Tuesday, January 15, 2019

More (B/X) Mummy

And now for some monster love.

I've mentioned in passing my love for 2nd edition's "Mummy Lord." The fact of the matter is that I love the mummy monster in general. I don't know if it's my lifelong fascination with Egypt, my seeing the treasures of King Tut circa age five (when they were in Seattle), or just that I dig cursed movie monsters wrapped in bandages (hiding their Only-My-Imagination-Can-Guess hideousness)...I've just always dug on mummy monsters. Despite cinematic missteps (you know which ones I'm talking about), I'm always ready to throw down some cash on mummy fiction.

So it was that I ran into this post from Matt Jackson the other day that inspired today's idea. Let's talk about the B/X mummy.

For my money, the mummy doesn't get used enough in the B/X game. Heck, undead in general could stand to make a stronger appearance (that's a whole 'nother post...).

Just waiting to be dropped
into your game.
Mummies are one of the top dogs of B/X undead, the greatest of the corporeal undead (though I suppose that depends on how your campaign skins vampires). For me, they are the B/X equivalent of the lich (yes, I realize I added the lich to the monster list of my B/X Companion...forget all that for the moment, huh?), and my inclination is to treat them as such. How? Read on....

The monster as presented in the Cook/Marsh expert set is only slightly evolved from its original appearance in LBB2. Armor class, hit dice, movement, treasure type, number appearing...all its stats are exactly the same. Even the 1d12 damage is from OD&D (from Supplement I, when Gygax introduced variable weapon damage). None of that differs from the creature's earliest incarnation.

Holmes, so far as I can tell, was the first one to introduce the fear trait (similar to Greyhawk's presentation of the lich...in effect, if not actual system), though with the added complication of bonuses for multiple party members (this is pure cinema movie monster stuff, and shows up in the MM and later editions, too). Cook/Marsh ix-nays any such bonus, and I prefer the simpler form of fear found in B/X.

However, I disagree with B/X's "nerfing" of the mummy rot ability. In all editions prior to B/X, a cure disease spell only reduces the effect of the curse (from healing taking ten times as long to healing "only" taking twice as long)...and then only if the spell is cast within an hour of being affected! This makes the mummy's special ability at least as dangerous and permanent as the energy drain of lesser undead (the wights and wraiths): a permanent crippling of the character's ability to heal damage. True, magical curing is unaffected by the earlier (OD&D and Holmes) versions of the rot, but it's still an ongoing penalty as additional resources must be spent to heal the wounded character.

Regardless of how one values the trade-off, the B/X version is still too easily cured for my taste. Any 6th level or greater cleric has access to the spell that will cure mummy rot, and as there's no additional debilitating or detrimental effect, it's unlikely to produce much inconvenience for parties likely to encounter the monster (mummies don't show up till the "levels 6-7" Wandering Monsters table). Yes, mummies are durable and hit hard, but they're still slow and their special ability doesn't strike nearly enough fear in the hearts of PCs...I think most BX players would rather take their chance with a trio of mummies than fight an equal number of wights.

So what to do...up the nasty as AD&D does? In addition to the standard "advancement" of undead (adding an extra HD) in the Monster Manual, we find that the AD&D version of mummy rot causes eventual death (in D6 months) and permanently reduces Charisma by two points for every month affected. ALSO, an individual killed by a mummy immediately "rots and cannot be raised from death" unless both a cure disease and raise dead spell are used within 6 turns (one hour).  Well, now!

[it is interesting that a raise dead spell cast upon an AD&D mummy will turn the creature into a normal human "of 7th level fighting ability, naturally." Raise dead spells cast on undead in B/X simply destroy the creatures (unless a save versus spells is made), but AD&D allows for the raising of undead creatures (other than skeletons) to life, so long as they are "newly made undead" and are within the normal time restrictions of the spell]

No, I can't say I'm a huge fan of the AD&D version of the mummy. And while the older form of rot found in Homes and OD&D is probably my favorite for its long-term ramifications, I think I prefer to stick with the B/X version for its immediate impact potential on an adventure. Characters infected with B/X rot receive no benefit from magical healing, including that of potions, magic staffs, and spells; if the rot finds them deep within the bowels of a dungeon (and out of cure disease spells) their ability to survive will be severely curtailed.

Still, it's fun to ratchet up the challenge such creatures present to players. Without going "full Mummy Lord," here's an idea I've got to make the mummy a bit more of a threat to mid-level characters. You'll note that a mummy has pretty much the same combat stats as a 7th level cleric, albeit one with tremendous (18) strength...that's the basis for the following variation:


(all stats as the B/X mummy, except that it saves as C7 and has Treasure Type G)

The magical ritual for creating mummies was developed by ancient priests who wanted deathless guardians watching over their burial tombs for eternity. Some of the more devout priests chose to undergo the ritual themselves, in order to better safeguard the sacred resting places of their kings and high priests.

A mummy priest has all the same powers and abilities as a normal mummy. In addition, a mummy priest may perform the following magical spells, each 1/day, as a 7th level cleric:

1st level: darkness, cause fear
2nd level: hold person, snake charm
3rd level: locate object, curse
4th level: stones to scorpions/scarabs (functions exactly as sticks to snakes)
5th level: insect plague

A cleric may attempt to turn an ancient mummified priest as a normal mummy, but the creature receives a save versus spells to resist the effect.

XP value: 925

Okay, maybe there wasn't always much
"choice" in the matter...


  1. Mummy rot seems fine to me. I don’t mean to be quarrelsome, but I think permanent energy drain is the dick move of the undead world. Remove curse or restoration ought to fix energy drain - and does when I am the ref.

  2. I always like different variants of undead. My favorite by far, when choosing critters to populate adventures. I have an adventure partially written where a death cult that focuses on disease, hos a trapped mummy and uses its bandages to infect the population. I just need to finish it.

    As far as what Scott's statement about energy drain, I do mine differently. Instead of entire levels, I do xp. I don't have my work in front of me, but say undead whack a PC it does 2d4 x 100xp drain. So the intent stays intact, but it doesn't immediately weaken the character, but it could quickly.

  3. Why does everyone keep talking about energy drain? Was I writing about energy drain? I thought this was a post about mummies and tomb rot!

    1. Oh, gosh sorry LOL

      There is nothing wrong with the mummy’s rot ability, either as written or as you tweaked it. So, not much to say except maybe “good job” ?

    2. @ Scott:

      Well, only if you think it IS a "good job."

      Anyway, I was thinking about looking at an energy draining undead or two next. Don't worry!
      ; )

  4. As always, great post.
    However the Mummy is still a tough monster. If randomly encountered we don't get the "D" treasure, so a low average of 2 per encounter is just annoying. 5+hd with half damage taken is pretty resilient, and I don't think we can assume our Elder Cleric pray for Cure Disease in the morning - if we assume 6th level. C-light, Remove curse and Striking are nice to haves too. And even if, you still only have the one, not one spell for every member of the expedition. The answer then is to pray again. But you have to be well rested. Random encounters during the night (especially if camping in a dungeon - right?) will ruin this. Great time to have players think about the map, to find low encounter areas. No one inflicted can heal magically, so it's down hill if the cure can¨t be obtained fast. Bad news all around.
    Scrolls might be the solution, but they have to be found, right?

    Assuming an 7 or 8th level Cleric with 2 Cure spells in a "full party" of one each of the classes plus a few retainers an encounter with 1d4 Mummies can be devastating long term if a safe camp can not be made.

    I have not thought about the Mummy entry for a long time :)

    I like the new "monster class" you drew up. Locate Object is good when it need to find that stolen object the foolish adventures bought from the nerve wracked "honest salesmen" at the basar.

    1. @ Janich:

      I agree that the short term prospects for a mid-level party getting jumped by a passel of mummies isn't great, but most of my players stay pretty close to the exits of tombs and dungeons, specifically so that they can rest and regain spells fairly easily. Up through 5th level, a single mummy would be a world wrecker for most adventuring parties, but after level six, the thing just doesn't DO all that much (as written). The rot doesn't work fast enough (or have a great enough impact) that it can't simply be waited out at the local tavern-inn by a party with a decent cleric.

      On a side note: just watched the old Karloff mummy movie this morning. Thought Quest would be a good substitute for Insect Plague. But I *do* like having Locate Object on the list.
      ; )

  5. I think you're right, the main attack needs to be fierce. The players need to fear it, not just the characters. Also, I like stones to scorpions!