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Thursday, June 27, 2013

RMA: Hippogriffs and Griffons, oh my!

Both of these creatures have strong mythological street cred, and are flying fantasy staples. I have found that they are nearly interchangeable as encounters most times, in a "Look out! It's some big bird-crossed-with-something-else and it's flying right at us!" kind of way. There are a few differences worth noting, though. But first, the stats.

Griffon (from Cook)

No. App: 0 (2d8)
HD: 7
AC: 5
Move: 120' (40')
    -Fly: 360' (120')
Att: 3 (2 claws/1 bite)
Damage: 1d4/1d4/2d8
Save: F4
Morale: 8

The griffon is a pretty tough cookie. Its AC isn't that great, but it isn't awful. It gets three attacks per round and the beak attack does some respectable damage, too. What's interesting about the griffon (apart from the flying thing) is its morale score (and using it).

"Its favorite prey is horses. When within 120' of horses a griffon must pass a morale check or attack immediately."

The young can be tamed (like Pegasi), but they still make morale tests near horses. This is a savage mount, and one I could easily see ridden by some chaotic warlord.

Hippogriff (from Cook)

No. App: 0 (2d8)
HD: 3+1
AC: 5
Move: 180' (60')
    -Fly: 360' (120')
Att: 3 (2 claws/1 bite)
Damage: 1d6/1d6/1d10
Save: F2
Morale: 8

No, I wasn't going to use Buckbeak!

These creatures are a bit less robust than griffons (lower HD), but I suppose that's the horse vs lion parts thing. The notes about taming them does not explicitly state you must get a young one, but that's GM discretion, to be sure. "They will usually attack pegasi, who are their natural enemies." as I mentioned previously. Surely there is some plot fodder there. 

Hippogriffs and Griffons are of animal intelligence, so that probably makes more complex training difficult. A flying mount could be a great status symbol, not to mention things like adding aerial combat to a game. Imagine being able to couch a lance and charge a dragon in the air!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

RMA: Pegasus

Fly, my pretties! Fly!

Over the next few days, I'm going to take a look at a few of our fine-feathered monster friends. Today's entry? The Pegasus.

Another mythological classic that appears in just about every version of the game. Many's a PC has wished for a pegasus mount. I have a feeling that other gamers may have seen more of these creatures in play than I have. I think, for me and my group, that flight –the very thing that makes them cool– makes them harder to run and use in play.


It's a FLYING HORSE! I don't care who you are, that's cool. Apart from flight, they are listed (in Cook) as "semi-intelligent," which puts them a notch above most animals in the IQ department. I imagine that makes them fairly trainable (see below). As for the stats...

(from Cook)

No. App: (1d12)
AC: 6
HD: 2+2
Move: 240' (80')
     -Fly: 480' (160')
Att: 2 (hooves)
Dmg: 1d6/1d6
Save: F2
Morale: 8

Apart from flight, they are approximately halfway between a war horse and a riding horse, but with better AC than either. As a foe, their main advantage is their tremendous speed in the air. They are among the fastest of the fast. That 480' is only matched by some birds (rocs, and normal-sized hawks). Nothing beats it on land, sea, or air. Dragons? Pshaw! Half a pegasus' speed. Even magic, like flying carpets, can't beat them. For transport, you have to go to teleportation to get there faster.

(insert sounds of tires squealing)

The are described as "wild and shy." Also "they cannot be tamed, but will serve Lawful characters (only) if captured when young and trained." They are also described as the natural enemies of hippogriffs, which is a nice bit of Gygaxian naturalism, I think.

I don't see a party having to fight pegasi too often. Although if some lord wants a pegasus mount and hires them to capture a foal, the herd might not take kindly to that.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

RMA: Hydra

You know what they say: Seven heads are better than one!

Another mythological classic, the hydra is a fun one. I personally have never used it in an adventure. I can't even think of an adventure where I fought one as a player. It's not only a tough challenge for the party, it's an interesting listing in the rule book.

First, the stats:

Hydra (from Cook)

No. App: 1
AC: 5
HD: 5-12
Move: 120' (40')
Att: 5-12
Damage: 1d10 per head
Save: F5-12
Morale: 9

The number of heads are random (1d8+4) and determines HD, Saves, and –obviously– number of attacks. While I think many DMs will assign the -aheh- "head count" to scale the encounter's difficulty, randomness can be fun too. An interesting note: A hydra always has maximum hit points for its HD (8 per die/head).

A minimum of 5 attacks per round is impressive, especially at 1d10 damage. Couple that with decent range of THACOs, and it can get scary to be too close to this thing.

There is a mention of Sea Hydras, which merely adds to the fun. I'm always for anything to spice up aquatic adventures.

Now, instead of the mythological version that grows more heads when one is destroyed, the BtB version just loses one head for every full 8 points of damage. I suppose this is easier on the bookkeeping, but part of me like the regeneration aspect. Of course, there needs to be an out for the PCs; like Heracles burning the neck stumps, there has to be a way to finally stop the thing.

Lastly, there is this marvelous quote from the end of the listing:

"The DM may wish to create special versions of hydra. Special hydras could have poisonous bites or breathe fire (as a dragon, but with a 5' range and only causing 8 points of damage per head). Such creatures should be placed by the DM to guard special treasures."

It just tickles me to have a passage encouraging the DM to muck about and surprise the players with a homebrewed version of a creature. Keep 'em guessing! That's the ticket!

Now, as to fighting them:

  1. Their AC and Morale is so-so. Most PCs should be able to hit the thing pretty handily. You might even scare it off. 
  2. Unlike dragons, they don't fly and the have no real ranged attack. Pepper them with arrows. Granted, the poisonous or firebreathing variations add some zest, but both are still melee-based.
  3. They aren't smart (despite the multiple brains). So some good tactics might fool them or lure them into a trap/ambush.
  4. Treasure Type B: Not a king's ransom, but a respectable shot at hard coin and maybe even some magic. If the DM took the book's advice and placed a special hydra, then maybe there is special loot, too!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

RMA: Vampires

I know Strahd is AD&D, but it's an iconic bit of gaming art.

Vampires. You gotta love the classics. While our fine fanged friends don't fit the bill as an "obscure" monster for my RMAs, they are a complex enough creature to run that I think they are used less often than they might be. Also because of their sheer lethality.

Within the scope of BX, the vampire is arguably one of the most powerful types of undead. Spectres are scary, to be sure, but the only undead that tops the vampire IMO is the lich, and he doesn't show up until the CM portions of BECMI.

As much as I like all that the vampire brings to the table as a foe, running a vampire combat is a bit tricky, as there is a lot to keep track of. Take a look at just some of the fun these things have in store for a party:

  • Level drain (TWO levels per hit! No save!)
  • Charm gaze (Save vs. spells at –2!)
  • Regeneration (3 hp/round!)
  • Shape Change (wolf or giant bat or vapor)
  • 1d10 unarmed damage!
  • Summoning bats or rats or wolves to their aid
  • Magic weapons needed to hit him (silver's no good)
  • Immunity to sleep, hold, and charm spells
Sure, they have things working against them too, like holy symbols and garlic and sunlight. Being an intelligent form of undead –and having that whole immortality thing working for them– a clever vampire sets himself up carefully to bulwark against these vulnerabilities. Minions, both mortal and undead, can protect him and perform missions. A modicum of wealth and discretion can even keep his true nature a secret.

A vampire, even beaten, is likely to get away and return to hassle the party again. Between turning to vapor when they reach 0 hit points, or simply flying off as a bat, or charming PCs to aid their escape, they make marvelous recurring villains. Coupled with their wealth of offensive capabilities, any but the most powerful of characters facing a vampire are in for a rough time. 

All of the above would still be true if it weren't for the horror that is the vampire's draining attack. Two levels in a hit means nobody wants to get near this thing, which means those without ranged magic (spells or bows) are pretty ineffectual unless they brought holy water along. 

Clerics can turn it, but not until 6th level minimum. It's true 11th level + clerics are destroying the monster, but the vampire is smart, he will avoid this by throwing minions at the cleric and staying out of the way until he can strike from surprise. If the vampire gets a hit in on that cleric, suddenly he's not high enough level any more! Or maybe he can charm the cleric, making the point moot. 

So, tell me, what's your experience running these bad boys? Check out the poll up top, too.