those standing close by) that prevents any and all attacks, physical or magical, from penetrating; this effect lasts 6 turns and can only be destroyed by a wish or disintegrate spell. Wave will communicate this ability to potential converts of the sea god, and it may be used to save PCs from boiling to death in a collapsing bubble!

(continued in Part 2)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Better Than Expected (Companion Quick Update)

Wow…I just might pull this off.

I’ve got a full third of the monsters written up (twenty-five) and the formatted page count is just a paragraph over 5. That means probably 16-17 pages total for monsters after editing, intro stuff and a few (small) illustrations. And I may leave some of the monsters on the cutting room floor, anyway (do I really need a one-eyed-one-horned-flying-purple-people-eater, or “Oeohflyppe” as I was calling it? No, there is a line to be drawn at “delightful whimsy”).

That being said, the editing is already pretty tight…and I don’t want the formatting to be so small as to be difficult to read.

Still and all, 64 pages definitely looks do-able, even with the (assumed) illustrations added. Right now, the B/X Companion table of contents is shaping up like this:

- Cover page and forward – 2 pages
- Part 1: Introduction – 1 page
- Part 2: Player Character Information – 3 pages
- Part 3: Spells – 10 pages
- Part 4: The Adventure – 4 pages (this might be wishful thinking)
- Part 5: The Encounter – 8 pages (including mass combat)
- Part 6: Monsters – 16 pages
- Part 7: Treasure – 10 pages (may leave off the B/X treasure tables)
- Part 8: DM Information – 7 pages (including Dominion rules; no wandering monster tables)
- Part 9: Special Adventures – 2 pages (may cut down to 1)

Total page count: 63, giving me the choice of adding an extra page to Monsters (more illos!) or adding in a re-worked treasure lists (don’t want to infringe on any copyrights!).

By the way…checked out the old list of WotC product identity to make sure I know which toes NOT to step on. Pleasantly surprised to see the term “DM” isn’t there even if “Dungeon Master” is. I guess DM can stand for a lot of things: from Dimension Master to Demon Master.

I suppose in my game it will be “DRAGON MASTER.” You heard it here first! Copyright JBeazie, MY product identity.

Of the monsters listed as "product identity," none are any I’m particularly worried about. My naga are more like yuan-ti than the naga as presented in the MM, and I’m semi-considering leaving my CHUD-like umberhulks out all together. But I can do without beholders, mind flayers, and gith (I don’t have space for psionics), and the carrion crawler and displacer beast are already in B and X respectively.

Oh…and I have no idea what a “gauth,” “tanar’ri,” or “baatezu” are. Actually I think I had tanari chicken at the Indian restaurant last week…and isn’t there a batsu sauce used in some sorts of Japanese tempura? Some kind of food monsters, apparently (WotC: eating YOUR money).

Just so folks know, I have a busy weekend planned with the following priorities: sleep, wife, and writing. Blarging is not on the list, and I have moved my day off from Monday to Friday starting this week, so don’t expect my usual 5-10 Monday posts. Frankly, I’m most excited for my little project's completion…hopefully, I’ll have completed the rough draft in the next few days so that I can polish it up over next weekend when I head back to Montana for Labor Day (probably WILL go to a used bookstore while there, though not THE used book store of my childhood; THAT one is in Missoula (if it still exists) and I will be up in Polson; my grandmother has a cabin on Flathead Lake). Montana is wonderful and I always find it relaxing and rejuvenating (well, less so since we started taking the beagles…there’s no fenced yard!), and I am almost as excited about the trip as I am about completing my game.

Hmmm…’course I should probably get some WORK work done before I go. All right, that’s enough for now!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daylight Come And Me Wanna' Go Home...

After last night’s sushi-inspired post (the wife and I singing Little Mermaid songs on the way home from the restaurant certainly contributed as well), I nearly didn’t come into work today. Half a bottle o wine and less than six hours o sleep just kills me…but I did make it in, and on time, too.

Not that I have been anything but worthless this morning. Fortunately staff meetings have occupied most of my time…otherwise I have just been surfing Dragonsfoot forums (thank god I didn’t go through these BEFORE I began my Companion project…I never would have started! So many opinions, so many BECMI and Mentzer fans, so many house rules and different ways to play! Ugh…I truly wonder what kind of interest this little project will generate when completed…).

Mmm…staff meetings.

Gotta’ admit, it’s difficult to come up with substantive posts when my brain is full and my body is on auto-pilot. My fingers want to type, but putting things together in a coherent fashion is a challenge. Ah, well…one of the things I’m working on in this present life incarnation is NOT allowing perfectionist perceptions to stall me from action. It’s one of the great reasons my 64 page Companion is such a nice little exercise…I am forced to leave things on the cutting room floor, hopefully making it better.

Huh…just noticed that some people have been commenting on my sushi post…very kind of them. This is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. I’ve been trying to write up the Ponaturi forever, but the idea was daunting. So many amphibious humanoids already lurking around the D&D world after all…bullywugs, locathah (the REAL murlocs), lizard men even. I knew what I wanted, but how to get there in a simple way, still leaving room for other DMs to use the critter as their own?

Well, it’s down in writing now (“copyright JBeezie,” as my brother would say). Now I can move on to greater undead, I suppose.

Ugh…I am looking forward to sleeping a bit tonight, maybe even this afternoon if I can swing it. As my blog swiftly approaches its 200th post (not to worry, I have something already in mind, though NOT Companion-related) I can’t help but be slightly amazed/amused/disgusted at the hundred o pages linked under the Blackrazor title bar…if I’d bother putting together an outline or two, I could probably bang out a paperback novel in the same length of time. Ah, well…we all have different strengths and mine is running my brain in random RPG thoughts.

Wow…it’s already lunch time. Think I’ll grab a Quiznos.

: )

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Under the Sea! Under the Sea!

Dudes, these monsters are the same damn thing.  Just because highly creative artists have attempted to illustrate them differently doesn't mean they're not.

Gygax's Kuo-Toa are basically nothing more than a re-worked Sahuagin (the latter NOT a creation of Dave Arneson per Gary, though their first appearance in D&D IS in the Blackmoore supplement). The wikipedia states Gygax claimed them as a creation of Steve Marsh, but I can't help but this, like EGG's own fish-men, may have been an attempt (in part) to help bury or sublimate another o Dave's creations.

[nah, I'm not a conspiracy theorist, and I generally give Gary the benefit o the doubt, but business is business, right?]

Let's compare, shall we?

Armor class 5 or AC 4. Hit dice 2+2 (or more), HD 2 (or more)...both continue to grow in size with age. Sahuagin "wear a harness to carry their personal gear and weapons;" Kuo-Toa wear "only leather harnesses for their weapons and a small amount of personal gear." Spears, daggers, nets, crossbows and tridents for one group...spears, daggers, nets, short bows and harpoons for the other; PLUS gluey shields and pincer staffs for the Kuo-Toa. Both have aversions to sunlight, both are amphibious, both capture humans for slaves, sport, and sacrifice.  Both have cleric-priests, culture, extensive histories of bad blood with creatures of the surface world. Both have sharp teeth for when they get in close and personal.

Of course, Gygax's Kuo-Toa are over complicated (IMO) by the addition of character classes to the monster. Oh...and they can join hands and shoot lightning

Now the reason I'm looking at these critters at all is because I want something like the Sahuagin or the Kuo-Toa in my game. I LIKE both of these monsters (well, except maybe the whole lightning thing...I forgot all about that!), and a semi-barbaric/semi-civilized race of evil aquatic beings bent on world domination (or at least bent towards making the surface dwellers miserable) is immensely pulpy and fantastic.  In other words, it's imperative (again, my opinion) to include some sort of amphibious, diabolically organized humanoid.

Lovecraft's Deep Ones are barbaric and organized and they, too, have their own weird religion and priest caste (if you can call their particular form of ancestor worship the same as a clerical religion).  The Call of Cthulhu RPG gives them a spear attack or claw. I also dig the whole human/Deep One-hybrid thing.  In addition to being exceedingly creepy, it's a twisted version of the classic halfling- (i.e. half-human/fae, not hobbit) or changeling-type of folk tale.

Now, it's been written that the Kuo-Toans are Gary's homage to HPL's Deep Ones, and that the Sahuagin are based on the Maori folklore of the under-sea goblin the Ponaturi.  Whether or not Lovecraft's Deep Ones are modeled after the Ponaturi is a whole different, as is the story that Sahuagin are based on an episode of the Super Friends cartoon (I watched the Super Friends as a kid and I don't remember cannibalistic underwater dwellers...maybe I've suppressed the memory?).

Anyway, for my B/X Companion I'm doing a combo-pastiche of all these critters. For the sake of Hasbro and Chaosium's intellectual property, I'm naming 'em after the historic legend...oh, and I'm leaving out the lightning bolts.

From Part 6: Monsters (B/X Companion):


Armor Class: 4.............No. Appearing: 1-6 (6-36)
Hit Dice: 2+2.............Save As: Fighter 3
Move: 150' (50').............Morale: 11
Attack: 2 or 1 Weapon.............Treasure Type: M
Damage: 3-6/3-6 or 1D8+2.............Alignment: Chaotic

Ponaturi are an ancient race of evil, amphibious humanoids that live in the deepest depths of the ocean or undersea caverns. They can breathe both air and water, but generally only venture to the surface world to collect humans for food, sport, slaves, and sacrifice. On land, their movement is only 90' (30').

The ponaturi live for hundreds of years and grow larger and  stronger with age. An average adult ponaturi is over 6' tall; the oldest are more than 21' tall and have 17+17 hit dice and do 12-24 points of damage with each claw attack (each extra foot of height adding an extra 1+1 to hit dice; each extra 5' of height multiplies damage by one additional factor). They save as fighters of the same HD plus one (except clerics, see below).

Ponaturi live in large cities far from the eyes of the surface world. They have clerics (spell level equal to hit dice, add one * to hit dice for every 2 or fraction of 2 spell levels), and war parties of 20+ individuals will generally have a cleric of level 3-8, plus a leader of HD 5-9. Ponaturi have webbed claws, scaly hides, and dead black, shark-like eyes that allow them to see well in the dark but make them vulnerable to light (-1 to hit and saves in even torch light, -2 in full daylight). When armed, they generally wield harpoon-like spears, barbed nets, and large serrated daggers.

I Claim Thee in the Name of the Toad!

I was reading Ryan’s SVP post today and just remembered I wanted to recount something.

About five weekends ago I journeyed into an abandoned (by civilized folk) dwarf mine in the guise of the B/X cleric Diomedes. The session log can be found here.

However, for whatever reason the dungeon itself really resonated with my character, a priest of a “Toad God.” After completing the exploration of the upper level, I decided that the place would make an ideal location for a temple-stronghold.

Sure, it would take a little work to get it up and running (a rickety bridge would need to be replaced, new furnishings added, kicked-in doors re-built). But for the most part, the place was of good dwarvish construction, had its own water supply, was located only a day from civilization (a little out-of-the way from curious travelers, but not inconvenient for obtaining supplies). Plus the waterfall and underground pond/river, and the small pool outside all said, “great-place-to-worship-amphibious-deity” to me.

I staked my claim and told the other players I fully intended on re-furbishing the place as a new Toad Temple. Once the place was completely cleansed of “infidels,” that is.

Unfortunately, Diomedes died during our last session, and my new wandering wastrel thief has no intention of settling down anywhere, at present.

But the incident raised the question: why SHOULDN’T PCs claim empty dungeons as strongholds?

After all, strongholds are expensive to build…both in time and treasure. Plus (from a player point of view), the damn thing has to be designed, and I’m not much of an architect. If an existing dungeon is in serviceable or semi-serviceable condition, why not clean it up and hang your flag out the front door?

As kids, whenever we completed a dungeon (not all that often), we would generally collapse it, blow it up, or burn it down. The place would be in shambles…fireballs and lightning bolts destroying support structures, blood and guts strewn everywhere. But one would think that with the money saved in construction costs, you could hire a cleaning crew, right?

Now of course not every dungeon makes a good fortress-stronghold. Cave warrens are terrible, dank places, fit only for folks of orcish blood. Many ruined cities are far off in the middle of no-man’s land, too far away from civilization to be of use (X1 and I1 I’m looking at you). Other dungeons may already fall within the domain of a ruler (usually the same ruler that hired you to clean out the complex in the first place).

But others are downright perfect. The hidden fortress “Q” in B1: In Search of the Unknown is an excellent example; heck, it was designed BY adventurers FOR adventurers (just hope said adventurers don’t return after you set up shop). The dwarf mine was excellent. The moat house from T1 and the haunted keep from Moldvay’s Basic set might work as well, once their exterior damage was repaired.

The secret lair of the Veiled Society in Specularum (module B6) would make an excellent hide-out for a gang of thieves; after all, this is what it was for the Veiled Society! The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief might seem a bit on the big size, but one could probably install interior walls and smaller doors…the other giant lairs are probably a bit too far from civilized lands.

Anyway, this idea JUST dawned on me a few weeks ago (as I said, in the past we never worried about cleaning up the blood and bodies), but you better believe that from now on I’ll be scouting the real estate value of every dungeon I delve. A fellow PC of our on-line campaign “claimed” the second dungeon we explored in Session 2 (a tower and stable about a day’s journey from the dwarf mine) and I can see this as a trend of things to come. For those character types that build strongholds, why not build on the remains of ancient ruins?

Isn’t that the idea behind mega-dungeons anyway? Multiple owners/inhabitants building layer after layer of dungeon? The PCs have now joined the Campaign Ecology!

: )

Something Wicked This Way Comes…

I’ve been thinking a bit about witches this morning, due in no small part to Helena Bonham Carter’s excellent turn as Bellatrix Lestrange in the Hairy Bottom films…I’ve been a fan of her neurotic character portrayals ever since Room With A View, but Bellatrix certainly has that Goth-rocker chick look that is so fetching even as it is ruthlessly malevolent. In other words, Carter makes an excellent witch.

[side note: is every British actor with some name recognition going to make an appearance in the Potter films? I mean really…about the only ones they’re missing are Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and Julian Sands (Warlock), which I suppose is understandable. I fully expect Jeremy Irons and Hellen Mirren to show up in the last installment…though of course Irons already played a wizard in that stinky Dungeons & Dragons movie, so I suppose he’s out, too. Boy THAT’s worth a post of its own!]

So, anyway, witches…where the hell are they? In D&D, I mean.

Now of course I refer to pre-D20 editions; I’m sure there are at least a half-dozen “witches” with various adjectives attached to their names (“blood witch,” “bog witch,” “sand witch,” etc.) floating around the various D20 tomes. But in earlier editions we find REFERENCES to witches without any actual witches!

To me this appears to be an over-sight…the question is was it deliberate or not? Oh sure, you might simply assume a witch is a “female magic-user” or even an “EVIL female magic-user,” but nowhere in the description of magic-users do I find any reference to witches. Moldvay’s basic set names Merlin the Magician as an example magic-user, but that guy was a wizard not a witch.

Um…at least I distinguish wizards and witches as two different things. With all due respect to Hairy Bottom fans, I grew up thinking the male witch was a “warlock” not a wizard; I owe this more to watching many, many syndicated episodes of Bewitched as a child, not D&D.

Though I DO note that the 6th level magic-user title in the Cook/Marsh expert set is Warlock/Witch (Cook and Marsh must have watched Bewitched, too). Of course, this is the only place I find where witch is mentioned as a level title for magic-user (2nd edition has none, OD&D and AD&D don’t use it, and BECMI leaves off all female level titles…apparently women had stopped playing D&D by the time Mentzer released his rule set; such a shame).

Not that it makes a lot of sense for a 6th level magic-user to be a “witch” anyway. In fairy tales and folklore (AND J.K. Rowling books!) witches are especially known for their ability to transform others and themselves (you know, princes into frogs or changing themselves into dragons). Certainly you’d think a magic-user would need to master the polymorph spell (at least one of them) prior to taking up the title of “witch.” But polymorph (self or other) is a 4th level spell…and magic-users don’t gain access to 4th level spells until the 7th level.

Hmm…this reminds me that I never did overhaul the magic-user level titles, as I did with both the cleric and the fighter. I’ll have to get back to this one day.

So, sure…one could say a “witch” in D&D (at least according to Cook/Marsh) is a 6th level magic-user. But I don’t think this is the best way to consider the class. After all, the witch is generally treated as a “monster” in the text of these early editions. Let’s look at the mentions of witches throughout D&D:

In OD&D we have no mention of the witch as a magic-user (in descriptive text or level titles); we DO see an illustration of a “beautiful witch” along with an “Amazon” (in LBB 3, I believe). Throughout most of the LBBs, these illustrations represent creatures on the monster list, though no witch is listed in LBB2, even as a suggested possible monster (at the end where they write about the possibility of robots and gelatinous cubes).

In Holmes D&D they mention that male characters with a high Charisma can escape transformation and be retained as a love slave; this is in the same paragraph where it is cited that female characters with a high charisma will be kept captive instead of be eaten by dragons (see? Dragon = Witch, i.e. monster).

In Moldvay’s Basic book we find references to Morgan Le Fay and Circe the Sorceress (classic antagonists) but no witches. I can’t help but think that if the polymorph spell had been present in the Basic set, Moldvay would have created a monster type called a “Witch” that used it. After all, Moldvay gave us the HD 2 Noble, the HD 1+1 Berserker, the HD 1 Bandit, and the ever esteemed Normal Man monsters. He seemed to have a good handle on not needing a particular type of human to equate with a particular class/level.

The Cook/Marsh Expert set DOES have polymorph, and even references a save versus polymorph (of which there is none in B/X, unlike AD&D).

AD&D…well, the Monster Manual DOES have Night Hags and Sea Hags, and I have always found “hag,” “crone,” and “witch” all to be interchangeable when it comes to fairy tales and folklore…take a look at Baba Yaga, for example. And speaking of Baba Yaga, her hut is also present in the DMG, though I don’t remember if it mentions her as being a hag (it might even refer to her as an arch-mage! I’ll have to check my DMG later…).

2nd edition AD&D of course has NO BALLS when it comes to anything that smacks of Satan, witchcraft, or El Diablo. However, the VERY interesting Return to White Plume Mountain, DOES include “the Witch Thingizzard” as a MONSTER, not a character class and is the closest thing to what I’m looking for.

In fact, I had both Night Hag and Sea Hag scheduled to go into my B/X Companion, and instead of making them knock-offs of the AD&D/BECMI versions, I may just make them knock-offs of Thingizzard and throw ‘em all under the “Crone/Hag/Witch” category (without designation of “Sea” or “Night” variety)! I think the rich, literary history of the wicked witch deserves a decent D&D monster, rather than a Vancian spell-slinger.

By the way: all apologies to the Wiccan community. I’ve known many Wiccans and self-professed Witches (who considered themselves different from the former), and all were fine upstanding folks with no Satanic human sacrifice or devil worship anywhere to be found (though the “witches” were raging alcoholics…). In the 21st century I’d guess that most folks would back away from the idea of witches as monsters so as not to offend followers of the Wiccan religion (well, except Kevin Siembieda), but for a pulpy game like D&D I think it is appropriate to have some corrupted individuals of the Brothers Grimm variety present. As I said…all apologies. I will probably NOT use the term "Crone" in my B/X Companion as I realize this is a sacred part of the life cycle in Wiccan tradition ("the wise grandma") and should not be correlated to the derogatory term “hag.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Harry Potter...Damn You Time Suckage!

Man, it's been a slow last few days around the blog-o-verse.  Guess everyone's hard at work on real writing projects (or at real jobs).

Me, I continue to slump towards post 200.

Saw the latest Harry Potter movie tonight with the wife on the IMAX. So many great movies out right now, and we haven't seen a film all summer (the last one we went to was Wolverine, and that was for Mother's Day 'cause my mom wanted to see her words, Hugh Jackman is "easy on the eyes"). Quite a good flick; not sure what people are complaining about.

I, of course, have read all the HP books. I actually got introduced to them a little after Book 4 was nephews (whom I  have recently introduced to B/X) gave the first book to my wife, and she gave it to me after she was done. And then I read all of 'em back-to-back (well, as they were published anyway). They aren't fantastically great, but I'm a completist...once I start a series I want to finish it, at least if there's anything to grab me at all.

So it's been a few years since I've read the Half-Blood Prince and it seems like they got the crux of the matter (if you'll forgive the cheap pun) all out on the screen. Very well done, and I even enjoy the young romance stuff as well (truth be told, I'd rather watch teenagers "snog" than Ralph Fiennes sans nose and hair...but that's just me, I guess).  

I had forgotten how much action and high-powered sorcery is in these last couple books. The whole deal with the horcruxes, some of these "advanced" potions, and a couple of the charms and enchanted items are all cool things that might well make their way into a future B/X campaign. Certainly, my nephews would appreciate taking on an un-killable lich like Voldemort (is he really a lich? Just soul-less, I that dude with his heart hid in the jar in I3: Pharaoh).

Anyway, like I said, a slow day...heck, a slow week!...around the blogs with little I feel like commenting on, even the comments on my own blog. I have been feeling very inspired of late and hope that I'll be able to knock out a few pages of the Monster chapter (I know, I know...I keep saying that! Well, I keep hoping, too!).  We'll see what tomorrow brings; right now, it's time to hit the hay.

Hasta Manana, amigos!

Ted Kennedy...Rest In Peace

The passing of yet another legend. 47 years in the Senate. A fighter for equal rights since the early days. A helluvan' American.

I wonder if his grandkids play D&D...probably not, huh?

So long, will be missed.

Jeez…Coming Together Quick Now

Went on a tear and put down all dominion rules (including some additional rules for character classes that don’t exercise dominion, specifically halflings and thieves). Can’t believe it was so simple (maybe I’m forgetting something) but it came out to just under two pages, double columned, with just enough room to add an illustration.

Man…what am I going to do about art for this mother?

I’m starting to get a bit worried about the page count. Even short-changing Part 2, 4, and 8 it is going to be way tight. I’ve pretty much decided that Mass Combat is going to go in the Encounter section (it’s just another type of Encounter after all), which means I can devote a simple 1-2 page Part 9 (Special Adventures) to something weird like other planes and dimensions…maybe a shout-out to John Carter’s Mars?

Realized there’s still some stuff to clean up in the Mass Combat section (including how XP is awarded) and things that need to be moved elsewhere (Smiths! Back to Part 4!).

It’s Part 6: Monsters that’s really making me nervous. I should probably complete that sooner rather than later, as I anticipate the page count to be the most problematic. Mmm…I may need to drop some critters from my Companion. Aaarrgh!

Monday, August 24, 2009

B/X Companion: Mass Combat Complete

For the most part, anyway. It's four pages right now (the formatting needs to be finalized) and I need to add a table, but I think I've captured all the rules I want to incorporate into my B/X Companion for mass combat.

Looking back at Mentzer, I see that his War Machine system was six pages long, not counting the additional siege rules added in the Master set.  I explained earlier what I was looking for in a mass combat system and I think I got it all captured, though I was hoping to get it completed in two pages, not four. Ugh...well, I'll just have to trim down other areas (or adjust the formatting more).

Let me run down my check list real quick:

Does luck matter? Yes.
Does strategy matter? Yes.
Do tactics matter? Yes (with regard to unit use).
Do numbers matter? Yes (depending on the types of unit).
Do the commander's Int, Wis, and Cha matter? Charisma definitely; Int and Wis sometimes.
Does AC and type of weapon matter? Yes.
Do mounts (or lack thereof) matter? Yes.
Does Morale matter? Absolutely.
Do different merc types make a difference? Yes (should make a note about orc/goblin penalties probably for ease of reference).
Is PC heroic action important? Yes.
Can it be run with miniatures or without? Yes.
Does it differ enormously from normal B/X combat? No.
Does it require a bunch of lists of bonuses and penalties? No.

Hmmm...pretty much everything I was looking for, still with plenty of room for DM arbitration and house rules.  Good, good.

I should probably get someone to review this for me and see if it makes sense to someone else's eyes. Any B/X players out there want to volunteer?

: )

Shit...More Insight

So I took the brainhex test (referenced here, here, and here so far).  I, of course, am a Mastermind-Conquerer...but I could have told you that from the beginning.

[back where I come, we call this combo the Class-A Asshole...or perhaps a triple Scorpio with Mars in Aries]

Here's what it says about me (hmm...):

Your BrainHex Class is Mastermind.

Your BrainHex ClassYour BrainHex Sub-Class is Mastermind-Conqueror.

You like solving puzzles and devising strategies as well as defeating impossibly difficult foes, struggling until you eventually achieve victory, and beating other players.

Each BrainHex Class also has an Exception, which describes what you dislike about playing games. Your Exceptions are:

» No Wonder: You dislike being asked to search for things, preferring clearly defined tasks. 
» No Mercy: You rarely if ever care about hurting other players' feelings - mercy is for the weak!

Learn more about your classes and exceptions at

Your scores for each of the classes in this test were as follows:

Now I have to say that a bit of this is bullshit, as I clearly care whether or not I hurt other folks' feelings. At the same time, from my behavior I understand it can APPEAR that I don't care. Certainly, I have a higher threshold of tolerance for things like character death than some folks do (it IS just a game, after all), but I recognize that not everyone shakes things off as quickly (my wife for one!) and being cognizant of this, I also have compassion for it. 

Also, there must be some interest in "wonder" in my life, or otherwise wouldn't I simply be working two jobs, trying to make as much money as possible in order to afford my coke and whores?
; )

That being said, I certainly prefer to dominate my foes (i.e. kick their ass) then "scrape out victories." And if I can devise a plan to do this masterfully, so much the better (though I'd settle for simply steamrollering folks like an unstoppable juggernaut...I should post some of my computer RPG characters). I'm not much of a stealthy, "Splinter Cell" type guy...I'm more of a blunt force trauma kinda' dude.

Hey, we're all different, right?
: )

***EDIT: As a side note, I notice that I only have a one point difference between Mastermind and Conquerer making my "power animals" (or whatever) Octopus and Shark...the Sharkatupus really (I should add that to my B/X Companion monster list).  Of all the games listed that I would "most enjoy playing" the only one I've actually played is Halo (once) and it was friggin' awful...I HATE FPS games more than I hate 2nd Edition AD&D, and that's saying something!***

Back In The Saddle (sans horse)

Well, Pat provided me with a new set of ability scores, and I've provided his campaign with a new can check out the post here, if you're interested.

All characters in Pat's game start with 2501 XP and max hit points for their 1st hit dice roll. I was fortunate enough to roll a couple more 4s to go with the 1st, and adding it all together I have half-again as many hit points as my first (dead) cleric character.

HOWEVER, this one I've made every attempt to make as base and self-serving as possible, going so far as to draw inspiration from the works of Shakespeare (of course, some may remember that W.S.'s Falstaff failed to live to a ripe, old age...ah well).

Being a lightly armored thief, I fully intend to skulk in the back of the party as much as humanly possible.  I mentioned before that Diomedes was my first attempt EVER at playing a cleric in any edition of the game. Well, Falstaff will be my first attempt at a thief character (bards...yes. I considered actually making more of a 2nd edition style bard (basically a thief with a ukulele), but decided I'd rather just have a fat "F" of an adventurer instead and the uke would simply be too ridiculous for words.

Not that Falstaff isn't plenty ridiculous on his own....

In Search of Module B1

In my earlier post about the Holmes Basic set, I mentioned that the adventure module B1: In Search of the Unknown had always intrigued me, mainly because 1) I was never able to locate a copy and 2) I couldn't figure out why my Basic set (the Moldvay version) came with B2 as the introductory module. Wouldn't it make more sense to include B1 as the introductory module to the Basic set? Of course, at the time I was unaware there had already been a Basic D&D set.

So now, I've had a chance to read and consider B1, taking into account prior experiences and adventures, as well as the differences between Holmes, Moldvay, etc. And having considered all that, despite not yet running/playing B1, I can safely say:

This is an excellent module.

Now, of course I can't bump it onto my top ten list (since one of the criteria is that I must have played it...either as a DM or grade it). But there's a distinct possibility it could land on the upper echelon if I ever DO have the chance to run it.

And here's the reason I give it such high marks. It's not because of its "re-play factor" with its semi-random monster/treasure coding; I've seen this kind of thing before with TSR introductory modules, specifically Top Secret's TS:0.

It's not because of its low gradient of challenge, excellent for 1st level characters (probably moreso than B2, even).

Rather, it's the adventure itself. The objective of B1 is not "unknown" at all; it is very specific: the mysterious stronghold of a pair high-level adventurers that have gone missing. The party finds a map to the adventurers' hidden lair and decide to ransack it while the "cat's away." Basically, the adventurers are in the business to do a bit of house-breaking and petty larceny. How punk rock is that?

Then the adventure itself: the stronghold "Q" that the PCs burgle is set up in all ways except the stocking of monsters and treasure. This is a dungeon that "makes sense;" the rooms are the bedrooms, labs, trophy chambers, and barracks of the high level adventurers, their henchmen, their mistresses. Store rooms and armories, as well as the occasional trap or magical experimentation room are all logically placed. I imagine that exploring Q is very much like going through the mansion of some rich, paranoid, eccentric. Each room is excellently detailed, including a few hard-to-move items of value that carry the consequence of allowing their owners to track any would-be thieves (should said owners ever return)...tons of actual role-playing consequences inherent in an introductory adventure!

The best part about something like this is that is eminently scalable. The owners of stronghold Q are never detailed. Since there are no set encounters, it is easy enough to add higher level challenges to the game (bugbears instead of orcs, purple worms instead of carrion crawlers, etc.). For mid-level adventurers, simply adding a "0" onto the end of treasures found would probably be enough to make the module worth their while. Maybe the owners of the stronghold are levels 9 and 10, maybe they're levels 20 and 21...the adventure background and room descriptions can be used "as is" and the monsters simply geared to match the PCs expectation. That's the real "re-play" value of B1.

Anyway, I dig it a lot. I may very well pull the adventurers in my B2 campaigns (my wife and nephews) to send them off "in search of the unknown." It would seem to be a fairly short delve, easily cleared out (assuming they don't get lost in one of the several magical traps that abound), and one that would give them a decent boost in XP and treasure prior to their return to the Caves of Chaos.

Very cool...I am glad I picked it up.

Killing Giants Is My Business...And Business Is Good!

I said earlier that I was going to explain why I don't include G1-3: Against the Giants in my top ten list of all-time favorite adventures, and this is that post.

Let me say right off the bat, that I like the G's definitely up there in the top 15 or so. I've run it at least four or five times (twice completely, once only as G2: Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl).  For a straight up dungeon crawl, it is excellent and a pretty damn tough challenge.

Heck, I even attempted to convert it to D20 when I first got my hands on D&D 3.  Easy enough, except the encounter levels are waaaay out of range of an 8th - 10th level party (even a LARGE party). And the conversions I've seen that nerf the treasure level (to keep in line with the standard D20 fare)...ick. What would a giant chieftain do with only a paltry handful of gold coins. Totally bogus, in my opinion.

OH...and the conversions I've seen remove the Hammer of Thunderbolts. What the F?!

G1-3 is a great "hack and slash" dungeon. Seven levels of monsters of the meanest stripe (GIANTS!) plus assorted beast and DRAGONS.  You really can't complain if you're a DM looking for a fun adventure romp for high level characters.

Let's talk about giants for a moment.  As a monster, one would usually think to encounter them in 1s and 2s. Heck, the oldest fairy tales and modern fantasy include giants as antagonists, but I can't think of a single literary reference where you find more than one at a time. And even for a party of low to mid level characters, a single giant (depending on the type) can be a challenge. A fire giant?  Immune to most of a magic-users offensive spells (the fire ones, in other words) one of those big boys requires A LOT of chopping due to their high hit point totals.

And WHILE the party is chopping away, the fire giant (or any giant) is going to inflict a tremendous amount of damage. High hit dice means a high percentage chance to hit, and of course the damage per blow can be devastating (especially for pre-D20 D&D PCs where hit dice/Constitution bonuses usually ends at level 9, save for some bonus hit points).

Now look at the giant as a society. A tribe or stronghold filled with these behemoths. Holy smokes!

It's like Gygax said, "All right Robilar, you want me to write-up a dungeon crawl for you even though you're 23rd level and outfitted to the teeth with magic items? Try THIS on for size!"

And that's how I like to run the G a super dungeon ROMP for high level characters. Sure, sure...the party can plot and plan and adopt a cautious strategy for waging a battle of attrition against the giants (such is even suggested in G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief). But I prefer the gung ho/gonzo style of blasting their way through group after group of heavily armed opposition in a frantic frenzy of carnage, occasionally finding respite in a random empty room (though I can recall a certain party that used a "hamster ball" tactic with an Ottiluke's resilient sphere to great effect as a method of escaping a particularly brutal encounter in G3: Hall of the Fire Giant King).

The war of attrition may be more "winnable" for lower level characters (I have NOT necessarily found this to be the case), but it is also drawn out and BORING. It's one thing to have PCs retreating from an excursion, resting up, and heading back down into unknown depths.  It is quite another when they know about 85% of what they expect to find ("oh, whadya' know...ANOTHER squad of giants...").

That isn't to say G1-3 isn't worth playing, even for those mid-level 8th to 10th level characters. There are some great tricks, traps, and treasure, not to mention GIANTS and DRAGONS the epitome of fantasy adventure of any stripe.  G1-3 also introduces one of my favorite Gygax created NPCs of all time...not King Snurre or even Eclavdra, but Obmi the Dwarf.  This little runt is so downright mean, vicious, and despicable that he's practically a one-dwarf justification for multi-class all by himself (Obmi is a fighter/thief). His inclusion is one of several things that prevents me from converting the modules to a B/X or Labyrinth Lord format (would even a 12th level Dwarf lord really do him justice? Maybe).

G1-3 is one of the last modules I found in that Montana used book store, and I know this because I'd already discovered Obmi in Gary Gygax's Gord the Rogue books. Finding the NPC in the Giant modules was one helluva' "Easter Egg" for me, and I couldn't wait to sic the dirty little bugger on my PCs.  However, I strangely cannot recall any actual fights between Obmi and my PCs...either they turned out anti-climactic, or he got avoided all together. I just can't remember off-hand.

Anyway, G1-3 is a great series, and I'd be tempted to include it at #10 except for the fact that it is sooooo long.  For some folks, it makes an excellent mini-campaign by itself (assuming you have the PCs or at least the pre-gens for it). For me to include it in my Top 10, I need a slightly smaller scope.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Goddamn Heroics

So as I mentioned yesterday, I died last night.

That is to say, my cleric died in session #3 of Pat's B/X campaign

It's been a long time since I've had a character die in a D&D campaign.  I have to admit, it does irritate me a bit.

But we'll get to that in a moment. To be honest there are several reasons why it's "been a long time." For one thing, I haven't played in a whole lot of D&D games (maybe half a dozen in the last 20 years, though I might be forgetting a few "one-off" games). For another, throughout my entire "gaming career," I've more often been a DM than a player.  This is a control thing as much as anything else...I really have to fight my urges to cite rules or otherwise be a "rules lawyer" when playing a game. One of the things I had such difficulty with when playing in D20 games (as a player) was that I knew the game better than the DMs...D20 is not a game that requires much in the way of "house rules" so it's irritating (to me) when people make shit up that is already taken into account by the game's designers.

But, hey...D20 is an overly complex game with a steep learning curve anyway. And besides, we're not talking about that.

ANYway, I just haven't been on the "player side" of the DM screen all that many times in the last 25 years; not compared to the amount of time I've acted as DM.  And even when I WAS a player, I was often a higher level character...if my character died (not often, but it happened) there were generally ways to raise him back from the dead. Though losing a point of Constitution was always a bitch...wishes were used whenever possible. THAT'S out of the way...

I said I was a bit irritated with my character's death, though not perhaps for the reason one might assume. I really have no problem with my character's utter destruction. He was interesting, but his background and "personality" were all put together off the cuff and in pretty short order. Hell, it didn't even taken long to choose his equipment (I didn't start with much gold).  What this boils down to is, I was not attached to the idea of my character surviving.  This (and the next bit) is something that really puts me in the "old school" rather than "new school" category of player.

The "next bit" is: my own actions contributed directly to my character's death. And THAT is what irritates me, I can point to several specific mistakes I made that ultimately resulted in the demise of Diomedes, Adept of the Toad Lord. Basically, I'm  miffed because I screwed up...I didn't play as well as I could have.

I'm not even speaking TACTICALLY, though I did make at least two tactical errors (as well as a couple strategic ones). If I had simply role-played my character better, I wouldn't have ended up in the mess I did!

It pains me to admit this. In an earlier post, I wrote how my role-playing skills were a bit rusty. My original intention was for this character to be the typical "scurrilous rogue" of old school D&D. Not a heroic paladin, or valiant priest of light. No, I purposefully wrote up Diomedes to be a self-serving, base individual. If he used his healing spells on others it was for an ulterior motive (for example, having someone bigger to save his own skin).  He worshipped a "toad" deity, and I didn't expect many converts (charisma 8 after all). I wanted him to have plenty of motivation to horde treasure, flee mortal combat, party like a rock star...basically, live the life of an old school "adventurer;" just one who's skills/abilities had to do with his "direct access" to the Toad God.

So how did he die exactly? Covering the retreat of his fellow companions! Allowing others to live by sacrificing himself!

That's totally f'd up!

Honestly, I don't know what the hell came over me. He wasn't Lawful or "good" in any sense of the term, but in the end I acted just like the captain that's supposed to go down with the ship. Some may call it stupid (tactically), some may call it unlucky, some might say I "wasn't using my cleric right." No all that is bullshit. I wasn't playing my CHARACTER right. the hell did I fall into the role of a wannabe hero?

I'm not exactly sure. But I see now why so often the party paladin gets called on to be the "leader" of the group. Paladins are expected to deliver this kind of self-sacrifice, covering the retreat of a party. Even though I've written that I consider clerics the "paladins of B/X," that is NOT how I intended my character's destiny to unfold. Shit.

Here's what happened:

After a couple hours of gaming and scouring one dungeon, we went back to an earlier, not yet fully explored dungeon (from session 1).  I had said at the beginning of Saturday night's session that I didn't think it wise to go back without the support of Ellos (our magic-user, who had to ditch that evening). But coming up fairly empty-handed (other than getting some XP from downing a cockatrice), rather than calling it a night I led the group back to the earlier dungeon.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Not only that, I had not yet completed the sale transaction of a magic item that may have been enough to get my character to level 3 (I was only a few hundred XP shy). 

But we went, and we explored and we encountered half a dozen troglodytes. Now, I've commented elsewhere (not on this blog) that I'm a fair hand at math and's a (small) bit of my job, so I'm used to calc'ing some odds. And there was no way 6 trogs ended up as good odds against our party. First, we were outnumbered 6 to 5. Second, two of our characters wore only leather armor (the rest had plate). Third, two hit dice monsters still strike AC 2...what 25% of the time? And each gets three attack rolls per round?

Anyone ever see that movie The Descent?

So when two of our fighters (one in leather) charged the trogs, I knew things were bad. I started doing a fighting withdrawal (instead of outright running), but everyone else seemed to want to stick it out (the henchman with the plate and pole arm moved in to back-up, the thief was unloading with her crossbow). I don't know what the F got into me...I should have beat feet out, but stayed long enough to get the leather guys out of the death pit that'd been dug. I still wanted to get out but instead moved to back-up the henchman (this was a tactical error...I should have switched places with him as my plate and shield had a better AC and would have allowed him to still stab past myself and the fighter with his big unit). The henchman fell, despite my healing efforts, and I STILL hung around. AC 2 and 9 hit points alongside the AC 2 fighter that had stirred this hornet's nest with his 10 hit points and I'm telling the others to just GET THE FUCK OUT...

And I die.

Which was actually not too bad as I had to get up early the next morning and had meant to log off at 10, but ended up being on till after 11.  But it's silly 'cause I could have run from the get-go and saved my character. 

Not that I had much attachment to him. The whole "toad" thing went over better with the halfling and the magic-user (not present) than with my companions of the evening (a lot of licking and wart jokes got tossed respect for the Mighty Toad!).  But he'd had some potential and I had some ideas for him...heck, I got used to his "average score" attributes by the end of character generation.  I was even getting use to the idea of fielding a "real" cleric (my first ever!).

Anyway, Pat sent me a new batch of attributes (what do ya' know...another 13 Wisdom. Hmmm...). And I've got quite a good idea for the next guy. I promise I will try my best to be self-serving this time (the better to survive longer!) and not resort to any goddamn heroic last stands.

Crap on that!

Up, Up, and Awaaaay....

I am now officially an aeronaut...or so says my official Certificat D'Ascension en Machine Aerostatique that I received after a near hour balloon ride (the "certificat" is en Francais, so I'm just taking the word of our pilot, really).

Let me tell you, is the ONLY way to fly.

Personally, I have an extreme fear of heights, especially the "unprotected" kind.  Not that I let my fear get in the way of doing what I want to do...hell, I fly for travel at least once or twice a year (though back in the 90s, it was always with a bit of "liquid fortification" if you catch my drift). But things like ski lifts or those damn mountain gondolas...I can barely stand to be on 'em, and I'm near paralyzed until they touch ground.  The thought of the cable breaking and that metal death box/chair plummeting 100'+ to the ground just f'ing terrifies me (no, I don't ski but I was on BOTH as recently as last weekend when we took the in-laws to Grouse Mountain outside Vancouver, BC).

The hot air balloon is nothing like it.

First off, there was less motion in the ascension than going up in an elevator.  The landing (expertly done by our pilot) was less bumpy than most plane landings I've had. The flight itself was smooth as silk and breathtaking, and the basket with its wicker and leather was solid, sturdy, and comfortable.

Even though we were suspended over 1300' in the air at some point there was (for lack of a better term) the illusion that if something were to happen, the balloon would deflate and come into land...well, at a survivable rate. Now I realize that plummeting from a thousand feet there's very little chance of surviving a balloon catastrophe...but our pilot exuded such confidence and competence that I never doubted our safety once.

Well, until we hit the tree at 25 miles per hour.  

But even THAT was planned and controlled in order to break our momentum so that we could land safely and comfortably in the field beyond. The tree bent and bounced back, waving like a palm in the wind as we looked behind us.  Simply amazing.

And the never gets to see the world like this. We stayed 500'-1200' most of the journey, sometimes as low as 200'-300'. Unlike a fixed wing aircraft you glide low enough and slow enough that all the world is revealed in detail but from an elevated view.  The only thing I imagine it compares to would be a zeppelin or  a hang glider.  The latter, of course, would have a descent over time issue compared to the balloon (at least, as long as the balloon has propane left in its tanks).

As for the zeppelins, well...I know I've mentioned before that one of my favorite movies of all time is The Life Aquatic, and mainly because I envy the life portrayed by the title character Steve Zissou.  Being captain of one's own boat? The freedom of the open sea? A crew that will follow you regardless of several (glaring) personal defects?  I have often said that my dream job would be Steve a zeppelin. My dream vacation would be to see the Great Pyramid of Giza from a zeppelin.  I get regular updates from the San Francisco based Airship Adventures company, and greatly desire to pilot one of these majestic crafts some day. Whether such will ever happen in my lifetime...well, a guy can dream, can't he?

Anyway, some folks may be wondering what the hell THIS post has to do with RPGs in general. Actually, two things. One: because a sunrise balloon voyage requires getting up at 5:30am (both to check the weather and to travel out of the city to BFE) I got even less sleep than usual and crashed hard after our return (adrenaline drop as much as lack of sleep). As such I slept till like 4 in the afternoon before getting up and doing some household errands; I offer this as an explanation of my lack of Sunday blogging.

Second: a year or so ago, a friend in Oregon mailed me a copy of his own "adventure module," called Blackrock Island. My buddy ("the Doctor," I like to call him) created a fairly cool and whimsical kind of adventure that would be FANTASTIC for B/X in my opinion (he wrote it for AD&D 1e...see, we didn't even know we were already part of the OSR at that point!).  Part of it involves a flying whale and an airship. It needs polish (and some non-copyrighted artwork), but I was already consider publishing a re-work of it, perhaps for Labyrinth Lord, perhaps through BHP (this was before BHP stopped doing LL stuff, of course). 

NOW, I am even more interested in re-working Blackrock Island for B/X and LL, but quite possibly emphasizing some of the airship sections. They are just so cool! And while not "medieval" in the slightest (the first balloon was piloted in the 1700s) they are fantastical, whimsical, and pulpy in nature...even in reality!

Now, of course, the Companion set is the priority writing work I'm completing. But Blackrock needs so little for use (a little clip art, some state re-writes, a plot overhaul), that maybe I can bang the two out simultaneously. I don't know...tomorrow's my day off and I'm feeling ambitious.

Damn, that balloon was cool....

Welp, I Died...

Diomedes, my 2nd level cleric of the Toad died.  Ugh!

I do have to get some sleep now (I've gotta' be up 'ere break o day for a hot air balloon ride), but I fully intend to do a complete run down of events both here and over at campaign blog site.

[and just FYI, I can think of at least three mis-steps that directly led to my demise, so I ain't blaming anyone but myself, though I would have liked to have lived a bit longer...]

Ok, ok, ok, "happy fingers" want to blog all night long but I absolutely HAVE TO get some sleep.  Later, gators!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The ORIGINAL "Adult Fantasy" RPG

Note to Self: No posting after cocktails. Beer: okay. Wine: okay. Absinthe and champagne: big no.

However, that's fine...I may have written some fairly random comments on other folks' blogs (sorry!), but my own post, while silly, doesn't appear to embarrassing.  Now...onto the news of today.

Walked down to the local game store this morning (I LOVE Greenwood!), and picked up two copies of the Holmes Basic set ($8 a pop) on the way to the coffee shop. In 25+ years of buying games and game supplements, I have never owned or had the chance to purchase this edition. 

Now, I've got the original boxes, no less!

Normally, I'm not someone who "stocks up" or doubles up on games.  Yes, I collect 'em, but generally as long as I own one useable copy, I'm content.  Heck, there are several copies of the original cover PHB, some in better condition than my own...but mine works fine...and so I leave them on the shelf for some other curious soul or collector to find and purchase.

But here I acquired BOTH Holmes boxes, leaving nothing for anyone else.  Man, am I a jerk or what?

Okay it WAS a bit selfish of me, but I had good reason. Although neither came with dice, both included their "introductory module"...and each box contained a different adventure! One has a copy of B1: In Search of the Unknown, the other has B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.

The B2 is in pristine condition, the pages stiff as if never thumbed through or played...the cover shows no sign of wear or tear and no markings of any type. Quite the contrast to my own.  Also, now that I have it, I see that it IS somewhat different from my own copy. The artwork is different! Certain images with which I've been familiar for decades have been replaced by similar but different images, Willingham drawings with Otis illustrations.

Fascinating...I'll have to compare the two side-by-side for writing and lay-out differences.

B1 is not in pristine condition having pen-marked notes on the maps and a definite used look about it. Still, I am thrilled to have it. Any pre-1985 module I can get my hands on is terrific (these I rarely the game shop). But B1 is one I've never owned, held, or even seen in the flesh. It always confused me in the past why the pre-packaged B module with my Basic set was B2 and not B1.  B1 would have come first, right?

Well, B1 DID come first...but with a different Basic set than the one with which I grew up. 

Anyway, I'll be anxious to read it. But first, of course, I've got to read Holmes himself. I've been doing that all morning (hey, what do you know: purple worm in this edition, too! And it's bite attack is more fearsome than any other edition).  I find this a fantastic piece of gaming history, and more...I see why so many people have kept this as their "true" version of the game.  From what I've read/skimmed so far I think it's well written and quite a complete/polished game.

Well, with the caveat that one needs to bring their own imagination to it...but that's written into the rules, too!

I will  "blarg" more later this weekend, but I just want to say this: I love the fact that it says "The original ADULT fantasy role-playing game" on the cover. This was NOT a game for children originally...well, not ones under the age of 12 (kids became "adults" a lot earlier in the 70s...).
: )

Oh...that and this passage:

"...Also a female with high charisma will not be eated by a dragon but kept captive. A charismatic male defeated by a witch will not be turned in a frog but kept enchanted as her lover, and so forth."

And so forth...

Who knew Charisma had such incredible practical benefits? These "rules" are totally going to be part of all my future D&D games (in fact, I should put them into my Companion set!)!