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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

RMA: Gorgon

No, not her


The idea of gorgon as a petrifying armor-plated bull has interesting possible origins. One theory says that Hetrodotus originally wrote about the fantastic african beast, the Catoblepas (Yep! You read that right!). Then the greeks eventually folded that in/confused it with descriptions of the rhinoceros and named the resulting folklore after the Medusa-style gorgon for its stone-turning ability.

Whatever its genesis as a classic D&D monster, I don't see gorgons come up too much in games (despite my having a mini for it!). Maybe it's the naming confusion. I don't know. It does show up as a wandering encounter in dungeons (Levels 6-7), and a few terrain types. Rare or not, it's a nasty thing to throw at PCs.

Gorgon (from Cook)

No. App: 1-2 (1d4)
AC: 2
HD: 8
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: 1 (gore or breath)
Dmg: 2d6 or petrify
Save: F8
Morale: 8

OK, first off this thing is physically pretty tough. Its scales give it plate mail-like protection and it has up to 64 hit points. In other words, it's not going down easily.

Its horns do respectable damage, and it gets to double that if it charges. Let's get real, though, the breath weapon is the moneymaker here.

As mentioned previously in this blog, petrification is a scary thing for PCs. Players, as a rule, hate it! The vapor covers a 60' long by 10' wide area and the gorgon is immune, so it might "ground zero" itself and catch any or all nearby PCs. Another tidbit, there is no listed limit to how many times or how often the gorgon can use this attack! So the odds are good that someone is ending up a lawn ornament (at least temporarily).

On the downside for this thing, it doesn't have a great morale and most versions' monster listings peg it at animal level intelligence; so you might drive it off. It has fairly decent treasure (type E), so it can be worth a party's while to track it back to its lair, but remember the number encountered in lair is up to four, so watch out!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

New vlog post (Episode 31)

Talking about "being rational" whilst designing an adventure.

Geez! I look brooding in that thumbnail!

Friday, June 22, 2012

RMA: Chimera

Challenge accepted!

Okay, it wasn't really a challenge per se. Today's entry over at Lawful Indifferent did have a line that gave me pause, though.

"...[Chimeras are] one of the coolest mythological creatures that doesn't get any love. Sure, people f*king love elves and dragons and stuff, or even goblins or orcs, but never chimeras."
Well now, that sounds like RMA material to me!

At first I didn't agree about them not getting enough love. I had just used one in my now-complete Night's Dark Terror game, so they felt well-represented. Truth be told though, it had been a long time since one had shown up in my games before that. So maybe Mr. Wright is on to something.

Let's take a look at the stats, shall we?

Chimera (from Cook)

AC: 4
HD: 9
No. App: 1-2 (1-4)
Move: 120' (40')/180' (60') Fly
Att: 5* (2 claws/3 heads)
Dmg: 1d3/1d3/2d4/2d4/3d4
Save: F9
Morale: 9

*Breath Weapon: Fire (cone, 50'L, 10'W). 3d6, 3 times/day.

I typically play chimeras as vicious predators, but not particularly intelligent. Their mediocre morale would seem to indicate a more animal-like mentality. I find the Chaotic alignment amusing given that there are three heads to compete with each other in any decision making.

Like other mythological beasties, chimeras seem to be in most versions of the game and yet fairly  infrequent encounters. Looking at the random encounter charts, as a dragon subtype they are at least possible as wandering monsters in every terrain type (except cities), and they appear on the dungeon level 8+ wandering monster chart. So why are they held back?

Well, one possibility is that they are a relatively complicated monster to run. They fly and they get a crazy number of attacks per round (five!) plus a breath weapon!

Of course, all this should lead any GM worth his screen to now be saying, "Hmm!"

The amount of damage for the claws and heads aren't huge (d3s and d4s), but one good round can nickel and dime even a mid-to-high level PC into the Land of Hurt. Add in a blast of fire for good measure and you could see even a 9th level fighter type with typical hit points CON bonuses go down in a round or two! NB: The dragon head bites or breathes flame, not both in one round.

While it's not in the write-up, like raptors, I can easily imagine a chimera picking up a PC into the sky and dropping him. Maybe not a fighter in plate mail, but certainly a small or unarmored person.

Nine hit dice means it's hitting often and can take some punishment before going down (or fleeing), and AC 4 is respectable enough. What I find terrifying is the idea that you can run up against TWO of them in a random encounter! Never mind in the lair.

Speaking of lairs, the typical haul for a chimera's loot is ≈5K, so that should get the PCs attention.


I just watched the 2008 documentary, Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown. It was an interesting bio-pic of the man and his works. Such luminaries as Neil Gaiman, John Carpenter, Peter Straub, and others are interviewed in the piece. for any HPL fans out there who haven't seen it, You can see it for free on Crackle.

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Prop Fatigue"

My recent Song of Blades and Heroes video reminded me of something. About a year and a half ago, I posted a vlog entry about miniatures. In it, I briefly mention some of the drawbacks to using minis in RPGs.

Yesterday was Father's Day, and my brothers were over with their kids. We had some of our older ones playing a Labyrinth Lord game with us (my oldest niece running). I noticed the kids getting really distracted by my minis and the Chessex mat, and it occurred to me I had seen some similar things with adults as well.

While "grown ups" are less likely to start inventing a game with the minis on the table and ignoring the actual adventure, they often become distracted from what's going on in the game by worrying about things like minor details on a piece of terrain or miniature.

Most people who use minis and terrain have run into this on occasion; the figure has the wrong weapon or armor compared to what's described, or using a generic terrain feature like a pile of rocks to represent something else (like a cairn or standing stone).

But you said the orcs had axes!

The obvious reason for this happening is, of course, that whomever is supplying the props cannot reasonably be expected to have every possible option on hand for perfect representation. But that's not the problem (other than people won't pay me obscene amounts of money to stay home and paint my minis). The trouble isn't even in the inevitable periodic confusion it can potentially cause. No, the trouble is a broader issue, which I have decided to call "Prop Fatigue." (PF)

PF is the phenomena when the props themselves are taking away from –instead of adding to– the game. When players fixate on "the board" instead of the game. It happens when GMs (and I have been guilty of this once or twice) let worrying about getting a particular mini or terrain piece ready for a particular encounter (because it's a more accurate representation) to the point where they may alter the adventure! e.g. "I can't run the fight with the dragon until I'm done painting the mini!"

In a skirmish/wargame, there can be actual rules about how the appearance of a mini can limit what it represents (i.e. "That goblin can't represent an ogre."). Of course in rules sets that are particular about this, you can often run an unpainted figure or both agree to let things slide in the name of fun.

In an RPG like B/X, the use of miniatures isn't even required, so when mental noise or table debate about counting squares on the Chessex mat, or fretting about the fact that the bugbear mini doesn't have a helmet, or that the house is supposed to be log instead of stone is on the rise, it means your game may be suffering from PF.

What's to be done? Well, it depends. Sometimes it's an isolated incident and can be safely ignored. If the condition persists among the table in general, then it may be time to put the mat and minis away and stick to abstract visualization for a while. If the "propmaster" (the one doing the painting, etc.) is getting obsessive about it, the GM can gently take the paintbrush out of his hand and tell him "It's OK. I can use these d6's for the other orcs." If the propmaster is also the GM, you have a problem. The only thing to be done is for the players to tell him his paint jobs are too awesome to subject to the rigors of play. Minis painters cannot resist praise and may be distracted long enough for you to move events along before they start rooting through their case for "Just the right mini."

Hang on! Just let me re-paint it as tundra!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Song of Blades and Heroes

Here's a little video I just made showcasing part of a skirmish I played out using Ganesha Game's excellent Song of Blades and Heroes rules. It's not the whole battle, but it gives a sense of the rules and game play. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

RMA: Cyclops

Like some of the other mythological creatures I've talked about, it's not hard to figure out why the cyclops was included in the monster listings. It is, after all, a classic. 

The thing is, Mr. Monocle there doesn't seem to get a lot of table time. In a game with almost as many gigantic humanoids as slime-based monsters, it's not hard to -aheh- see how that could happen. You've got ogres, ettins, troll, and six kinds of giants to throw at the PCs. This is a shame, IMO, because the cyclops is such an interesting monster.

Well, not as interesting as YOU, of course!

Cyclops (from Cook)
No. App.: 1 (1d4)
AC: 5
HD: 13
Move: 90' (30')
Att: 1
Dmg: 3d10 (club)
Save: F13
Morale: 9

As a straight-up combatant, it's not so unusual. It's 20' tall and smacks you with a gigantic club (or chucks boulders at you for 3d6 damage). Its -2 to hit for poor depth perception is an amusing little detail, I think.

While there can be up to 4 of them, their morale isn't terrific, so they could easily break and run, hiding in their caves. Their AC is so-so, but 13HD is a respectable force to deal with (roughly on par with a cloud giant). Like many giant-types, cyclops also have very respectable treasure, making them a choice target for loot-minded PCs.

No, what I like about the cyclops are the little details. They are described as "stupid"  and escapable through trickery. The Expert book also says they raise their own sheep and grapes, which I find an incredibly cool idea. I am imagining cyclops vineyards and wines. 

The last little bit I want to mention is, of course, the cyclops'  Curse ability. It is rare (5%), and only usable once a week, but again. a wonderful bit of mythological flavor right out of Homer to add to a night's gaming that can set some fun hooks for future adventures.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Take that, you fiend!

Awwww yeah!

Well, since Night's Dark Terror has wrapped up, it's time for me to get out from behind the screen for a little while. Our group is going to do some round-robin GMing for the next couple months. The idea is to have each game finish in ≈3 sessions so we can give someone else a chance to run if they like. 

Tonight we're starting a Tunnels & Trolls game. We'll be playing 7th ed. (7.5?), and my familiarity is from having played 5th ed. years ago, but I'm psyched. T&T was always a lot of fun. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

RSA: Detect Invisible

I sometimes wonder if this spell is not normally chosen because the of the B/X editorial mistake which left the description out of both books. I had to go to the Rules Cyclopedia to find the text.

Detect Invisible

Level: 2 (MU/Elf)
Range: 10' per level of the spellcaster
Duration: 6 turns
Effect: When the spell is cast, the spellcaster can see all invisible creatures and objects within range. The range is 10' for each level of the spellcaster. For example, a 3rd level spellcaster can use this spell to see invisible things within 30'.

At first glance, it seems more like a 1st level spell to me. After all, it's pretty specific. I expect it's second level to "counter" the 2nd level invisibility spell, which I suppose is fair enough from a game-balance perspective.

Of course, another facet is how often is a spellcaster is going to use up a spell slot for this? Not to mention how many spellcasters would even go to the trouble of putting a copy in their grimoire? Unless it's found as a scroll or spells are assigned randomly, I don't know that I've ever seen a PC with this spell. Still, I can imagine many scenarios where the spell could be extremely useful. I could see sylvan elves keeping this spell handy for dealing with annoying pixies. I expect a wizard trying to catch an assassin or cat burglar who is using a ring of invisibility would find this spell very handy.

I may try placing a scroll of this when there is a deliberate use for it later on in the adventure and see if it the players connect the dots. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

RMA: Giant Scorpion

Okay! Okay! I'm sorry I said this adventure was boring!!

Other people may feel differently, but for me, the scorpion is one creepy little crawly; certainly more so than spiders or other arachnids. Having lived in the southern United States for years, I would come across the unstriped scorpion from time to time, but the sense of alienness persists for me.

In real life, most scorpions' stings are no worse than a bee's (allergies notwithstanding). There are more venomous varieties, of course. The largest real-world scorpions clock in at about 8" long. Most are more like 1-2".

The D&D Giant Scorpion is described in Cook Expert as "the size of a small horse." Labyrinth Lord is comparable, saying 6' long. Which is middling for most of the game's "giant" creatures. Still, six feet of scorpion is ten feet too many!

While not precisely rare in adventures, these monsters are hardly common in my experience. People seem to save these for desert/mummy-type adventures, despite the fact that scorpions live in many climates. In fact, GSs are disturbingly common on the wandering monster tables. They appear on dungeon levels 6-7, and –since they are listed under the insect subtable– they can appear in six of the ten terrain types (and with two listings for insect under "jungle"). Oddly, since "insect" isn't an option there, you won't randomly encounter them in the desert.

The stats:

Giant Scorpion (from Cook)

AC: 2
AL: Chaotic
HD: 4*
Move: 150' (50')
Att: 3 (2 claws/1 sting)
Damage: 1d10/1d10/1d4 + poison
No. App: 1d6 (1d6)
Save: F2
Morale: 11

Chaotic? Really?? I would have thought that it would lack the brains for anything other than animalistic neutral, but I suspect that –and its impressive morale score– reflect its aggressive nature. ("will usually attack on sight.") 

Its poison is –of course– Save or Die, but the real kicker is the fact that a successful claw attack gives the monster a +2 to hit with its stinger. Even leaving the venom aside, 1d10 per claw is pretty rough. The nasty play (DMs take note) is to attack two different PCs, one with each claw, and then follow up with the sting on whomever gets "pinched." 

Their eight legs let them scurry faster than the normal character, closing quickly, and their shells are like plate mail. Round that off with 4 HD for hit points and attacks, and this thing is no pushover. 

Up to six giant scorpions per encounter is a scary time for anyone, but they are still susceptible to Sleep, so don't despair. Their saves aren't terribly impressive either. The best tactics against them is probably to keep your distance, pepper them with arrows, and hit them with spells if you can.