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Monday, October 15, 2018

REF (Random Encounter Fun): Magic Men

Switching things up from the last REF, I thought we'd go back to the dungeon. A random determination took us to level 3 of the crawl (Moldvay). The result? Medium.

That's right. 1st level magic-user(s). 1d4 of them, actually. I rolled and got a 3.

Three unarmored fellows with daggers and one spell apiece aren't exactly terrifying. Granted, the spells could be a challenge, but if our PCs are 3rd level on average, I doubt they're quaking in their boots, here. I decided to roll randomly for the spells for Huey, Dewey, and Louie. I came up with Read Magic, Protection from Evil, and Light.

Scary? Not so much.

However, there is an interesting wrinkle to Mediums in the monster listings. There is a 50% chance that they are accompanied by a 3rd level MU, like a senior student or teacher. Rolling d100, I got 09, so guess who's coming along?

The conjurer gets two 1st level and one 2nd level spells. Again, rolling randomly, it turns out he has Protection from Evil, Magic Missile, and Web. No wonder he was sent along to watch these three newbies!

There's nothing inherently hostile about this quartet of spell-casters. Maybe they are searching the dungeon for some magic item or a spell scroll. Or maybe they're in the employ of the evil overlord and they are patrolling this sector of the lair. The point is that because of the fact that they are essentially NPCs (as opposed to "monsters"), they can have just as many motivations as the PCs for being in the dungeon.

In my campaign, magic-users and elves need to find spells to fill their grimoires, so this encounter would be a huge potential win for them. Likewise, the mediums (and their 3rd level buddy) might covet the PC spellcasters books.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Curious Objects: The Rod of Cancellation

It's very plain-looking, but that sort of makes sense.

I can't say that I recall this ever showing up in play for me. I've thought about placing one to see what players might do with it, but I don't think it's ever happened. The RoC is odd for three main reasons.

1) It's the only rod that appears in the Basic/Expert books. Which is strange that they created a whole category for just the one item. Of course the idea is that the RoC can be used by anyone, not just spellcasters, so I guess that was how they chose to indicate that.

2) It's one and done. The RoC carries one charge only. Granted, it has a powerful effect, but again, it seems radically different in this regard from its other cylindrical cousins (Wands and Staves).

3) It is incredibly likely to succeed in its function. i.e. destroying the enchantment of another magic item. It has merely to make contact (to -hit vs. AC 9 if opposed) and there is no save. The effect is permanent, too. It's a maxed-out Dispel Magic that anyone can use (once). 

As I looked at its description, I thought about ways it might be used in a game, and to be honest, I'm surprised I haven't used it yet. It could be a nasty gotcha for the PCs in the hands of a foe, but I would make it the object of a quest. Imagine hunting one of these down to destroy a lich's phylactery? Or negating the power of the BBEG's sword? Of course, the one charge means you have to resist using its power prematurely. Also, unlike Dispel Magic, you need to physically touch the magical object you wish negate. Still, this anti-magic dowel does present some fun possibilities.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

RMA: Mummies

Keeping up with the Halloween theme, here's another classic monster.

Mummies aren't rare in D&D, but they aren't always a "go-to" monster, even for undead. I think it's partially because of the exotic nature of the trope. We usually think of pyramids and deserts when we think of these relics, but many cultures besides the Egyptians practiced forms of mummification of their dead.

Unlike other powerful undead, eg vampires or specters, mummies aren't necessarily intelligent or mindless. I've probably seen them most often played more like a ghost: either haunting some ruin or acting as an agent of vengeance against those who would defile a tomb or temple. 

Mummies are quite frankly among the scarier of the undead in classic D&D. Before we get into it, let's review the stats:

Mummy (from Cook):

AC: 3
HD: 5+1*
Move: 60' (20')
Att: 1 + disease
Dmg: 1d12 + disease
No. App: 1d4 (1d12)
Save: F5
Morale: 12

From a purely combat perspective, Sir Wraps-a-lot here is reasonably respectable. He's slow, but that makes sense (shambling undead, anyone?). His AC plus the normal undead immunities and decent hit dice mean he can take a fair bit of punishment, too.

A brief side note: I believe the Mummy is the only attack that uses the d12 damage die (as opposed to 2d6 or some such) in all of BX.

Where the mummy gets really formidable are in its special abilities.

  1. In keeping with an earlier post about the undead being scary, it's worth pointing out that mummies actually have a fear effect rule. Just seeing a mummy forces a Save vs. Paralysis or the character freezes up. If the mummy moves out of sight or attacks somebody, the effect is broken, but still. I do like the idea of a character just locking up and not alerting the party because he's too scared to speak!
  2. In addition to the 1d12 damage, the mummy's touch infects the victim with a rotting disease. What's curious about the disease is that it doesn't kill, it just prevents magical healing and slows any natural healing to 10x as long. According to Moldvay, normal healing = 1d3 hp/day of full rest. [B25] This would mean 1d3 per ten days of rest! Best find yourself a 6th level cleric and get a Cure Disease if you want those festering wounds to close!
  3. Lastly, in addition the usual undead immunities like Sleep, Charm, or Hold spells, the mummy can only be harmed by fire or magic (spells or weapons) and these only do half damage! I always think of mummies going up like a bonfire, but in truth they are quite resistant to flames. 
  4. While it's true that a mid-level or higher cleric can automatically turn or even destroy mummies, if you are in their lair (lost temples and the like), there can be up to a dozen of them! That's 60 hit dice to turn, and that's not gonna happen. 
Mummies get a pretty generous treasure type (D). It's not "dragon hoard" levels of loot, but potentially quite profitable. Which is in keeping with why tomb robbers would bother with the risk of digging these linen-swaddled nightmares up at all!

Friday, October 5, 2018

RMA: Lycanthropes (part 5, werebears)

Now we come to the final entry among the were-critters: the Werebear. I've written about normal bears before. The were version is a fair bit tougher, stat-wise. In fact, they're closer to cave bears.

Werebears (from Moldvay):

AC: 2 (8 for humans)
HD: 6*
Move: 120' (40')
Att: 2 claws/1 bite
Dmg: 2d4/2d4/2d8
No. App: 1d4 (1d4)
Save: F6
Morale: 10

If provoked, these creatures are pretty dangerous. Their armor and morale are quite respectable. In addition to their normal 3 attacks, they can hug for an additional 2d8 damage if they hit with both claws. That's potentially 4d4 + 4d8 damage to a victim in a single round! That's an average of 28 points of damage. Even if that doesn't kill a foe, it could easily set them up for lycanthropic infection; even a name level fighter (9HD) only has an average of approximately 30-40 hit points.

As formidable as they are on the lycanthrope ladder, werebears in D&D are interesting for being the only ones listed as potentially friendly. They are also described as "very intelligent, even in animal form." This is taking a pretty far step from the raging beast within stereotype of things like "Wolfman" movies, etc. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the inspiration for this particular -ahem- "skin changer" came from someplace else.

hmmmm. What could it be?

To be fair, there is a rich tradition of shape-changing bears in Native American folklore, too. I can't help but think that Beorn is at least part of this monster's origin, though.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

RMA: Lycanthropes (part 4, Weretigers)

I've talked about tigers before on this blog. It's pretty obvious that they are intimidating creatures all on their own. Weretigers add a layer of fun with the lycanthropic powers.

Weretiger (from Moldvay):

AC: 3 (9 as human)
HD: 5*
Move: 150' (50')
Att: 3 (2 claws/bite)
Dmg: 1d6/1d6/2d6
No. App: 1d4 (1d4)
Save: F5
Morale: 9

So we can see that the weres are getting progressively tougher in terms of raw combat power; better AC more hit points, 3 attacks now, doing up to 24 points of damage per round. All very impressive. The thing that the weretiger brings to the table is stealth. They surprise on a 1-4 (like normal tigers) and are described as "quiet trackers." This fits with normal tigers behavior in the real world. They are ambushers, moving with alarming speed and savagery when they want to.

Warning. There is some blood in this video.

Couple this with the weretiger summoning 1-2 more great cats to its aid (not necessarily tigers), and a party can be in for a rough time. Weretigers are also the first lycanthrope with enough hit dice to be immune to a Sleep spell, so the easy 1st level spell drop is no longer an option.

Weretigers, like wereboars, are Neutral. They are described as "very curious but becoming dangerous when threatened." This implies they aren't necessarily out to cause trouble. Which is an interesting difference from the classic "killer werewolf" trope in fiction. It may just be me, but this gives an impression of lycanthropes sometimes just going about their lives and being a regular part of a BX world as opposed to the tormented, evil, or cursed individuals wreaking havoc.

and sexier!

Weretigers also move things out of the western/european model into the "exotic east." Despite the fact that weretigers do not appear on the jungle encounter tables, one would expect to see them (or their mundane counterparts) in a tropical or eastern style locale as opposed to a "medieval fantasy" type village.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

RMA: Lycanthropes (part 3, Wereboars)

Wereboars are an odd one to me. I've espoused my love of their bigger, wackier cousin the Devil Swine, but the "normal" porcine shapeshifter is not one I've seen in use much in D&D games I've played or run.

Wereboars (from Moldvay):

AC: 4 (9 as human)
HD: 4+1*
Move: 150' (50')
Att: 1 (tusk-bite)
Dmg: 2d6
No. App: 1d4 (2d8)
Save: F4
Morale: 9

Looking at the stats, a couple of things occur to me. Wereboars are the first of what I would consider the "tough" lycanthropes. They don't appear as a wandering monster until the Expert Set levels (4th) and their Armor Class, Hit Dice, and Damage are getting more respectable. Even without being a were-creature, a sounder of them would be a decent opponent for low to mid level PCs. Another interesting thing is that they are the first in the ascending power scale of these creatures to be neutral, instead of chaotic. This implies they aren't necessarily some evil monster.

Leaving the stat block behind, let's look at the description. They are listed as "semi-intelligent," which means they won't necessarily charge blindly into a situation, but they do have "bad tempers." Poor reaction rolls, maybe? They can do the animal summoning thing too, bringing normal wild boars to the fight. These are not insignificant creatures, especially if each lycanthrope is calling a couple in. 

An interesting tidbit here: "In human form they often seem to be berserkers, and may act the same way in battle (gaining +2 on 'to hit' rolls and fighting to the death)." [B39] Two things about this. First, in were form their morale is a nine, as opposed to the "never surrender" aspect of berserkers (which they do not do as boars, but as men). Second, this makes them pretty scary even out of their magical form. Another thought is that I can imagine a role for such people in some warrior societies. Almost like a "mystic order" of warriors that are infused with the "Spirit of the Boar" and charge berserk into battle and transform into beasts in the heat of the fighting. 

Reading over the material, it strikes me that one of the main ways wereboars can be effectively used in a game is tapping into the tremendous amount of folklore that surrounds the idea of pigs and boars being demonic or supernatural. There's as much about evil pigs (if not more) than werewolves in the really old stories. Granted, they aren't all lycanthropes in those stories, but the imagery is there. For example, the Cutty Black Sow is an welsh tale of a creature that steals mens' souls on what is now Halloween. DMs looking for ways to weave a spooky wereboar-related adventure have no shortage of material to mine. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

RMA: Lycanthropes (part 2, Wererats)

Good ol' Tramp!

Next up in our look at lycanthropes are the wererats. There are several things about these creatures that make for an interesting encounter. Stats first, shall we?

Wererat (from Moldvay):

AC: 7 (9 as human)
HD: 3*
Move: 120' (40')
Att: 1, bite or weapon
Dmg: 1d4 or weapon
No. App: 1d8 (2d8)
Save: F3
Morale: 8

Note the attack listing. They are the only standard lycanthrope that can wield a weapon in bestial form. It's important to note that damage from their weapons won't infect a person with lycanthropy, only their bites. But the really unusual stuff is in the description, not the stats.

  1. They are not humans that turn into rats, but rats that turn into humans! The description on page B38 clearly states this. It is a little unclear how this works with infecting a human with the disease. Since the character becomes an NPC after they go "full were" it's not too much of an obstacle in play. Personally, I like the idea of regular rats getting infected and then being able to turn into humans!
  2. They have three possible forms instead of two. Wererats can A) be rats, B) be humans, or C) assume a "man-sized rat form." While imagery like the Chaney photo from the last post popularizes the idea of the "hybrid" forms for lycanthropes in general, by the book wererats are the only ones. Other weres are people that "change into beasts." None of the other descriptions depict a "man-beast" form, so an argument can be made that they are just wolves or boars or whatever when transformed.
  3. They are intelligent and can speak Common in either form. The general description for lycanthropes' animal forms says they cannot speak normal languages but can communicate with animals of their type. Again, wererats are an exception to the rule. They may speak in human or "man-rat" form. 
  4. When they summon regular rats to aid them, they get giant rats instead of normal ones. 
Tactically, wererats are clever, setting ambushes with a high chance of surprising foes. Their ability to change into much smaller than human size also makes them quite capable of infiltration and stealth. I can envision using them in scenarios like a chaotic master thief who retains a cadre of wererat spies.