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Friday, January 26, 2018

RMA: Efreeti (Lesser)

A little while back, I talked about djinn. Specifically summoning them with a magic ring. Today I want to talk about their fiery counterparts, the Efreet.

Right off the bat, I should mention a small thing that I can't help but speculate over: both the djinn and efreet listed in the BX monsters are labeled as "Lesser" varieties of their respective types. Were Greater versions ever presented in classic D&D? Perhaps in a module? If anyone knows, I'd love to hear! I assume, since they are both elemental types, this is a callback to the differences between "staff" and "conjured" fire/air/earth/water/elementals. Perhaps a topic for another day?

Moving on, specifically about our smoldering subject, let's look at the stats.

Efreet (Lesser) from Cook:

AC: 3
HD: 10
Move: 90' (30')
Fly: 240' (80')
Att: 1
Dmg: 2d8 (+1d8 fire)
No. App: 1 (1)
Save: F15
Morale: 12
Treasure: nil

We can see that efreeti are a bit more powerful than their airy nemeses. Better AC & HD. Better saves and damage, too. In addition to their basic stats, they have an assortment of powers.

"Efreet can create objects, create illusions, and turn invisible
like djinn. They are also able to create a wall of fire up to 3 times
per day. An efreeti may transform its body into a pillar of flame that
will set fire to all flammable items within 5 feet. They can retain the
flame shape for 3 rounds maximum. The fire will also do an additional
1-8 points of damage to all creatures struck by the efreet.
They may fly and carry up to 10,000 en weight while flying."

So a bigger, scarier version of a djinn, right? The wall of fire and the pillar of flame thing are impressive in a fight, but not that much more dangerous, To me, the key part of this creature lies in its description's final paragraph:

"Efreet can be summoned by high level magic-users who 
have researched the special spells required. Once summoned, 
Efreet can be forced to serve for 101 days. They are reluctant and difficult 
servants and will obey their instructions exactly, attempting to distort the 
meaning of whatever they have been told to do in order to cause trouble for 
their masters. Efreet hate Djinn and will attack them on sight."
(emphases mine)

Firstly, I really like spell research call-out. It expressly says "Sure this is possible, but it's not your run of the mill magic item or spell slot." Next, the built-in animosity of an efreet servant reminds me of spells like Contact other Plane or Spiritwrack and dealing with "allies" that are not squarely on your side. Following instructions exactly is reminiscent of wishes, too (X59).

What's interesting is that the description says that efreeti "hate" djinn and will attack on sight, but there is no mention in the djinnis' description of how they feel about efreeti. It's worth noting the alignment. Efreet are chaotic, whereas djinn are neutral. One can imagine a great deal of fodder for world-building in that. Perhaps there is some ancient hatred stemming from an interplanar war? Maybe a trip to the City of Brass would yield some answers?

Friday, January 19, 2018

RMA: Giant Beetles

Giant? Well, they were bigger than Jesus.

Giant beetles. I won't say they're unheard of in BX games I've played and run, but what I find amusing is that, even within the compactness of the Basic rules alone, we're given three varieties of them.

Beetles, Giant (from Moldvay)

Fire Oil Tiger
Armor Class: 4 4 3
Hit Dice: 1 + 2 2' 3+1
Move: 120' (40') 120' (40') 150' (50')
Attacks: 1 bite 1 bite + special 1 bite
Damage: 2-8 1-6 + special 2-12
No. Appearing: 1-8 (2-12) 1-8 (2-12) 1-6 (2-8)
Save As: Fighter: 1 Fighter: 1 Fighter: 1
Morale: 7 8 9
Treasure Type: Nil Nil U
Alignment: Neutral Neutral Neutral

So right off the bat, we can see that they are basically a Small/Medium/Large progression. Fire beetles start off at about 2' long, finishing up with the Tigers at 4'. We also seen incremental increases in toughness and lethality. Also, they each appear in similar progression on the Basic (Levels 1-3) dungeon wandering monster tables. 

The two "lesser" beetles are interesting because of their namesakes. Fire beetles -despite the scariness of the title- do not emit flames. Rather, each has three "glowing glands" that continue to emit light for up to six days after dying. It seems this critter solely exists to give low level PCs a brisk encounter and a free light source for the dungeon. Granted, 2d4 damage from its bite is a bad time for a 1st level PC, but that's what crossbows are for. Plus their morale is low.

Oil beetles spit a caustic fluid that penalizes the victim with painful blisters. It's interesting that a Cure Light Wounds spell will heal the blisters or the damage, not both.

Tiger Beetles are big, carnivorous, and dangerous. They are faster, tougher, and deal more damage (2d6!). It's also interesting that they have treasure. Type U doesn't yield much, but there's a chance of magic items!

The other tidbit about tiger beetles is that it mentions they usually eat Robber Flies. Which, as we've discussed previously, usually feed on Giant Killer Bees. One can imagine an interesting little food chain-based encounter sprouting up around this dynamic.

Friday, January 12, 2018

RMA: White Ape

No, not the Barsoomian kind:

This kind:

We touched on these simians before when discussing Neanderthals, but we didn't really get into the creatures themselves.

White Ape (from Moldvay):
AC: 6
HD: 4
Move: 120' (40')
Att: 2 claws
Damage: 1d4 each
No. App: 1d6 (2d4)
Save: F2
Morale: 7
Treasure: nil

I won't say these creatures are unheard of in games I've played or run, but they aren't run of the mill either. Because of their previously mentioned connection to cave men, I would also lump them in under "Lost World" creatures. They can be found in dungeons and in the wild as wandering monsters (though oddly not on the Lost World encounter table). They also seem to serve as the model for any large primate encounters (gorillas, etc.) as there are no other creatures of this type listed in the BX rulebooks.

As opponents, the apes are a bad time for starting or low level PCs, but not overwhelming. Their rock-throwing (1d6) and 2 claw attacks are dangerous, and 4 HD means you aren't putting one down in a single hit. On the other hand, their AC is pretty tame and they lack any really unusual abilities.

No, the thing I like most about these creatures (apart from the inestimable Mr. Otus' illustration) is that they are a great example of a relatively "normal" animal written up right. Low morale, keeping no treasure, and described as nocturnal vegetarian gatherers who will threaten before attacking. The idea that they have lost their coloration due to subterranean life is an interesting side note, but they are otherwise, well, just apes.

Not every creature has to be utterly mundane or completely fantastic (in the original sense of the word). The white ape is a nice balance between something normal and something just a little exotic.

And I like that.

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.