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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

RSA: Speak with Plants


This one appears in nearly every version of D&D that I can think of, yet I have rarely seen it used. Maybe after druids became more of a thing, but as a clerical spell? And a relatively high level one at that (4th)? Not so much. It's not that SwP doesn't have its uses, but it takes up a slot that could be used by things like Neutralize Poison or Cure Serious Wounds. The good news for the spell is that since it's clerical, the caster can trade out for a day if need be without it taking up a fixed spot in a spell book. 

So what exactly does the spell do (or not do)? It has a range of 30' (yards in wilderness) and a duration of 3 turns. It "gives the cleric the power to talk to plants and request simple favors of them." One example the description lists is undergrowth bending out the way to allow a clearer path through. It also allows communication with plantlike creatures (eg Treants).

An interesting caveat is that while a request is automatically received favorably by the plants, they must be able to perform and understand what the cleric is asking. Since the spell's operative verb is "speak" it's fairly obvious that covers the comprehension part of things. I imagine "understand" in this context has more to do with the complexity of the request. 

Beyond the undergrowth example, or translating Treant-ish, I could see this spell being handy for things like quieting threats from shriekers or yellow mold. I know I've already written about fungi vs. plants on this blog, but for simplicity in gameplay let's just consider them equivalent. (If there were a "Speak with Mushroom" spell I might have a different opinion.) One could also use it to more effectively camouflage a party to hide from pursuit or to stage an ambush. It could also be used to wipe out a trail to prevent being tracked. 

I have to say the spell contains a lot of potential for creative uses. I just wish it was lower level to make it less unlikely to see play. The Ring of Plant Control offers similar options to the PCs, but is much more powerful in many ways. Maybe a scroll or potion to introduce the spell into a campaign instead?

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Moldvay Musings XVII: DM Information - Scenarios

The first sections of Part 8 in Moldvay (Dungeon Master Information) fascinate me on several levels. While the "B" in "BX" is by its nature basic and tries to keep things simple to let people get their feet wet who might have been new to the game (or running it), this section actually holds a lot of cool stuff that's far from just typical murder-hoboing and ties in to some of my thoughts on a BX setting. Not to mention demonstrating the BX wasn't "the kiddie version" of D&D.


The chapter is broken down into several parts that can walk a tyro DM through creating an adventure and even lay the groundwork for a rich campaign. Let's start by taking a look at the first bit: Choosing a scenario. Moldvay defines a scenario nicely for us in the following passage:

B51:
"A scenario is a background theme or idea which ties the dungeon together. A scenario will help keep a dungeon from becoming a boring repetition of 'open the door, kill the monster, take the treasure.' A good scenario always gives the players a reason for adventuring. The DM should also design a dungeon for the levels of characters who will be playing in it. A good scenario will also give the DM a reason for choosing specific monsters and treasures to put in the dungeon."

The idea seems, well, basic, doesn't it? Remember this was 1981, though. Not everyone implicitly understood this. I love that he spells out that adventure design should have a theme and a rationale and should avoid simple grinds. He neatly sums up monster ecology too by stating one should choose critters appropriate to the scenario.

He then goes on to list several kinds of scenarios. While many of these can be translated into a dungeon crawl (or contain one), it's the different reasons for the adventure in the first place that are the real meat on the bones. The doesn't claim to be exhaustive, but I would be hard-pressed to think of any adventures that don't fall broadly under one or more of these categories.

  1. Exploring the Unknown
  2. Investigating a Chaotic Outpost
  3. Recovering Ruins
  4. Destroying an Ancient Evil
  5. Visiting a Lost Shrine
  6. Fulfilling a Quest
  7. Escaping from Enemies
  8. Rescuing Prisoners
  9. Using a Magic Portal
  10. Finding a Lost Race
Now obviously, several of these are pretty standard. The section even gives examples of published adventures that fit some of the categories (B2 is the quintessential investigation of a chaotic outpost), but some of these are ones that I've seen much less often. When was the last time your campaign found a lost race or reclaimed ruins for settlement? That's some good adventure fodder there. You could even combine scenarios. Perhaps the PCs must use a magic portal to find a lost shrine?



The next parts of this section are relatively mundane, but still useful. They cover such issues as the location of the dungeon proper (Is it a cave? A crypt? A castle?), the monsters within, the map itself, and how it's stocked. The random stocking tables aren't always the best way to fill the map, but they can be handy at times.

The final section offers good advice and help with prepping an NPC party ahead of time. You might not need one right away, but like treasure maps, you'll be happy you have one ready instead of having to work one up in the middle of a session. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Kaag the Hill Giant

Several months ago, I posted an encounter from my then-ongoing BX campaign involving a group of bugbears and an aranea. In it, I mentioned that the spider wanted some giant's blood for an experiment. This is the giant the PCs went after.




Kaag, the Giant of Soot Hill

AC: 3
HD: 8+ (36 hp)
Move: 120' (40')
Att: 1 (rock or spear)
Dmg: 2d6+2/2d8+3
No. App: 1
Save: F8
AL: C

For a hill giant, Kaag is an exceptional example of his breed. He is stronger and smarter than most of his kin. Kaag lives in a large hall set partway into a hillside cave. He has spent a good deal of effort to enlarge the cavern and finish the exterior building. The location is known as Soot Hill because Kaag burned all the trees on and around it to give him a better view of anything approaching. 

Like most hill giants, Kaag can be violent and greedy, but he usually satisfies these cravings by hiring out to local humanoids as an enforcer. He is paid in food (usually livestock or game), drink (barrels of ale), or treasure (he loves gold in particular).

Kaag bears humans no malice, but dislikes being disturbed. He speaks Giant, Chaotic, Orcish, Goblin, and Common. 

When Kaag fights, he can hurl melon-sized rocks with great accuracy up to 100’ (yards outdoors) for 2d6+2 damage. In melee, he wields a huge spear of unusual workmanship*. He is unarmored, but carries a large hide shield.

Kaag’s Treasure
  • 3 scrolls: Protection from Lycanthropes, Protection from Elementals, and a Treasure Map (leads to a Ring of Regeneration).
  • Sword +1, locate objects (shortsword)*
  • 6000 gpv skulls**


The scrolls are useless to Kaag as he can speak several languages, but does not read. They are hung on the wall as decoration. (He finds the colorful inks pretty)

*The sword is too small for him to wield normally, so he has converted it to his spear point. It grants him +1 to hit and counts as a magic weapon for hitting special creatures. He has no idea of its location powers.

**The gold coins have all been melted down. Most of it coats the skulls of various creatures, including people. These are battle trophies of foes Kaag found especially worthy and sit on shelves around the cave. There are 88 skulls of human, demi-human, or humanoid origin. In addition, there are:
  • 1 troll skull
  • 2 cave bear skulls
  • 2 ogre skulls
  • 1 stone giant skull
  • 1 dire wolf skull
  • 1 owlbear skull
  • 1 dragon skull (from a young black)

Over the years Kaag has gotten fairly skilled at the process and re-did the older ones to improve the job. The skulls are quite beautiful, if in a macabre way. If the PCs manage to befriend Kaag, he may show off his collection, boasting of his prowess in battle.

There is also a large lump of leftover gold that he re-melts when he wants to coat another skull. The lump contains 1000gpv of unused gold. It lies under a cloth among some sacks and casks (food and ale).


Friday, June 21, 2019

RMA: Camels

No, I don't have a cigarette!

I think one of the reasons that camels are rare in my games, and I suspect other peoples is two-fold. One, they are heavily associated with desert climates and most campaigns are not set in the desert (at least not for extended periods). The second reason is that most games don't track resources and travel the way that lets these creatures shine.

Camel (from Cook)

AC: 7
HD: 2
Move: 150' (50')
Att: 1 bite /1 hoof
Damage: 1/1d4
No. App: 0 (2d8)
Save: F1
Morale: 7
Treasure: nil
AL: N

So we can see these stats are not impressive. Camels are not very tough, fast, brave, strong, or impressive in a fight. In the description, it even specifies that riders cannot perform a lance charge from camelback. Horses, on the other hand, can faster, do more damage, have better morale, and/or carrying capacity, depending on what type you choose. So why choose a camel?

Terrain: While it is true that a riding horse can easily outpace a camel (240' vs. 150'), remember that desert terrain drops movement by 2/3. Camels treat this as clear terrain, meaning under those conditions the difference is 160'  vs. 150'. Draft and war horses are even slower. This can make a crucial difference when it comes to overland travel in a harsh environment like a desert.

Climate: It's true that a camel cannot carry as much as some horses, but by moving faster through the desert, you need fewer supplies. Also, you don't need to carry water for the camels (provided you plan on being out for two weeks or less. I know that many campaigns aren't tracking every coin of encumbrance, but water is heavy and in the real world horses be thirsty critters! 5-10 gallons per day is normal for horses (as opposed to 2 quarts for people). For the record, that's 40-80 pounds! So even low-balling it for a horse that's more acclimated to the environment, you'd still need to pack 400cn of water for every day you plan on being out in the sandbox. And that's just for one horse!

Imagine a scenario where a desert caravan with horses has to drag along casks of water in a wagon or some such only to have the containers destroyed by some foe or clever monster. They know the party will never make it out of the desert alive, so they just wait a few days and then pick over the caravan after everyone is dead of dehydration. A cleric with the Create Water spell could thwart this plan, but the odds favor it as a successful tactic. How many 6th+ level clerics are wandering the dunes anyway?

So we can see that using camels in such a situation would mean carrying a couple of gallons of water  per day for a party vs. 20+ gallons. This could be managed with several skins or one small cask. Food is still an issue, but that's true of both horses and camels.

Camels are specialized animals, for specialized environments. While it's true they aren't very impressive in a fight, that shouldn't be the only measure of their worth to a party of adventurers. Especially if they need are traversing the Emirates of Ylaruam or such places. 



Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Curious Objects: Wand of Negation

The wand of negation is a fun one for a couple of reasons. 1) It doesn't show up very often (at least in my games), so unusual items can lend themselves to create unusual situations. 2) It is an item specifically designed to counter other items. Like a less powerful rod of cancellation, but more specific in nature (and with more charges). 3) It is one of the few examples of pre-declaring actions in initiative.

The item's description is fairly brief, so here it is from Cook (X50) in its entirety:
"A charge from this wand will cancel the effect of one other wand or staff for one round. The user chooses the wand or staff to be negated and the decision to use it must be announced before rolling initiative."
I suppose this could be read as negating an effect that has already taken place, but that doesn't really make sense. So many effects from wands and the like are instantaneous. How do you negate a fireball that has already gone off? It seems more sensible that the wand would suppress the use of the opposing item for that round, which ties nicely in with the initiative qualifier.

So it is, in effect, a highly specialized dispel magic. A MU or elf with one of these could be a very effective countermeasure to an enemy spellcaster. If you recall from my previously referenced post on initiative, the idea that a caster must pre-declare casting a spell before initiative is rolled. An enemy with higher initiative could attack the caster and "disrupt" the spell before it goes off. Mind you, there is nothing in the rules about pre-declaring using a wand or staff, though.

I wrote the example below as much to show a spellcasting type making themselves useful in a fight without actual casting as I did to show the item itself in action. I find it helps me to make up these sort of in-game situations to visualize how different spells or items might be utilized.

So imagine a scenario where a party which includes an MU who has this wand, but is out of spells for the day encounters a hostile bunch Orcus-worshippers including an chaotic priest wielding a staff of command. 

1st Round: The cleric tries to remove the enemy spellcaster from the board by using the staff on the MU. He makes his save, but can see that the cleric has some bad juju at his disposal and gets the wand ready.

2nd Round: The MU's player pre-declares he is targeting the staff and rolls well for initiative. When the cleric starts to point with the staff at the next foe. FZZT! Charge wasted. The cleric sees what is happening and does not want to waste his precious charges, so he puts up the staff and grabs his unholy symbol. The MU sees this and, since the wand only works vs other wands (or staves), he draws a dagger. Not really playing to his strengths, but it's better than nothing.

3rd Round: The cleric, being an NPC, doesn't "declare" he is casting a spell, but the DM tells the players that the priest is holding up his symbol and starting to chant. The MU beats him on the initiative again and flings his dagger at him. It hits, but only for 1 point of damage. That's enough to disrupt the light spell the cleric was trying in order to blind the MU. By the book, the cleric also loses the spell as if it were cast. By this time the other PCs have smacked down several of the minions and closed with the priest and he's got more on his mind than just the MU now.




Monday, May 6, 2019

REF: Red Dragon

More fun with random tables, kiddies! This time it's wilderness. Some rolling of the dice brings us to barren mountain terrain and a result of Dragon, Red. Yikes!

Okay, let's not panic just yet. Some more rolling (and a random dragon name from fantasy name generator) Gives us the following:

Vulluth the Red
AC: -1
HD: 10 (40 hp)
Move: 90 (30') Fly 240' (80')
Att: 2 claws/1 bite/ breath
Dmg: 1d8/1d8/3d8/special
# App: 1
Save: F10
Morale: 10
AL: C

Vulluth is awake, can speak, and cast spells

Spells:
1st Level - Detect Magic, Charm Person, Sleep

2nd Level - Detect Evil, Phantasmal Force, ESP

3rd level - Invisibility 10' radius, Hold Person, Lightning Bolt


So 40 hit points is the first thing that jumps out at me. I'll be honest, if I were placing this dragon as a non-random encounter in my game, I'd boost that total a bit (but keep it within the 10HD cap of 80). This means his breath weapon is going to be much less scary than it could be. He's still got great melee attacks & damage, though. But to be honest, even though they were also rolled randomly, I think Vulluth's real puissance is his spell list.

Other than his detection spells -and maybe ESP- every one of these is combat applicable. Invisibility 10' radius is usually meant to make a party invisible, but it will work for the dragon as well (yes, it still works on the caster even if he is bigger than 10' across) . Imagine Vulluth hearing the party approach and turning invisible. I would be applying some surprise checks, not to mention save penalties to the rolls vs dragon breath that first round!

Sleep, Charm Person, and Hold Person are all classics. Granted a higher level party may dodge the snooze bullet, but the others can eliminate potent combatants right away. Phantasmal Force is also a great combat utility spell.ESP might require a bit more creativity, but knowing what your foe is thinking can't hurt.

The best part about Lightning Bolt isn't even the damage. It's the idea that the PCs are expecting fire attacks and then ZAP!  Or maybe I'm just a jerk DM.

So the party (or some of them) manage to slay the wyrm. Let's look at the loot!

TREASURE:
10,000 cp
3,000 pp
6 pc jewelry-
  • 1,300gp
  • 1,200gp
  • 2x 1,000gp
  • 2x 800gp
30 gems-
  • 10x 10gp
  • 5x 50gp
  • 5x 100gp
  • 7x 500gp
  • 3x 1000gp
Magic-

  • Potion of ESP
  • Cursed scroll (re-roll prime requisite)
  • Scroll of Resist Fire (clerical)
  • 3x +2 arrows
  • Boots of Traveling and Leaping
  • Ring of Invisibility

Not a terrible haul. Nearly 30K in cash (and XP) from the hoard. The magic has some fun items, especially the ring and boots. The cursed scroll makes me smile (see "jerk" above) and some thief or elf type is going to love getting a couple +2 arrows in their quiver.




Tuesday, April 9, 2019

RMA: Thouls

These have come up recently in a few online forums and groups, so now they are on my mind.

A memorable take on the creature by the late, great Steve Zieser!

Thouls are pretty well known among a certain segment of the old-school D&D crowd. They are definitely one of the weirder creations within the BX books. The theory behind their creation that I subscribe to is that some DM was trying to fake their players out with something that looked like a normal humanoid, but had weird abilities.

Despite the fact that they have an almost iconic status. I have rarely seen them used outside of a written encounter in the module B10: Night's Dark Terror. 

Thoul (from Moldvay):
AC: 6
HD: 3**
Move: 120' (40')
Att: 2 Claws or weapon
Damage: 1d3/1d3 or weapon
No. App: 1d6 (1d10)
Save: F3
Morale: 10
Treasure: C
AL: C

Thouls are described in Moldvay as "a magical combination of a ghoul, a hobgoblin, and a troll." What this means in practice is that they look like a hobgoblin, but can paralyze you and they regenerate. They do appear as a level three wandering monster. With two potentially paralyzing attacks per round, 1d6+ of these creatures could give a low-level party a very bad time indeed. There are a couple of points to clarify, though.

  1. They do not look exactly like hobgoblins. At close range, there are visible differences. A party might be able to spot them and prepare accordingly (or flee!).
  2. Despite "ghoulish traits", they are not undead. This means that while a cleric's turning power is useless, Sleep or Charm spells can work. 
  3. Their regeneration is only 1hp/round. While it is (apparently) not stopped by fire or acid damage, it will not revive a killed thoul.
I imagine thouls as a sort of sub-race to the hobgoblins. The description says they might be found guarding a hobgoblin king. Perhaps they are viewed as useful freaks? Who knows? As a DM, I think I would likely use them mixed in with the normal hobbos, so as the PCs work their way through the foe, there are a few nasty surprises waiting in the mix. Even though a Sleep spell can work on them, if they are among a bunch of 1+1 HD hobgoblins, the lower HD critters will take the brunt of the spell's effect. Their regeneration also means a bit more book-keeping in running them, but adds tot he scariness of the encounter.