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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Stone Cold Killers

"Old school players are only scared of two things: energy drain and things that turn your ass to stone."  -'Clip', from Dragonsfoot
I read that line on a message forum a long time back. (If someone knows who originally said it, please let me know and I'll credit the quote.) It's an interesting statement, and encapsulates a lot of what folks consider "Old School" play. I'm not going to get into the merits of one style of play vs. another, or if those mechanics are good or bad. Rather, I just want to say a little bit about one of those two threats: Petrification.

I'm going to say right up front that, in my games, I've got no trouble with people being turned to stone. I'm sorry, but it's too firmly rooted in fantasy and mythology to leave out.

Oh yeah, him!

Now, I will say it should probably be pretty uncommon. When you look at the ways it can happen, you've only got a few options (without custom traps/monsters). 

  • Flesh to Stone spell (6th level MU)
  • Some magic items (Eyes of Petrification, etc.)
  • Certain monsters
    • Beholder*
    • Medusa
    • Basilisk
    • Cockatrice
    • Gorgon

*The Beholder is a 1e monster, but a variation appears in Labyrinth Lord's AEC, so I put it on the list. 

If you go by the random encounter charts, the first creature that shows up is the cockatrice, and that's on levels 4-5. So it's not something PCs are sweating right out of the gate. Plus, a cockatrice's petrification power is dependent upon a successful melee attack, unlike a medusa's gaze or a gorgon's breath. 

Such creatures can put a good scare into the party, and might even be best avoided (run from). Fair GMs often leave some tell tales, like a hall filled with statues in poses of fear, etc. If the PCs have been thus warned, then it's on them to deal with the consequences. I don't think putting a medusa or similar in an adventure is a "Screw the PCs" move necessarily, but a total bushwhack might be harder to justify.
[Apologies for the brief 'At the Table' story: In a Ylaruam-based campaign I ran, the party heard of an abandoned place known as the Valley of the Statues, where some curse had petrified dozens of townsfolk a century ago. The remaining villagers fled. There had indeed been a basilisk at work, and its descendent still lived in a cave near there. The PCs were adequately warned by the rumors and were suitably cautious.]

The particulars of how the effect occurs aside, there are a couple things to keep in mind when/if it happens. 
  1. In almost every case, there is a saving throw allowed.
  2. There is a specific spell that reverses the effects (and can be used by the players if they have access to it!)
Frankly, I think it makes more sense to leave the statue behind and come back to it. 6'-7' cubic feet of rock can weigh close to half a ton! Not to mention its fragility. Break off that arm, and you'll be calling him Lefty.

While getting his PC turned to stone in the middle of an adventure is no fun for the player, he can always take heart in the fact that:
  • His stuff is safe from pilfering PCs.
  • Wandering monsters won't feast on his corpse if the party leaves him behind.
  • Unlike Raise Dead, there isn't a time limit on Stone to Flesh.
  • Even though it's 6th level, you might get a StF scroll and have the party mage/elf read it, regardless of level.

In the meantime, play a hireling and get on with the game. No hirelings? I thought we were talking old-school here! ;-)