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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

RMA: Tigers

TIGER, tiger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

-Wm Blake, "The Tyger"

I don't think I have to go into a lot of detail about why these are formidable creatures. I'm including them in the RMAs because they are an uncommon encounter, IMO. This is most likely because of climate locations in most campaigns (like the aquatic encounters I've described before). Most folk consider tigers for jungle expedition adventures and the like.

In the real world, Bengal Tigers (the most common type) clock in at about ten feet long (with tail, 6-7 feet without) and can weigh close to 500 pounds. That's a big kitty!

Tigers are also known for being one the more likely man-eaters among large predators. While there have been numerous fictional stories about such specimens, it is true that some tigers start preferring "long pork" for their meals.

Okay, on to the gaming stats, etc.

Tiger (from Moldvay)

No. App: 1 (1d3)
AC: 6
HD: 6
Move: 150' (50')
Attacks: 3 (claw/claw/bite)
Damage: 1d6/1d6/2d6
Save: F3
Morale: 9

While they normally are solitary, it is possible to encounter a few at once. One is probably enough to give a low to mid level party a bad few rounds, or even a fatality.

Tigers prefer cooler climates and wooded lands (according to Moldvay). "Cooler" as opposed to the lion's veldt, I expect. Fun fact: They appear in Cook's wilderness encounters on the "Inhabited" table! Staying close to the food, I expect! In fact, they appear on three different climate tables: Inhabited, Woods, and River. Oh, yes. That's another fun, real-life factoid about tigers: They like water and can swim (even submerged)!

Diving for a tasty snack.
(He's looking that ticked-off because he's pinching his nostrils shut 
and keeping the water out of his ears. Still, eek!)

The monster description explains that the tiger's stripes help it hide, and in the woods the creature surprises on a 1-4! With its THAC0 of 12, there's a decent chance this thing is hitting for 4d6 damage before anyone knows what's happening. If your PC was the lucky one bringing up the rear, you better hope it doesn't gain initiative.

Fortunately for the PCs, this thing is just a normal animal. It would be scared of fire, and more interested in a meal than a melee. Its morale isn't great, so it would probably retreat under concentrated resistance. It's fast enough it will probably get away to lick its wounds and come follow from a safe distance, too. Its six HD means a Sleep spell isn't catching it, and it can probably survive a little damage before having to pick fight or flight.

As a GM, I see using this critter in nasty ambushes, causing party attrition. A hireling or pack animal killed. A PC badly injured so healing spells are used up. Heck, this thing roaring out among the trees might spook any riding or pack beasts into fleeing; preferably with valuable supplies on their backs!

A more nefarious scenario might be the classic "evil druid" with several of these things under an Animal Friendship spell.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Lives Everlasting

(inspired by the RSA: Reincarnation post)

Lives Everlasting

This is a powerful curse bestowed by the gods or other similarly powerful beings, it is far beyond mortal spell-casting except through the powerful rituals. There is no saving throw. It basically denies the recipient the afterlife by trapping them in a cycle of rebirth. 

If a character subject to the curse dies of old age, they are reborn as an infant of their race with no memories of their previous existence other than a sense of loss and denial that plagues them for their whole lives. If the character dies before his natural span is done, then he is Reincarnated (as per the spell) and his new form is rolled randomly. The reincarnation occurs instantly, preventing any chance of Raise Dead or Resurrection being performed. The soul is bound to the new form irrevocably. When that body dies, the same conditions apply.

Only direct divine intervention can fully counter this curse. A Wish spell or item can break the cycle, but only if used to permanently kill the character. Certain powerful items, such as the Deck of Many Things (i.e. the Skull card. The Void leaves the cursed soul intact, though trapped.) or a Sphere of Annihilation can grant a character release from the curse, but only in the sense that he is destroyed. 

Closing In

I don't normally post about my campaign here. I usually just update the logs over at Obsidian Portal, but I realized that with Session #29 coming up tonight, we are closing in on the end of Night's Dark Terror. For those of you not familiar with B10, it's practically a campaign in itself. The story takes the characters all over most of eastern Karameikos. It's been a ton of fun, and I'm really pleased that we've managed to keep going through the whole thing. (knocks wood)

I will confess a certain level of GM fatigue, since I've been running this almost non-stop (with a few fun breaks) for the better part of a year, and trying to stick to a particular published module can be constraining at times. Perhaps when this is over someone else will run for a little bit. On the one hand that can be a relief, but on the other it's hard to step out from behind the screen and avoid backseat GM-ing. I can only say that if I end up playing instead of running, I will do my best to clam up.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

RMA: Rhinoceroseseses


Like many other real creatures, this one hasn't seen a lot of table time in my experience. In fact, the normal rhino doesn't even appear on the random encounter charts; and the wooly version is only on the optional "Prehistoric" table.

While, in real life, rhinos are hardly racking up the kills (much more the reverse, actually), they are notoriously unpredictable. Looking at the stats and descriptions, it's totally understandable why PCs might give this fellow a wide berth.

Rhinoceros       Ordinary        Woolly  (from Cook)

No. Enc.:        0 (1d12)          0 (1d8)
Alignment:      Neutral           Neutral
Movement:     120' (40')         120' (40')
Armor Class:  5                    4
Hit Dice:        6                     8
Attacks:                  -butt or trample-
Damage:        2d4 or 2d8       2d6 or 2d12
Save:            F3                    F4
Morale:          6                       6

What the scariest thing about its stats (either version)? No, not the trampling damage. Give up? The answer is its morale! I know, but it's a trick question. You need to read the description to see why.

"If threatened, surprised, or charged, they will stampede in a random direction, goring all in their path for double damage on the first attack."
Get that? These suckers spook 50% of the time, then proceed to go barreling off who knows which way. Even if you are what scared them, they might come at you instead of fleeing. You can't predict it. If they happen to head your way, their gore attack deals 4d4 or 4d6 damage, depending on type. You are almost certainly dealing with several of them at once as well. Imagine a half dozen of these things thundering at you!

Once that first gutting is over, the things might stick around to finish the job. With 2d8/2d12 for stomping you into the dust, it might not take very long either.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Fun with iMovie

I made this goofy little vid to promote our newest Faster Monkey Product (see "What I'm Shilling"). Enjoy!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Moldvay Musings VI: Encumbrance

I always forget that encumbrance in BX is an optional rule. I use it so often in my games that it seems integral to the system to me. I can totally understand someone choosing to "hand wave" the whole thing though.

It seems that encumbrance is one of those mechanics that RPGs tend to struggle with. Despite the simplicity of the idea ("Carrying lots of stuff is hard!"), different games have tried all sorts of methods to represent this. More often than not, they come up short, either in playability, or realism, or both.

The B/X method –being one of the oldest– is fairly simple compared to some, and while far from perfect, does the job well enough, IMO.

Two of the most commonly cited "weaknesses" of the mechanic are:
  • No Strength modifier for carrying capacity.
  • 10 coins per pound is a harsh scale.

The first is easily house-ruled. I commonly allow a character's STR adjustment (to hit/damage) to alter the allowed weights by 100 cn per ±1. So, for example, an 18 STR can carry 700 cn without being slowed down, while a 3 STR character could only carry 100 cn before being encumbered. 

The idea that an individual coin weighs 1.6 oz. means you're talking some serious metal discs and a LOT of gold per piece. It's easy enough to explain away though; a relatively primitive society, lots of impurities in the alloy (a "gold piece" would probably be more like 10K than 18 or 24K), etc.

One tidbit I like in the system is the idea of armor slowing you down regardless of weight. The very fact you are in armor limits movement, etc. It tends to make PCs a bit slow. When you love resource management and wandering monsters as much as I do, though, that's a feature not a bug! To me, it's as much a part of the challenge as fighting monsters when players need to sweat running out of torches, or the extra time it takes to move through an area, because of all the stuff they are carrying or wearing. Watching them debate taking that one more sack of coins but leave their rations behind? Priceless!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Moldvay Musings V

The blurb about scale movement is pretty straightforward, but I find it interesting on two levels. The first line reminds us that the use of miniatures is not a given in classic fantasy gaming. I remember playing AD&D back in the early 80's and never using a mini.

The second aspect is the wargamery use of inches to feet. No grid or hexes, just linear distance. After years of using things like Chessex battlemats, it's neat to be reminded of other ways of handling scale and distance.

RSA: Massmorph

I suppose some people may have seen this spell used more often than I. It's probably a question of the type of campaigns one has played in. I can see its application in higher level play, especially military/dominion related games. Massmorph definitely has a more "troop level" focus to it, rather than dungeon crawling.

Massmorph (from Cook)
4th Level MU/Elf
Range: 240'
Duration: Special

In a nutshell, it makes up to 100 man-sized creatures within a 240' circle appear as trees (orchard/forest). It lasts until dispelled or dismissed by the caster. Even someone moving through the area does not reveal the disguised subjects. It is an ideal spell for ambushes and disguising troop placement. 

I can see elves making great use of this spell, hiding a company of warriors in the middle of their own forest, letting an invader walk right past them until they were surrounded. In fact, this could be a devious little trick a DM could play on a lower level party that wanders into a sylvan wood. Not necessarily for a TPK, but definitely a possible "change your armor" moment.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

RMA: Dryads

The Dryad is one of those straight-out-of-mythology creatures that doesn't –in my experience– see a lot of table time. Like the unicorn, I think its lack of hostility makes it an uncommon "monster." It's sort of a shame, because what it lacks as a combat opponent for the PCs, it makes up for as an interesting –and slightly spooky– wilderness encounter.

Stat-wise, the dryad isn't particularly scary. 

Dryad (from Cook)
AC: 5
HD: 2*
Move: 120' (40')
Att: special (charm)
Damage: 0
No. Appearing: 0 (1d6)
Save: F4
Morale: 6

They are described as "extremely shy and non-violent" (hence the low morale score and lack of combat damage). Their ability to "merge" into their tree makes it unlikely that they would be seen if they didn't wish to be. 

One can safely assume a dryad is pretty aware of what goes on in her woods (at least the immediate area). She can't go far from her tree, so perhaps woodland creatures bring her news. Her symbiotic dependence on her tree makes her extremely vulnerable, too. A group of PCs wandering the forest, perhaps seeking the location of a dungeon or similar could do worse than to question a dryad (assuming they locate one). 

Her charm person ability is quite powerful, forcing a save at a -2 penalty. The really alarming thing about it isn't falling under the dryad's glamer, it's the next part:

"A charmed character will approach the [dryad's] tree and be drawn into it. Unless rescued immediately, the victim will never be seen again." (emphasis mine)

So a simple charm person turns into effectively a save or die situation for the PC, at least as far as playing that character again is concerned. What's more, any good loot he might be carrying wanders into the lumber too!

All this means that PCs dealing with a dryad will want to stay on friendly –but not too friendly– terms. After all, that high CHA character might just catch her eye.

Monday, May 7, 2012

RMA: Shrew, Giant


Not once. 

Nunca. Never have I had one come into play in a game. The giant shrew always reminds me of its scarier 1st edition cousin. Unlike the Brain Mole however, the shrew isn't psionic. It's big (for a shrew), but that only means it's about a foot long. 

Shrew, Giant (from Moldvay)
AC: 4
HD: 1
Move: 180' (60')
Att: 2 (bites)
Dmg: 1d6/1d6
No. App: 1-4 (1-8)
Save: F1
Morale: 10

What's wild about the giant shrew is that it's fierce! It's got a morale of ten! Which is feisty for such a little critter. It's only 1HD and has so-so AC, but it can jump 5' (neat trick for a rat-sized animal).  It also can operate in complete darkness (echolocation). 

Another wacky thing is it is fast. It automatically gains initiative for the first round, and gets +1 to the second rounds' rolls. Put a lair of them in a dark enough spot that they get a surprise round, and you might have up to eight of these suckers jumping out and getting a total of 32 attacks before the party even gets to act! (Eight shrews, 2 attacks each, surprise round + initiative in round 1). With that +1, there's a decent chance of them going first on the following round too!

The final amusing tidbit for the GS is where the book describes its attack as so vicious that 3HD or less creatures must Save vs. Death or flee in fear. 

I am picturing this as a highly amusing low-level encounter that can leave the player wondering what exactly just happened to them.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Moldvay Musings IV

From the section on movement:

"A base movement of 120' in ten minutes may seem slow, but it assumes that the players are mapping carefully, searching, and trying to be quiet. It also takes into account the generally "dark and dingy" conditions of the dungeon in which characters are adventuring."

Consider a hallway with no windows and no lights, or perhaps a natural tunnel/cave. What if you could only see 30' in any direction by a flickering torch or oil lantern before darkness obscures everything? Now imagine that you have never been in this place before. You have no idea what lies ahead. Now imagine you are worried about booby traps, possible cave-ins, and monsters. You're testing the floor with every step to make sure it's safe to step on (possibly pressing with a long pole). Even the guys in plate armor are trying not to make too much noise as they clank along, keeping weapons at the ready. All the while someone in the group is trying to sketch a map with parchment and a quill to find your way back out again.

Are you really moving all that fast?

It's also small wonder that such a group –especially carrying loads of equipment, armor, weapons, and eventually (hopefully) treasure– would need to rest every hour or so, just to take a sip of water, a bite of dried meat, catch their breath, and sheathe that sword for a minute after holding it at the ready for so long. 

Now, once you've been up and down the entrance corridor a few times to and from base camp, it makes sense that you'd go a bit faster. Moldvay doesn't disappoint on this score:

"The DM may wish to allow characters to move faster when traveling through areas they are familiar with."

Overall, I find these rules elegant and quite "realistic" enough to emulate what I feel they were after; the experience of fortune-seekers exploring and searching through ancient subterranean ruins and lairs.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Moldvay Musings III

First off, let me just quote the entire paragraph on time (from page B19):

"TIME: Time in D&D adventures is given in turns of ten minutes each. A turn is not a measure of real time, but is a measure of how much a character can do within a given amount of time. A character may explore and map an area equal to his or her movement rate in one turn. It also takes a turn for a character to search a 10' x 10' area, for a thief to check an item for traps, to rest or to load a bag with treasure. The DM should decide how long other actions that characters might try will take."

When I first read the book, I took this to mean that a turn didn't represent ten minutes of "table time." Rather it represented ten minutes "in-game." Now, I have a somewhat different take.

The "real time" the book refers to is in-game, but the point is that only a certain amount can be accomplished within a given stretch of time (in this case, ten minutes), not that these tasks all take exactly ten minutes to complete. Is it an abstraction? Absolutely! But what a lovely abstraction it is! 

If –as some folk purport – old-school D&D puts a focus on resource management, then time certainly becomes a crucial factor. Not the split seconds of combat; but the days of food you have left, the hours of light, or the last time you rested. The turn is a simple, digestible chunk of time that allows the players and the DM to keep track of time and other resources. 

Damn! I thought torches lasted EIGHT turns!

The examples of "One Turn Tasks" given above also bring a smile to my face. Do you spend an hour searching that 20' x 30' room for secret doors? A thief needs a turn to check that chest for traps, too. "Loading a bag with treasure" taking a turn brings to mind careful loading of things like potions and statuary to avoid crushing them under the weight of coins.

Players often have confused –IMO– opinions of how quickly many things are done, often trying to "fast-forward" through the mundane stuff. A quick tap of the pommel on the wall as you walk past counts as "searching for secret doors." (Another favorite of mine is how quickly they can count thousands of coins and separate them by type.) Maybe a given task doesn't take exactly 600 seconds, but in the interests of keeping the game moving, it's a fair approximation. Further, the "mundane" can turn quite nasty if a DM is on his game and keeping track of things. 

Moldvay Musings II

The next bit in Part 4 that I find amusing is that of the Caller. 

"One player should be chosen to tell the DM about the plans and actions of the party."

I don't know about the rest of you, but I've rarely played or run using this method. I can see its appeal on a certain level; the DM remains distanced from the debating between players as they figure out their next move, and then he gets a single voice telling him what they do.

On the flip side, it seems it would hurt the social aspect of the game, and I would be leery of letting one player dominate the table talk to such a degree. 

The Mapper:

I like the implication of this section; basically that it is the player's responsibility to make a map of the dungeon. The DM provides the description and detail, the player gets it down on paper. After years of using Chessex mats with hex and square grids, I found this sentence particularly interesting:

"It is most important to record proper directions, shape, and approximate size, rather than spending a lot of time determining exact distances and filling in minute details."

This would indicate to me that a player's map shouldn't be some perfect reproduction of the DM's, rather a "working diagram" that would let the PCs find their way around inside –and back out– of the dungeon. 

Moldvay Musings I

I was flipping through my old friend, the 1981 "Moldvay" Basic book, when I happened to stop at page 19, "Part 4: The Adventure." This is a fascinating chapter to me. There are so many little tidbits that encapsulate much of what I consider "old-school" play. 

One of the first sections is about party size, containing the passage:

"The best size for an adventuring party is 6-8 characters, enough to handle the challenges which will be faced, but not too many to become disorganized or to ruin the chances to surprise the monsters." 

This is large compared to most present-day groups, but it's also interesting because it implies the need for numbers in a dungeon (a concept reinforced later with the mention of hiring retainers). The other interesting implication in that sentence is that of stealth. Adventurers should be trying to sneak up on things sometimes, not necessarily barge right in. 

A dungeon should be a scary place, with darkness, monsters, and traps threatening to finish the characters off at any moment. Adventurers that want to prevail need to bring enough bodies to hold their own, as well as trying to gain any advantage they can while in the deep places of the world.

Stupid T-Shirts and stuff

Hey, I made some goofy shirts and stuff on Zazzle. You can see them on the sidebar or go here.