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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

RMA: Blink Dogs

I always think of these as an AD&D creature. Partially because of the quirky 1e monster manual Tom Wham illustration, but mostly because that's what we were playing when I first encountered the creature. They are however, also in the BX rules as well as their nemeses, the displacer beasts.

What is up with that tail?

I think these are an unusual encounter because of their lawful alignment (not generally hostile) and running the mechanics of their short-range teleport ability can be complicated.

Blink Dog (from Cook)
AC: 5
HD: 4*
Move: 120' (40')
Att: 1 bite
Damage: 1d6
No. App.: 1d6 (1d6)
Save: F4

One thing that jumps out at me from the stats is that these are pretty tough dogs. They're roughly on par with a dire wolf (B44) in terms of raw fighting ability (a bit less damage on the bite). Despite that, they are skittish (low morale). This probably stems from their lawful alignment and the fact that they are "highly intelligent." It's worth noting that  the 1st edition Monster Manual lists them as of "average" INT (human level) and possessing a "fairly complex language consisting of barks, yaps, whines, and growls." (MM10) Whether a DM wants to bring that to his or her BX game is another question, but I personally like the idea of a PC learning the language and having to bark and growl to make themselves understood.

The intelligence level means 1) the dogs can be clever in their tactics, and 2) they may choose to not fight (eg low morale). If you allow for the idea that blink dogs have a language, it's also possible that they could know "PC" languages like Common, Elvish, Lawful, etc. which means parley is possible with good reaction rolls.

Moving on to the blink part of blink dog, these canines can "bamf" in and out during a fight. They do so without error and at random distances (1d4 x 10 feet).

Couldn't write this one without a shout-out to Kurt!

Blinking has two main effects during an encounter. 1) if they have the initiative, the dogs can attack someone and then blink away without allowing for a melee counter attack. 2) the constant shifting of position makes fighting or targeting them very difficult. They also can just "blink out" when/if they decide to flee a fight. They have OK treasure in their lairs, but given that they can teleport away, you might have a hard time tracking them there if randomly encountered.

The exception to their skittishness are displacer beasts. They "always attack" them and they are considered natural enemies. This is less a consideration for typical encounters and more of a delightful bit of flavor that could be mined for plot hooks. I like to imagine that the two creatures' were both initially from some other plane and arrived in the world via some sort of accident or freak occurrence. Both exist partially out of phase with the material world, but it manifests differently for each. Maybe they had some sort of Autobot/Decepticon thing going on. Displacer beasts are semi-intelligent, and they "hate and fear" blink dogs. So the antipathy could be baed upon something more than just competing for space in an ecosystem. Food for thought anyway.

More than meets the eye!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Spell Caster House Rules

I had posted this idea a while back in the BX G+ community, but thought I would add it to the blog as that's where I have similar ideas for house rules. The idea is to make the acquiring of spells a bigger part of adventuring as well as giving spell casters a little more magical power by allowing for scroll creation.

  • All magic-users and elves have a grimoire. This can be a your classic spell book, a long scroll, a tattooed pelt, scrimshawed bones, or any other means of recording written spells. Casting Detect Magic will distinguish a grimoire from a normal book or object.
  • 1st level MU/Elves start with the following spells: Detect Magic, Read Magic, a 1st level spell of their choice, and one random 2nd level spell (a gift from their teacher for when the character is advanced enough to use it.)
  • As the caster goes up in level, spells are not learned automatically. They must be found to add to one's grimoire. Spells can be gained by three methods: spell research (X51), scrolls, another casters’ grimoire
  • Copying spells (from another grimoire or scroll) to one’s own grimoire requires use of the Read Magic spell. Once the caster can read the new spell, he must spend the time and purchase special materials to add it to his personal grimoire. The original of the spell is consumed in the process. (This is why wizards typically don’t let other wizards copy directly from their grimoires!) It takes one full day’s work and 100 gp per level of the spell to transcribe it. This requires the caster’s full attention for the duration of the process.
  • A magic-user or elf may create a magical scroll from a spell in his grimoire without destroying the original copy. (This is how spells are typically shared.) It takes one day and 500 gp per spell level to create a scroll. The scroll can be used to cast the spell or copy it, but it is consumed in either case. 
  • A cleric may create spell scrolls for the same costs in time and money as magic-users or elves, but must prepare -but not cast- the spell for each day he is scribing the scroll.
  • If a caster is desperate, he can cast an unprepared spell directly out his grimoire like a scroll, but the copy of the spell is destroyed in the process. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

RMA: Giant Toad


While not exactly rare, giant toads aren't particularly common either (at least in my games). It only shows up randomly on the wilderness tables and there only at rivers. I think this is because it is a relatively low level monster that doesn't make its appearance until the Expert rules. The river table appearance is somewhat limiting when one considers that real-life toads are often found well away from large bodies of water. Nevertheless, Mr. Toad is here and we shall investigate him before he drives off.

Toad, Giant (from Cook)

AC: 7
HD: 2+2
MV: 90' (30')
ATT: 1
DMG: 1d4+1
# APP: 1d4 (1d4)
TT: Nil

GTs are described as 150-250 pounds ("the size of a very large dog") and capable of changing the skin color. This chameleon effect increases their surprise chance slightly (1-3). Their hit dice and AC are no great shakes and they are hardly the bravest creatures when it comes to morale. Not to mention no real loot to speak of.

The two things that make the giant toad interesting are its ranged tongue attack (15') and the chance of swallowing a target whole. Only "small" (the text implies dwarf-sized or smaller) targets can be swallowed, and only then on a natural 20 attack roll. A swallowed target takes 1d6 damage per round while in the amphibian's gullet.

I think the reason this didn't get included in Moldvay was A) space limitations and/or B) the creature's wilderness aspect. It is after all just a big animal. The Expert rules opened up the wider (and wilder) world beyond the dungeon to the players & DM, so it seems -aheh- natural that some less powerful yet monstrous wildlife was introduced. 

As far as running an adventure with these creatures, I would happily place a few near a river or swamp and have them squat silently like a stone as the party travel through. Then THWIP! A sudden lashing out of a tongue at the halfling or dwarf PC to drag them in for a bite and if lucky, GULP! The emphasis (for me) would be to underscore the fantastic elements of a BX world rather than as a major encounter or challenge.

Monday, July 16, 2018

RSA: Floating Disc

This is a curious one. Anyone who has played old-school D&D has at least heard of this spell. In my experience, it doesn't get used much unless magic-using characters roll their starting spell randomly. When your entire magical arsenal for the day consists of one or two first level spells, a luggage cart just isn't likely to be your first choice.

Floating Disc (from Moldvay)

Range: 6'
Duration: 6 turns

Without quoting the whole spell description, the disc of magical force appears at the caster's waist height and stays no more than 6' away from him or her as they move about. It can carry 5000 coins in weight (500 lb.) and moves at the caster's movement rate.

Because it's a utility spell with next to no combat application (not to discourage player creativity), it has a decent duration. It's not all day, but an hour from a first level spell isn't bad. Since it basically dumps what it's carrying on the ground when the spell ends, you probably aren't going to use it as a caddie.

Here's where the spell gets interesting.

Five thousand coins carrying capacity. That's more than a mule can carry! The disc floats along behind he caster at the same movement speed. That means your unarmored, unencumbered, 120' per turn magic-user can carry more than a pack animal out of the dungeon faster than the big, brawny fighter. So one tactic for recovering as much loot as possible might be to load up the wizard's disc and have him sprint for the surface, towing the treasure. He can also carry out a wounded/fallen comrade. 

Nothing in the spell indicates the caster needs to maintain the spell, so he's free to cast others if he has them, fight, talk, map, etc.  It's described as the size and shape of a small round shield, which I interpret as about 2-3' in diameter. I find that an odd size for carrying the much weight. 

I'm not saying I would want to play a 1st level MU going into the Caves of Chaos with FD as my only spell, but I wouldn't say no to a scroll for the spell. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Let D&D be D&D

I don't generally use the blog to vent or rant, but I had a conversation reently that got under my skin a little and wanted to work out some of the thoughts it generated. It is gaming-relaed, but forgive the combative tone.

I was talking with my brothers about campaign ideas I had -specifically old-school BX style D&D. We have gamed together off and on over the years since we were kids and I was thinking about trying to ramp up a regular game again.

“You have some cool ideas, but it’s still wizards and elves and fighting monsters for gold or XP. We’ve done that to death.”

Needless to say, this was a little disappointing to hear. Mostly because I recently came to realization about gaming. It's not profound or anything, but I think it has finally sunk in with me.

Don't run a game you don't love.

Whether it's a campaign, module, or system, if it doesn't get you excited to see it happen at the table, you should not be behind the screen. Game-mastering is just too much effort. Especially as adults with families, jobs, and so many demands on our time. I might sit down to an adventure or a system that isn't my favorite as a player. Maybe it's to try something new or just to be social. More likely a member of the group is the one who is excited about it and wants to run it. That's fine. But gone are the days where I choose a game to run based on whether I think it might entice others to play.

Like Joseph Campbell's advice to "Follow your bliss," this idea applies to life in general, but this is an RPG blog, so I'm confining it to the subject at hand. This brings me to the title of this post.

Let D&D be D&D.

Yes it's a game of elves, wizards, orcs, dragons, and yes dungeons too. Yes you have many artificial mechanics that attempt to represent different abstract concepts with varying degrees of elegance or success. Yes its most basic premise is to go into a cave or ruin, fight monsters, take their stuff, and try to get more powerful so you can fight other monsters.

So what?

At a minimum it's still a chance to play a game that lets you have fun with friends. At its best, the 'game' part fades into the background and the players get to tell a story that none of them -DM included- got to see coming. Can other genres and systems do that too? Absolutely. Will some people find one game more fun to play than another? Sure. No one is saying you have to play a particular edition or version of D&D, or D&D vs some other system, or even that you have to play RPGs as opposed to any other hobby. But the "Been there, done that." attitude just irked me.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

RMA: Troglodytes

Literally, a "cave-dweller," the term originally referred to hermits or peoples who lived in caves, not monsters. Over the years it came to be used when describing degenerate humans and humanoids until it became the D&D stinky lizard people.

I won't say I've never seen trogs used in play, but they are oddly uncommon. I suppose that's not so strange when you think about how many options a DM has when it comes to humanoid foes a party might encounter underground, but troglodytes are more distinctive than most, so I would think they'd get more table time than they seem to. Stat-wise, they give a respectable -though not amazing- showing

Troglodyte (from Moldvay):

AC: 5
HD: 2*
Move: 120' (40')
Att: 2 claws/1 bite
DMG: 1d4 each
No. App: 1d8 (5d8)
Save: F2
Morale: 9

So to start off, a couple of notes from the description. They are called out specifically as "intelligent." Most other humanoid creatures don't get a mention of this. It may be reading into things too much, but it makes me think troglodytes should be run as at least human-level smart. Troglodyte is not listed as a language in Basic, but I imagine it exists. The book also states they use their hands "as well as humans." Despite the claw damage in the stats, I think Bill W's picture (above) has the right of it: trogs would craft and carry weapons as well. 

"They hate most other creatures, and will try to kill anyone they meet."  Ouch. That Chaotic alignment is really coming through there. Also, that's cuing me as the DM to probably not bother with reaction rolls.

The other fun tidbits about troglodytes are their camouflage and their "stench attack." They can color change to hide and so they can surprise on a 1-4. Also,"They secrete an oil which produces a stench that will nauseate humans and demihumans unless the victims save vs. Poison." Failure means -2 to rolls while in melee with ol' scale & stink. I may be playing a bit fast & loose with my interpretation here but because they can surprise so effectively, I would argue that troglodytes aren't continuously secreting the oil, so the smell is not always there.

Their morale is not terribly high, but given their hostile attitude and stealth abilities, I would think they might flee a stand up fight that was not going their way only to ambush the foe later.

The really interesting part to me is their treasure. "A" is a pretty generous category with high percentage chances for gold, platinum, gems/jewelry, and magic. I can totally see a party putting up with the stink to try and find the troglodyte lair. As a DM, I would play these creatures smart and mean to make the players earn such a haul from fighting 2HD monsters.

Monday, July 2, 2018

REF: Noble

Time to go back to the dungeon for another random encounter! Picking randomly, we end up on level 2 of the crawl. Rolling for our encounter, we get a 12, which is a Noble (2-12 appearing).


Like the Traders in an earlier post, a noble doesn't sound like someone you'd bump into as you are working your way through a dungeon. Going back to the monster listings, it describes a noble as "the lord of a castle and any of his or her relatives." In Basic, the encounter will be with a 3rd level fighter by default, but can be any class or level. The standard encounter will be the noble (F3), his squire (F2), and possibly 1d10 retainers (F1s). That's potentially quite a crowd! Not to mention the possibility of noncombatant attendants, like torchbearers or porters.

So let's dive in and see what we can make of this.

Since the lord of a castle is usually 9th level or more, I'm going to say this is a relative. For the sake of building a narrative, we'll say the baron won't let their heir go off adventuring, so this is a younger child/nephew/niece. Let's go with niece, just to break the stereotype.

This young lady thinks her cousin is a twit and doesn't deserve the title or estate. She goes off and becomes a tough adventuring type, making it to 3rd level. She hears a rumor of some item or treasure that might help her in some plot to discredit her cousin and put her in a position to be named the baron's heir instead. She gathers a few loyal troops and her squire (the d10 results in four 1st level fighters with her) , then heads to the dungeon seeking the object of her quest. While the PCs are working their way through the same crawl, the two groups run into each other.

The noble could be hostile or friendly. Perhaps she would consider joining forces or hiring the PCs to help. Things might get dicey if she decides that she was sole claim to whatever she's after, while the PCs see it as party loot. If the PCs refused to join or work for her, she might decide hey need eliminating. Fighting a half dozen fighters of 1st - 3rd level sounds like no picnic. What's worse, what if the PCs win and kill her? What if word gets back to the baron that his niece wasn't killed by monsters, but slaughtered by a group of local murder hobos?