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Friday, December 8, 2017

Typing Treasure

One my favorite quirky bits of old-school D&D is Treasure Type. Cross-referencing the letter code to the table and rolling each category to see what goodies the monster has is great fun (to me). Thumbing through, as I glanced at TTs N and O. I was struck with how specific they are:  No coins of any denomination, no gems or jewels, but N gives a 40% chance of 2-8 potions, whereas O has a 50% chance of 1-4 scrolls; and only those items! What's more, no creature in the BX rulebooks has either of these listed TTs. The only creature I did find? The Kopru, from X1's Isle of Dread, and it has TT: I + N

Another Otus gem!

"I" is another interesting Type, by the way. In the core books, it only appears with Rocs. It emphasizes platinum and gems with a slight chance of one magic item. I guess when you can eat elephants, you can be picky about the shiny objects that litter your nest.

But back to N & O, I wonder what creature(s) the gang at TSR were thinking of when creating those listings. Someone (something) that had ready access to potions or scrolls, obviously. Perhaps alchemical-inclined or spellcasting monsters of some sort?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

RMA: Gnomes

Unlike some of the other demi-human RMAs, Gnomes are not also PC race in BX. For those of us that have knocked about the old Grand Duchy a while, we've run into the little buggers from Highforge as NPCs, but I don't know if I've seen them used as a "monster" in actual play.

First off, the stats. They aren't terribly interesting, but let's get on with it:

Gnome (from Moldvay)

AC: 5
HD: 1
MV: 60' (20')
ATT: 1 (wpn)
DMG: 1d6 or wpn
# APP: 1d8 (5d8)
AL: L or N

*Morale improves to 10 if a leader or chieftain is present

As mentioned, nothing exceptional in the stats. One mechanic to consider is that the little buggers have better infravision than dwarfs or elves (90' vs. 60'). It's possible that could become relevant.

The gnomes' descriptive text holds some fun tidbits. "Gnomes are excellent metalsmiths and miners." Lots of plot hooks there.

Here's the bit I love:

"They love gold and gems and have been known to make bad decisions just to obtain them."

Hoo boy! Is there some meat on those bones! Maybe the gnomes enter into a dangerous bargain for some shinies. Maybe they delve too greedily and too deep. Who knows?

Over at the BX G+ Community, Mike Hill pointed out that, oddly, the gnomes' Treasure Type (C) does not include any chance of gold pieces. I suppose it I were to try and explain that as other than the designers simply picking a table entry that yields an appropriate amount of loot without carefully referencing the flavor text, I'd say that the treasure section allows the DM to place treasure and to move values around. Maybe there are no gold coins, but perhaps there are ingots or lumps or ore?

Jumping from the monster listing in Moldvay over to Cook, there is a fairly extensive writeup of gnomes in the Karameikos wilderness section (X60). In fact, they are the only race described under the "NON-HUMANS" header. It's long enough I won't break the whole thing down here, but it's definitely worth a read. The layout of the defenses is particularly fun (It even has a map!). There is a typo (?) where the text describes summoning guard animals (giant moles) but later mentions them as giant ferrets. I assume it's supposed to be ferrets, as there is no monster entry for moles (giant or otherwise). 

Friday, November 17, 2017

RSA: Projected Image

There are a couple of reasons that I'm not surprised I haven't seen this spell used in a BX game. For one thing, there simply aren't a lot of illusion spells in the game. For another, as a sixth level spell, it's competing with some heavy hitters. Lastly, I simply haven't player or ran many classic games where the PCs have gotten high enough level to cast 5th or 6th level spells. That said, this one bugs me. The description is short enough that I'll just post the full listing here:

Projected Image  MU: 6th
Range: 240'
Duration: 6 turns

This spell creates an image of the magic-user that cannot be distinguished from the original except by touch. All spells cast by the magic-user will seem to come from the image. However, the caster must still be able to see the target. If touched or struck by a melee weapon, the image will disappear. Spells and missile attacks will seem to have no effect on the image. The magic-user who casts the spell can make the image appear up to 240' away.

Right off the bat. SIXTH level for this spell?! Really? I mean, it's got a good range and duration, but c'mon! I can think of several instances where such a spell would be handy, but as a 3rd or 4th level maybe, not 6th.

There are also some interesting limitations that are implied by the brief description. Even though the spells can "appear" as if coming from the image, the caster himself must have line of sight on it. This seems to be saying that the image doesn't relay any information back to the caster. Also, despite the fact that while a melee attack dispels it but a missile weapon does not (huh?), having the illusion unaffected by ranged/magical attacks can be a drawback, since the image endures even after it looks like the wizard should have at least been hurt.

So why would anyone choose or cast this spell? Well, I think it's main strength lies in two (admittedly specific) areas.

  1. This spell creates an image of the magic-user that cannot be distinguished from the original except by touch.
  2.  All spells cast by the magic-user will seem to come from the image.
So the illusion looks, sounds, and smells like the caster. If it is standing in the room with you, you can't tell it isn't him unless you make physical contact. That's kind of handy. Likewise, if that Fireball looks like it's flying of the illusion's fingertips, that can confuse enemies and make them pick the wrong target.

One of the other things to keep in mind is that, as a sixth level spell, that means the magic-user is at least 11th level (barring the use of something like a scroll). That means he could potentially have fifteen more spells in his repertoire for the day. Not only does that allow for him to mislead foes a lot with where the spells are coming from, but a prepared mage could cast other spells to boost the illusion. Turn yourself invisible and have your illusion draw the fire. Use Wizard Eye, Clairvoyanceand/or Ventriloquism to let you see and hear without actually being in the room.

Such tricks could lead to some fun encounters, combat or otherwise, but would require the wizards to really plan ahead. As a result, I don't know that I would keep Projected Image memorized by default, but I could see using it as part of a more involved, pre-planned scheme.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

RSA: Confusion

I won't say I've never seen or used confusion effects in my games, 'cuz I have! But it usually hasn't been the result of a spell casting. Typically it's been the "spell-like" effect of a monster or item. Looking at the BX spell descriptions, I can see why it's not a commonly chosen spell.

Foe one thing, it's 4th level MU, so it's competing for a slot against Wall of Fire, Wall of Ice, and Charm Monster (among others). Also, despite the fact it last for twelve rounds and 2HD or less targets get no save, it's a fiddly spell to run.

  • First, the number of targets is random (3d6), so you're uncertain of the result right out of the gate. 
  • Secondly, 2+1 HD and up targets have to roll their save each round. 
  • Thirdly, the confusion effect is re-rolled for each target each round with a failed save. That's a lot of rolling!
  • Finally, there is a better than 1:3 chance that the target(s) attack you anyway, and that's after they fail their save vs. spell!
Confusion is a fun effect, but it's understandable why PC/NPC wizards aren't desperate to memorize it for the day.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

REF: Traders

Time for some Random Encounter Fun!

Last time, it was a wilderness (well, city) encounter with some spectres. This time, we'll head back to Moldvay's Level 1 wandering monsters and #19 on the chart: Traders (B43).

Wait, what?

I know it sounds weird, but bear with me here.

Traders in BX are different than merchants. They are "first level fighters who make their living trading goods." the listing goes on to say they are "similar to merchants, but much braver." They normally wield swords or hand axes, wear furs that count as leather armor, and carry shields.

Axes, furs, shields... hmm, what does that sound like?

VIKINGS, of course!

The vikings, in addition to the exploring and raiding, were terrific merchants and traders. They sailed all over, and were in a near-ideal position for commerce.

So, back to the encounter. Number appearing is 1d8. I rolled a 4. That's a decent party size for some NPCs but these are all fighting types with no clerics or wizards or thieves, so it makes sense they are a level 1 encounter. Not because they're wimps, but because they probably wouldn't venture far into the dungeon.

The listing in the book says they use pack mules in the wilderness, and typically carry trade goos like spices or furs or "carved decorative items." But these fellas are in the dungeon, so maybe the animals are back on the surface?

Traders have a low morale score (7), so they aren't interested in lots of fighting. They are probably in the dungeon looking for something valuable they can grab and go. Maybe they're hoping for some bits of jewelry or they've tracked an animal with a valuable pelt to its lair. In any case, they probably aren't "residents" of the dungeon. Like the PCs, they're just visiting.

I would see an encounter with this group as being far more likely to result in roleplaying than combat. A trading party might buy some loot off the PCs. The party might gain useful information from the traders about the place or the surrounding region (they're probably well-traveled after all). For the right price, the traders might even join the party for a bit and bolster their ranks.

In my scenario, I place the traders on the first level of the dungeon, relatively near the entrance. They have tracked some Giant Killer Bees (another level 1 monster) to this location and are searching for the hive. They are carrying green wood and lamp oil to smoke the insects out so they can steal the magical honey. The traders' reaction roll was a 9 (no attack, leaves or considers offers) which seems fair for mercantile types. If the party seems tough, the less than foolhardy traders might offer a trade: If the PCs can bring them a full jar of honey, the traders have a treasure map that the party might find worthwhile.

Like the NPC party, traders also serve as a reminder that the dungeon can be a dynamic, living place where the heroes aren't necessarily the only people interested in treasure; and sometimes even a dungeon encounter doesn't have to end up with rolling for initiative.  

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

PDF for BX Ranger

Feedback appreciated!

Bighara's BX Ranger

A Walk in the Woods: A non-LOTR Ranger for BX/LL

Like so many of these posts, this started when I was flipping through BX. I was reading a section in the Cook Expert book about wilderness travel and ran across a couple interesting passages that, while I've read before, stuck in my mind.

The first was "Becoming Lost" on X56. It begins by explaining how not to get lost; which is basically follow a road or some feature like a river or have "a reliable guide." Otherwise, the DM starts rolling for your party to wander through the woods until an OP random encounter eats you or you starve.

This got me thinking about how much plot goodness could be derived from paying more attention to these rules, but that's another post for another time.

The second part was about foraging for food. Not only is it a bit of a desperation move for when you're out of rations, but it slows travel down considerably.

This led the bucket of squirrels I call my brain to mull over the idea of the "reliable guide." Who are these guides? It wouldn't make sense for most dungeons to be right off the main road. They should be deep in the wilderness or similar, Players are notoriously suspicious of hiring someone to lead them to some lost temple. They'd much rather just use a map or stumble off through the swamp by themselves. Less chance of betrayal, and no annoying NPC to keep alive and/or share loot/pay.

Like this. But usually fighting over the remote.

If the DM is using the wilderness rules properly though, this can end badly for the PCs. To quote Cook:
"Strangely enough, traveling in the wilderness can actually be more dangerous for a low-level party than venturing into the first levels of a dungeon."

So what if, instead of hiring some local yokel to lead you to the dungeon or whatnot, you had PC fulfill this role? Someone like, I dunno... a RANGER?

First off, let me say that if you want a ranger like a 1st edition AD&D ranger in your BX/LL game, look no further than the Advanced Edition Companion. It's got a great version.

I was looking for something a little less Tolkien: With the orc-slaying, palantir-viewing, spell casting version we all know. I didn't want another fighter either. I wanted someone who was at home in the wilds, who could track, hunt, scout, and also find his way through the wilderness. In many ways he is a support character, like the cleric, but hopefully still with enough to offer a player to make running one interesting and fun. Enjoy.

BX Ranger

Primes: WIS and CON
13+ either = +5% xp
13+ both = +10% xp

Fight/Save/Level as: Cleric

Weapons: Any
Armor: Leather (no shields)

Class Abilities:

Known Regions: The ranger starts with a working knowledge of his home terrain. He is considered a "reliable guide" within this region and can navigate cross-country without getting lost. Once every three levels, the ranger can add familiarity with a new region with DM approval. He must have spent time there and/or studied maps of the area. The size of a given region is determined by the DM, and may be dependent on size, geographical, or even political features.

Tracking: A ranger can follow tracks. The base chance of success is 50% + 2/level. A success shows the ranger a discernible trail and what kind of a creature made it. A failure shows no trail or possibly even a false trail (DM's discretion).

A new tracking roll must be made every hour in a dungeon or urban environment and twice a day in the wilderness (usually in the morning and at midday). The DM may ask for a new roll if the trail crosses breaks in the terrain or might have been obscured (eg crossing rocky ground, a stream or a busy road).

Modifiers to the basic roll include age of the trail, weather, and the nature of the terrain. The list below is not exhaustive, but give the DM a basis to work from. Modifiers are cumulative.

Modifiers Example
-5%         per day since tracks were made or on a shifting surface like sand
-10% hard ground (stone or packed earth) or steady rain for more than an hour
+5% Large beast, a cart, or multiple creatures on foot
+10% Huge creature, a caravan, or a large group on foot
-25% Rain for more than day since trail was made or a storm
+25% Tracking through snow or other obvious footprints
-10% Tracking at night or through poor light/visibility

Nature Lore: A ranger is familiar with the natural world of his known regions. He can easily identify normal plants and animals. He knows how to equip and dress for the weather, and find appropriate shelter. He is also aware when something is amiss (birds stop singing, an odd smell, etc.). As a result he is only surprised on a 1 in the wilderness of his known regions.

Live off the Land: A ranger is better at hunting and foraging than other classes. He can successfully find food on a 1-2 (d6) for 1d6+Level people and can hunt without having to stop traveling for the day. Alternately, if the party does stop or the day to hunt, the ranger finds game on a 1-2 (d6). At 7th level, these increase to 1-3. He is also skilled at skinning and dressing normal game animals.

Scouting: A ranger can move quietly and hide in the wilderness of his known regions as a Thief of the same level. Starting at 2nd level, he has gained sufficient knowledge of game traps like snares and pits to let him set, find, and disarm them as a Thief of half his level (round down).