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Friday, May 12, 2017

Curious Objects: Staff of Command

Welcome to the first in a new category of posts on this blog. I've decided to call it "Curious Objects." In these posts, I will take a look at some of the more obscure and/or interesting items in "Classic" (e.g. Basic/Expert) D&D.

For our first installment, I chose the Staff of Command. I came across this magical item in Cook Expert and was immediately struck at how powerful this thing could be a game.

Brief aside: In Moldvay's Basic, staves held 1d10 charges and were cleric-only (wands were for wizardly types). That was changed in Cook to vary by staff type. Some are clerical, some are "arcane" (MU/Elf), and some are usable by all three spell casting classes. Their charges were boosted to 3d10 as well.

The Staff of Command is usable by any spell caster type and it can emulate the powers of three very powerful rings: Human, Plant, and Animal Control. Of course, a staff has limited charges (rings don't), but even so, this opens up all sorts of possibilities for zaniness.

Human Control is basically a charm person spell. The target can save (albeit at -2), and there are limits to how many people can be controlled as well as what they can or can't do (no spellcasting from the thralls).

Animal Control is limited by the fact that you have to concentrate on the control or it ends. The beasts also have a negative reaction modifier toward the caster.

Plant Control is the one that looks the most fun. The staff allows you to "animate and control all plants and plant-like creatures" in a 10'x 10' area up to 60' away. It too has a concentration requirement, but let's just look at two things:

1) No save. I know, they're plants. BUT -
2) Plant. Like. Creatures.

That means you can take control of a treant, it gets no save, and you it will fight for you as long as you maintain concentration.

(Oddly, if you want to get technical, the Treant is the only plant-like creature in the BX monsters sections. As fungus is not a plant, etc.)

I don't see the staff as a game-breaking item. If nothing else, its limited charges keep it from being too OP. But there is SO much fun to be had with something like this, either in an NPC or PC's hands. Horses throwing riders, merchants becoming charmed, thorn bushes grabbing sentries, and so on. Any wizard would find it well worth his treasure share to get hold of one.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

RMA: Pixies

Rounding off the BX fairy-tale types is the pixie. This one is probably closest to the classic "fairy" that many people think of. They are small (1-2' tall) elfin humanoids with insect-like wings. They can be encountered in dungeons (Level 2 wandering monster) or in wilderness on the Flyer subtable and -weirdly- Desert humanoid. This makes me smile as I imagine a strain of pixie with scarab beetle shells and wearing tiny keffiyehs.

Pixie (from Moldvay) - 

AC: 3
HD: 1
Move: 90' (30') Fly 180' (60')
Attack: 1 (dagger)
Dmg: 1d4
No. App: 2-8 (10-40)
Save: E1
Morale: 7

Like most fae, they aren't terribly powerful in combat, but seem to be present mostly to add to the "fantastic" element of the game. The most fun aspect of the pixie is its powerful invisibility ability. they can turn invisible at will and it is "improved" invisibility (they can attack and stay concealed). They always surprise under these circumstances and cannot be attacked during the first round! Even after you can spot their shadows, etc. you're still at -2 to hit them as they flit about.

That's actually a bit daunting if you are facing off against more than a couple of these little buggers, and there can be up to forty if you've stumbled upon their little village, etc. Their daggers do normal weapon damage, though their low HD means they aren't so great at hitting with them. Their low morale makes me think they would flee pretty quickly, but if they had a vested interest in hurting or killing someone, I can imagine them whittling someone down over time with periodic surprise attacks. 

To fight them, I imagine area of effect spells and things like sleep as being fairly effective. That said, I also suspect they aren't usually hostile. 

Befriending some pixies and having them use their invisibility to scout for the party would be a fun roleplaying situation to introduce. I can also imagine them as being servants to a more powerful being, possibly a high level elf sorcerer(-ess)?

Monday, May 8, 2017

RMA: Dryads

While dryads are a bit more mythology than fairy tale, their sylvan nature makes them a good fit for the fae thread these posts have been following of late. 

Fun fact: In Greek 'drys' signifies "oak." Thus, dryads are specifically the nymphs of oak trees. The dryads of ash trees were called the Meliai. Those associated with apple trees were the Epimeliad, and those associated with walnut-trees were the Caryatids. Thanks, wikipedia!

Dryad: (from Cook) - 

AC: 5
HD: 2*
Move: 120' (40')
Att: special
Dmg: 0
No. App: 0 (1d6)
Save: F4
Morale: 6

Let's unpack this a bit. Dryads are only encountered in the wilderness, specifically in woods. That makes sense, since the description is "a beautiful female tree spirit who lives in a woodland setting or a dense forest."

Unsurprisingly -like many other fairy tale creatures- dryads are no great shakes as combatants. And like their fellow fae, that's really not the point of them. The signature features of the dryad are her beauty, her ability to charm, and her connection to her tree.

Dryads are described as "shy and non-violent." They cannot stray far from their tree and if it dies, they die. So they are not terribly hard to kill. The trick is being able to spot them. They can merge with their tree and be indistinguishable from the rest of the woods. 

However, dryads are also described as suspicious. If they are deliberately approached or followed as they move about, that's when they may turn on the charm. Note that the description specifically states that simply passing or standing near the tree doesn't count. So the dryad would most likely stay hidden in those circumstances. Their charm spell is powerful (-2 to saves), so there's a decent chance of it working. Once beguiled, the victim is taking inside the tree. There is nothing about how long this process takes, so the assumption is one round. 

Now here's the scary part. "Unless rescued immediately, the victim will never be seen again." There are two things to keep in mind here:

  1. I would interpret 'immediately' in this case to be 'before entering the tree'. So the victim's companions need to grab him fast and keep him away from the trunk.
  2. Note that it says "never be seen again," not "dead." So things like raise dead aren't necessarily an option. I would say a wish would do the trick, but even chopping down the tree won't bring your missing comrade back.
Another tidbit I'd like to mention: 1d6 appearing. That's right, the party could stumble into a grove of dryads. 

Imagine a dryad per PC casting their buffed charm spells. The 1-2 PCs who maybe make their saves having to decide which of their friends to tackle and keep from disappearing into the trees!

A final note: Dryads' treasure is in hollows beneath the trees' roots. I imagine that the wealth of their victims ends up down there. Treasure type D is fairly respectable for a 2HD creature, with a decent chance at a few thou in gold, not to mention gems, etc. Of course, chopping down a dryad's tree and digging up the loot might attract some unfriendly attention in an enchanted wood situation.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

RSA: Geas

As I mentioned in the Random Spell Assessment for the cleric spell quest, I felt that -while they share similar purposes- geas is different enough to warrant its own discussion.

It's an italian basketball team's logo, but there aren't a lot of gaming images for the spell!

First of all, consider its peers. Sixth level MU spells include such things (among others) as death, disintegrate, control weather, flesh to stone (and its reverse), and reincarnation. These are some pretty powerful spells in the BX universe. Magic-users don't see them until 11th level and they aren't even available to elves. So why is geas among them?

Well, first of all, in BX it has no set duration (unlike later, wimpier editions). A geas can theoretically last forever. Secondly, the geas "forces the victim to perform a given action or to avoid performing a given action." So the caster can not only make a target go do something (even serve him for life!), he can also require him to refrain from things like reporting crucial intelligence to his king, ever leaving his tower, etc. Remember, it is a single task or action. The wizard can't lay down too many conditions and side notes. GM discretion is warranted here. Of course, there is nothing preventing multiple geases.

Another fun twist is that if the geas is deemed impossible or "directly fatal" then it rebounds on the caster. So it's fine to tell the victim to go and bring you the head of the vampire lord, but you can't have them jump off a cliff.

It's worth noting that -like quest- only the reverse of the spell can remove the geas. Dispel magic or remove curse won't cut it.

It's interesting that the exact nature of the penalties inflicted upon a disobedient victim is up to the GM, not the caster. Personally, I would enjoy input from the player for ideas, but might modify it if I thought it was necessary.

The assumption in the spell description seems to lean more toward the geas being a task to be done, but that's not always the case. One of the examples in the spell's description is "to never reveal certain information." Say a character is geased (is that a verb?) to never reveal the location of the wizard's lair. A secret once told is lost. So either the penalty needs to prevent blurting it out or punish breaking of the geas harshly afterwards.

To continue the secret-keeping example, I would say an attempt to reveal the information might cause wracking pains that prevent communication and reduces the character's CON score by half. Further attempts to say or write or otherwise reveal the information would reduce their CON to zero and kill them. The target has already lost his saving throw, so the penalties are automatic (6th level, remember?). Even an ESP spell used against him would be punishable, IMO.

In the case of a task to be done, the penalties might follow the more gradual route. Of course, the other possibility would be to assign a deadline or some such. "Kill the dragon before the next full moon or ____!" is simple enough. You have X days or the geas' penalties kick in. Maybe you die, maybe you become a slave, or a pig, or whatever.

Finding a scroll or spell book with a copy of this would be quite the prize. Frankly, if I ran a game where the PC MUs had to find their spells, I would make this one a -heheh- quest of its own.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

RMA: Sprites

Continuing with the fairy tale theme, let's take a look a sprites. 

I think that sprites are seldom used because they often viewed as more of a nuisance than an encounter. While it's true they are pretty harmless in combat, I think that they could make for a very interesting roleplaying encounter and/or noncombat challenge.

What's strange to me is that these little ones can appear as wandering monsters in a dungeon environment (level 1). Perhaps it's not too far underground for them? They mostly appear near rivers, in woods, and in non-urban inhabited areas.

While I feel these are largely unimportant in this case, let's have the stats, shall we?

Sprite (from Moldvay) -

AC: 5
HD: 1/2 (1d4 hp)
Move: 60' (20') Flying: 180' (60')
Att: 1 spell
Damage: see below
No. App: 3-18 (5-40)
Save: E1
Morale: 7

Pretty unimpressive, I mean, they are fast on the wing, and their AC is probably due to speed and their diminutive size (1' tall), but no attack and no damage means they aren't going to be a good choice for that TPK you've been brewing up.*

No, where the sprites are most interesting is in their curse ability and their attitude. They are described as 1' tall winged people "related to pixies and elves." They are shy but curious, and have "a strange sense of humor."

Sprites are prankster gangsters.

I don't know why, but I really like the idea that a "monster" in the game is motivated simply by the desire to have a laugh. No eating people, no stealing gold, just comedy.

If five sprites work together -sprinkling fairy dust or whatever- they can enact a curse on their victim. Rather than a curse like the spell, it takes the form of a practical joke. Given the examples (tripping, nose growing) and that the book mentions using remove curse to get rid of it, it seems that the curse can have a duration or not. It's described as casting a curse spell, so there's a saving throw, but assuming they cast it 1/day per 5 sprites, a group 10-15 can hit 2-3 PCs.

The other thing to keep in mind is that curse has a range of 0', that means at least one of the sprites needs to touch the PC. Once that's done, they could fly away laughing at 180' and leave the victim behind with his donkey ears or whatever, having to walk back into town and explain things to the local cleric.

Alternately, the sprites may offer to lift the curse (another group could cast the reverse) if the PCs perform some task like getting them some honey from that big bee hive or maybe there is some predator that is harassing them the party can deal with. Not to mention, like the nixies, it might be possible to get information from the sprites if they're approached correctly. Side quests and RP opps galore!

*Don't ever do that.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

RMA: Nixies

I thought I'd spend a little time looking at some of the more "fairy tale" creatures in the monster listings. Many are lifted right out of classic folklore and I think can be a real plus to giving a setting more of a fantasy/fantastic tone.

Usually, when I've talked about aquatic encounters in the past, I've focussed on the nautical. Nixies are river and lake dwellers, as opposed to mermaids and the like. They occur on the river and swamp wandering monster tables (there is no "Lake" table).

Nixie (from Cook)-

AC: 7
HD: 1
Move: 120' (40')
Att: 1
Dmg: 1d4
No. App.: 0 (2-40)
Save: E1
Morale: 6
Treasure: B

There are many variations of this creature in folklore, but in BX nixies are described as 3' tall water sprites, resembling beautiful women with green, blue or gray-green skin. The AD&D version includes both genders and are slightly taller. I find the 1e version a bit too "monster" and not "fae" enough for my taste.

At 1 HD and AC 7, it's small wonder that they are shy of combat (see the Morale score). While they do have weapons, they are hardly formidable (1d4). Of course, the point of the nixie as an encounter is not to have them attack the party.

The nixies' charm ability is particularly interesting to me for a few reasons. First off, it takes ten of them to charm a target. At 2d20 appearing at or near their lairs, it's likely that at least one PC could be targeted. I imagine this as a chorus. A song with a literally enchanting harmony that throws its web over the character's will.

Some creatures, such as a harpy, use their charm effects to bypass a character's defenses and then slay him. Not so the nixie. They will take the character under the water and keep him as a slave for a year. So the PC isn't dead, but is will be out of the adventuring game for a while without rescue. Further, unlike the spell charm person, the character gets no opportunity after the initial saving throw to break the charm before the year is up. I assume things like dispel magic will do the trick, though.

Next, it mentions that the nixies can cast water breathing on their slaves, but needs to be renewed daily. This is an interesting little tweak as well. It ensures that their slaves can be kept well away from the surface, making rescue that much more difficult.

A final bit of interesting magic is their ability to summon GIANT BASS to their aid! These fish are a bit more hardy than the nixies (2HD), but are not individually terrifying. What's scary is that EACH nixie can summon one fish. Now I'm extrapolating a bit here, but under the Giant Fish entry on X31-32, the closest type in HD to the bass is the giant piranha. (3+3 HD vs. 2). The piranha is described as 5' long. So I'd put the bass at approximately 3' long, which would weigh in at about 25 pounds.

Let's imagine the party is crossing a river or lake on a rowboat or similar and a dozen or so nixies show up. They croon one of the PCs into servitude and he starts climbing out of the boat.

Well of course his buddies aren't going to stand by and just let that happen, so they attack. The nixies summon twelve 3' long bass to defend them and all 300 pounds of these fish start shoving and rocking the boat. Next thing you know, the PCs are in the drink and at a serious disadvantage.

That said, I repeat that I don't think the nixies are best used as a combat encounter. I see the fae types not so much evil or malign as alien. Their concepts of morality is totally different from mortals. If they are immortal like in some fairy tales, why would the character make such a fuss about staying with them for a year?

Some ideas for nixie-related fun: The nixies might have useful information, or maybe they can retrieve something under the water for the PCs. If they want a slave, but the PCs aren't going to give up one of their own (and saving throws are made), bargaining with fairies is always rich meat for plot wrinkles. Since they are pretty much aquatic, maybe they want something from dry land they can't get themselves? If nothing else, an underwater adventure to rescue someone taken by the nixies might make a fun side quest.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

RSA: Questioning the Questing

While I have seen NPCs use Quests on characters as a plot hook (or just to mess with them), I don't know that I have ever seen it used by a player character.

I was going to combine this Random Spell Assessment with the 6th level MU spell, Geas. But that one is sufficiently different in the details that I felt I should save it for its own entry later.

Because it's a high level spell (5th), it will be a little while before a cleric character uses this one. It's also not one that the character is likely to pray for by default. Dispel Evil and Raise Dead tend to be the go-to 5th level spells. I imaging Quest is one you use as part of a plan.

The spell has a range of thirty feet, which seemed odd until I thought about it. It makes sense you would be close enough to speak to the subject of the spell.

In a nutshell, Quest forces the subject to perform a task (or quest). It can't be out and out suicidal, and it's ONE task (singular).

The consequences of refusal is a curse. the exact nature is decided by the DM (not the caster). The wording here is a little vague. Is a refusal to out and out say "No!" or does procrastinating and ignoring the quest count too? I would tend to rule toward the latter.

Looking at the reverse of Remove Curse gives a DM some fun ideas for curses.

One interesting tidbit is that Remove Curse won't get rid of the quest-related curse. Only the reverse Remove Quest can; and that isn't a sure thing if the one who imposed the quest is higher level than the remover (-5% per level lower).

I think that if I were running a mid to high level cleric, this would be a very handy spell for getting annoying NPCs to be useful, even if it's just making them go on a pilgrimage to some far off holy site. You could gather information (lying is refusing the terms of such a quest), enlist aid in some task, or even target someone else for assassination (not very nice, but possible!).