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Friday, September 29, 2017

An exercise for the writer: Ready-made NPC party

Back in the day I posted regarding the BX rules for creating an NPC Party. As I've been looking at using things like peasants and NPCs in an adventure I'm working on, I thought I'd go ahead and generate a party for general consumption and as a walk-through of the process.

1) Determine the number of NPCs in the party: 5-8 (roll ld4 + 4).


2) Determine the class of each character (roll Id8): 
1 Fighter 
2 Magic-user 
3 Cleric 
4 Thief 
5 Dwarf  
6 Elf 
7 Halfling 
8 Fighter

(It's quirky/interesting that the higher chance for fighter is split up at the top and bottom of the die results instead of just 1-2 or 7-8.)

So I rolled 8,1,2,5,1, and 4. That's three fighters, a magic-user, a dwarf, and a thief. This is a pretty muscle-heavy party, but maybe the wizard is after some ancient magic. The thief and the dwarf are there to foil traps and find their way in the deep places of the world. The group gets the mundane loot and the mage gets the mystic relic.

3) Moving on. We check for each character's level. Using the Basic rules, it's 1-2 = 1st, 3-4 = 2nd, and 5-6 = 3rd.

I rolled a mix. We have a 1st level dwarf, a 2nd level thief, one of each level fighter (1st, 2nd, and 3rd), and a 3rd level magic-user. This actually jibes well with the imagined scenario above.

4) Next, alignment. Same spread as levels, but Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic.

OK. The rolls make it pretty weird. Everyone except the 1st level fighter and the thief are chaotic. They are both lawful. It fits okay with the idea that they are all mercenary types, maybe hired by the wizard by the promise of loot. The chaotic wizard makes sense too. Maybe he's seeking black magic of some kind. Things might be kind of tense for the junior swordsman and the trap sweeper. Plus, a chaotic dwarf? Wacky!

5) Randomly determine spells. This will be interesting!

The magic-user gets two 1st levels and a 2nd level. The results are Light, Floating Disc, and Wizard Lock. Those are...unusual spells for a mage, but random is random!

6) Roll for any treasure. The book says you can also choose special treasure to give the party, but in keeping with the spirit of chance, I rolled and got nothing for them. The NPCs given that most of the PCs are higher than 1st level, one might assume they've somehow lost any treasure they'd won in previous adventures, or maybe they spent their cash on gear for this expedition.

Now, you could stat these characters out more fully with scores, equipment, etc. but at this point it's really just PC creation repeated a few times. As I mentioned in the earlier post, the Expert rules increase the level ranges for more powerful NPCs.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Curious Objects: Ring of Delusion

I've mentioned this item in the past, but only as an example of a cursed item.

The lovely thing about rings in BX -and most other flavors of D&D- is that they can be just so darned tempting to adventures. Unlike scrolls or potions, they are usually permanent items. Unlike, weapons, often any class can use them. There are exceptions of course,  but most are universal. Rings also contain some of the most powerful items. The Rings of Wishes spring to mind.

So it's small wonder when a player gleefully has his PC slip that golden band around his knuckle and asks "What does it do?"

The fun with a Ring of Delusion comes in two parts:

  1. The DM is encouraged to fool the player (as well as the PC) about the ring's effects for as long as possible. So when the PC tries to charm that guard with his "Ring of Human Control" he gets a rude surprise instead.
  2. PCs are supposed to be resistant to giving up cursed items in general. The ring is no exception. So it could be argued that the character will persist in believing the item is conferring some great benefit even though it is plainly cursed. It does create a delusional effect, after all.
Now, I wrote a post a while back titled "Magic with a cost", with the idea being that some items may not be entirely beneficial or malign. Imagine a Ring of Delusion that actually does grant a magical benefit -invisibility, for example- but at the same time also makes the wearer believe something delusional about something other than the item's effect. For instance, the ring can let you turn invisible, but you also become convinced that you are the secret son of the king. Perhaps a series of vivid dreams gets confused with reality. Roleplaying fun awaits as the player gets to act this out. Of course, the fact that the ring actually turn him invisible is a red herring. The other players will be unable to pinpoint the cause of their companion's odd behavior. Like the doppelganger scenario, a player willing to RP the situation properly could fuel a whole series of adventures.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Monster Man podcast

While my Random Monster Assessments (RMAs) over the years have focussed on Basic/Expert critters over the years, 1st edition AD&D fans might be interested in "Monster Man" Jim Holloway's new podcast. In it, he plans to cover each creature in the 1e Monster Manual in alphabetical order. The first entry is already up and he says he intends to post 2/week. Definitely worth a listen, IMHO.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

RSA: Animate Dead

Animate Dead is not a particularly uncommon idea in D&D. Evil necromancers and liches summoning armies of the undead is a pretty standard trope in fantasy fiction and games. However, the spell's use by player characters is a bit more out of the ordinary. Often, it's considered an evil (or chaotic) act, or at least morally dubious.

In BX, Animate Dead is a 5th level MU/Elf spell, which means a 9th level PC caster level minimum. It also means having it in your spellbook, not something you trade out during morning prayers like a cleric. There are other spells the Wizard or Wizard/Lord might typically choose before this one (assuming your players choose their spells as opposed to randomly learning): i.e. Conjure Elemental, Telekenesis, or Teleport come to mind.

So let's take a look under the hood, shall we?

Animate Dead (from Cook)

Range: 60'
Duration: Indefinite

OK, right off the duration jumps out at you. These rotting minions don't fall apart after an hour or so. You've got to kill them, turn them, or use Dispel Magic on them. They obey the caster (natch) so that's where you get skeletons guarding some tomb for centuries and the like.

Next off, the caster created 1HD of skeletons or zombies per caster level. So your 9th level wizard can animate 9 skeletons or 4 zombies + 1 skeleton, etc. That's fairly straightforward.

Wisely, the spell description states that character levels don't apply to determining the undead's hit dice, otherwise you could have things like 14HD skeletons walking around.

Here's what gets me. This isn't some elaborate ritual like Spiritwrack where you need a lot of prep for it. You can keep casting it every round if you've got the spell slots and there are enough cadavers about. A high level mage in the middle of a battlefield could recycle a lot of troops that way. It's even handy in the crawl, where a nasty fight with a lot of orcs can be balanced by getting some of their hacked comrades back on their rotting feet. Heck, I could imagine a fun "spell duel" where two casters in a cemetery are burning through scrolls and spell slots trying to get as many "residents" on their team as quickly as possible. While it's not a standard item, imagine a staff or wand or intelligent sword (!) with this spell's ability!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Curious Objects: Light Sword

No, not this:

I'm talking about that (potentially) massively powerful weapon found in Moldvay's treasure charts; the +1 sword, casts light on command (30' radius).

Bear with me a moment.

If you refer back to my RSA on the Light spell, you can see that the item effect is basically the same. Though it does list the effect as a 30' radius, not diameter like the spell. I'm not sure of that's a typo or deliberate change. Either way it's a fair interpretation that the sword is simply granting this spell-like ability to its wielder. So three things immediately come to mind here:

  1. The ability is on command, which means no limit per day.*
  2. Light can blind an opponent if cast on their eyes.
  3. It's still a magic sword that lets you hit things like wights and lycanthropes.
Following this model gives the user a huge leg up in a fight. Now, you could make the DM ruling that the light can only be centered on the blade as opposed to "targetable," and that would be fair enough, I suppose. Unfortunately there isn't a more detailed write-up of the weapon provided in the book. However, in Cook, there are a couple other weapons with spell like effects which do have some accompanying text. In those cases (charm person and locate objects), the powers are described as per the relevant spells. So that's a point for the original premise.

It's worth noting that even without the blinding ability, a light spell ability that doesn't take up a spell slot is a great resource for a low (Basic) level party.

* The Cook Expert items do include a frequency cap on invoking the powers, but they aren't uniform.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

RMA: Prehistoric Plant Eaters - Stegosaurus, Titanothere, and Triceratops

I've taken a little time on these last few Lost World entries because

A) Their roles in such a world aren't that different from one another, and
B) that role is a little boring

Their similarities are why I decided to lump them into one entry. So we'll talk about those first.

First, the stats.

(from Cook)


HD: 11
AC: 3
Att: 1 (tail or trample)
Dmg: 2d8/2d8
Move: 60' (20')
No. App: 0 (1d4)
Morale: 7
Save: F6
Treasure: nil

HD: 12
AC: 5
Att: 1 (butt or trample)
Dmg: 2d6/3d8
Move: 120' (40')
No. App: 0 (1d6)
Morale: 7
Save: F6
Treasure: nil

HD: 11
AC: 2
Att: 1 (gore or trample)
Dmg: 3d6/3d6
Move: 90' (30')
No. App: 0 (1d4)
Morale: 8
Save: F6
Treasure: nil

Each of these are large plant-eaters, but not so large as the mega-herbivores like Apatosaurus. Don't get me wrong, they're big. But the aren't HUGE.

Each of these animals has decent HD. they aren't particularly fast, either. They can also deal out a reasonable amount of damage, but they have skittish morale. They aren't after a fight. They are generally prey, not predators. They are herd animals, though. granted the number appearing stats are pretty small herds, but it stills add up to a lot of prehistoric trampling and goring on the hoof -er, foot.

Now let's talk about some differences.

You'd think the Titanothere to be the most dangerous in general, due the extra HD and the slightly faster movement. Not to mention the higher damage. It isn't as well armored as the dinos, but it does have a bit of hide to get through.

No, my money is on the triceratops. The two things that make me vote that way come from the description.
"Although these creatures are plant eaters, they are aggressive and dangerous, usually attacking on sight. They charge for double damage on the first attack."
So they are more likely to pick a fight, (slightly) less likely to run away, and their initial attack can do up to 36 points of damage. To be fair old Tricorn is a bit slow, so even on the charge he isn't running down able-bodied PCs, but you do to get caught walking when its initiative comes up.

Lastly, if I were actually running a lost world setting with all these creatures from various eras and epochs mashed together, I'd have one word about these prehistoric herd animals.


An amusing number

I haven't forgotten the Lost World RMAs. I am nearly through. I just thought I'd share something I observed.

As I have been posting these writeups, I've shared them on various Google+ RPG communities where I felt they were relevant. Like most bloggers (even infrequent ones like me), I crave feedback, so comments and "+1s" are always welcome. I see the alerts on my gmail page that someone has done so to my posts and the little red circle is a pleasant reminder that someone, somewhere derived a bit of pleasure from my ramblings.

Last week I published an RMA for Sabre Tooth tigers. It was –by any measure– a pretty typical post of this type for me. I like to provide pictures when possible, if for no other reason than to break up the blocks of text. For the tigers, I found a classic bit of Frazetta art with a buxom lass flanked by two of the beasts in question. It amused me and that was about all the thought that went into it.

When sharing to G+, the posts will grab a thumbnail of (usually) the first image on the linked page. As this was the creature picture I chose, that was fine. I linked it to three or four different communities and went on with my day.

A week later, I was on the BX community page and noticed that this particular post had nine +1s. I don't usually keep count, but this seemed a little high, so I glanced back to see some older posts. They averaged about three each. this trend continued on other communities as well. Always with the most +1s of my posts, sometimes double or more of the next highest.

Conclusion? Sex sells. (cue the sounds of shock and surprise!)

Not really surprising, but it made me chuckle a bit. I'll try to post the last of the lost world critters within the next day or so.

See? Dinosaurs! Totally on-topic!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Come Sail Away: The Sailor for BX/LL

I actually prefer Gene Tierney, but this seemed more relevant.

A bit of a change from most posts, I know. I thought I'd post a link to something I wrote up a while ago. It's a (N)PC class for sailors, playable with most "0e" class & level games, but written for Labyrinth Lord in particular. The free PDF is here:

The Sailor Class

I posted it for two reasons:

  1. I talk a lot about encounters at sea and in the water, so it seemed fitting.
  2. It's related to a possible project I'm considering.
Comments & Criticisms are welcome. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Curious Objects: Wand of Enemy Detection

Like all Moldvay Basic wands, it's MU/Elf-only with 1d10 charges. At first glance it's pretty mild stuff but this little magic glow-stick is an odd one. It's not reading alignment, it's reading intentions (like Detect Evil). It will cause "all enemies within 60' (even those hidden or invisible) to glow, as if on fire."

I can think of four situations where this "wimpy" wand would be highly useful beyond "Who here wants to kill me?":

  1. You need to quickly identify which combatants are hostile to you in a confusing or crowded situation. Maybe there are traitor soldiers and loyalists all wearing the same uniforms?
  2. Invisible foe or foes are about.
  3. The lights go out.
  4. Prove a negative. "See? He's not glowing! He isn't the assassin!"

The spell doesn't exist in BX, but DMs might even consider a "Faerie Fire" style bonus to hit vs. such well-lit opponents.

Monday, September 4, 2017

RMA: Sabre tooth Tigers

Smilodon for the camera!
I could have picked an image with just the cat, but when in doubt, use Frazetta!

Continuing in the lost world theme, we have the sabre tooth tiger. Our main predatory mammal for such areas. Of course, such a creature would have had a hard time competing against the likes of T-Rex, but during the ice age, when dinos were long gone, ol' Smiley did all right for himself. 

I've already done a Random Monster Assessment on tigers, and really smilodon is more of the same. It's a great big cat with teeth and claws. Granted, in BX, it's the biggest and toothiest of the bunch. 

Sabre-tooth Tiger (from Moldvay)
AC: 6
HD: 8
Move: 150' (50')
Att: 3 (2 claws/1 bite)
Dmg: 1d8/1d8/2d8
No. App: 1d4 (1d4)
Save: F4
Morale: 10
Treasure: V

The main thing I would note about this fella is that he is (was) an apex predator and not easily scared off (high morale). While -in real life- primitive man and the great cat would probably have done their best to avoid each other (top predators like their space), and the beast would have likely found easier pickings than the hairless apes with pointy sticks, competition over food might cause clashes. Maybe a clan of cavemen manage to down a mastodon. It would take more than a day to butcher such a kill and prep it for taking back to the cave. A pack of sabre-tooths might find the carcass in the night and decide to try staking a claim. 

A party of PCs  from "normal" times that find themselves in a lost world would probably be a smaller group than the smilodon typically would have to deal with (neanderthal mammoth hunting parties were typically a dozen or more men) . Snagglepuss might decide a handful of people are easy enough prey (or their horses). Especially if it's a pack of 3 or 4 cats. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

RMA: Of Cave Bears and Clans

Let's talk cave bear:

No, not really. Well... sort of. We'll get to that. First the actual bear.

As with many of the "lost world" entries in BX/LL, the cave bear only vaguely matches up with reality. Ursus spelaeus was a predominantly vegetarian megafanua not much bigger than the larger bears of today. But that's not important right now, we're talking fantastic monsters here!

In BX, the cave bear is "...a type of giant grizzly bear which lives in caves and 'lost world' areas. It stands about 15' tall and is the most ferocious of all the bears." It's described as having a fondness for human flesh. I assume that extends to demi-humans as well.

Cave Bears (from Moldvay)

AC: 5
HD: 7
Move:120' (40')
Att: 3 (2 claws/1 bite)
Dmg: 1d8/1d8/2d6
No. App: 1-2
Save: F3
Morale: 9

This blog has talked about bears before, and most of the ideas still apply. A BX cave bear is bigger, with more HD and dealing more damage, but other than that it's mostly more of the same.

In a lost world setting, cave bears would probably be both predator and prey. Old T-Rex wouldn't turn his snout up and some bear meat, and neanderthals could certainly use the food and furs. This leads to my earlier comment about the Darryl Hannah movie. More accurately the book it was based upon.

Before Jean Auel's novels shifted gears into pelt-ripping romances, the first couple books were actually pretty carefully crafted to describe Neanderthal life and culture as understood by modern paleontologists. The main character, Ayla, was a stranger; a Cro-Magnon (homo sapiens) among the older race of hominids. The idea being that the two races did exist simultaneously for a period of time.

All that aside, the relevant part is also drawn from history. The idea of the cave bear having religious significance to the neanderthals.

Is there a cave?!

This is the most interesting part of the creature to me. The idea that tribes of cavemen might ritually hunt the bears, or hold them sacred. How would they react to PCs killing one in a random encounter? What's more, to reach into another creature's description, Stone Giants are known to keep cave bears as guard animals. What would the cavemen make of the giant and his pets? What about the neanderthals' chiefs and their foes the ogres? The opportunities to flesh out these dynamics within a "Lost Land" micro-setting are considerable.

Friday, September 1, 2017


(link utterly NSFK/W)

While not true dinosaurs, the pterosaurs are inextricably linked with the terrible lizards in people's consciousness. The distinction is even less an issue in a "Lost World" scenario where we are lumping species together that were actually separated by millions of years (and various continents).

In the real world, there were several species of these creatures, but for BX purposes they are split into two: The pterodactyl and the pteranodon. This is a nice, simple way to offer smaller and larger options for using the beasts in your game.

D&D took a page from classic prehistoric fantasy stories and doubled these creatures in size for the purposes of making the more fun.

It just doesn't get better than Harryhausen!

Pterodactyl (from Cook & LL):

AC: 7
HD: 1
Move: (fly) 180' (60')
Att:1 (bite)
Dmg: 1d3
No. App:0 (2d4)
Save: F1
Morale: 7
Treasure: nil

AC: 6
HD: 5
Move: (fly) 240' (120')
Att:1 (bite)
Dmg: 1d12
No. App:0 (1d4)
Save: F3
Morale: 8
Treasure: V

(Note: The Cook Expert rules contain a typo that doe not list the number or type of attack for these monsters, I took that stat from the Labyrinth Lord retro-clone)

The pterodactyl is the smaller of the two, with a wingspan of 8-10 feet (real ones it was more like 3 feet). They aren't big enough to haul away a character, but a half dozen of them harassing a party or their mounts could be an annoyance. Their low morale suggests they'd flee easily, but possibly return to harry a likely meal. Essentially treat them as prehistoric giant, non-vampiric bats and you'll be close. The way I might use them is to have them get defensive around their nests/roost and the resulting flapping and noise might attract a bigger threat (force a wandering monster check).

BX Pteranodons are much bigger (50' span) and described as more aggressive. Having one swoop in and grab a character is a classic move, though it would probably target the lighter/less armored ones for carrying purposes. They actually get a treasure type, so maybe shiny objects and former victims' equipment ends up in their nests? The most fun way to use them would be as flying mounts, of course. Perhaps a tribe of airborne neanderthals or some PCs with a charm monster spell?