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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Curious Objects: Treasure Maps (scrolls)

"Piranah Lagoon" is the name of my Slickee Boys cover band!

Now, maps are hardly unheard of in fantasy role-playing games. They are a classic trope as well as an essential dungeoneering tool. Treasure maps in particular are a staple of both fantasy fiction and adventures. What I want to talk about for a bit is the random treasure result under the Scrolls section.

When I found my way to BX many years ago, I was tickled that scrolls could be more than just extra or new spells. The two main twists were the protection scrolls and the maps. The idea that the rules included a mechanism for randomly dropping a plot hook into the party's collective lap was quite remarkable (to me).

Fully a quarter of all scrolls found are maps, according toe the random table in Cook Expert, the book suggest the DM make up several maps ahead of time and have them handy to use as props for when/if the party finds one.

In the Basic rules, the description suggests that the map lead to a treasure somewhere within the same dungeon, but the Expert rules rightly expands it to include possible wilderness travel. The tables results scale for the size of the treasure to be found, as well as having magical items as loot. There is also suggestions for placing monsters as guardians.

Two things occur to me off the bat: Firstly, a treasure map is a great way to delay a party from getting hold of too much wealth at once. Of course the loot from the dungeon isn't light! You just haven't gone to the haunted tower on that map to retrieve the fabled Emerald of Kun Par yet! This can be especially useful if you need a little extra time to figure out some things in the game.

Secondly, it's a great segue into the next adventure that saves you trying to get the players hooked. They know where a fabulous magical item (or pile of cash) is supposed to be, they just need to get their collective butts in gear and start walking.

Of course, they could try selling the map (for a fraction of the loot's value). But that could lead to even more plot hooks and complications. In a fun way!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Curious Objects: Ring of Djinni Summoning

Magic rings in BX are pretty powerful. They usually don't have charges, and most are usable by a variety of classes. This one has –to my knowledge– never shown up in a game I've run or played. Maybe other folks have different experiences, but it's a stranger in my games. So I was pretty unfamiliar with it when I was flipping through the items' listings looking for an idea to ramble about.

Holy lamp oil! This thing could eat a campaign!

To understand what I mean, let's start with the item itself.

"The wearer may summon one djinni to serve for up to one day. The djinni will only serve and obey the person wearing the ring when it is summoned, even if the ring is then given to another character. (See MONSTERS for a description of a djinni.) The ring may only be used once per day."

So one use per day, only one person (the wearer) gets to command the djinni. OK, seems pretty straightforward. Here's the thing about that: a djinni can be summoned each day and can hang around for up to one day! That means the owner of the ring effectively has a djinni on continuous call. Sure, it might get killed and then he's out of luck until tomorrow, but let's talk about the djinni itself.

AC: 5
HD: 7+1
Move: 90' Fly: 240'
Att: 1 + special
Dmg: 2-16 (fists), or 2-12 whirlwind
Save: F14
Morale: 12

So it's got several very cool powers apart from combat. It can create food & drink, it can create metallic objects (temporary) and soft goods (permanent!), it has invisibility, gaseous form, illusions, and whirlwind. It can do any of these 3 times/day. They can also carry fairly heavy loads without tiring.

Having one of these on call would drastically shift most combats in the PCs' favor. Admittedly less so at higher levels, but if the ring were randomly rolled who knows when it shows up?

Three noncombat things jump out at me about the djinni though: 1) the object creation powers and 2) the flight speed and 3) the load carrying.

Why these three? Because if I had a PC with this ring, I would become insanely rich in a very short amount of time. I would have the djinni start by creating beautiful gold statues, as well as things like tapestries and carved wood. Then –while disguised by its illusions and it invisibly watching over me– I would sell the stuff for thousands of GP (preferably in gems). I would then have it fly me the HECK out of town before the gold disappears the next day. Once in a new town, I would repeat the process.

Cue the getaway music!

Now, as a card-carrying member of the SOB GM club, I could definitely find ways to screw with the party that tried something like this. More likely, I would let them get away with it for a bit, then catch them out. Either that, or maybe an NPC might be running the scam and the PCs get blamed.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Curious Objects: Staff of Command

Welcome to the first in a new category of posts on this blog. I've decided to call it "Curious Objects." In these posts, I will take a look at some of the more obscure and/or interesting items in "Classic" (e.g. Basic/Expert) D&D.

For our first installment, I chose the Staff of Command. I came across this magical item in Cook Expert and was immediately struck at how powerful this thing could be a game.

Brief aside: In Moldvay's Basic, staves held 1d10 charges and were cleric-only (wands were for wizardly types). That was changed in Cook to vary by staff type. Some are clerical, some are "arcane" (MU/Elf), and some are usable by all three spell casting classes. Their charges were boosted to 3d10 as well.

The Staff of Command is usable by any spell caster type and it can emulate the powers of three very powerful rings: Human, Plant, and Animal Control. Of course, a staff has limited charges (rings don't), but even so, this opens up all sorts of possibilities for zaniness.

Human Control is basically a charm person spell. The target can save (albeit at -2), and there are limits to how many people can be controlled as well as what they can or can't do (no spellcasting from the thralls).

Animal Control is limited by the fact that you have to concentrate on the control or it ends. The beasts also have a negative reaction modifier toward the caster.

Plant Control is the one that looks the most fun. The staff allows you to "animate and control all plants and plant-like creatures" in a 10'x 10' area up to 60' away. It too has a concentration requirement, but let's just look at two things:

1) No save. I know, they're plants. BUT -
2) Plant. Like. Creatures.

That means you can take control of a treant, it gets no save, and you it will fight for you as long as you maintain concentration.

(Oddly, if you want to get technical, the Treant is the only plant-like creature in the BX monsters sections. As fungus is not a plant, etc.)

I don't see the staff as a game-breaking item. If nothing else, its limited charges keep it from being too OP. But there is SO much fun to be had with something like this, either in an NPC or PC's hands. Horses throwing riders, merchants becoming charmed, thorn bushes grabbing sentries, and so on. Any wizard would find it well worth his treasure share to get hold of one.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

RMA: Pixies

Rounding off the BX fairy-tale types is the pixie. This one is probably closest to the classic "fairy" that many people think of. They are small (1-2' tall) elfin humanoids with insect-like wings. They can be encountered in dungeons (Level 2 wandering monster) or in wilderness on the Flyer subtable and -weirdly- Desert humanoid. This makes me smile as I imagine a strain of pixie with scarab beetle shells and wearing tiny keffiyehs.

Pixie (from Moldvay) - 

AC: 3
HD: 1
Move: 90' (30') Fly 180' (60')
Attack: 1 (dagger)
Dmg: 1d4
No. App: 2-8 (10-40)
Save: E1
Morale: 7

Like most fae, they aren't terribly powerful in combat, but seem to be present mostly to add to the "fantastic" element of the game. The most fun aspect of the pixie is its powerful invisibility ability. they can turn invisible at will and it is "improved" invisibility (they can attack and stay concealed). They always surprise under these circumstances and cannot be attacked during the first round! Even after you can spot their shadows, etc. you're still at -2 to hit them as they flit about.

That's actually a bit daunting if you are facing off against more than a couple of these little buggers, and there can be up to forty if you've stumbled upon their little village, etc. Their daggers do normal weapon damage, though their low HD means they aren't so great at hitting with them. Their low morale makes me think they would flee pretty quickly, but if they had a vested interest in hurting or killing someone, I can imagine them whittling someone down over time with periodic surprise attacks. 

To fight them, I imagine area of effect spells and things like sleep as being fairly effective. That said, I also suspect they aren't usually hostile. 

Befriending some pixies and having them use their invisibility to scout for the party would be a fun roleplaying situation to introduce. I can also imagine them as being servants to a more powerful being, possibly a high level elf sorcerer(-ess)?

Monday, May 8, 2017

RMA: Dryads

While dryads are a bit more mythology than fairy tale, their sylvan nature makes them a good fit for the fae thread these posts have been following of late. 

Fun fact: In Greek 'drys' signifies "oak." Thus, dryads are specifically the nymphs of oak trees. The dryads of ash trees were called the Meliai. Those associated with apple trees were the Epimeliad, and those associated with walnut-trees were the Caryatids. Thanks, wikipedia!

Dryad: (from Cook) - 

AC: 5
HD: 2*
Move: 120' (40')
Att: special
Dmg: 0
No. App: 0 (1d6)
Save: F4
Morale: 6

Let's unpack this a bit. Dryads are only encountered in the wilderness, specifically in woods. That makes sense, since the description is "a beautiful female tree spirit who lives in a woodland setting or a dense forest."

Unsurprisingly -like many other fairy tale creatures- dryads are no great shakes as combatants. And like their fellow fae, that's really not the point of them. The signature features of the dryad are her beauty, her ability to charm, and her connection to her tree.

Dryads are described as "shy and non-violent." They cannot stray far from their tree and if it dies, they die. So they are not terribly hard to kill. The trick is being able to spot them. They can merge with their tree and be indistinguishable from the rest of the woods. 

However, dryads are also described as suspicious. If they are deliberately approached or followed as they move about, that's when they may turn on the charm. Note that the description specifically states that simply passing or standing near the tree doesn't count. So the dryad would most likely stay hidden in those circumstances. Their charm spell is powerful (-2 to saves), so there's a decent chance of it working. Once beguiled, the victim is taking inside the tree. There is nothing about how long this process takes, so the assumption is one round. 

Now here's the scary part. "Unless rescued immediately, the victim will never be seen again." There are two things to keep in mind here:

  1. I would interpret 'immediately' in this case to be 'before entering the tree'. So the victim's companions need to grab him fast and keep him away from the trunk.
  2. Note that it says "never be seen again," not "dead." So things like raise dead aren't necessarily an option. I would say a wish would do the trick, but even chopping down the tree won't bring your missing comrade back.
Another tidbit I'd like to mention: 1d6 appearing. That's right, the party could stumble into a grove of dryads. 

Imagine a dryad per PC casting their buffed charm spells. The 1-2 PCs who maybe make their saves having to decide which of their friends to tackle and keep from disappearing into the trees!

A final note: Dryads' treasure is in hollows beneath the trees' roots. I imagine that the wealth of their victims ends up down there. Treasure type D is fairly respectable for a 2HD creature, with a decent chance at a few thou in gold, not to mention gems, etc. Of course, chopping down a dryad's tree and digging up the loot might attract some unfriendly attention in an enchanted wood situation.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

RSA: Geas

As I mentioned in the Random Spell Assessment for the cleric spell quest, I felt that -while they share similar purposes- geas is different enough to warrant its own discussion.

It's an italian basketball team's logo, but there aren't a lot of gaming images for the spell!

First of all, consider its peers. Sixth level MU spells include such things (among others) as death, disintegrate, control weather, flesh to stone (and its reverse), and reincarnation. These are some pretty powerful spells in the BX universe. Magic-users don't see them until 11th level and they aren't even available to elves. So why is geas among them?

Well, first of all, in BX it has no set duration (unlike later, wimpier editions). A geas can theoretically last forever. Secondly, the geas "forces the victim to perform a given action or to avoid performing a given action." So the caster can not only make a target go do something (even serve him for life!), he can also require him to refrain from things like reporting crucial intelligence to his king, ever leaving his tower, etc. Remember, it is a single task or action. The wizard can't lay down too many conditions and side notes. GM discretion is warranted here. Of course, there is nothing preventing multiple geases.

Another fun twist is that if the geas is deemed impossible or "directly fatal" then it rebounds on the caster. So it's fine to tell the victim to go and bring you the head of the vampire lord, but you can't have them jump off a cliff.

It's worth noting is -like quest- only the reverse of the spell can remove the geas. Dispel magic or remove curse won't cut it.

It's interesting that the exact nature of the penalties inflicted upon a disobedient victim is up to the GM, not the caster. Personally, I would enjoy input from the player for ideas, but might modify it if I thought it was necessary.

The assumption in the spell description seems to lean more toward the geas being a task to be done, but that's not always the case. One of the examples in the spell's description is "to never reveal certain information." Say a character is geased (is that a verb?) to never reveal the location of the wizard's lair. A secret once told is lost. So either the penalty needs to prevent blurting it out or punish breaking of the geas harshly afterwards.

To continue the secret-keeping example, I would say an attempt to reveal the information might cause wracking pains that prevent communication and reduces the character's CON score by half. Further attempts to say or write or otherwise reveal the information would reduce their CON to zero and kill them. The target has already lost his saving throw, so the penalties are automatic (6th level, remember?). Even an ESP spell used against him would be punishable, IMO.

In the case of a task to be done, the penalties might follow the more gradual route. Of course, the other possibility would be to assign a deadline or some such. "Kill the dragon before the next full moon or ____!" is simple enough. You have X days or the geas' penalties kick in. Maybe you die, maybe you become a slave, or a pig, or whatever.

Finding a scroll or spell book with a copy of this would be quite the prize. Frankly, if I ran a game where the PC MUs had to find their spells, I would make this one a -heheh- quest of its own.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

RMA: Sprites

Continuing with the fairy tale theme, let's take a look a sprites. 

I think that sprites are seldom used because they often viewed as more of a nuisance than an encounter. While it's true they are pretty harmless in combat, I think that they could make for a very interesting roleplaying encounter and/or noncombat challenge.

What's strange to me is that these little ones can appear as wandering monsters in a dungeon environment (level 1). Perhaps it's not too far underground for them? They mostly appear near rivers, in woods, and in non-urban inhabited areas.

While I feel these are largely unimportant in this case, let's have the stats, shall we?

Sprite (from Moldvay) -

AC: 5
HD: 1/2 (1d4 hp)
Move: 60' (20') Flying: 180' (60')
Att: 1 spell
Damage: see below
No. App: 3-18 (5-40)
Save: E1
Morale: 7

Pretty unimpressive, I mean, their fast on the wing, and their AC is probably due to speed and their diminutive size (1' tall), but no attack and no damage means they aren't going to be a good choice for that TPK you've been brewing up.*

No, where the sprites are most interesting is in their curse ability and their attitude. They are described as 1' tall winged people "related to pixies and elves." They are shy but curious, and have "a strange sense of humor."

Sprites are prankster gangsters.

I don't know why, but I really like the idea that a "monster" in the game is motivated simply by the desire to have a laugh. No eating people, no stealing gold, just comedy.

If five sprites work together -sprinkling fairy dust or whatever- they can enact a curse on their victim. Rather than a curse like the spell, it takes the form of a practical joke. Given the examples (tripping, nose growing) and that the book mentions using remove curse to get rid of it, it seems that the curse can have a duration or not. It's described as casting a curse spell, so there's a saving throw, but assuming they cast it 1/day per 5 sprites, a group 10-15 can hit 2-3 PCs.

The other thing to keep in mind is that curse has a range of 0', that means at least one of the sprites needs to touch the PC. Once that's done, they could fly away laughing at 180' and leave the victim behind with his donkey ears or whatever, having to walk back into town and explain things to the local cleric.

Alternately, the sprites may offer to lift the curse (another group could cast the reverse) if the PCs perform some task like getting them some honey from that big bee hive or maybe there is some predator that is harassing them the party can deal with. Not to mention, like the nixies, it might be possible to get information from the sprites if they approached correctly. Side quests and RP opps galore!

*Don't ever do that.