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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

RMA: Roc

POLLY WANT A BIG CRACKER!!

While running my Barrowmaze campaign a while back, the party stumbled upon a small Roc as a random wilderness encounter. No combat ensued (hooray for non-hostile reaction rolls), but it did mean taking a good look at its stats. I commented on how interesting the beasts were as written and one of my players suggested that an RMA might be in order. So here it is.

Roc, S/M/L (from Cook)

AC: 4/2/0
HD: 6/12/36
Move: 60' (20'), Fly 480' (160')
AL: Lawful
Att: 2 claws/1 bite 
Dmg: 2-5, 2-5, 2-12/1-8, 1-8, 2-20/3-18, 3-18, 8-48
No. App: 0 (1d12)/ 0 (1d8)/ 0 (1)
Morale: 8/9/10


One omission in the Cook Expert entry is the Save As listing (typo). 

This one took a little research because despite the fact that the entry includes three different sizes, the descriptive text is pretty sparse. I cobbled together a mental picture of ol' Beaky between BX, LL, 1st ed. AD&D, and d20 (3e). 

One thing to keep in mind is that these are some truly formidable birds. Even the small one is no picnic considering there might be TWELVE of them flapping about. At 6HD minimum, Sleep spells are useless, too. The AC not great for the smaller ones, but it's not terrible either. Three attacks at middling damage can mean a bad day for someone who looks like bird food. Small Rocs are relatively skittish though, so you might scare them off.

Medium Rocs are significantly tougher (x2 HD than small) but otherwise similar. Their bite is impressive though.

The Large Rocs are crazy! More HD than a Dragon Turtle! AC 0! Attacking with both claws and beak can deal up to eighty-four points of damage per round! Despite their hugeness, rocs' flight speed (all three sizes) is unbeaten and nearly unmatched.

I assume that the sizes are age categories and all rocs eventually become large ones (if they reach full maturity). 

The alignment is worth noting. It is a lawful creature that reacts poorly to neutrals and chaotics. They are not particularly intelligent, though. It makes me wonder how they make distinctions with whom they are dealing.

They have a fair chance of treasure lying about the nest (mostly coins and jewels per the chart), but the real wealth would be to make off with some of the eggs. Such chicks can be trained as mounts, which should entice some PCs to risk tracking down a roc eyrie.  The 1st edition AD&D Monster Manual has a fun note, too:

"Rocs are occasionally tamed and used by giants." 

At first, I thought they meant as hunting birds, but no. According to the Storm Giant entry, they RIDE them! Imagine that encounter! A couple of giants flying at you on the back of a bird that can pick up an elephant! 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Back from Garycon VI

Which was, as usual, a blast.

I got to play chainmail for the first time in maybe ever (I honestly don't recall). It was a lot of fun, and interesting to see how the mechanics are so different today in many games from their roots. The table were a bit confusing at first, and I don't know that I ever fully grasped the turn sequences, but one of the advantages of playing in the game with several people, and having a referee running it, is that there is always someone to ask. In the end, we (the dwarves) won out over the elves. My captain's valiant run to get the simaril away from the pointy-ears allowed Durin's folk could keep the fabulous jewel. This turned out to be critical in securing the necessary victory points for our side.

I ran a session of my Mutant Future module The Gyre, and the players did well, surviving to the end and finding their way home. In retrospect, an adventure with a bit more action might have been preferable. Of course, the mutant cactus got to slap a brain lasher in the face with poison thorns, so I wouldn't say it was completely action-free.

There were many other games, including a fun one I hadn't played before called WEGS Old Skool that I enjoyed enough to pick up the books for. Michael Curtis ran one of his upcoming DCC RPG adventures for us, in which my dwarf feigned drunkenness while pounding on the kidnappers' door as he bellowed for Tito to come out and take his damned money.

So of course they released the dogs on me.

I missed out on Jim Wampler's Mutant Crawl through Stonehell because the chainmail game ran late. I did stop by to see the group of post-apocalyptic mutants start to draw from a Deck of Many Things, though.

During a six hour Castles & Crusades game run by Steve "Iron GM" Chenault, I managed to steal Dale's coffee and received a goblin patch for it.

As tedious as extended campaign stories can be ("If they weren't there, they don't care."), they do serve to remind us of those moments that keep us in this oddball hobby. It's the little moments that make you cringe or cheer or laugh out loud that are remembered: not the scores, or the XP, or what level you were, but the tales we recall around the metaphorical campfire, like old campaigners telling war stories.

This is why Garycon exists, not only to remember Gary, but to celebrate all the lives that are being well played.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

RMA: Driver Ants


Despite all the playtime other huge bug-like creatures get in D&D, I don't think I've used giant ants in a game. There have been a lot of versions of this monster, but for these purposes, I'll be looking at BX's "Driver Ants." (B34) These suckers are 6' long picnic busters of the first order. 

First off, they can turn up as a level 3 random encounter. This makes a certain measure of sense, as the colony might have tunneled into a dungeon corridor. In the wilderness, they are one of the most common random encounters! (Who knew??) Insects occur as a possibility on almost all the terrain types and driver ants have a 1:6 chance on the Insect Sub-Table of being the lucky bug (as opposed to 1:12 for all the other specific critters). Pet peeve: Should spiders and scorpions be on an "Insect" table? ;-)

Moving on, the random encounters yield either 2-8 or 2-12, depending. In the lair there are up to 24 "guards." Since these suckers are 6' long each, that's a lot of RAID. Now let's take a look at the stats:

Driver Ant (from Moldvay)

No. Enc: 2d4 (4d6)
AC: 3
AL: N
HD: 4
Move: 180' (60')
Att: 1
Dmg: 2d6
Save: F2
Morale: 7/special

First off, these guys have a decent AC and hit points. The mandible bite damage is pretty respectable, too. The scary part is that one in a fight, they IGNORE ALL MORALE "even trying to cross flames to reach their opponents." So no luck scaring them off. The eat anything edible in their path, so if a PC falls to them and the party can't get him back right away, any organic equipment (or remains) will be gone in short order. 

This is my favorite bit right here. There is a 30% chance that the ants have –while digging their tunnels– been mining for gold! Yup! We got prospector ants here! Herodotus would be proud!  If they are mining ants, somewhere in the nest is 1d10 x 1,000gp worth of gold nuggets. How cool is that? That's a great incentive to send PCs down into a maze of tunnels filled with giant insects if ever I heard of one.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

H2-The Desolation of Smaug: Impressions and Semi-Review

Like many Middle Earth/JRRT fans, I saw the second installment of Peter Jackson's prequel trilogy this weekend. I saw it in "normal" (non-IMAX) 3D (more on that later). As previously, let me start my ramblings with a relatively spoiler-free* section then move on to the nitty gritty.

* By "spoiler-free" I mean about the film adaptation of the story, I assume anyone reading this blog knows the basic events of "The Hobbit" in general. If not, do not read further unless you want spoilers.

Extremely short recap/overview: When we left off at the end of the first film, Bilbo et al had escaped the orcs and wargs with help from the eagles. A good stopping point in the narrative, I thought. We pick up from there and move on to some of the more well-known (and a few of the lesser) scenes from the book. We have Mirkwood and Laketown and reach the Mountain.

Among these sections are some truly impressive scenes. I loved  the spiders. The effects/CGI was wonderfully done. It didn't follow the book 100%, but when does a movie ever?

Cooler than this.

Of course, because this is Mirkwood, the elves show up. And who is their prince? 

I'm still the prettiest!!

Yes, in case you live under a rock, Orlando reprises his role as Legolas Greenleaf, son of King Thrainduil. Mr. Bloom is a few years older now, but he was ridiculously young when he did LOTR, so it hardly shows. He carries a bit more gravitas as an actor now, which makes it a little anachronistic that his character is over half a century older in the "later" films. But that's always the issue with prequels. Bloom does a fine job, and I liked how his character was written for this. The sylvan (wood) elves are insular, nearly xenophobic, and a tad bloodthirsty. Good stuff.

The dwarves are then imprisoned, which brings me to the next bit about the movie: The caves of Thrainduil are gorgeous. I loved how they managed to capture the subterranean and arboreal feel. It redefines how elves would live in a cave to me. If ever a Simarillion  movie were made, they need to take a page from this film for Nargothrond (look it up). 

Thrainduil has a chat with some folks. I must say I am on the fence about how this character is being portrayed. He supposed to be a little edgy, I guess, but occasionally his portrayal seemed ...erratic. His essentially telling Tauriel that she's elf trailer trash compared to Pretty Prince Legolas and should keep her she-hooks off him seemed, well, bitchy. Ah well, perhaps it will fit with future appearance in the third film. 

Of course, thanks to Bilbo, the dwarves don't stay prisoners. The film moves right along to them getting freed and stuffed into barrels for a log flume ride.

Keep your hands and beards inside the ride at all times. 

Now, as the trailer shows, the nature of the ride is a bit different from the book, but it's an understandable change as it makes the sequence much more accessible (aka "exciting"). I enjoyed it, and it accomplished what it needed to plotwise, i.e. it got the dwarves further along in their quest.

Now, a brief aside here as I talk about some of the non-Thorin & Co. events in the film. As most people following these movies know, part of how Wingnut Films expects to give us 8 or so hours of screen time is by expanding certain events that are not detailed in the books, but only briefly mentioned or alluded to in the text and –in some cases– only in the LOTR appendices. Namely, Gandalf, the White Council, and Dol Guldur.

I have heard complaints about how these things weren't really in the story and are just padding, but I respectfully submit that they are fine additions to the film. They both foreshadow the events of the LOTR movies, and –as mentioned in the review of the first film (linked above)– justify certain things that seem a bit silly in the main story, i.e. Why on earth would Gandalf send such a bunch of silly buggers to antagonize a dragon? Answer? He's doing what Gandalf always does, juggle several balls at once. We get to see a little more of Radagast and Dol Guldur, so that's fun. More about this below.

Back to the main plot, the group manages to get into Laketown and resupply enough to head to the mountain. There are several changes in the plot here, some larger than others, but spoilers abound here, so it will have to wait a couple more paragraphs. Bottom line: The reach the Mountain and find the door, which is more than implied by the trailer. As is also the fact that Bilbo goes into the Mountain and sees Smaug in all his terrible glory.

This is my favorite picture of Smaug ever. Done by the Professor himself!

There's a bit more action at the mountain, and in Laketown, then we leave off just prior to Smaug attacking the town.

Without big spoilers, Smaug is beautifully executed. His appearance, animation, and of course Mr. Cumberbatch's voicing all work wonderfully. Nerd Note: I was pleased to see a "wyvern-style" four limbed version as opposed to a brontosaurus with wings.

A note on the 3D: Not worth it, IMO. It was distracting and made a lot of the scenes look weird in how they were shot. I would have preferred a "vanilla" viewing.

SPOILERS AHEAD
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Okay! Let's talk a little about specifics and what I liked, and what I didn't.

Beorn: I loved that he was in the movie. I was worried he'd be cut for time. He wasn't there long, and the way the dwarves (and Bilbo) meet him is a little rushed, but I was happy he was included.

Mirkwood: Nicely done overall. Again, a bit of change from the books, mostly for pacing and time. The "oddness" of the woods and the way it played tricks on their minds was a nice way to handle things, but I was sorta looking forward to the stream of forgetful slumber. Including the butterflies and using that as a segue into the spiders worked well, too.

The spiders deserve their own special mention. I really like them. One of my favorite parts is when Bilbo puts on the Ring and discovers he can understand them. A nice touch! The spiders were big without being Shelob. They were scary and fast and nasty, too. The bit with Bilbo "fighting over the Ring" with the shelled spider was an interesting foreshadowing, but I would have preferred to see him doing the "Attercop" taunts with the Ring on and luring them off from the dwarves. I suppose having Thorin & Co. take a more active part in the fight was consistent with how the movies seem to be handling those characters.

As an aside: I was pleased to see some of the "other" dwarves getting a few more lines and scenes.

Legolas and Tauriel  were fun to watch in the fight scenes, and Evangeline Lilly is nice to watch regardless. I already mentioned I thought the tone struck with the elves' attitude was a good one.

Mmm! Ginger She-elf!

The introduction of Tauriel presents certain difficulties however. She has a large role in the film for a non-canon character, so that creates a certain amount of "ripples" in the plot. The most egregious of which is COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY!! Namely, the romantic triangle between her, Legolas, and A DWARF!

Ugh.

I'm sorry, but I find it ridiculous that this centuries-old elf is even remotely flattered or interested in Kili. It's so obviously shoehorned into the plot, and wrenches thing off in weird directions. I admit I am prejudiced against Aidan Turner's Kili. Not because of the casting, but for the minor but annoying reason that HE HAS NO KIND OF PROPER FACIAL HAIR AT ALL!! Silly, I know. But there it is.

Sorry, stubble-boy. Legolas is still prettier. 

This was one of my major peeves with the film on a variety of levels. It uses a non-canon character to set up an unnecessary and ultimately futile sub-plot: Legolas doesn't end up with Tauriel, as later events show us. Kili doesn't either (I sincerely hope) because he DIES in the Battle of Five Armies. So Tauriel is there (partially) to add a romantic element to the story that didn't exist before and can't have any real resoultion other than –PREDICTION AHEAD– She somehow manages to die in the BoFA trying to save Kili or Legolas or both, or having to make some tragic choice between them, or Kili and her dying tragically together. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike having another elf character besides Legolas or his Pop, and I don't mind it being female, but I do mind making one up whole cloth for such a lame reason as to try and satisfy the ticket buyers who want to see some romance. 

"THERE AND BACK AGAIN" IS NOT A ROMANCE! IT IS AN ADVENTURE/FAIRY TALE!

phew! OK. Moving on now.

After the dwarves & Bilbo escape and -aheh- barrel down the river, they are pursued by orcs and the elves: namely Legolas and Tauriel. Kili is wounded by a poisoned orc arrow and the company gets away. Meeting Bard the Bowman/Smuggler/Political Rabble Rouser. 

...what?

You know what? Never mind Bard. It was a big change, but I get where PJ was going with it, it doesn't get in the way of advancing the main plot, and it sets up tension in Laketown so there's more story to see and do there. Fine.

When the dwarves are ready to leave town, they commit the biggest sin that any group of adventurers can.


*facepalm*

The wounded Kili gets left behind and a couple other stay as well to watch over him. Why, you ask? why would PJ make such a drastic change to the story? Well the answer is quite simple: 

TO MAKE ANOTHER DRASTIC, YET UNNECESSARY, CHANGE TO THE PLOT!

Orcs sneak into Laketown on Thorin's trail. But Legolas and Tauriel are following them. Action scenes ensue. Then Tauriel saves Kili from the poison with some Kingsfoil. (Which, I might point out, Bofur had gone to the trouble of finding in the first place!) Kili confesses his love for Tauriel in a fevered state and she acts all flattered and flustered and NOT AT ALL LIKE A 600 YEAR OLD ELF WARRIOR!

(I swear, I'll try to rein that in from now on)

Meanwhile, back at the mountain, more plot changes are underway. Condensing Bilbo's "visits" to Smaug was understandable. The plot twist of the Arkenstone being the real MacGuffin made a certain measure of sense as well, I guess. I really liked the detail that went into the hoard and the animating of things like coin spills, etc. I've already mentioned how much I liked Smaug.

What didn't I like at Lonely Mountain? Two things:

1) Bilbo takes off the Ring while talking to Smaug! WHAT?! The riddling talk and Smaug's playing for time while trying to find out what's afoot were part of the real fun of that scene in the book, IMO. Again, an effort to up the tension and action (Bilbo sliding around the coins stalling Smaug as he tries to grab the jewel, etc.). Also, if Smaug were aware of the Arkenstone, which he said he was, he wouldn't have left it in a pile, and he would certainly see the glowing gem skittering along with Bilbo behind. That fact seemed a bit glossed over to me.

2) The dwarves come to help Bilbo and fight with Smaug! Again, WHAT?! 

Look, Pete. I know you need some action in these films every so often, but this is HUGE. This is a radical departure from how the dwarves are presented in the book and also fairly flimsy writing. Smaug the Golden, represents an unbeatable force. Guile, trickery, and cleverness defeat him in the book, not charging around under the mountain trying to trick him. I found the entire chase and trap thing very disappointing, because it changes the story in ways it wasn't meant to go, and not in good ways or for good reasons. 

Ok, leaving the dwarves and elves for now, let's talk briefly (this is getting long) about Gandalf et al. 

His leaving the dwarves and riding off was handled very well, IMO. I liked it. It made sense, and it added some nice tension in a subtle way. I may be in the minority, but I am liking the White Council stuff. The tombs in Angmar were hella cool, with the bars bent back where the Nazgul had broken free of their crypts. 

The confrontation with the Necromancer in Dol Guldur was a nice wizardy battle. Honestly though, the gamer in me thinks A) Gandalf should have waited for Galadriel et al to arrive or, at least, B) Keep Radagast with him. What? Bird Poop-Head can't send an unladen swallow to deliver the message to Lorien? Dwarves can talk to birds in this story and Galadriel can't?? Of course, Gandalf's capture sets up the next phase of the battle at the ruins.

OK, this post has gone on long enough. Let me sum up by saying I enjoyed the movie overall. There were individual parts that I really liked, and as I think about the changes that irk me, I am reminded of another film that was second in a trilogy which provoked a similar response in me:




Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Grognardia: A year later.


James Maliszewski's blog Grognardia was a reading staple for OSR gamers almost from the inception the "Old School Renaissance." His reviews, observations, and play reports were always insightful and well-written. I don't know that there is or was a gaming blog that I read every entry of other than his.

A year ago today his blog ceased updating.

I confess I don't know all the reasons behind James' ceasing of new posts. The Dwimmermount Kickstarter complications and private life played a part as I understand it. While I can perfectly understand letting something like a blog lapse in the face of more important or pressing issues, and I don't blame James for not writing, I do want to go on record saying I miss his posts and also to give James a belated "Well done, sir!" for putting out such excellent material while the blog ran.



Thursday, November 21, 2013

RMA: Halfling


I know I've been gone a while, but here is something to mull over.




I've been working on a Moria-related project lately, and that got me thinking about hobbitses.

The PC races often are unusual encounters. As I have noted previously, "monster" listings and PC race descriptions are not always 100% identical. 

Halflings are probably even more unusual because, apart from the above:

A) There are probably very few DMs for which they are a go-to encounter.
B) They are rare random encounter, only appearing in two places on the BX charts ("city/inhabited" & dungeon level 1).
C) Halflings as monsters? Seriously??

The Stats (from Moldvay):
AC: 7
AL: L
HD: 1-1
Move: 90' (30')
Att: 1 weapon
DMG: 1d6 or by weapon
No. App: 3-18 (5-40)
Save: H1
Morale: 7

Since halflings tend toward Lawful, they aren't likely to be marauding through the countryside. However, there is something to keep in mind here. Namely, that at low level, they are the most lethal class in the book. 

No, seriously! Look at the stats.

  • There is no penalty to their scores in BX, so that halfling can be sporting an 18 ST
  • +1 to initiative* 
  • +1 on missile fire*
  • Attacks as a fighter (best to-hits)
  • The best saves (along with dwarfs)
  • Their hiding ability
  • No weapon or armor restrictions, except for size


*NTM any DEX mods

Their only drawbacks are:
  • Slower movement than humans (90' vs. 120'), but faster than dwarfs!
  • No big/2H weapons
  • PC halflings get d6 instead of a fighter's (or dwarf's) d8 HD. Honestly, I don't know that you can actually count that as a disadvantage except against one class in particular. Also, the NPC/monster version gets a d8-1 so that's even LESS of a disadvantage. 


So these little furfoots are actually pretty tough!

As an encounter, you can be running into a dozen or so of these little guys. Considering that they are very good at ambushing, you can be in for a hail of arrows out of nowhere if you aren't careful.

Granted, their morale isn't awesome, but that makes sense. They aren't rabid fanatics. Chances are if they are fighting you, you've somehow threatened them or their home.

In their villages, you have the added wrinkle of running up against their leader (up to 7th level!) and maybe a dozen 2HD militia. Not a fun time if you've got them feeling prickly. 


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I Tap the Floor Ahead of Me With My 10' pole


I have recently become disenchanted with the sandbox setting. I find it is far too difficult to keep players motivated or to build up momentum for the campaign. Too often, PCs just flail around looking for the next hook to drop into their laps.

With this in mind I am pursuing a new type of adventure for me. The mega dungeon. I'm going to try running Greg Gillespie's Barrowmaze for my group. It is an excellently written dungeon crawl with many interesting features. Furthermore, I am hoping that it will give my players a little more structure without being an absolute railroad. I'm using LL/AEC and a few house rules.

I also chose a published module instead of writing my own because it would reduce the amount of prep time required on my part. I am a lazy, lazy creature.

I've added a few things of my own, like fleshing out the nearby town and giving it a name: Lychgate. I don't plan for the PCs to spends gobs of time there, but if they have a rough sense of the major NPCs and whom to talk to about what they need, I'll call it good enough.

We've had one session, and while the party didn't get very far, there were only three of them (plus a torchbearer/porter). The thief got poisoned by centipedes and that resulted in killing a week back at town while he recovered. In the end, they fought a few undead, opened a barrow, and got some treasure, so it was a good session by my reckoning.