Saturday, September 20, 2014

Chop! Paralysis and Turn to Stone

[this is Part 3 in a series of getting rid of saving throws in my new fantasy heartbreaker...though you could certainly apply these ideas to your B/X campaign. You can see my formative thoughts on this concept here and here. Part 1 can be found here; Part 2 is here]

Okay...which problematic concept to deal with first?

Guess we'll start with paralysis. As originally explained, the idea of paralysis (being unable to move or least temporarily) first comes about in Chainmail with regard to the Wight fantasy creature. Here's the full entry (per my 3rd edition copy):
WIGHTS (and Ghouls): Although they are foot figures, Wights (and Ghouls) melee as Light Horse and defend as Heavy Horse. They cannot be harmed by normal missile fire. Wights (and Ghouls) can see in darkness, and must subtract 1 from any die roll when in full light. If they touch a normal figure during melee, it becomes paralyzed and remains so for one complete turn. A paralyzed figure is considered to be able to strike a blow at the Wight just prior to paralysis taking effect, so melee can occur but only one round. Zombies are in this class but attack as Orcs and move as Goblins.
Note a couple things here: the text is pretty clear to specify which characteristics are shared by both wights and ghouls; from my interpretation I would say the paralysis ability is limited to wights (and available to neither ghouls nor zombies). Lumping the creatures in the same category is a space-saving device for creatures that (on the Chainmail battlefield) are almost totally similar.

The other thing one notices is the lack of a saving throw.

O wait, sorry...there's one more creature that paralyzes troops in Chainmail: the Wraith. However, that creature's paralyzing touch lasts indefinitely unless cured by the touch of "a friendly Elf, Hero-type, or Wizard." And no, there's no saving throw.

When we get to OD&D we find the Chainmail concepts have morphed a bit. Wights and wraiths now drain energy levels (as they will through every edition that follows) and touch paralysis is limited to the ghoul...the ONLY monster in Book 2 to exhibit this ability. OD&D refers players to Chainmail to see how the power would presume it would last for a single minute (as "one turn" in Chainmail equals one minute of game time) and that the victim would receive no saving throw.

Which is fine, since there is no saving throw for paralysis in OD&D. You can *CHOP* the save versus paralysis and stay right in line with the original RAW.

Holmes Basic adds a couple more paralyzing creatures to the mix (the carrion crawler and the gelatinous cube) and makes sure to note that all creatures (including the ghoul) bestows a saving throw versus paralysis on their victims: except there's no saving throw versus paralysis to be found in the Holmes book.

[the gelatinous cube and carrion crawler first appear in Supplement I and do state that characters receive a "save versus paralysis," but there is no such save found in the book. Or in the later OD&D supplements, at least so far as I can find]

Saving throws versus paralysis first show up in AD&D and B/X, but in different categories: AD&D lumps it in with poison...perhaps because it appears as a monster effect that gets delivered like a contact poison (like being stung by a jellyfish); B/X puts it with Turn to Stone, probably because it has a similar effect (immobilizing the victim). But I'm just guessing.

Here's the question: what exactly are we talking about? A fear effect? A contact poison? A way to wrack up a TPK? 'Cause that's really what D6 ghouls (x3 paralyzing attacks per round) or D3 carrion crawlers (x8 paralyzing attacks per round) is a recipe for: total party least at the low levels where these creatures are usually encountered. Heck, the gelatinous cube shows up on Holmes's random monster chart for the 1st level of the dungeon...that's a 4 HD monster!

[I've seen a single ghoul take down half of a four man party by itself...the last two characters locked themselves in an exit-less room to keep the thing from eating them]

For my money, the idea of a touch paralysis makes sense for Chainmail's wight because it models the "barrow wight" of Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring (if you want to call Frodo's paralysis of fear to be part of the creature's mystical "chill" effect; the ring-wraiths had a similar "fear" effect). And only a deus ex machina (Tom Bombadil) freed them from the creature's grasp.

In such an instance of magical, involuntary fear...throw death knights and lichees and dragons into this category,'re really talking about a character's morale or willpower. The ability to resist a type of charm that would prevent an otherwise able-bodied person from acting. Because normally players have complete control over their characters' actions; the DM is not allowed to say, "You stand there, shaking in your boots, overcome by awe/terror/majesty of the monster." Sure, the players can say that (and often do, jokingly, in 'not-what-my-character-is-really-doing' banter)...but they don't. They are, after all, heroes (of a sort) and men (and women) of action.

If it's a magical effect, it should be dealt with as magic. That post comes later.

If it's some sort of clenched-muscle-induced contact poison, that's a different thing. In my earlier post on poisons, I wrote that non-lethal poisons (specifically gas attacks: sleeping, laughing, tear gas...whatever) should, if triggered, simply effect the target. If you have a monster that paralyzes its a spider that drugs its prey to eat later, for example...than a successful attack is going to do one of three things:

  • damage the character ('oh, you were knocked down and hurt')
  • poison the character ('oh, the thing bites you')
  • or both ('oh, the thing knocks you down and then bites you')

There are a couple ways to model this, but I think the easiest is to consider using a damage threshold. Assuming that we're talking a monster with a virulent enough "sting" to paralyze a human, figure out the maximum normal damage it would do without inflicting its effect...anything over that is an indication the person's been dosed (with or without extra damage).

For example...say the giant spider really only paralyzes its prey because it likes warm meals (the Shelob syndrome). It won't do much more than buffet a character for minimal damage (1-3 points), but you roll 1D4 for damage with a result of 4 indicating the character has been stung. For a truly monstrous spider with a monstrous sting (like the aforementioned Shelob from do know spiders don't sting - they bite - right?), the damage roll might be 1D6 with a 4,5, or 6 result indicating an injection (and perhaps damage of 1, 2, or 3 points due to the size of that stinger!).

You want your ghouls to paralyze prey for some reason? Okay, fine. They're man-sized and unarmed except for dirty-filthy nails and teeth. An unarmed man (in B/X) does D2 damage on a successful attack (from punching and kicking and head-butting). Ghouls are a bit more rabid-vicious so they do D4 damage instead (and I'd personally ixnay the "extra attacks;" it's already factored into the damage and greater HD/attack chance).  Anything over 2 points (head-butting) can be considered a claw-bite-paralysis action.

A carrion crawler paralyzes on any successful attack...but just give 'em one attack per round unless you want them to attack multiple opponents with their tentacles - in which case I'd limit the number of targets to no more than the creature's HD. Three, in other words.

The gelatinous cube is a cube, 10' long on a side, that fills a dungeon corridor but somehow only receives one attack per round. You'd think it could just (slowly) run over anything in its path. Per Supplement I:
"Any flesh which comes in contact with a Gelatinous Cube becomes anesthetized unless a saving throw vs. paralization [sic] is made. The touch also causes 2-8 points of damage as the creature seeks to dissolve and devour flesh."
[the text in Holmes is mainly the same, including the word "anesthetized"]

I'm not sure what this means. The body part struck falls asleep? I'm not even sure how such a creature attacks? With a dralasite-like pseudopod? I'm inclined to use the Moldvay interpretation (creatures struck by the thing are paralyzed, not anesthetized)...otherwise, how would it be able to do its job of cleaning the dungeon of living denizens?

[another problematic the wandering monsters run from the thing? Do they ever sleep? Or do they just "clock out" at 5pm before the dungeon custodial service starts its nightly rounds?]

The cube doesn't start being extra-surprise-worthy until Moldvay (or perhaps the MM1E...I don't have my copy on me) and if I was going to use the monster, I'd consider axing that ability (a giant shlorping beast that glistens in torchlight?). I'd probably keep the damage at 2D4 and treat the damage threshold as 5 or so (with results of 2, 3, or 4 simply resulting in "numbing" along with acidic burning/digestion). On a 5+ the thing "anesthetizes" enough of the character that you can't run (your legs perhaps, or your head), as well as doing damage. At least, with anesthesia, death should be relatively painless.
Only the surprised can't outrun this thing.
But, of course, you also have the alternative of not using creatures with paralyzing attacks, or repurposing them so their attacks' "special effect" is something other than paralysis...spreading disease is a good one for the ghouls, for example (something I used in 5AK). On the other hand, if attacks are going to have a special effect (like disease) you still need a way to determine whether or not it took effect. Damage threshold works for disease, but you can also take a cue from lycanthropy's magic curse: "Any creature reduced to less than 50% of their hit points are infected." That's fine too.

[so does the B/X giant rat's disease with slight modification: roll randomly after combat to achieve a result of either no effect, bedridden, or terminally ill]

Ugh...this post is a lot longer than I intended. I'll have to handle petrification in a follow-up. Sorry.

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