Tuesday, June 28, 2011

B/X Weapons in the Hands of Monsters

So I posted some possible house rules a couple days ago that could be used to distinguish different weapons from each other withOUT resorting to "variable weapon damage" (which I'm not a huge fan of, for a number of reasons). And I'm sure my own players are rather worried about what this will mean for them when they encounter yet another horde of spear-wielding goblins...will they automatically lose initiative and fall pierced with many sharp-stabbies (the spear-equivalent of what I like to call a "Charlie Manson Special")?


Remember my post about sentient (i.e. "weapon/tool-using") monsters? Okay, well, in my book they might use weapons, but they're certainly not the sharpest of knives, if you catch my drift. Except for the very special (or very rare) unique individual, humanoids don't have the brains to execute special maneuvers...they're just trying to put the PCs down for a dirt-nap. Even though the orc horde is armed with battle axes, they still roll the standard damage for their monster type, which to me represents simply how effective they are in combat.

Is this "fair?" Who cares! They're monsters! And unlike some editions of D&D, monsters work differently from player characters...they all roll D8 for hit points. They have saves that may be higher or lower than their own Hit Dice. They can do more damage unarmed that a PC (who is limited to 1-2 points); some have multiple attacks (like minotaurs and troglodytes). They do not possess ability scores.

Does this mean an orc is hitting a person with the wrong edge of the axe? No. It just means, that PCs are a step ahead of these poor saps with their crooked blades and sawed-off spears, and rusty cleaver-like knives. Besides, it's much easier for ME (as the DM) to NOT have to track this kind of thing!

Though, of course there is a player-saving reason here as well...giving monsters ANY kind of "critical hit" ability is an "advantage monster" kind of thang, seeing as how their numbers are (abstractly) unlimited compared to the finite adventurers. And while the "doesn't work on characters of higher level" rule might save PCs from kobolds or humanoids of lesser value, 1st level characters are still apt to encounter orcs, 2nd level characters will probably see a few gnolls, and it goes without saying that the occasional ogre is a staple of most dungeon adventures.

Nope...only the rare "badass" monster will be able to use these weapons "traits" against PCs...and generally PCs get a sense of when they're up against this kind of opponent (he gets a different description from the DM than your average, run-o-the-mill Shmoe). 'Course, it's just as easy to say "these hobgoblins are so huge they get +2 to damage rolls and fight like 4HD monsters;" that kind of thing is found all the time in D&D adventure modules: creatures that "break the mold," so to speak. Monsters are just stat-lines/profiles in B/X...you can make 'em do whatever you want.

Now what about human monsters, i.e. NPCs? Well, unless they are an actual adventuring class, then no, they don't get any special benefits from certain weapons, either. Only heroic adventurers (like the PCs and "classed" NPCs) gain any special benefit from using particular weapons. But, again, they're still subject to level restriction so, for example, an evil dwarf of 3rd level would be unable to K.O. a PC fighter of 4th level with his trusty war hammer.

Okay, that's enough to chew on for now.

: )

3rd Level - What a Pain in the Ass

Much of my writing lately (off-blog) has been adventure writing centered around the D&D campaign I'm currently running; attempting to entertain and challenge my players while advance them along at a steady clip.

"Adventure writing." It's not something I've done for awhile. Well, never really, at least not to this extent...I'm more of a quick-scenario guy with less than half-a-dozen encounters and a big fat objective-target. As a kid, I'd rip off things I'd seen in movies/TV/books, or I'd draw sprawling maps populated with monsters I thought were "cool," caring nothing for balance or ecology or rhyme or reason.

ANYway, now I'm starting to feel like I'm getting the hang of it. And the method is all math and structure, mainly based on the Moldvay school of adventure design (one-third monsters, one-sixth traps, etc.), wrapped around a central idea/concept, and populated with enough loot to make it worth the players' while. And since I'm playing B/X, I am basing the encounter level on the wandering monster tables in the Moldvay book.

Not entirely, of course; taking a page from my old D20 days I'm throwing in a mix of 20% easy, 50% average, 20% hard, and 10% really difficult encounters. For example, the current adventure (designed for 2nd level characters) has half the encounters in the 2HD/2nd level range, 20% in the 1HD/1st level range, 20% in the 3HD/3rd level range, and 10% in the 4-5HD+ range. Of course, not all of the monsters come straight from Moldvay (some are found in my own B/X book), but I'm adhering to the same general guidelines. In an edition without "challenge ratings," level/HD is about the only way to gauge challenges for your players.

So, yeah, so far so good. Players are still getting killed (though not nearly in the droves they were before) and the treasure (and XP) has been accumulating at a brisk pace. Which is as I like it. So I was preparing to write up a NEW adventure for 3rd level characters (as that should be the average party level after completing the current adventure; a three-session excursion). And here's what I'm seeing on the Level 3 monster table in Moldvay:

Bugbears (2-8)
Carrion Crawlers (1-3)
Dopplegangers (1-6)
Driver Ants (2-8)
Gargoyles (2-8)
Harpies (1-6)
Mediums (1-4)
Medusa (1-3)
Ochre Jelly (1)
Ogres (1-6)
Shadows (1-8)
Thouls (1-6)
Tiger Beetles (1-6)
Wights (1-6)

Any single one of these encounters would easily destroy half of the adventuring party.

I mean D6 dopplegangers? They have 4 hit dice, and do 1D12 damage (more than an ogre), not to mention being able to mimic the appearance of PCs (try shooting arrows into that melee). Thouls? Regenerating ghouls (with a better chance to hit). Ochre jellies are 5HD and can't be harmed by weapons. Tiger beetles (D6) are HD 3+1, AC 3 and do 2D6 damage...driver ants are the same except they're HD 4 and fearless (no morale checks once engaged in combat).

It's almost as if Moldvay wants to kill players before they get to 4th level. "You will never need more than my Basic book, because levels 4-14 shall never be open to you...hahahahaaa!"


Long time B/X players know 4th level is where things start picking up for players. Fighters attack better, clerics and magic-users have 3 and 4 spells, and even those D4 hit dice characters (like thieves) average 10 hit points...enough to survive at least one lucky damage roll. Those who make it to 4th level ("Hero" is the level title for most classes), are ready to leave the dungeon in search of bigger challenges in the wilderness. It's a real bench mark.

Should it be that rough to get to it?

But what's the alternative? Have PCs scour dungeons aimed at 1st and 2nd level characters, over-and-over again until they reach level 4 (or higher?)? So that those 3rd level challenges don't feel as tough? Heck, for me I think I'd want to be at least 5th level before taking on anything in the dungeon's 3rd level.

D6 wights?

Crazy. But...waiting till characters are 6th and 7th level to throw these kinds of monsters at 'em takes away the real feelings of "toughness" for the creatures. I had a single gargoyle on the 1st level of my Necropolis dungeon (an encounter that is completely avoidable if desired), and the PCs went for it and took it down, but it was a pretty near thing (and one of the PCs was killed). And they were amply rewarded for it. Whereas, when gargoyles showed up in my B/X conversion of White Plume Mountain (for levels 5-10) they were pretty "ho-hum" and put to the sword rather quickly.

Still, do I really dare to make a dungeon populated with medusae?

Ah, will...I suppose they might all get killed before they finish the last third of the current adventure, anyway (I know some players are waiting for the other shoe to drop). So far, casualties have been light...only two party members killed, one by "friendly fire"...so I'm thinking the chance of majority party survival is pretty good.

Better get something prepared for 3rd level.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Yesterday's Post...

...on special traits of B/X weapons has been modified.

None of the abilities work on monsters with 15 or more hit dice (like purple worms and storm giants).

Note, we're talking monsters and hit dice, not PCs or NPCs with 15 or more levels. Just to be clear.
: )

Sunday, June 26, 2011

B/X Weapons & Shields

Ugh. I hate it when I contradict myself. Like when I say there shouldn't be a barbarian class in D&D when I'd previously posted a B/X version (and forgotten about it). Or when I write that characters are presumed to be using their weapons (even two-handed weapons) to the best of their ability, and then do something stupid like write all two-handed weapons were developed to penetrate armor so should receive an extra +1 to hit.

Sure, I'm allowed to change my mind (just like anyone)...BUT, when I reconsider my second stab at the same topic and realize that I was pretty much "right the first time"...well, I feel dumb issuing "retractions."

Ah, well...no help for it. I certainly continue to stand by my post on shields (and why they're modeled just fine in B/X); you won't find me suddenly changing my tune and saying "the shield rules in B/X are broken." No they ain't...not in my book, anyway. And I'm not going to worry about upkeep, repair, and broken weapons/equipment anymore than I'm going to worry about when characters need to answer the call of nature; they're professional adventurers, dammit, they're caring for their gear!

Having said that, I realize I've been skirting, sidestepping, and just plain ignoring the most glaring problem with my whole "all weapons do D6 damage" thang. And that's this:
"JB...if all weapons do D6 damage in B/X then what the hell's the point of purchasing different weapons at all? For a 1st level character, why aren't we just buying the cheapest weapon available (like clubs or daggers; the latter of which can be thrown). For that matter, didn't our primitive ancestors invent different weapons for different reasons?"
Of course they did...and why the hell aren't we honoring that?

OR (to put it another way), Moldvay/Cook/Marsh gave us a list of different weapons. They didn't just say:

"Hand Weapon - 10gp"

No, they provided us with a list of different weapons, even as did Holmes, even as did Gygax and Arneson...each weapon with its own individual weight and cost, despite the rules' basic premise that all weapons do D6 damage.

So fine...I will give you all reasons for buying/wielding different weapons.

Here are the caveats:
1. Combat must remain quick and simple
2. Damage remains D6 (or D8 for heavy weapons); my thoughts on that hasn't changed.
3. This shit has to be easy, so that I can remember it without consulting any damn tables (no weapon vs. AC minutia).

All right; everyone got the ground rules? Here's how I'd run it in my game:

OH, WAIT...before we begin, there's one item that needs to be added to the equipment list. The two-handed FLAIL, while mentioned in the Cook/Marsh Expert set, was left out of B/X despite being present in both OD&D and Holmes. No idea why. Here's our stats for including it (and I would use the exact same for a war maul as well):

Flail (two-handed), Cost: 8gp, Encumbrance: 100cns

Great...NOW we can begin:


All weapons listed as one-handed weapons do D6 damage on a successful attack roll.


Always strike last, regardless of initiative roll and do D8 damage to corporeal (physical) opponents; against spirits, elementals, or other creatures lacking a physical body, they only do D6 damage.

A character with a strength of 13+ may use a two-handed weapon with one hand. It still strikes last, but does only D6 damage.


A character with 13+ dexterity or a fighter of 3rd level (swordsman) or higher may use a one-handed weapon (only) in his or her off-hand. If the character fights defensively, the off-hand weapon provides a +1 bonus to AC just as a shield; if the character fights offensively he may roll D6 damage TWICE on a successful attack roll and pick the higher of the two dice. A character may only fight offensively or defensively in a round, not both.


The following special bonuses apply to specific weapon types. These special bonuses ONLY APPLY AGAINST OPPONENTS OF EQUAL OR LESSER HIT DICE/LEVEL; NONE OF THESE AFFECT MONSTERS OF HIT DICE 15+. For example, NONE of these weapons do anything special against an ogre unless the character is at least 4th level because an ogre has 4+1 hit dice (the +1 bonus is dropped for determining the hit dice of a monster). IN ADDITION, unless otherwise noted, none of these special bonuses work against the undead or incorporeal creatures (like spirits, elementals, or slimes) or ANY monster that requires a magical weapon to hit. Other restrictions may apply (and will be listed):

AXE WEAPONS (hand axe, battle axe)

+1 attack bonus against opponents with an AC of 7 or better. This bonus applies to skeletons and zombies.

SWORD WEAPONS (short, normal, two-handed, and daggers)

On a maximum damage roll (6, or 8 for two-handed swords), the weapon has slashed open a bleeding wound. The target will take an additional 1 hit point of damage every round until he spends a round binding his wound OR is magically healed. Has no effect on plants, constructs, or creatures that regenerate.

BLUNT WEAPONS (club, mace, hammer, flail/maul, staff)

On a maximum damage roll (6, or 8 for two-handed weapons), the weapon has a chance of rendering an opponent unconscious. The target rolls a save versus death ray, failure indicates he has been knocked senseless for D4 turns. This bonus has no effect on plants or constructs, or creatures with more than one head; clubs and staves have no effect on opponents with an AC of 5 (chainmail) or better.

POLE WEAPONS (spears, pole arms)

Wielder automatically gains initiative against any opponent not also armed with a pole weapon. As long as the opponent fails to hit with an attack, the wielder retains control of initiative every round; once an opponent scores a hit, initiative becomes normal (with spear-wielders rolling and pole-arm wielders always striking last). This ability will function against corporeal undead (like skeletons, zombies, and ghouls).

LARGE SHIELDS (*optional rule*)

A large shield is larger and heavier than the standard shield sold to adventurers and can protect more of the body at a cost to maneuverability. Only a character with a strength of 13+ can effectively use such an item in melee (at a +1 AC bonus); all others receive NO BONUS in melee. Against missile attacks the shield provides a +2 bonus to AC, and when used in formation with other large shield bearers it can provide an additional cover bonus (see page B26) of +1 to AC, or possibly more with other cover (thick woods, battlements, etc.). A large shield costs 15gp and has encumbrance of 200cns.

[hmm...does that count as changing my mind on shields?]

To My Players: I will be putting these rules into play effective immediately.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Good Fantasy: Tron Legacy

Just finished watching Tron Legacy (something I've had from the Netflicks for about two weeks now...it's just tough finding time to watch movies, ya' know?), and I have to say it's one of the best fantasy films I've seen in the last couple years.

For what it is...I mean, it's so bizarre it can really only be described in terms of high concept fantasy. It's not "science fiction," there's nothing scientific about it, really. Sure there are computers (kind of) but as with the original film (from what I remember), these get left behind pretty quick and we are transported to this crazy world with its own "natural laws," customs, society, and bizarro-weirdness. It was quite interesting to watch, and for me, that made it enjoyable.

I'm not sure how it did in the theaters...it's so different from what one normally sees. It has some action, but it's not an action film. It has some special effects, but it doesn't linger on them much. It's got a nice pacing that pushes the plot along quick enough that kids don't get bored (this is a Disney film, right?) and yet, and the background narratives are kept mercifully short and sweet.

In a way, it reminded me of Dungeons & Dragons: at least of the "old school" variety. The flimsiest of plots coupled with the exploration of the strange and unusual, with a couple fights, and some puzzles/challenges thrown in. I could probably draw some half-assed parallels between gamers and games and users and programs and such...but as with D&D, I don't think the film was meant to be particularly high-brow or make a whole lot of "sense" in terms of the real world.

Ha! I especially liked how they spent absolutely zero time trying to explain how or why a person can get "zapped" into a computer (or come out again). This is like Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever knocking himself out on occasion and just waking up in never-never land (or John Carter ending up on Mars in the same fashion). Right on...let's just get to exploring!

And what a weird and gorgeous visual spectacle...I can only imagine it would have been super-cool in the theater, but I still liked the art direction immensely...all those lights/colors on darkness gave the impression of an alternate dimension without making you go crazy trying to pick out every little detail. Heck, I even liked the constantly droning soundtrack that gave the whole thing a kind of dark, Blade Runner type vibe...never any upbeat tones of excitement to this weird adventure in a totalitarian universe.

Anyway, it's probably not one I'd buy or need to watch a second time, but it IS one I'd like the boy to see eventually. It's a good fantasy/fable film...and so much better than, say, the latest Clash of the Titans or even Avatar (the latter of which was, admittedly, visually stunning in the theater). I liked it.

: )

"You're Fired!"

That's what I will be telling my internet provider in the extremely near future.

Regular posting should resume shortly thereafter. Sorry, folks.
: (

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Shield Love

I’m tired of people whining over aspects of the game that aren’t broke. There are plenty of things in the D&D game that are in need of fixing, but for me SHIELDS aren’t one of these things. That there’s even a debate on the issue (or rather, a consensus of complaint) irritates me…like a tick under the old cuirass, so it does.

For me, I find shields in the B/X game to be modeled just about perfectly.

God, where to begin, where to begin…the stupid splintered shields rule? The discussion on the limitations of the shield? Shields through the ages? Or the total bad-assedness of the shield rules as written? We’ll probably have to get into the abstract combat of B/X at some point, too, though I dread re-treading the same ground already covered.

Ah, well.

Historically speaking, back when shields were a regular part of the field of battle (i.e. before gunpowder and plate armor, the latter of which forced warriors to switch-up to heavy two-handed weapons), they were generally made of wood and hide/leather. LIGHT wood…tricky enough to fight with one’s off-hand, but there was also the point about speed and arm endurance…you didn’t want to get tired out blocking blows all day.

And blocking shots is NOT what the shield was all about anyway. While crossbowmen might hide behind a tower shield for cover while re-loading, the average knight in the field (or foot-slogging infantryman) used the shield mostly for DEFLECTION…something to knock aside an opponent’s blow and (hopefully) create an opening for a killing strike. Shields are not a passive defense, but an active tool WIELDED by the fighter. Like an oven mitt used to get a hot item out of the stove, the shield was designed to maneuver something that would injure you if you used your bare hand.

Now I’ve put in a little shield-work, myself, in the past…15+ years ago, sure, but I remember the experience. Shields work great to deflect an incoming attack…until someone stronger and/or more skilled than you knocks it aside and clubs you. In individual combat (as opposed to a phalanx formation), shields are a happy little device, easily overcome by someone who knows what they're doing.

Of course, I’M no fighting man. If anything, I’m the equivalent of the Normal Human (maybe with 3 hit points, as I’ve been bicycling a lot lately). A +1 bonus to AC is about all I could hope and expect out of a shield…I would be MUCH better off wearing leather armor and helm (or hopefully, something heavier!).

Using a shield as an active defense is a grueling work, made easier and more effective by skilled use, by someone with COMBAT SMARTS. And how exactly are those things modeled in D&D?

Class and level, baby.

Hit Points, in other words. Who’s the most effective dude using a shield? A fighter. Who has the most hit points? A fighter. What do those hit points represent? Aside from actual physical health: endurance, conditioning, skill, and luck.

Take a look at my All Time Favorite medieval combat scene in film: the final judicial “trial by combat” in the 1952 film Ivanhoe, starring Robert Taylor. Ignore the clang of weapon on aluminum shields (the main historical inaccuracy of the scene) and go with the wanton brawl of an axe/flail fight that lasts three minutes (the equivalent of 18 combat rounds in B/X!). See those guys take a pounding on their shields? That’s not the equivalent of a “missed” attack roll…those are HITS that are subtracting hit points from each combatant’s profile.

Every shot that is not “actively deflected” is a blow that is absorbed, an impact felt through the wrist and arm and shoulder, a little more damage wearing the character down to where that final telling blow causes mortal injury. Because these guys are high level fighters they have scores of HPs to soak punishment…if it was me out there, I’d probably be clubbed senseless by the first blow struck, even if I got my shield up in front of my face!

Shields give you a +1 bonus to AC…it helps the exact same as having a Dexterity of 13-15. Interestingly, up until the AD&D PHB was published, there was never any mention of Dexterity being “agility”…in the LBBs and Supplement I and Holmes it is pretty clear that Dexterity is speed of hand and hand-eye-coordination. This is why it provides a bonus to missile combat (and determines “first strike” in Holmes). When Gygax gave fighting men (only) the bonus to AC based on DEX, it was due to the ability to dodge and parry attacks…hand-eye-coordination giving a bonus to defense for swordsmen.

Which, by the way, explains why the AC bonus provided by DEX was never affected by armor worn (well...until later editions, that is). Wearing chainmail or plate doesn’t hamper your ability to use your weapon for deflection and maneuver, it only hampers your movement when trying to run (which is accounted for with encumbrance). Shields, then, AID in the deflection/parry of incoming fire, just like having a higher dexterity.

“But what about arrows? Look at those films where a wall of shields holds off a huge flight of arrows.” Okay, first off, have you ever tried to deflect/block an incoming arrow/crossbow bolt with a shield? Have you ever tried to catch a bullet with a baseball glove? There are two reasons why a wall of shields is SOMEwhat effective against missile fire (as opposed to being incidentally effective for carrying a heater), neither of which has to do with Hollywood's dramatic license:
  1. A bunch of people in formation means massed ammunition being divided amongst multiple targets…there's less chance that YOU are the one being hit.
  2. Large enough shields in a stable formation can provide some amount of COVER (and such cover rules may be found in the B/X rules on page B26). While a single shield is NOT considered cover, a phalanx of steel shields or a two-handed tower shield might be considered such, depending on the DM’s judgment.
Otherwise, any protection provided by shields is minimal (possibly increased by a character’s DEX…how good are you at maneuvering that shield to catch an incoming missile?).

So having put all THAT out there, maybe you’re starting to come around to my way of thinking…that a +1 AC bonus for carrying a shield is just fine and dandy. Perhaps your next question is, why the heck would anyone want to carry a shield for a measly +1 bonus when I could be hitting folks in the mouth with my two-handed war sledge?

Because they are hella’ effective, that’s why.

I’m going to tell you a story first, and then I’ll give you some math. Back in the Way WAY Back History of my youth, I had a long-running AD&D campaign that featured characters of nearly every class and stripe: elves and half-elves, dwarves, thieves, barbarians, acrobats, assassins, bards, clerics, illusionists, drow…even classes/races out of Dragon magazine like half-ogres and archers and healers. The ONE combo that was almost completely missing was the lowly, drab, totally boring human fighter.


We had ONE in our group…a character that had been grandfathered into our AD&D campaign from our B/X days. She still had D8 hit dice, and while we probably converted her for “weapon specialization” sometime after the Unearthed Arcana was published, I don’t remember ever using it. Fact of the matter is, she didn’t need it. With plate mail, shield, and a broad sword she outlasted and out-fought every other power player in the game. She was a frigging juggernaut, eventually relegated to the role of an NPC that would occasionally make cameo appearances. As a kid, I never understood why she was so much more durable than the 18 CON barbarian or the 20th level bard…or the demons and devils and beholders she might encounter.

Amazing what a combo of good armor, shield, and high hit points will do for a character.

When fighting against weapon-using opponents (like humanoid monsters), the addition of a shield can add ROUNDS of survival to your character. Assuming average hit points and average DEX, the difference between plate and plate & shield breaks down like this:

Against goblins/orcs/1st level fighters:
1st level – 1 extra round of survival (on average) when using a shield
2nd level – 3 extra rounds
3rd level – 4 extra rounds
4th level – 6 extra rounds
5th level – 7 extra rounds
6th level – 8 extra rounds
7th level – 9 extra rounds
8th level – 10 extra rounds
9th level – 12 extra rounds

What good is an extra round of survival in combat? Just he difference between life and death! Using my dopplehander weapon rules, the damage output over time is equivalent (the two-handed weapon does roughly the same damage in a shorter survival period as the one-handed weapon in a longer survival period), but what do those extra rounds really mean?
  • Time to run away (if necessary).
  • Time to be healed by a party cleric.
  • Time for a buddy to jump in and spell you/save your bacon.
  • Time for you to spell a buddy about to get killed.
  • Time for the monsters to break morale and surrender/run.
  • Time for you to get in that lucky blow that ends the fight.
Extra time in combat is precious…and the shield gives you this. Against smaller monsters (like kobolds) that time is increased; against larger monsters it’s decreased. However, you still gain time through the use of a shield; for example:

Against gnolls/2nd level fighters:
1st level – 1 extra round of survival (on average) when using a shield
2nd level – 2 extra rounds
3rd level – 2 extra rounds
4th level – 3 extra rounds
5th level – 3 extra rounds
6th level – 4 extra rounds
7th level – 5 extra rounds
8th level – 5 extra rounds
9th level – 6 extra rounds

And these extra rounds of survival are gained simply by using a NORMAL shield. When a character sports a magical shield, survivability rises considerably, quickly out-pacing the over-all damage output of a character with a similarly enchanted two-handed weapon.

Now before you shield-wielders run out there feeling all Captain America and invulnerable, it’s important to realize and understand the limitations of the shield. First off, you’ve only got ONE. That means its most effective against one defender. Secondly, it was designed for ARMED COMBAT…i.e. combat against sentient, weapon-users.

What does this mean? That your character’s survivability decreases when faced with multiple attackers or creatures with multiple attacks (like owl bears and ghouls). If you think a shield is going to give you “extra rounds of survival” against the mauling of a grizzly, you may be in for a rude awakening (not that the guy without a shield is going to do much better…). But check this out:

Against THREE (3) goblins/orcs/1st level fighters:
1st level – NO extra rounds of survivability
2nd level – 1 extra round
3rd level – 1 extra round
4th level – 2 extra rounds
5th level – 3 extra rounds
6th level – 3 extra rounds
7th level – 3 extra rounds
8th level – 3 extra rounds
9th level – 4 extra rounds

So if your character is a 1st level fighter that gets surrounded by three goblins, it doesn’t matter if you have a shield or not…it takes the same length of time to kill you with one as without (and by the way, that IS counting the +1 shield bonus against all attackers…you’re assumed to be whirling and twirling in the chaos of melee). Three adversaries are just a lot tougher to face down as a lone warrior: one guy beats your blade, one guy tries to pin your shield, and the third stabs at your eyeballs…a nasty business. Back at the Caves of Chaos a few weeks ago, our barbarian was sporting chainmail and a +1 shield; but he got isolated and surrounded by a bunch of spear-wielding kobolds and went down hard because of it.

The point here is, you still have to be SMART…pick your point of attack, find a choke-hold, buddy-up with your shield-wielding companion(s) and form a mini-phalanx, etc. There ARE tactics in D&D, even the B/X edition.

All right, that’s enough for now. I’m sure there will be dissenting opinions, and this may need a follow-up post for things I've forgotten. However, I want to say one last thing regarding the “shields will be splintered” rule. If you want to keep this “get out of jail free card” for your players, fine. If you want everyone to start with a couple potions of healing, you can do that, too. Personally, I figure shields are “splintered” when a character gets killed (as is armor, for that matter…ragged, tattered, and useless). You know what broke nearly as often as shields back in the “old days?” SWORDS. An individual using a weapon as often as the average D&D adventurer would probably need to purchase a replacement every 1-2 game sessions (at least one per 6 or so combat encounters). Why don’t y’all model that?

While shields ARE breakable (wood and cloth, remember?) if you’re breaking ‘em too often, you’re probably using them wrong. Again, they’re designed to deflect and turn blows, NOT absorb every swing.

Doing that too much is going to give you a broken arm!
; )

On the Nature of Humanoids

Intelligence in B/X play is a little less spelled out than other editions. For my games, I categorize monsters (that is, any non-PC species creature) into four categories of intelligence:


Sentient beings are the equivalent of humans: they have language and reasoning ability and the potential for writing and inter-species communication…they may be dumb or clever, but they can put together plans.

Beagle intelligence is the equivalent of my beagles: they don’t really have language, though they have means of expressing themselves and they are clever enough to open doors, climb fences, hide (themselves and their possessions), and exhibit behavior other than simple instinct. Creatures like ghouls, rock baboons, and B/X troglodytes fall into the “beagle” category.

Animal intelligence is based on biology and instinct, generally categorized by terms that begin with the letter “F”: food, fear, fire, fight, flight, and f**king, etc. Bears and owl bears fall into this category, as do insects and slimes, alien though their particular drives may be.

Non-intelligent creatures are those that have no capacity for self-generated thought; these are programmed automatons like statues and zombies and golems. They only act as they are commanded by their creator/master, and without command they do not act.

Sentient beings are the only monsters that are “tool users;” if a lesser brained monster wields a weapon, it is either entirely incidental (like a baboon wielding a tree branch “club”) or was equipped by someone other than the creature itself (for example, a skeleton wielding a sword or a lion with metal-shod claws). Conversely, any monster described as using weapons or being “highly intelligent” (like vampires) can be considered sentient.

Sentient humanoids up to “ogre-size” (i.e. HD 4+1 or less) are assumed to have an intelligence of 9-12, according to the description of the spell Charm Person (page B16 of the Moldvay rules). They’ll speak their own language and any other that the DM deems appropriate for their species (or mentioned in their description). Creatures larger than ogres (minotaur and giants, for example)…well, their intelligence will need to be determined by the DM. As Intelligence affects nothing but languages and literacy in B/X, it’s really a matter of how often you want such a being to receive a saving throw versus Charm Monster.

The orc is the baseline monster in B/X.

Orcs deserve their own post for another time, but for now we’re just looking at its fighting stats. An orc warrior (the standard antagonist PCs will encounter, not the non-combatant women and children) is the equivalent of a 1st level fighter/man-at-arms:

AC 6 (leather and shield), Hit Dice 1, average hit points 4.5,THAC0 19, damage 1-6 (as a weapon in other words), average damage 3.5 per hit. True their morale is better than baseline (and worse than baseline without a leader), and they have both infravision and daylight penalties, but for the most part they are the equivalent of a 1st level fighter with 9-12 in all categories (including strength and constitution).

[the normal human described in the Basic set is the equivalent of what Conan would sneeringly refer to as a “civilized man”]

With orcs as a baseline, one can put the other humanoids in their proper pecking order of humanoid tool users:

- Kobolds (average hit points 2.5, THAC0 19, average damage 2.5 due to general “shrimpiness”).

- Goblins (average hit points 3.625, THAC0 19, average damage 3.5…equivalent to a 1st level fighter with a CON of 6-8).

- Orcs (as stated: equivalent of the average human 1st level fighter)

- Hobgoblins (average hit points 5.5, THAC0 18, average damage 4.5. Gygax’s version of Tolkien’s Uruk-Hai, these are the equivalent of fighters with STR and CON of 13-15).

- Gnolls (average hit points 9, THAC0 18, average damage 5…equivalent to a 2nd level fighter with a STR of 13-15).

- Bugbears (average hit points 14.5, THAC0 16, average damage 5…equivalent to a “goblin hero,” a 4th level fighter with a CON of 6-8 with a STR of 13-15).

- Ogres (average hit points 19, THAC0 15, average damage 5.5…equivalent to a 4th level fighter with a STR of 16-17).

- Minotaur (average hit points 27, THAC0 14, average damage (with weapon) 5.5…equivalent to a 6th level fighter with a STR of 16-17 and a +1 attack bonus, perhaps due to ferocity).

Okay, great…so why do I bother writing all this up? Aside from the “fun of it,” this is just the set-up for my post on SHIELDS.

***EDIT: I realize that Hit Dice originally come from Chainmail (like ogres being worth four men "+1"), a game system I still haven't managed to acquire. Please forgive my reflections from a B/X-centric perspective.***

D6 Dopplehanders

So, I spent a good part of today thinking about shields in the D&D game because, to be quite honest, I think there's a damn crapload of ignorance out there. Shields in D&D are plenty awesome and a lot of the nay-sayers sound a might silly to my ears.

However, in running the numbers for shields (in anticipation of throwing up a blog post that proved my my point of view - duh) I had to work out the math on two-handed weapons, some of my personal favorite things in the whole world and something that I've attempted to deal with in a number of different ways over the last couple years.

I figure we better deal with that issue first.

OD&D (the original Little Brown Books) state that all hits inflict 1-6 points of damage "unless otherwise noted" (there aren't any notes regarding weapons, though some monsters inflict more damage). There are many two-handed weapons on the LBB equipment list...none are any different from any of the single-handed weapons.

In the B/X Basic rules (based largely on the LBBs), Moldvay writes this:

AMOUNT OF DAMAGE: All weapon attacks by characters (PC or NPC) will do 1-6 (1d6) points of damage, adjusted by Strength and magical bonuses, if applicable. If the Variable Weapon Damage system (hereafter) is used, check the weapon type to find how much damage each weapon will do (adjusted by Strength and magical bonuses or penalties).

Directly beneath the Variable Weapon Damage table on page B27, we find the following notes:

Whenever a two-handed weapon is used (including pole arms), the attacker cannot use a shield (this may reduce the Armor Class of the attacker) and will always lose the initiative, whatever the roll (see page B23).

Interesting that the VWD table distinguishes quarrels as two-handed and arrows as not. In the past, I assumed this was to show crossbows attacked last in combat like two-handers. However, this is left unclear, and it is equally unclear whether or not the "two-handed weapon strikes last" rule is standard OR if it is an optional rule to only be used in conjunction with the VWD table.

The Cook/Marsh Expert set is more explicit. On page X4 it discusses some of the differences between the Holmes and Moldvay Basic sets including the following:

WEAPONS (Optional)

Two-Handed Weapons. Heavy two-handed weapons (flail, battle axe, pole arms, etc.) may strike once per round, but strike last in the round, regardless of initiative.

Crossbows. Crossbows may be fired once every two rounds, taking one round to load and one to fire.

In the Encounter chapter, it again lists - and expands - the Variable Weapon Damage table, although this time there is no mention of the table as being optional or of D6 being the standard damage for all weapon attacks by characters (PC and NPC). Interestingly, crossbow bolts are still listed as "two-handed" (and arrows are NOT) and there is no mention of the flail anywhere, despite the reference on in the Introduction.

[*sigh*] B/X isn't perfect, folks. But we knew that.

We'll skip the later editions which make the VWD table (or variations thereof) the "standard practice." For me personally, I have found that the D6 damage for all weapons works the best...both practically and philosophically. And, yes, in my youth I used ALL the variant tables I could find...back then, I played AD&D and it was the height of cool to use a pickaxe from the Dungeoneers Survival Guide when said weapon did 1D20 damage.

I've gotten smarter since then.

But two-handed weapons have continued to trouble me...all the moreso because I LOVE a big ol' axe or two-handed sledge. I want their to be an advantage to using such a beast in combat...after all, people DID use them in combat, forsaking the benefit of a shield (more on that later) for the sure grip and intimidating reach such a weapon would give them.

But there is no benefit to using a two-handed weapon in melee in B/X play. Well, sure, if you use the VWD then a two-handed sword or pole-arm allows you to roll D10 damage...but a battle axe only does D8 damage, the same as a "normal" sword...and the axe was a LOT more prevalent on the field of battle during most of the bronze-iron age than the arming sword. And for good reason: it kicked hella' ass.

And anyway, I'm not using the VWD anymore, for reasons I explained in my earlier post.

And let's back-up for a quick second...just what constitutes a one-handed versus a two-handed weapon anyway? A Scottish claymore was generally considered a two-handed weapon, though many highlanders still carried a shield and used it with one-hand. The German zwiehander (a weapon very similar to the Otus illustration on page B12) was even bigger, being about 6' long (with a 4'-5' blade) and was only used two-handed.

On the other hand, many one-handed swords were used with a two-handed grip: the estoc, the knightly arming sword, the "longsword" were all useable both one- and two- handed, and often were...especially when being used to pierce heavy (plate) armor. Many were designed to be gripped with one hand on the blade, in order to work like a medieval pry-bar when stabbing your opponent to death.

Especially when considering these weapons were designed for use in man-to-man combat, it is ridiculous to think that they would provide some sort of extra damage bonus when used against monstrous fantasy creatures. Against these beasts, one would be well-advised to stick to tried and true methods of destruction: lancing the beast with a long spear or hitting it with the sharp end of an axe.

The battle axe is terribly maligned in most every edition of D&D, though most especially AD&D as I've written before. And it shouldn't be, dammit! Even if I miss with the sharp end, smacking someone with the blunt end of a mass weapon is going to ring his bell, if not induce death from blunt force trauma. How many whacks with the axe is your wood and hide shield deflect before, oh, I'm sorry, did my blade bite a 3" gash in your forearm and smash your ulna? What did you expect? It's an axe. Good thing you had a vambrace.

But I digress (as usual)...here's the thing. A two-handed war sledge, or axe, or greatsword that splits the head of an opponent is accomplishing the same thing as a one-handed mace or hatchet or saber that splits the head of an opponent. The two-handed weapons mind do it in a slightly messier fashion, and may require a bit of a "wind up" but dead is dead is dead.

I don't have a problem with two-handed weapons striking last in a round; a lighter weapon or a natural beast attack is faster by comparison. But there IS a reason for using two-handed weapons and that reason is, for the most part, the same as the reason for most weapon development over the years.

Armor penetration. To get to the squishy parts on the inside.

A one-handed blade or hatchet might glance off a heavy templar helm, whereas a two-handed flail or bearded axe might can cave the damn thing in. Two-handed weapons - blunt, sharp, or stabbing - were crafted with a mind towards getting the killing part of the tool into the frail human body that was so well protected by man's ingenuity. That being said, a two-handed weapon does do some truly impressive damage with a direct hit, even on a blow that's not immediately mortal.

So here're the new rules for play-testing:
  • Two-handed weapons strike last in a melee (already standard in my games).
  • Two-handed weapons do D8 instead of D6 damage (already implemented; worked great in my "B/X Shadowrun" game as well).
  • Two-handed weapons enjoy a +1 bonus to attack rolls (to represent damage penetration).
I do not want to do different types of weapon versus different types of armor, or anything like that...combat in B/X is abstract and keeping things as simple as possible seems the best policy at this point.

Now some folks who think shields are "too weak" as written may feel these rules are too much incentive for characters to not use shields; but we'll get to that in the next post. Suffice is to say, I feel two-handed weapons NEED a huge incentive, 'cause as it is, the shield-bearer has some pretty big advantages over the warrior with the dopplehander. The question is not "why would anyone use a shield?" The question is, why would anyone NOT use a shield?

But we'll get to that later. Time to hit the hay.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fat Frog Challenge Winners!

I am sorry to have been so late in getting this out, but there were quite a few good entries, and my weekend was exceptionally busy (hope everyone had a happy Father's Day...I did!). However, I did go over all the entries for the Fat Frog Challenge, and yes, I have picked out my Favorite Five...actually, there was a near-tie for 5th place, so you've got six to peruse!

As I said in the beginning, "judgment" was rendered by nothing more scientific than "what appealed to me." I do enough statistical analysis and empirical consideration in my regular life and game design...this was supposed to be fun. So without further ado, here's how I ranked 'em:

#6 The Frog God's Sinkhole (by Rorschachhamster) - I just couldn't leave this one out. Even though it's a bit less polished than the Top Five, the guy used my own idea...at least, it's pretty close to my original idea (I, too, was planning on a sinkhole entrance to the frog god's lair). That and the extensive use of frog critters (froglings, frog champions, undead frogs) made this an excellent example of "unified theme." It also made me re-think my own "froggy dungeon" as I, of course, wanted to be different.

#5 Madness of the Frogmen (by David Brawley) - A nice little RC/BECMI adventure, this one not only incorporated Mr. Short's statue as a new magic item, it added several new monsters (including illustrations) and a backstory of the war/rivalry between frog men and croc people. A nice touch with good potential for role-playing and non-combat problem-solving. Though why not simply use the Frog Folk from my B/X Companion?

#4 Deceit of the Demon Frog (by Dwayne Gillingham) - One of several entries that incorporated a romance theme, a play on the "frog prince" fairy tale, AND a "switcheroo" at the end. Of the bunch, this was the best done...it was simple, yet had plenty to do and had a bit of light-heartedness to it. It is also the only adventure that credits maps to someone other than the author (cartography: Robert Conley); a little amazing that my no-prize challenge warranted collaboration!

#3 Sir Froig (by ze bulette) - Not even an adventure per se, but a plug-in encounter with an interesting NPC. This kind of thing is great to throw into any campaign...it makes players stop-and-think, putting them (at least momentarily) into the shoes of their characters while they figure out just how to approach such an individual. Is it dangerous? Humorous? Would it make a good retainer? What the heck are we supposed to do here? The fact that ZB included a cardboard miniature of Sir Froig was the perfect extra touch of thoughtfulness...well done!

#2 Sunken Abode of the Batrachian (by Brian Russell) - Now THIS is old school dungeon design. I almost, ALMOST chose this as my #1 choice...very close. It is only four pages long, the first page of which is simply an illustration "cover." One page is a beautiful map, and the last two pages include all the keyed encounters in a clean, easy to use format. There's no introduction, no background...a DM can add whatever color they desire to this sweet little dungeon delve. My favorite part, though? The Batrachian Curse. Simply brilliant. Excellent, excellent work.

#1 Challenge of the Frog Idol (by Dyson Logos) - Just because someone sends me a 21 page document (plus two pages of OGL legalese) does NOT mean they automatically walk off with top honors. Personally, there's a lot to be said for short and sweet (one of the reasons I liked the #2 entry so much). But after taking the time to read it, I found Dyson's adventure excellent in many regards. In essence, he's crafted a mini-campaign including four maps (the wilderness hex map is beautiful...it's my inability to do this kind of work that has stopped me from publishing my adventure modules). There are random encounters, several helpful side-bars, and four adventure sites ("dungeons") to explore. The adventure itself is fairly straight-forward bit of step-and-fetch, but it still manages to be both interesting and clever, and there's no "switcheroo" at the end...this is a WYSIWYG. Finally, there's plenty of room here for an enterprising DM to expand this into a small sandbox world. For a free download, there's a lot of good stuff here and it's well written. If you haven't already downloaded it from Dyson's blog, you should definitely take a look.

All right, that's it folks. Sorry it took so long to to get this typed up, but I have been busy. Congrats to everyone that entered the contest...all the entries were entertaining and creative, and I look forward to seeing your work elsewhere!
; )

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Final Thoughts on "Bear Week"

[sorry, folks...as I mentioned, I have company in town so I've been out and about all day. I've got a few free moments right now for a quick post and I'm taking advantage of it]

Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy game filled with fantasy monsters, and normal animals like bears may seem out-of-place as antagonists and challenging foes. But sometimes we forget (or younger folks may not be familiar with) the rich literary tradition that is the foundation of the "stuff" in D&D...it's a lot less fantastic than one might think.

Tigers, bears, crocodiles, and snakes (constricting and poisonous, both), these are the "monsters" many sword & sorcery heroes faced when not fighting their main enemy: other humans.

I think we often lose sight of this...it's easy to draw a map and stock room after room with "fantasy monsters" - orcs and bugbears and dopplegangers and carrion crawlers and whatnot - and while we might write an adventure so that it makes sense from the POV of "Gygaxian Ecology," it may be so fantastic as to be alien to our "real" adventurous history. When Lewis & Clark opened the passage to the west, a grizzly bear was a pretty serious threat, as their own accounts tell...and they were traveling in a large party and armed with modern firearms. Sometimes we take for granted the power and majesty (and threat!) of real life nature.

Yes, S&S heroes like Conan fought the occasional fantastic creature...the frost giant daughter's brothers or the naga-like man-snake. But most of his foes were extremely natural. Even Tolkien, "high fantasy" that it is, isn't filled with supernatural encounters/combats. What are goblins/orcs but "twisted elves," and what are elves but more sophisticated men? Take away all the battles with orcs and how many real "monsters" are encountered in The Lord of the Rings? A troll, some undead, a giant spider, a balrog. And the usual reaction of the heroes to ALL these threats is "run away! run away!"

A very different set of heroics compared to that of your average D&D party.

So give nature...and natural "monsters"...their just and well-earned due. A mountain lion or panther or wild boar or (God knows) BEAR can be plenty challenging to an adventuring party...especially low-level ones. True, they might not be found in your average "dungeon" or tomb/haunted crypt (animals are notoriously wary of the supernatural) but getting to and from the adventuring site can be fraught with peril without involving anything "mythical" or "fantastic" at all.

Just think about it, okay?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to write something up about demons and giant frogs and assorted craziness.
; )

Friday, June 17, 2011

New DM Mascot

My buddy called me up today and asked what's with all the bear stuff lately. I explained it's "Bear Week" and then realized I'm pretty much out of steam. Part of that is due to the usual exhaustion and part of it is...well, I think it's all pretty much due to exhaustion. I still like bears, but I'm going to end this series early.

I DID want to show one of the miniatures I picked up over last weekend, however...check it out:

Now THAT is pretty awesome. While the current adventure I'm running has ZERO bears in it, I find just having a beast like that on the table conveys most of what I need to say about my attitude towards the game. Because of the relatives staying with us this weekend, I won't have time to paint the new critter for awhile, but maybe I'll have a chance to finish it up before we head to Mexico.

Oh, man am I tired...my eyes are burning right now. I'm shutting off; talk at y'all later!

: )

Sometimes the bear goes hungry...

Another good game at "the Mox" last night, despite some early issues (the goddamn WotC people were having some kind of party and taking up all the back rooms AND the parking...). Only five players sat down at the table, but they all walked away tonight with lives intact and loot in pockets.

I really find myself enjoying the game, especially the longer the "campaign" (such as it is) continues to progress. I am reminded a bit of the campaigns of my youth, the excitement I feel every time I'm preparing for a game, the anticipation of looking forward to our weekly get-together, the "can't-hardly-wait" feeling for the next week. Is it possible I am finally starting to "get my groove back" as a Dungeon Master? I know I was pretty rusty when I started this biz...sure I had a pretty good knowledge of the system I was using, but managing the game is different in practice than theory.

Maybe that's it. All I know are the creative juices have been flowing pretty freakishly fast. Drew up a completely new adventure for yesterday's game (as a break from the Necropolis), finally doing my own "fat frog" dungeon. It's funny how little it turned out from either A) how I'd originally planned it, and B) anyone else's adventure (well, other than the fact it has frogs/toads in it). It's fairly short so I figured the players could complete it in a night (they didn't), but it's fun...as with Paschendale, this is one I could see publishing, perhaps as a cheap .pdf.

But right now, I just want to PLAY it. Or rather, run it as a DM. That's what I mean by "hungry" in the title of this post. It's not that I wanted to smoke the characters (and they had several fortuitous breaks that I may blog about later)...I'm not ALWAYS in a blood-letting mood. But I AM totally starving to play some more D&D. It's going to be tough to miss a session when the family goes on vacation here in a couple weeks!

And that's a good thing...I've really discovered a love and passion for the game that I haven't had in years. I know the players are having fun; I hope we can keep it going for awhile.
: )

[by the way, relatives coming into town today for the weekend, so posting will probably be light. Still thinking up my next installment for bear week; hopefully, it'll go up later today!]

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Circus Freaks

While black bears can grow very large, they average only around 135kg or so (about 300 pounds), and while capable of killing or injuring humans, in general they do NOT attack humans, except perhaps over food (and unlike the brown and polar bear, human is not really considered fair game for black bears). While they have been hunted themselves for food and sport, black bears have the closest thing to a live-and-let-live relationship with humans as one finds within the bear kingdom. Exceptionally intelligent and dexterous, they can open latches and lids and unscrew the tops of jars; tests have found they learn some things faster than chimpanzees.

It is because of their intelligence and temperament that black bears end up as trained animal acts, circus performers, and mascots more than any other type of bear (Smoky, Yogi, and Winnie were all modeled after black bears). They are also relatively easy to hunt and trap (rather than hunt and kill) compared to other bears.

For a fantasy game like D&D, who doesn’t want a trained attack bear?

B/X doesn’t give stats and prices for trained animals, though one CAN retain the services of an animal trainer (500gp per month, Cook/Marsh Expert set page X21). Now while some wealthy adventurers might decide it’s worth the cost to hire a "Bear Master" to wrangle their furry mercenaries, most adventuring parties are just looking for a single bruiser that knows the command “Kill!” Let’s talk about BOTH.

Animal trainers cost 500gp per month, specialize in a particular type of animal, and can handle up to 6 animals at a time providing on-going training (as well as, I presume, feed and care). There’s no mention of whether or not animals need to be purchased separately or not…I would figure that in a large enough (or strange enough) fantasy city, one could find a bear master with a string of black bears ready for adventure. While the 500gp per month covers the price of the handler’s services, one has to consider the cost of the animals.

A black bear eats 30+ pounds of food per day, and one that it is in captivity is not out hunting/grazing, rations will need to be provided for it. Even considering a poorer quality of rations than the average adventurer consumes, I’d still budget 50gp per month per bear for food (standard rations are 5gp/week x52 weeks /12 months x4 times the normal weight, then reduced for quality). A bear master (if available) will already possess 1D6 black bears in his care; in addition to the bear master’s fee, the employer must pay the food costs of all bears in the handler’s care (the bear master will not voluntarily part from any of his bears). Fees of course are subject to market demand.

The bear master himself is a normal man, albeit one with maximum hit points (4) from his rough and tumble lifestyle. He will try to avoid combat if at also possible, but will direct his bears to fight for him (or as his employer commands).

Purchasing an additional wild bear for the bear master is a matter of finding a bounty hunter or trapper skilled in the live acquisition of large game (perhaps for the local gladiatorial games). Such an animal would 400-800gps depending on size and scarcity, and would require at least one month’s work with the bear master to learn even the simplest commands. A young black bear would be worth 2 to 5 times that amount (D4+1), both because of their extra trainability, and the danger involved of confronting an angry mother bear in its den!

A young black bear can be trained for domestication from an early age. Sold in adulthood, such an animal requires no bear master but costs 2000-4000gp, again depending on size and scarcity. For the character wishing a “pet bear” without hiring an animal trainer, this is the only option other than using magic.

A black bear trained from an early age and purchased as an adult will be only moderately useful to its new owner, knowing the commands “attack,” “stop,” “come,” and “stay.” Regular feeding and care will eventually ingratiate the bear to its master (in 2D6 weeks); prior to that, the owner will need to make a Reaction roll every time a command is given (Charisma modifiers apply as usual). The DM can further modify the reaction rolled based on circumstance as normal (a half-starved bear is more likely to “attack,” but less likely to “come” unless food is being offered).

PC adventurers are NOT animal trainers, and no PC can ever own/handle more than one bear at a time. Such a “pet” counts against the maximum number of retainers a PC can have (based on Charisma). However, a bear companion can become a loyal and lifelong friend. Bears never gain XP or grow in “level;” they heal at the same rate as adventurers (D3 hit points per day, though bed rest is NOT required and light activity does not interfere with healing), and can be affected by curing and blessing spells. As a domestic creature, the owner WILL need to provide it with sustenance at the standard 50gp per month rate (see above).

Black bears are excellent climbers and very fast (25-30mph at a dash…fast enough to chase down that pesky goblin running for help!). They cannot wear armor (at least, nothing that would improve their AC; they can still be “decorated”). With regular food and activity, a domesticated bear will spend much less time in hibernation (if any time at all), though they will still be lethargic during certain months.

: )

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sometimes the Bear Eats You…

Just watched David Mamet’s film The Edge last night, thinking about Bear Week. I’ve long been a fan of Mamet’s work (American Buffalo, Glengary) and The Edge is certainly exceptional, but yesterday was the first time I remember seeing it all the way through. Yes, I’ve caught it a half-dozen times or so on TV but I always seem to come in right around the last half-third of the film (or I miss a big chunk in the middle).

Somehow I seem to have missed the scene where the bear eats the buddy. Wow!

While a blogged about the abomination of monsters eating people before, sometimes one forgets that those cute, cuddly bears we love to protect from extinction do sometimes eat human beings (yes, I HAVE seen the film Grizzly Man; no comment on Mr. Treadwell at this time). To be fair to bears, they eat everything…including each other and their own young!...when they’re hungry enough, and they require quite a bit of sustenance to keep them going. I don’t consider bears to be an “abomination” as I do orcish or goblin cannibals. When all is said and done, bears are still a part of nature and are just doing that “natural thang.”


What’s more interesting (to me) is the idea of the “man-killer” bear…that a bear that has killed (and eaten) a human develops a “taste” for man-flesh. Or (to put it another way) that an animal normally not overly-concerned with human interaction has now redefined its relationship with people as “predator and prey.” I have no idea if this is simply an urban myth or if it the reason why bears who have killed humans (like the grizzly that killed Treadwell) are in turn destroyed by wildlife rangers. After all, I don’t think we’re killing the bear as a form of “punishment” or “capital judgment;” bears know nothing of human laws, only obeying the law of nature. Why then destroy an animal that has done that which “comes naturally?” I can only guess that there IS something to the “man-killer myth”…or at least there is a FEAR that there is something to the man-killer story.

For the purpose of a fantasy RPG like D&D, I say “err on the side of myth.” Duh. When you’re dealing with dragons and harpies and ochre jellies, of course you’re going to take the mythic/Hollywood angle!

According to the Moldvay Basic set (page B24), unintelligent monsters will cease pursuit for dropped ration 50% of the time (a roll of 1-3 on a D6). This is actually a pretty simple, easy-to-use rule and I’m inclined to use it as is, though I’d add +1 to any roll involving a grizzly/polar bear and – 1 to any roll with a black bear. Here’s what the roll can mean for a pursuing bear:

Roll 1-3 (stops for food)

- Bear is hungrier than it is upset/aggravated and will stop to eat food
- Bear only attacking because it’s hungry; food good!
- Bear only defending territory; combo of party’s removal from territory and food (positive) incentive is enough to break off attack

Roll 4-6 (ignores food)

- Form of rations dropped doesn’t appeal to bear
- Bear enraged beyond reason by party presence/encroachment
- Bear is a man-killer and will only stop to eat dead adventurer

And regarding that last one, if a party flees after a member has been “downed” (i.e. killed) it should count as the party dropping rations. That is, the DM should make the same roll as if the party were throwing food to the bear…in a very real way, they ARE. Something as big as an adventurer should be worth a +2 to the food roll (only a bear enraged beyond reason would pass up such a large meal).

However, even should a party evade the pursuit of a man-killing bear they’ve got a bigger problem: the bear may very well decide the party is prey worthy of being stalked.

Even after eating the party’s dead companions, a bear may continue to hunt a party within its territory, though it probably won’t get hungry again for a few hours. A male bear’s range is LARGE, hundreds of square miles, though they won’t travel any faster than a normal unarmored man on foot (probably a maximum of 6 to 12 miles per day through a forested, mountainous region like Alaska). Bears can smell for miles, and will track the scent of food and blood (wounds) looking for a kill to scavenge. Unless, the party can reach civilization (bears will generally avoid large groups of people) or find some horses, chances are a man-killer bear is the only “wandering monster” the party will need to worry about once it’s picked up its trail (with an automatic daily or evening encounter).

Black bears, by the way, are much less aggressive than other types of bears, and will often attempt to climb trees or run from encounters with large groups of humans (unless hungry and food is present and available). In general, I would avoid including “man-killer” black bears…only brown, polar, and cave bears have the temperament to come looking for trouble (brown bears will even hunt the smaller black bears, as well as stealing/scavenging their food). If a black bear is encountered as a wandering monster in the wilderness, it probably shows us during a party’s “meal break.” Use common sense here.

Okay, back to the mean ones…REGARDING PURSUIT, a brown bear has an overland movement speed of 30-35miles per hour at a dash. This means it’s faster than ANY adventurer not using magical speed enhancement. Polar bears are just as fast, though it’s slower (in general) to run over snow…polar bears can also swim around 30km/hr. I have no stats for a cave bear, so I’d probably just use the speed listed in the Basic set.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? It means that a party that runs from an aggressive bear withOUT leaving food for it WILL be brought down from behind. Find the slowest member of the party, and make your attack rolls on that poor sucker, including the +2 attack bonus from behind and no shield penalty. If in doubt of who’s the slowest, I use the character with the shortest legs (dwarves, usually). Bears generally won’t split their attacks…they are a predator that focuses on bringing down one animal (for the purpose of eating, usually). Once it does manage a kill, it will most likely focus on eating/protecting its meal, unless the party continues to piss it off.

Bears are good climbers and have no problems running down hills or swimming, but a closed door will usually be enough to deter them if they can’t smash it open with a single blow (heavy iron-bound oak with a cross-bar is good for this).

However, if you feed a bear (either by throwing it rations or leaving a dead buddy on the ground), it is LESS likely to leave you alone in the future. Dropping food for a bear is a short-term solution to pursuit…it will continue to come back to the gravy train whenever it gets hungry. Stay in a locked cabin or barricaded cave long enough and it will get bored and wander away (probably to look for other food), but it will continue to come back as long as the adventurers are in its territory (see above) and it thinks it can get some kind of meal out of them.

Regarding crowds: bears will be discouraged from attack by large numbers of VISIBLE people. When a wandering bear surprises a party, or a pursuing bear chases a group into a populated area, a DM should check morale before making any kind of attack if there are a bunch of humans/demihumans milling about:

Black bears: more than two to three people
Brown bears: more than four to five people
Grizzly/Kodiac*: more than six to seven
Polar bears: more than eight to ten
Cave bears: don’t need to check morale to attack

*Any brown bear with 30 or more hit points can be considered to be a North American grizzly; these monsters attack and do damage as a polar bear rather than a standard brown bear; they award XP as if they had 6HD.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bear Hug My Ass

From the Tom Moldvay Basic rules (page B31):
If a bear (of any type) hits with both paws on the same victim in one round of combat, the bear has hugged its victim and will cause 2-16 (2d8) additional points of damage in the same round as the attack.
Okay, let’s get something straight right now: bears don’t hug.

They just don’t; look it up. There’s no known documentation of a bear ever hugging someone as a form of attack. It is a pretty silly idea.

A “bear hug” is a move in Greco-Roman wrestling in which the arms are wrapped around an opponent, the hands are locked, and the opponent is held tightly to the chest. It is also something I give my wife when she’s been out of town for a few days and I’m meeting her at the airport.

The only way in which the term “bear hug” has ANYthing at all to do with bears is that it has the word “bear” in its title. It is not something bears do when fighting…neither to humans, nor each other.

And yet it’s been such a part of D&D lore that every edition (with the exception of Holmes) features some form of bear “hugging attack.” The first mention of “hugs” I can find is in Supplement I in which it is noted both werebears and owl bears may “hug” for an additional 2D8 damage. By the 3rd edition Monster Manual, this has morphed into something called an “improved grab” attack. As with most things in D20, it’s ridiculously complex.

[you know, I was actually thinking of taking a stab at running a D20/Pathfinder game the other day? Yeah, really. But then I remembered what a PAIN IN THE ASS it is to DM the game due to the bullshit stat blocks of monsters and quickly came to my senses!]

Now to me, a bear is a dangerous animal. While I can buy the heroic fantasy of a knight in magic armor and a flaming sword besting one in combat, bears should be capable of killing your average two to three warriors on foot, plate mail or no. The hug attack has been a great way to model the sheer destructive force of a 1700 pound beast (both brown and polar bears are capable of that size, by the way, though the polar bears ON AVERAGE are the larger of the two). In wrestling, the bear hug is a “take down” move, designed to bring a foe to the ground. While bears don't hug opponents, they are plenty strong enough to overbear opponents (from which vantage point they can readily maul the poor target). It is not, then, my goal here to remove the "extra damage" attack from the game of D&D.

I just want to clean it up a bit.
; )

Here's how I'd re-work the bear hug for B/X:

If a bear (of any type) hits with the same opponent with both paw attacks in a single combat round, the beast bears its opponent to the ground and inflicts an additional 2-16 (2d8) damage as it mauls its victim.

It would, of course, be assumed that any character surviving such an attack would scramble away and regain its feet for the following round. If the victim does NOT survive the attack, well...it might be time for the rest of the party to sneak away and leave the animal to its meal.

Werebears would have the same mauling ability (when in bear form)...owl bears have a "tear and rend attack" that works much the same way should they get their talons on an opponent.

But let's leave the hugging out of the mix, huh?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Kicking Off "Bear Week" at B/X Blackrazor

That's right...I'm sure y'all have heard of "Shark Week" on the nature channels; this week is going to be Bear Week at Ye Olde Blog. I keep bringing 'em up here and there, so I figured I might as well devote a series of posts to the bad boys.

I could find no reference to bears earlier than the AD&D Monster Manual, though they do appear in G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. There's no mention of bears (other than were- and owl-) in Holmes, and the only reference I find to them in the LBBs is under the description of hill giants where it says they may have 3-18 bears as guards (not sure what Gary & Dave had in mind for use as stats...werebears?). If they are found in any of the first four supplements, I can't locate 'em.

So I'm content to accept that the 1977 Monster Manual is the official first source of "bears" (statistically speaking) in D&D. The MM has only three variety of "normal" bears: Black, Brown, and Cave. While all three are neutral in alignment, they are each described as being of different temperament:

Black bears are usually not aggressive, brown bears are, and cave bears are quite aggressive.

All have the ability to "hug" for damage (as first given for werebears and owl bears in Supplement I) and AD&D is the only place we see different bears' "hugs" doing varying amounts of damage until D20 and their overly complicated "improved grab/grapple" mechanic. In all other places (OD&D, B/X, BECMI/RC, the AD&D owl bear) we see damage set at a standard 2D8.

[the whole "hug" thing requires its own post, which we'll get to tomorrow]

B/X is the first to introduce polar bears (a personal favorite) as well as what is perhaps my favorite monster description in any edition:

Bears are well known to all adventurers.

They are, huh? Well, if they're not they should be...your campaign really hasn't kicked off till some poor dumb party member has been mauled by a bear.

Interesting that B/X actually gives a treasure type to bears. Apparently, bears like their shiny bits and they have a small chance at carrying a few pieces of copper, silver, gold, and jewelry as well as the possibility of sporting a magic item (probably left over from some dead adventurer). Cave bears (a prehistoric version of the animal) have a chance at electrum and platinum as well...perhaps they have more discerning tastes in picnic baskets? Regardless, it's a pretty small XP bump to a monster that can be damn hard on PCs. We'll be talking tactics for "bear-fighting" a little bit later, but it's quite possible that the threat a bear poses outweighs any possible reward that might justify a combat encounter.

Yes, you read that right. It may be smartest to NEVER FIGHT a bear. At least in B/X where XP for monster combat is pretty wimpy (a 5HD Grizzly nets your party 175 XP...a 6HD polar bear will bring in 275 XP...but trying splitting that six ways (or however many survivors you have after a fight with a bear).

But as I said, we'll get to that (I hope).

All right, that's as much as I have time for right now. Besides, I'm thinking of maybe breaking out some paint today and icing up a few minis for Thursday's game. But stay tuned as we delve into the furry juggernauts of the fantasy world.

: )

Post-Basic Monsters

Some might wonder why I restricted yesterday's Top Ten List to monsters from the Basic set. I mean, sure, I was writing about Basic set monsters that seem anything but "low level" in nature, but this IS a semi-B/X-themed blog, after all...where's the EXpert love?

Well, actually I have been kicking around ideas for a Top Ten B/X Monster list for awhile now...probably for more than a year. The problem is there are just too many monsters for me to combine them into one list...plus a lot of them seem redundant (I mean I really like the specter and the vampire, but superficially there's not much difference between the two)...at least with my Basic list I can make a theme (i.e. over-powered). I can't say there's too much of that (i.e. overwhelming-power) in an Expert-level campaign...unless you're designing wilderness adventures where PCs encounter multiple (D4) purple worms.

Plus, I have a hard time distinguishing "favorite" from "effective" and in my semi-professional opinion I feel these two should be a little closer together. Is the cyclops the most badass monster in the Expert book? Is it even one of the "top ten?" Probably not...but it is one of my personal favorites (and I have used the cyclops to literally crush Expert-level PCs in the past) and would probably rate high on any top ten list I put together. Same would hold true for the mummy.

Anyway, I may do a Top Ten for X one of these days, but it's not a huge priority. When I was a kid I spent much less time with the Expert set monster list anyway...it was shortly after getting my Cook/Marsh boxed set that one of my player gifted me with my first hardcover Monster Manual. And I mean, very shortly...I may have received both for my birthday, but with a few days between receipt of each. And the MM quickly became THE "go to" book of monsters for our B/X games (we didn't understand at the time what "AD&D" was, of course).

Not that there's a cyclops in the Monster Manual...which is probably why I know that particular entry so well.

If you had asked me at age 14 (the height of my AD&D "career") what my favorite D&D tome was, I would have probably named my Efreet-covered DMG. After all, I did love being associated with the trappings of "DM" and I did put a lot of miles on that particular book (even using most of those minutia rules that other AD&D players gloss over). However, I don't think ANY of my AD&D books got nearly as much use as the Monster Manual...a thin, hard-bound, illustrated treatise on monsters and just about the most perfect reference for a DM who'd already memorized the rule system and only needed to crack a book when checking a chart for the "chance to hit" or effect of a psionic attack.

The AD&D Monster Manual really is just about perfect...when I'd hand over the reins of DMing to other newbies (like my younger brother) this was always the FIRST book they reached for. Anyone can draw a map on graph paper, right? Anyone can jot down poison arrow and pit traps (no list needed for that). But the MM was the Bible of adversaries, each one succinctly described in a short stat block (eminently more readable than the D20 and 4th edition versions of the MM), with a small paragraph denoting just enough info to get you going.

I kind of want a B/X Monster Manual.

Ugh. I hate to type those words as I'm sure someone will take the idea and run with it (even if they're not already doing so), and I just know I will be displeased with the result. Personally, I want to re-vamp (no pun!) many of the monsters in B/X, not just type 'em up again (and certainly not just convert AD&D monsters to B/X), give 'em a makeover, organize 'em in a way that is both practical and easily usable. A slim tome with a couple-three hundred entries or so, some old school illustrations and a treasure table in the back (maybe a re-worked series of wandering monster charts a la the Fiend Folio)...definitely NOT a hulking, slickly produced 400-page volume like Pathfinder.

Anyway, THAT kind of project is a looooong way off (I don't even know if it could be done in the scale I want...certainly I would give it a different title). Let's see if we can just get the current two-three projects published first.
: )

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Best Basic B/X Monsters (Top Ten)

And by "best" I mean, "best at killing players."

I've read more than a few times that the Holmes basic edition is the most dangerous, mortality producing version of the game ever written. This is due in part to certain "expert level" monsters (like the purple worm, manticore, hydra, and vampire) being included in a game where the characters only go from levels 1-3.

Well, I beg to differ...I mean, dead is dead, right? If you're digested by a purple worm you're not anymore dead than being smacked for max damage by an ogre; there's a point of diminishing returns on that kind of thing (i.e. "death").

[unless, of course, you're killed by a vampire...then I suppose you can be "even more dead."]

But Moldvay's red book has plenty of monsters that will wipe out characters in the 1-3 range...many of whom are listed as standard wandering monsters for those very same levels. The idea that Moldvay's version of Basic D&D is somehow safer or "more balanced" is completely ridiculous. At least in Holmes characters with a high Dexterity will (on average) gain initiative (and thus, the upper hand or opportunity to run) in any encounter. In B/X, initiative is always a crap shoot.

The following list is my Top Ten Most Deadly Monsters from Moldvay's red book. Most of them are also my favorite monsters in the Moldvay set (these I've marked with an "*"). Not surprisingly, they are very real PC killers...only a true asshole of a DM would use these in an adventure for characters under 4th level, at least in the numbers listed in the rules (a singular, lone creature is much easier to deal with than a group, at least for a large adventuring party).

Oh, by the way...dragons (of any color) are NOT on the list. While I will be the first to say there aren't ENOUGH dragons in your average D&D campaign, dragons have such wildly varying ability that one can't really say whether they are consistently deadly (a stupid, sleeping, dragon of young age and no spell-casting ability isn't much of a threat if the party can get the drop on it and reduce its hit points before its first breath attack).

Here's the consistent badasses:

#10 Zombies: If there was any question in my mind whether or not "the damned dead" should be here, it was answered by last Thursday's decimation of adventurers. Unlike every other edition of D&D (including AD&D and Holmes), Moldvay's zombies are CHAOTIC (all undead in B/X are Chaotic), which is to say "unholy" and "evil;" probably the reason holy water is so effective on 'em. I already wrote how nasty these guys are...they beat out other 2HD monsters (like gnolls) due to their fearlessness (no morale checks) and immunity to sleep spells. Used in large numbers they are likely to take apart any 2nd level parties they encounter.

#9 Shadows: Again, a change-up from other editions of the game, B/X shadows are NOT undead, and thus NOT subject to turning...however, they are still immune to charm and sleepspells and being incorporeal, can only be hit by magic weapons. They show up on the 3rd level of a dungeon (1-8 appearing!); how many of your 3rd level character are carrying magic weapons? Strength drain is delicious and even if a party survives the confrontation, will probably be left deep in the dungeon in a weakened condition.

#8 Minotaurs*: I've always loved the minotaur as a monster; dug it in the legend of Theseus, dug it in Saturday morning cartoons (an episode of the old Godzilla, if I'm not mistaken), and loved Willingham's illustration in B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. A 6HD monster that gets a +2 on damage when using a weapon. Being larger than an ogre, it is immune to both charm person, hold person, and sleep, and will probably kill at least one or two PCs before being brought down, even by large parties. Minotaurs are also intelligent, and unlike other monsters "will pursue as long as its prey is in sight" (this one isn't distracted by dropped rations). Vicious...did I mention that the normal number appearing is 1-6? What the hell is this doing in the Basic game?

#7 Harpies*: As with minotaurs, I've always loved the harpy; I've been a fan of Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn (both the book and the very faithful film adaptation) for years, and the harpy is an awesome villain...but which is the adventure module where, if PCs fail their save versus the harpy's song it comes and (automatically) "rips their eyes out?" One of the Slavers series maybe? Or the Master of the Desert Nomads? Regardless, that's the kind of encounter I love to see in adventure modules (and that some players...hi, Luke!...absolutely loathe). But if any monster should be a malicious, de-protagonizing bitch, it should be the harpy. Monsters that fly mean monsters that are hard to bring down (and that circle to keep out of range of spells). Three attacks per round (claw-claw-weapon) makes them exceptionally nasty, even without the charming. I used surgically-modified harpies in my Paschendale Necropolis adventure (no singing and no weapon attacks) and they still killed both hirelings and wounded several party members in nothing flat. The fact that they don't rate higher on this list should tell you something about numbers 1 though 6.

#6 Bears*: My love for the bear as a B/X monster is, I think, fairly well known. The only thing that doesn't rate them higher is their low "number appearing" stat (usually only 1, unless in their lair). Often totally underestimated...what? It's just a bear, right?...they will kill party members very quickly before they even know what hit 'em. Except for the black bear, all bears are larger than the ogre and are thus immune to the sleep/charm/hold spells of low level characters, and being animals are fairly immune to reasoning or negotiation (and since you usually only encounter ONE, they're generally NOT subject to morale checks!). Of the bunch, my hands down favorite is the polar bear (even the non-armored variety), because they seem so mundane...right up until they kill you. "Oh...and the bear hits you several times and does [*roll*roll*] ...30 points of damage to you! Holy crap!"

#5 Ghouls*: While these are a personal favorite (nothing says "terror" in the dungeon like a pack of flesh-eating undead) I almost never use them except in high level games or very small moderation. Why? Because they are Total Party Kills waiting to happen. 2HD creatures with claw-claw-bite ability are nasty enough...I've seen a half-dozen troglodytes with the same D4/D4/D4 take down two plate armored fighters and a plate-and-shield cleric without batting an eye. Ghouls do D3/D3/D3 with the same chance to hit, and every attack that hits forces a save versus paralysis (requiring a 12-14 save roll on the D20 for characters under 4th level). Did I mention they travel in packs of 1-6? And being undead they're immune to sleep/charm/hold? That gives 'em a leg up over the tentacled carrion crawler. Did I also mention that per Moldvay they start showing up on level two of the dungeon? Do you know what a 2nd level cleric needs to roll to turn a ghoul at 2nd level? A nine. Fairly long odds...and if you happen upon a lair (treasure type B = 2,000gp average), you'll encounter 2-16. That's a lot of diseased nails raking the flesh from your bones. 'Course it could be worse: in OD&D and AD&D being killed by a ghoul turns you into a ghoul!

#4 Mediums: 1st level magic-users come in packs of 1-4. The only reason they don't rate higher is it's always possible the PCs might get the drop on 'em and take 'em down with a sleep spell of their own. Otherwise, it should be short work for one of the mediums to get off a sleep spell and drop an entire adventuring party. Heck, a magic-missile might well finish off that rival party mage hiding in the back ranks, and if accompanied by their "master" (only a 3rd level magic-user in the B/X monster description!) the party may well find themselves trying to push their way through a web spell to get to said magic-users. In the lair (a school?) mediums are encountered in groups of 1-12...that's a lot of charm spells. Personally, I'm surprised it only rates as a 3rd level encounter.

#3 Lycanthrope: Werewolves*: Although these don't show up in B/X until the 4th level of the dungeon, they are present in the Basic book, and are one of my all-time favorite monsters. I almost never use them. Generally found singularly in old TSR adventure modules (a la the standard horror cinema "wolfman"), when used as written, they can be one hell of an encounter: number appearing 1-6 (2-12 in lair/wilderness). In addition, lycanthropes can each summon 1-2 normal animals to aid them and werewolves "summon normal animals to form large packs with them." On average that's nine monsters (3-4 werewolves and 5-6 normal wolves) or double that (around 18!) in the wilderness or dungeon lair. Any group of five or more has a 5HD, 30 hit point leader that does +2 damage (and is, of course, immune to sleep and charm and hold person spells...at least in wolf form), and all werewolves require silver or magic weapons to injure. Assuming you can tell which wolves are the lycanthropes and which are the normal wolves (how many silver arrows are the low level archers packing?). Wolf packs tend to maul the hell out of characters anyway (I saw three or four normal wolves take down a charmed ogre during a run of M1: Blizzard Pass) and werewolves fight and attack like dire wolves. Such an encounter with "average" numbers will kill several PCs, especially the lighter armored party members. And even should they run, wolves are some of the fastest pursuit critters in the game (180' move compared to the un-armored PC's 120' move). It would be a small matter for such scent hounds to run the PCs down.

#2 Owl Bears*: Probably my all-time, hands down favorite monster of the Moldvay Basic book, they are also probably the baddest of badasses. Cross a grizzly with a griffin and what do you get? A creature that can't be stopped by the spells available to characters level 1st through 4th and that can do up to 40 points of damage in a single round. Claw-claw-bite at D8/D8/D8 plus "bear hug" for 2D8...and did I mention they hunt in packs of 1-4? A normal grizzly is only ever found solo in a dungeon...you can encounter up to 4 times that many owl bears on the 4th level of a dungeon, and they will rip you to shreds. Bears of a feather flock together, I guess. Need it be mentioned that with 5 hit dice they're immune to charm, sleep, hold person, etc.? Oh, yeah...I already said that. When these bad boys come out, even 4th and 5th level fighters tremble in their boots.

#1 Medusa*: Another monster I almost never use. Interesting that the OD&D version had the lower body of a snake, like the classic gorgon of Greek myth...not sure why they changed it in later editions except possibly to not confuse it with the (confusingly-named) bull-like creature. Moldvay's description of the monster constantly refers to it in the singular, which I find strange as the number appearing is 1-3 (1-4 in lair). An average of 2 medusa per encounter, each one of which is 4HD with an auto-death attack (poison) AND and an auto-petrifaction effect (no attack roll necessary). The medusa (in numbers of 1-3) first show up on the 3rd level of the dungeon. What party of 3rd level characters is going to survive a wandering encounter with three medusa? That's just a ridiculously tough encounter...you might as well call 'em half-hit dice mind flayers. I feel mean just putting ONE medusa in an adventure; as I said, most of the time I just leave 'em completely out of the game. Too bad, though, because Perseus and the gorgon is probably my 2nd favorite Greek myth, right after Theseus and the minotaur.

All right, that's the list...and glad I am to get it off my chest. One of the monsters on this list will be featured in blog posts all week long, starting tomorrow, but for right now I'll let you contemplate the sadism of Tom Moldvay's "Basic" set and the death and destruction it is possible to unleash even before opening the "Expert" box. I know I did, back in the day, as I owned the Basic set probably for a whole year prior to getting the Cook/Marsh Expert rules.

: )