Friday, September 30, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Monster List - Dwarf to Lycanthrope

I just checked, and I started this series back in November of 2013. I had planned to cover both books during that year, and move on to the Expert Set the year after (I also had thought I'd have Chanbara finished around mid-2014 as well). Three years later, I'm finally closing in on the end of the Basic Set. Well, better late than never, I guess!

Here we go with thoughts and observations on some more monsters from this set.

Dwarf: The dwarf is the first version of a PC playable character type listed as an NPC (unless you count bandits, which are listed as NPC thieves but don't explicitly have any signature thief abilities other than the Thief saving throw). NPC dwarves often have a leader (one for every twenty dwarves, and the maximum listed number appearing for the wilderness or a lair is 40, so possibly two) with higher class level (3 to 8). One thing I like, and I think is easy and useful is the system used to determine if they have any magic items (Elves also get this): take their hit dice x5. That's the percent chance they have a random item from lists of items they can use. Simple, easy to use, and much better than 3E, where it was a nightmare having to look at the "expected wealth per level" tables, the sample NPC blocks in the DMG, the magic item lists (and prices), and maybe the CharOp boards to see what are the best things for that NPC race/class to have - and considering which you want your PCs to get a hold of. What a nightmare that was! With this, you figure out a percentage, and check each magic item subtype table to see if there is an item, and then determine it randomly.

Dwarves get to roll on all the tables except Scrolls and Wand/Staff/Rod. The second makes sense, but considering that "Scrolls" contain treasure maps and protection scrolls that any (literate) character can use, I don't know if disallowing that is so great. Yeah, it might be strange if the dwarf leader has a clerical scroll of bless, but it might also be strange if he's got a pole arm +1 which he also can't use.

The dwarf also has our first instance of a racial/species animosity, stating that groups of dwarves "hate goblins, and will usually attack them on sight" (p. 29). I love notes like this, because they allow the players, once they figure it out, to more easily negotiate with monsters they find in the dungeon, but can also provide problems. Ally with the dwarves, and your chances of keeping your truce with the goblins, which you made so you could focus on the orcs, goes WAY down!

Elf: And we get the second demihuman class as monster right away. It suggests choosing the spells elves get (each gets a single 1st level spell) randomly, and I think that's a good idea. Monsters/NPCs don't need to be optimized the way PCs should be. Recruiting elf allies because you expect them to all have memorized sleep is not a good plan. Elf leaders who appear if there are 15 or more elves, may be from level 2 to 7, and check for magic items the same as dwarves, but get to roll on all tables.

In OD&D, Holmes and Moldvay (and into AD&D), I'm pretty sure elves as a monster type have damage 1d10 listed, to simulate them having access to magical swords. Here, the attack is "1 weapon" and the damage is "by weapon" so they're slightly powered down from previous editions. This may be the only time in D&D history where Elves were made LESS powerful than before! (Or at least the first.)

Ferret, Giant: A giant animal that can be tamed and trained, but are unpredictable. I never had any players try to capture and train them, although to be honest I don't use them in dungeons very often. I am sort of partial to them, and always connect them with Elves in my mind, partly because their stat blocks are right next to each other, but also partially because of the Endless Quest book Return to Brookmere, where you play an Elf and one of the paths you meet with a giant ferret that was trained by the elves and helps you.

Gargoyle: This is the first monster presented that can only be damaged by magical weapons, and they're also immune to sleep and charm. That, combined with four attacks per round make them pretty dangerous, even though the claws each do 1d3, the tail 1d4, and the bite 1d6. Oh, and they can fly, and are often mistaken for statues (although the book doesn't give them a bonus to surprise). On top of all that, they also "attack nearly anything that approaches them" (p. 30).

The text is explicit that they are magical creatures, but doesn't say whether or not they are magical creations/constructs. It says they are at least semi-intelligent, and back in the general rules section, they are listed as having their own language. Having a language implies having a culture, which argues against them being constructs (as in later editions). I've always imagined them as relatively humanoid, sort of like demons. But thinking of actual architectural gargoyles, to which they are compared, they should really be more draconic. Maybe in some campaign in the future, I'll have two races of gargoyles who hate each other...

Gelatinous Cube: One of the iconic D&D monsters. When I ran a 3E OA game years ago, I threw one in, and one player's post game comment was, "It wouldn't be D&D without The Cube." But you know what's interesting? This: "This monster is made of clear jelly, usually in the form of a 10' x 10' x 10' cube (though other shapes are possible)" (p. 30, emphasis added). How often have you encountered a gelatinous trapezoidal prism? Or a gelatinous box? Probably not very often. Of course, this raises a question: can a gelatinous cube change its shape? Can it squeeze through small spaces, or is it doomed to perpetually patrol the 10' x 10' corridors of standard dungeons forever?

I like how whatever incidental treasure they might have is actually inside it. PCs need to dig through the gloppy remains after it's dead.

One other question comes up, since this is the first of the slime/ooze/jelly category of monster (or the "dungeon cleanup crew"). Weapons and fire harm a gelatinous cube, but not cold or lightning. Other slime/ooze monsters have different immunities. Why was it decided that each type should be vulnerable to some attacks but not others? Yes, it makes them all different, and keeps players on their toes, so there is some added challenge with this class of monster. I'm just curious about the design decision early on to add this feature to all of the slime group monsters.

Ghoul: The first undead creature in the book (there are a lot of firsts I'm mentioning, and that's a good thing, it shows what variety there are among the monsters in this set) is a pretty nasty opponent for low level PCs. Like all undead, they're immune to sleep and charm (and later hold when we get to the Expert Set), but vulnerable to turning. Of course, a 1st or 2nd level Cleric doesn't have great chances to turn these guys. They also have 3 attacks per round. While each does low damage (1d3), they each force a save vs paralysis unless you're an Elf. And the text states that they don't stop to feast, but instead once you're paralyzed they'll attack other mobile targets until the threat is gone. Like the carrion crawler mentioned previously, this makes them a nasty opponent for even mid-level adventurers.

Gnoll: The name seems inspired from the story by Margaret St. Claire, writing as Idris Seabright, The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles. The description seems to be taken from Egyptian mythology: hyena-headed humanoids. The rumor of their creation (hybrids of gnome and troll) seems to be based on nothing more than the spelling chosen for the monster (although St. Claire's 'gnoles' are fairly gnome-like). So really, gnolls are a strange creature. They also are the first instance of a humanoid getting a leader type with just a set number of greater hit dice or hit points. Bandits, dwarves and elves all get classed/leveled leaders using PC rules. Gnoll leaders, one in every 20, simply get maximum hit points and attack as a creature one hit die higher (or +1 to hit). Of course, because gnoll number appearing is 1-6 in dungeons and 3-18 outdoors, gnoll leaders are rarely going to be encountered outside of a wilderness lair (by the book, anyway).

Gnome: Gnomes are described as "a human-like race related to (but smaller than) dwarves, with long noses and full beards" (p. 30). In temperament, they are listed as excellent metalsmiths & miners, greedy and reckless when it comes to gathering treasure, and fond of machinery, favoring the war hammer and crossbow as weapons. So yes, the "tinker gnome" cliche predates Dragonlance, although the setting did run with the idea to comedic excess. Gnomes also are listed with a racial predisposition to dwarves, but hatred of goblins and kobolds, the latter are usually attacked on sight.

Gnomes get a 2HD leader type (11 hit points) for every twenty encountered, so in a maximum wilderness encounter (5-40) there could be two. In their lair, there are a tougher chieftain and bodyguards (another first, this appears later). The chieftain has 18 hit points, counts as a 4HD creature, and gets +1 to damage. Bodyguards have 10-13 hit points (1d4+9) and count as 3HD creatures. I often like including these leaders/elite type humanoids in my dungeons, but it's something I rarely see in other published adventures.

Goblin: No one seems to be able to agree as to what color goblins should be, but here they're described as having earth-tone skin, from tan to gray. They've got a king and bodyguard similar to gnomes (I assume these were inspired by the Great Goblin in The Hobbit, but I may be wrong). There are two things that I often forget when using goblins in my games. The first is important - in sunlight they get a -1 penalty to hit. I've had plenty of times when goblins were attacking the town, or encountered during the day in the wilderness, but almost always forget about the -1 penalty. The second is that when encountered out of doors, 25% of the group should be mounted on dire wolves. I really should use more wolf-riders in my games.

Gray Ooze: I've often thought this to be the "safe" introductory member of the slime family of monsters. It's only 3HD, and is harmed by weapons and lightning (but not cold or fire). But this is because I usually forget something mentioned in the description: once it hits a target, it sticks to it, doing automatic 2d8 damage each round and automatically destroying armor. That can take down even a mid-level fighter fairly quickly. No way is mentioned to stop the autodamage, other than I assume killing the ooze. At least it's incredibly slow. Its move is 10' (3'). You can always run away (unlike the faster gelatinous cube, at 60' (20') which can catch your armored up characters).

Green Slime: In more recent editions, this monster has been reclassified as an environmental hazard, but here, it's obviously got some level of awareness, as it has a move speed of 3' (1') [yes, even slower than gray ooze] and a Morale of 7. The fact that it can always be hit may be more due to its alien mindset not caring about taking damage rather than an indication that it's just a puddle of dangerous goo. Green slime can dissolve cloth or leather instantly, and wood and metal in six rounds.

Green slime is nasty because instead of doing hit point damage, it just sticks to you and very quickly turns the victim into slime. Because it can only be damaged by fire or cold, once it gets on you you have a limited number of rounds to burn (or freeze) it off. We get a very detailed description of the procedure for treating green slime (burning does 1/2 damage to the slime, 1/2 to the victim). So if you have hit points equal to or lower than the slime's, you're just dead. And not just dead, you become a new green slime!

There is a bit unclear about this. The entry says that it dissolves cloth and leather instantly but takes 6 rounds to eat through metal or wood, right? Later, when discussing the 'burn it off' procedure, it mentions that it turns a victim into a new green slime in 1d4 rounds "after the first 6-round (one minute) period" (p. 31). Is that assuming it's taking 6 rounds to eat through plate or chain armor? Does a Magic-User or Thief only get 1d4 rounds to burn it off? Or does everyone get 6+1d4 rounds? If so, and you're wearing metal (or wood) armor, then you've got 12+1d4 rounds to burn it off. I think in the past I went with the latter, but going forward I'll go with the former.

Halfling: Like the other two demi-human classes as monster, halfling groups can be encountered, but their leader (level 2 to 7) and village guard (5 to 20 members, 2HD) are only encountered in the village (population 30 to 300). Unlike the other two demi-humans, there is no mention of randomly determining magic items for the leader. Is this an oversight, or do halflings dislike magic? You make the call.

Harpy: This is the only creature in the Basic Set with an innate ability to charm victims. Spell-casters like NPC humans, elves and dragons may have the ability or not. Only the harpy can be guaranteed to try and charm the party. And as the sample dungeon earlier in the book warns the novice DM, this can make them very challenging creatures. One interesting thing to note in their stat block is that their attacks are listed as 2 claws/1 weapon +special, and damage is listed as 1-4/1-4/1-6 rather than 1-4/1-4/by weapon. I'd guess this is another editorial oversight due to making "optional weapon damage" the default assumption.

Hobgoblin: Not much to say about the hobgoblin, actually. They've got no penalty in sunlight, and their king has 22 hit points, fights as a 5HD creature with +2 to damage, his bodyguard count as 4HD creatures with 3d6 hit points each (figure that one out).

Human: This is a long (stat block-less) entry that both serves as a reference listing (like "Animal, Normal and Giant") but also gives advice about how to stick human NPCs into a dungeon. There will normally be 1-3 of them, according to Frank, and they can be used to add role playing opportunities and "create a more realistic mood for the adventure...provide goals for player characters, and lead to entire adventures" (p. 31). Then we get some advice on just this - how a human encounter may cause you to adjust nearby monsters or treasures based on the explanation/reason for appearing, and a warning that making a human encounter may take more work than other monsters, but can be very entertaining. Also, a suggestion that demi-humans might use the same system presented here to give them some variety.

Next, we get some random tables to determine the type of humans encountered. Find number appearing (1-3 apparently), roll (or select) each human's class (3 in 6 chance they are a fighter, 1 in 6 any other class), alignment (3 in 6 Lawful, 2 in 6 Neutral, 1 in 6 Chaotic), select or roll for the reason they are there (another table below), select their equipment and possible magic items (but make sure they use them and be prepared for the PCs to acquire them), and any other details you need (AC, HP, spells, etc.).

The one thing it doesn't tell you is what to roll to determine their level, since these are all classed NPCs (for "0-level" NPCs see Normal Man in the next post).

The next table, as mentioned, has 8 possible reasons they might be in the dungeon:
1. Alone (and scared)
2. Bait
3. Escaping
4. Looking for a friend
5. Looking for an item
6. Not what they seem
7. Running away
8. Sole Survivors

This is not a bad selection of motives for NPCs in a dungeon, but they do have consequences. #2 and #6 will only work so many times, then the players will become suspicious that any humans encountered may be trying to trap/trick them. #4 and #5 give some motive to the players - either to cooperate to find the missing friend/item, or as competition to find them first! #1, #3, #7 and #8 are nice in that it gives the DM a way to warn the party of extraordinarily tough monsters or traps in the area. Of course, it's possible to make up all kinds of other motivations in addition to these eight.

I really should use more encounters like this. Too often, I just have monster lairs be full of monsters, and any humans encountered are prisoners/slaves (current, not escaped), or a full NPC party (described next post).

Insect: Another reference listing, covering Bee, Beetle, Centipede, Locust and Robber Fly, and explains why insects aren't on the "Animals, Normal and Giant" listing. It still doesn't explain why the giant lizards and snakes aren't counted as "animals" in the game.

Kobold: Let the great debate begin! Kobolds are described as "small, evil dog-like men...They have scaly rust-brown skin and no hair" (p. 32). So are they little dog men, or little lizard men? Their skin is scaly, but not explicitly reptilian by this description. I always assumed (even as a kid) that 'scaly' in this case meant diseased, like shingles. And the "dog-like" bit is there, too. I used to think of kobolds-gnolls as similar in a way to goblins-hobgoblins-bugbears because of the dog/hyena similarity.

Frank tells us they "prefer to attack by ambush" (p. 32), which has come to mean, thanks to Mr. Tucker, they set lots of traps everywhere. Their chieftain has a whopping 9 hit points, and fights as a 2HD monster, while the bodyguard have 6 hit points and fight as 1+1HD monsters (or functionally the same as the chieftain).

Living Statue: I love living statues. Not sure why, they're just fun. Maybe it's because statuary should be common in dungeons, and there are so many fun things you can do with these guys. I'm always wondering why other editions don't include them (probably someone says "But we already have golems in AD&D/3E/[current edition]! Why do we need these guys?" completely oblivious to the functional similarity of the multitude of humanoid opponents in any edition invalidating this argument.

Living statues are explicitly mentioned as animated creatures created by wizards (Constructs in later editions), unlike gargoyles. They are all immune to sleep, but not immune to charm or hold! Three types are given, and it's suggested the DM should create more.
Crystal Statue: No special powers, just a living rock guy. It says they're often human but could be anything. I usually make them human-shaped. Probably I should add more variety.
Iron: These guys are fun, because metal weapons may stick to the body, making them tactically challenging foes to defeat.
Rock: These guys shoot liquid hot magma from their hands (or whatever other appendages if they aren't human-shaped). Very cool. I love these guys!

Lizard, Giant: Not animals, apparently. We get four varieties, the gecko, draco, horned chameleon, and tuatara. While I like lizards, so use giant lizards often in my games, they aren't really that interesting. They can climb walls, draco lizards can glide down to attack, horned chameleons surprise on 1-5 on d6 (!) and can shoot their tongue to grab opponents, and tuatara (as mentioned several posts back) get 90' infravision. Oh, and horned chameleons get a tail knockdown attack listed in their description but not in their stat-block, making it easy to forget.

Lizard Man: Did I mention that I like lizards? I love lizard men as humanoid opponents. And here, we get some motivation for them that many other monsters don't get -- they like to capture humans and demi-humans to take back to their tribes and feast on them. If you see them, they're probably going to be hunting you. And if they capture some of your party (or some friendly NPCs), you've got an adventure hook right there. Go rescue them before they become dinner! Oh, and lizard men are 2+1HD, and get +1 damage to their weapon attacks, making them kinda tough among the Basic Set humanoids.

Locust, Giant: Of the giant insects in the Basic Set, giant locusts are probably the most tactically interesting, but because of that, kind of a challenge to use well. They pretty much always flee combat (Morale 5, plus the description also says the usually just flee instead of fighting), yet they aren't very smart and have a random chance to flee toward the threat, getting a hit roll against a random member of the party for a bump attack. If they actually fight, they have a bite (only 1d2 damage) and a spit attack (and we get an early version of 3E's "Touch AC" in that the spit only has to hit AC9, regardless of the target's actual AC) which can debilitate the target with its stench if the target, and anyone within 5', fails a save vs poison. Oh, and they make a shrieking noise, which likely draws wandering monsters to investigate the noise.

So that's a lot of stuff for the DM to keep track of, and a treasureless pest monster for the PCs...but wait, there's more! They eat fungus and mold, and are immune to yellow mold. I've never thought to try it, and never had players try it either, but if you could capture or corral some of these guys, they could totally be exploited to remove yellow mold or shriekers or some other fungal/mold monsters in another part of the dungeon.

Lycanthrope: Yeah, yeah, yeah, the group name should be "therianthrope" but hey, lycanthrope sounds a lot cooler, right? The general description before each of the five types are described lets us know that they are people (rats) who change into beasts (humans), so they don't wear armor. They can summon 1 or 2 normal animals of their type, which arrive in 1d4 rounds -- something I often forget to have them do, since I often have old Universal Wolfman movies in mind when I use werecreatures. Wolvesbane, of course, is their weakness, forcing them to save vs poison or flee. I often have my PCs buy wolvesbane, but when the lycanthropes are encountered, the party is usually packing enough magical weaponry that it doesn't get used (or it's just been on the equipment list unused for so long I've forgotten about it).

Next, we get some tips about animal form, in which only silver or magical weapons harm them and they can't speak normally but can communicate with their animal type, and human form in which they tend to have some physical features that resemble their animal form (hint hint, your buddy suddenly looks more wolfish than he did before...better watch out next full moon!) but can be harmed by normal weapons.

Lycanthropy as a disease only affects humans. Demi-humans die instead. If a were creature takes away more than half of your hit points, you become one in 2d12 days (and yes, it says the victim begins showing signs in half that time...so body changes in human form, and I would assume taking on some animal-like behavior traits under stress?). High level clerics, of course, can cure the disease, otherwise your PC becomes an NPC controlled by the DM.

There's no mention of the moon anywhere in the description, actually, so the change is apparently voluntary on the part of the lycanthrope. 

Wererats: I've always wondered, since they are rats who can change into humans (inspired by Lankhmar stories), do humans contract lycanthropy from them? If so, aren't they then humans who turn into rats? Does it matter?
Werewolves: Something I often forget but think is cool is that werewolves in the game are said to hunt in packs together with normal wolves, and they have a leader (30 hit points, 5HD creature, +2 damage). Again, old werewolf movies and TV shows make me think they are normally solitary creatures, when they should be dangerous pack predators!
Wereboars: These guys count as berserkers in human form, which may make them a bit less of a normal threat, unless they can stop berserking long enough to change into boars if they get hurt. Otherwise, they may fight to the death in their weaker, more vulnerable state. They are Neutral, so it's possible they can be bargained with or even become allies.
Weretigers: Due to stealth, they can surprise on a 1-4 on d6, but like actual big cats are curious and not always hostile. Again, Neutral alignment allows them to be potential allies.
Werebear: These guys are obviously taken from Beorn in The Hobbit, and the text says they retain their full intelligence in animal form (only wererats also retain full intelligence) and may be friendly at times. Like all bears, they get a bear hug in bear form, so if you get in a fight, they are very tough opponents!

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Alright, that was a long one. Two more monster posts to come, then we'll move on to treasure.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Chanbara Play Test Art!

Last night was another (in my opinion, at least) successful Chanbara play test session. The big bad boss fight at the end went MUCH faster than I thought it would, and more decisively in the players' favor, but they did do a few things "right" and had a few tactics that I didn't anticipate that went well for them (which is not a complaint at all, I'm not in love with my NPCS, and I'm happy to see the players defeat them when they can).

Anyway, just before the session, Jeff submitted this graphic novel-ish recap of the previous session a couple weeks ago, and I thought I'd share them (with his permission).






Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thank You, Alexis!

Most readers of this blog are probably also familiar with Alexis Smolensk, and his blog The Tao of D&D.

Hopefully you're all readers of his blog. How you feel about him personally, well, that's up to you. And honestly, years ago when I first started reading his blog, I didn't like him. He had a brusque, authoritative, pompous attitude -- or at least that's how many of his posts read to me. But one day, a few years back, he posted a video of just himself talking about whatever. And I began to see him as a person, rather than as an internet persona. I haven't always agreed with him, but I do appreciate what he's done on his blog over the years, and how it's helped me to improve my game. And now that I better understand him, and his mission with his blog to encourage gamers to be better, I have nothing but respect for him. I want to take back all the disparaging things I've said about him over the years (and I said more than a few back in the early days of the blog). Alexis, I just didn't get you back then. I think I do now. Sorry.

Since August, I've been reading a series of posts (he seems to have wrapped them up now) about applying Games Theory to look at D&D and RPGs in general. I think it started with this critique of the Quick Primer for Old School Games, although maybe it started before that. I was (and still am) busy in August writing up my dissertation.

Alexis also suggested a book on Games Theory by Matsumoto and Szidarovsky in this post, but I don't really have time to dig into a serious academic work on the subject right now. Maybe next year, if my defense goes well and I don't need to rebuild my dissertation from the ground up...

However, I did find a lighter book on game design, written primarily for video/computer games, but so far much of what it has to say has been applicable to RPGs. Game Design: Theory and Practice (Second Edition), by Richard Rouse III (2005, Wordware Publishing). It's leagues beyond any "made for RPGs" theory like the GNS Forge stuff.

I'll probably be posting some excerpts or thoughts related to what's in the book, and applying the ideas presented to Chanbara as I get it ready for publication.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Descent Most Perilous

A Descent Most Perilous

Being a continuation of the journal of the renowned Green Knight Jack Summerisle, and companions various and sundry, in the cavernous deeps beneath the world of Eberron. 

Having found at long last Connor, the half-elven father of our companion Jade the Ranger (also half-elven), we set about freeing as many of the slaves of the ghouls as we were able. Luckily, no alarums were sounded, due to the battle still raging between the horrid ghouls and our coalition of the many underground tribes. Connor was anxious to return to the surface, as were most of the former slaves, but one of the Dragonmarked we had rescued, an orc shaman, told us of the spirit of the mountain.

It seems that once upon a time, the mountain was alive and awake. While it still lives, it slumbers and the kingdom of the ghouls give it nightmares, or so the shaman told us. Connor asked that we continue to search for the Crown of Air and Darkness, and the shaman asked that we find a way to wake the mountain's spirit. Both had clues leading even deeper into the Kyber, to a subterranean realm known as Pellucidar. The entrance to this realm, a pit going deeper into the heart of the world, was on the far side of the necropolis.

Morax, the half-orc bounty hunter (also among the Dragonmarked) agreed to accompany us on our quest. Jade the Ranger, Rhea the Witch, Yuv the Dragonborn Cleric of Radiance, Thia the Elven Tempest Cleric, and myself made up the party.

We navigated through the necropolis without incident, but a ghoul warrior with a mutant hairless cat-rat beast was guarding the path to the Pit. It attacked Thia, who was scouting ahead, but she managed to resist the paralyzing touch of the undead guardian. Rhea hurled fireballs, Yuv used sacred flame magic, Jade and Morax fired their bows, and I charged it with my axe. The cat beast attempted to hinder Cassius, my giant cave weta mount, but I successfully chased it away, then set on the guard. While he was a tough opponent, we managed to defeat him and his cat-rat.

At the pit, we spied a strange creature. It was a giant, floating undead head with three eyes. While we took cover, not knowing what it would do, Rhea cast a spell to summon a demon from hell. The demon managed to defeat the giant floating ghoul head, and then as it charged at us, we destroyed the weakened fiend. Now, we were at the Pit, which looked to go down without end.

We rested for the night to set out fresh on this next stage of our quest. The pit had a narrow, winding stone stair set in it, which Jade and Yuv negotiated, tied together with a rope. Thia and I rode on Cassius, who had no trouble negotiating the climb, and likewise Rhea enlarged her spider-bat familiar into a mount also capable of climbing and flying. We had one scare, when Yuv and Jade slipped and fell, but with quick action by all of the party, we managed to catch them before they fell far.

Finally, we came to the end of the stairs, but not the end of the Pit. This was a quandary. How could we proceed? We considered all of the magic at our disposal, but none seemed adequate. I sent Cassius to scout if the stairs resumed lower down, but my trusty steed got to the end of our telepathic bond without any good news to report. Finally, Jade experimented with a pair of bladed gauntlets which the ghoul guardian had been wearing, and they allowed him to climb by piercing the walls. Yuv was tied to a rope suspended between Cassius and Rhea's spider-bat. While it was a long descent, we eventually reached the bottom.

And now here we stand, on the threshold of Pellucidar, a strange new underground world to explore!

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Play report of Dean Flemming's 5E Eberron game from last night. It was a blast, and that Pit was a real old school challenge that we had a great time solving!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Monsters in Dragonlance

I was searching online for a list of all the monsters that appear in the various Dragonlance modules (or at least the original DL series). I couldn't find one. So I made my own. Below are all the monsters that appear in DL 1 through DL 12, at least according to the "Combined Monster Statistics" pages of the compilation versions of the modules (four per compilation, I forget off hand what their coding was, I think DLC1-3 for Dragonlance Classics?).

Monsters in bold are ones that are in 5E, or could very easily be used just by renaming a creature in 5E, as far as I've checked. There are some of those weird late 1E/early 2E era monsters (or maybe they originated here in DL? My first encounter with many like the Crimson Death, Margoyle and Wemic was the 2E MM, but some must have been from the Fiend Folio or modules before 2E came out) that I'd need to double check before deciding what 5E monster stat block could easily stand in for it.

Aarakocra
Apparition
Aurumvorax
Axe Beak
Badger, Giant
Baluchitherium
Banshee
Baricuda, Giant
Basidirond
Bat, Normal, Giant
Bear (Cave, Ice, Polar)
Bee, Giant (worker, soldier, queen)
Beetle, Boring
Beholder
Bloodthorn
Boar (Giant, Wild)
Bodak
Brownie
Buffalo
Bulette
Carrion Crawler
Caryatid Column
Catoblepas
Cave Cricket
Centaur
Centipede, Giant
Chagrin
Choke Creeper
Coffer Corpse
Cooshee
Crayfish, Giant
Crocodile, Giant
Crypt Thing
Crysmal
Crystal Ooze
Death Knight
Death Statue
Death, Crimson
Demilich
Displacer Beast
Dog, (War, Wild)
Dolphin
Draconian (Baaz, Bozak, Kapak, Sivak, Aurak)
Dragon, (any chromatic or metalic)
Dragon Brood
Dragon Turtle
Dragon, Amphi
Dragon, Faerie
Dragon, Sea
Dragon, Shadow
Dragon, Skeleton
Dreamshadow
Dreamwraith
Drelb
Dryad
Dwarf (various)
Eagle, Giant
Eel, Giant
Elemental (air, earth, fire, water)
Elf (various)
Elf, Sea
Elk
Ettin
Fawn, White
Fetch
Fireshadow
Forestmaster Unicorn
Frog, Giant
Froghemoth
Fungi, Violet
Galeb Duhr
Gargoyle
Gas Spore
Gelatinous Cube
Ghast
Ghost
Ghoul
Giant, Hill
Goat
Goblin
Golem (Clay, Iron, Stone)
Gorgon
Green Slime [Is this a "hazard" in the DMG like it was in 3E?]
Griffon
Grim (cat, dog, owl)
Groaning Spirit
Hag, Sea
Harginn
Harpy
Hell Hound
Hobgoblin
Ice Folk
Ildriss
Invisible Stalker
Jellyfish
Kech
Kender (various)
King of the Deep
Kingfisher
Koalinth
Kobold
Lamia Noble
Leech, Giant
Leucrotta
Lich
Lion, (Mountain, Spotted)
Lizard, Suberranean
Lurker Above
Margoyle
Mastiff, Shadow
Mastodon, Skeleton
Men (various)
Mermen
Mihstu
Mimic, Killer
Minotaur
Mobat
Mold (brown, yellow)
Moon Dog
Mummy
Naga, Spirit
Nightmare
Nixie
Ochre Jelly
Ogre
Oliphant
Para-Elemental (smoke)
Pedipalp, Huge
Pegasus
Phantom
Piercer
Porcupine, Giant
Prickleback
Pudding, Deadly (dun)
Quasi-Elemental (light)
Ram, Giant
Rat (Normal, Giant)
Ray, Manta
Remorhaz
Revenant
Roper
Salmon School
Satyrs
Scrag
Sea Serpent, Giant
Shadow
Shadowpeople Warriors
Shrieker
Sirme
Skeleton
Skeleton Warrior
Skyfisher
Slig/Ghaggler
Slug, Giant
Snake (Constrictor, Poisonous)
Snow Leopard
Spectral Minion (Berserker, Guardian, Reveler, Philosopher, Searcher, Warrior)
Spectre
Spider, (Huge, Giant, Whisper)
Sprite
Stag (Giant, Normal, White)
Stirge
Stone Guardian
Storoper
Sylph
Taer, (normal, Forest)
Takhisis (Dream)
Thanoi
Tiger
Treant
Troll
Umber Hulk
Undead Beast
Vampire
Varrdig
Vulture (Giant, Ordinary)
Warthog
Water Weird
Wemic
Wight
Will-o-Wisp
Willow, Black
Wolf (normal, Dire, Winter)
Wolverine, Giant
Wooly Rhinocerous
Wraith
Wyvern
Yellow Musk Creeper
Yeti
Zombie

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Monster List - Dragon

Dragons. Half of the name of the game. The only monster to get nearly two pages of text in the Basic Set (and the fact that most monsters have gotten a whole page or more in many editions since the 2E days says something about the direction RPGs have taken in the past 25 years, but that's a discussion for a different blog post). The one monster that you really want to be able to defeat, because it's so iconic to be a dragon-slayer.

So, what do dragons look like in the Basic Set? Well, we all know the six basic colors, white, black, green, blue, red and gold. They're all here, each with increasing hit dice (starts at 6), AC, claw/bite damage, and morale (white and black are both 8, green and blue are both 9, and red and gold are both 10). XP and saves, of course, also increase with their hit dice. Movement, attacks, number appearing (1-4, in dungeons or out) and treasure type are all the same. White and blue are neutral, gold is lawful, the remainder are chaotic.

One thing I'm reminded of here, is that the claw damage implies that these dragons aren't super huge. The white dragon's claws are only as effective as a dagger or a brown bear's claw (d4 damage), while a red (1d8) and gold (2d4) have damage equal to a sword or battle axe, or a tiger's claw. The bites, though, those can get nasty, ranging from 2d8 for a white to 6d6 for a gold. The white dragon's bite is slightly stronger than the giant ant or cave bear (both 2d6), while the gold's bite is equal to the T-Rex in the Expert Set. Using that as a guide, I'd estimate that these dragons should be between 15' to 30' long or so, or their hit die size times 2.5'. The Larry Elmore box cover art for the Basic, Expert and Master Sets would seem to be slightly larger than this estimation (the Companion Set shows one of the Large or Huge dragons in that set, so that Green is much larger).

Another thing is that number appearing. 1-4 per encounter. Usually, since dragons are fairly high on the D&D monster food chain, they get used, to borrow modern terminology, as "solo" opponents. One dragon is usually enough. Also, because an encounter with more than one can easily lead to a TPK. At Basic Set levels, one is enough for that TPK, really. But it's good to remember that dragons have families/friends that may be with them, or may be waiting back at the lair, keeping watch over all that phat loot!

Under the standard stat blocks, dragons get several more columns of specialized information that informs a lot of what dragons are, and what they aren't, in the game. These tell us where the dragon colors are usually found, and their breath weapon type, size, and shape. They give us a chance that the dragon can talk (goes from 10% of whites, increasing by 10% each color up to 50% for reds, but golds get 100%. There's a chance of the dragon being asleep, starting at 50% for whites, decreasing 10% down to 10% chance for reds, and then down to 5% for golds. Then we get their spells by level. Whites that can talk can cast three 1st level spells, and black dragons 4. Greens get 3 1st level and 3 2nd level, and blues get 4 each of 1st and 2nd level. Likewise, reds get 3 each of 1st, 2nd and 3rd level spells, while golds get 4 each of 1st through 3rd level.

One thing I had always assumed (even though, as we shall see below, is contradicted by the text) was that dragons that didn't talk were just animal intelligence, or maybe semi-intelligent at best. Like the dragon in Beowulf, it may be smart enough to notice that some of its treasure is missing and that humans probably took it, but if it can't have a conversation it's still pretty much just an animal. I've always had two kinds of dragons in my game, and yes, the non-talking kind are a lot easier to defeat because of that.

Frank tells us that all dragons are big flying lizards with breath weapons, have eggs, eat meat, love treasure, and "will do everything possible to save their own lives, including surrender" (p. 28). That says a lot right there, about how dragons should be played. Each dragon should be a character!

The next paragraph reinforces that impression, telling us about how they tend to behave. Because they live for very long times, they really don't give a rat's ass about others. "Chaotic dragons might capture men, but will usually kill and eat them immediately. Neutral dragons might either attack or ignore a party completely. Lawful dragons, however, may actually help a party if the characters are truly worthy of this great honor" (p. 29). Then Frank tells us that dragons are proud and love flattery, and may not attack anyone who butters it up, if it can understand language. Obviously, this is taking cues from Bilbo and Smaug in The Hobbit.

Then we get a warning that even though they're in the Basic Set, it's probably best to only use young/smaller dragons (explained in the Age section, below, although Frank doesn't reference this here) until the PCs are higher level (Frank suggests at least 4th).

After this, we get some specialized subheadings for specific topics related to dragons.

Breath Weapon Damage: Those who have only played newer editions (2E and up) might not know it, but in these rules, a dragon's breath weapon does damage equal to their current hit points, but the dragon is limited to breathing only 3 times per day. Also, the rules specify that a dragon always uses its breath in the first round of combat. While that might not seem like the most tactically sound method in some instances, it's something that my friends and I would try to exploit when we were young. I assume we weren't the only ones, because later editions added all sorts of extra powers to dragons to keep players from using these advantages. Personally, I think dragons are fairly tough enough without needing the ability to automatically detect illusions, tremor-sense, and the like. Dragons are tough, but they shouldn't be impossible to gain an advantage over. If every encounter with a dragon becomes a battle of attrition hit point slog, that's not very fun, and it makes it a lot riskier for the PCs (or they just wait until they're a lot higher level before tackling dragons).

Anyway, after the first round, the DM can decide how the dragon attacks (claw & bite, or another breath) or roll randomly (there's a chart, of course!).

Dragons' breath weapon, as mentioned, does damage equal to their current hit points, the rules are explicit on that. I remember reading a thread on Dragonsfoot.org's forums once where people debated this, and Frank actually chimed in saying that he always had the breath weapon do damage equal to the dragon's total hit points, which makes dragons very challenging. Personally, I'm a fan of the RAW. If players are smart, they attack while the dragon is sleeping, or they gain surprise (invisibility, illusions, etc.) and get a free round of attacks in. That way, they've got a chance to lessen the effects of the breath weapon before it hits them. The RAW rewards smart play. Keeping the damage as the total rewards cautious play. I find the game more fun, both as DM and player, when a smart plan allows caution to be put aside. 
Shape of Breath: We get a short explanation of the cone, line and cloud types of breath, so that the DM can easily adjudicate who is in the breath weapon attack area and who isn't (although if you're playing without minis and a battle mat, you just need to trust the DM to be fair.

And that picture! I'm not sure why, but this picture is what convinced me that D&D was something I needed to have. I'd been watching the cartoon, and had some of the Endless Quest CYOA books, but when some of my mom's old Peace Corps friends came to visit in the summer of '84, and their neighbor showed me his BX books, the version of this picture in Moldvay made me want to buy the rules.

Saving Throws: No matter what, always save vs. breath weapon against a dragon's breath, even if it seems like another type of attack (chlorine gas/poison is the only one that seems like it might get argued the other way by some "reality lawyer" type player.

We have a bit of a curious sentence here, as it could be interpreted in two different ways. "Dragons are never affected by the normal or smaller versions of their Breath Weapons, and automatically make their Saving Throws against any attack form which is the same as their Breath Weapon" (p. 29, emphasis added). So normal versions of the breath weapon, I get. A red dragon is immune to normal fire, a green is immune to poison gas (or specifically chlorine gas?), etc. But what's a "smaller" version? That from a dragon with fewer hit points? Is it a reference put in there for reference when the Companion Set large and huge dragons get introduced? It's open to interpretation.

Talking: Frank explains that all dragons are intelligent (I mentioned this above), but not all can talk. If the dragon talks, it also can cast spells, which are chosen randomly (and it always amused me that a red or gold dragon might have a fireball spell, when their breath is usually better).

Now, I mentioned earlier that I like to have non-talking dragons be only semi-intelligent at best. That's just my personal thing. But recent editions make (most) dragons geniuses by the time they're adults (in addition to all these other powers they've tacked on), so that they're more of a challenge. Nothing in the rules here, though, state that dragons are exceptionally intelligent. It's possible to infer from the chances of talking/spell-casting that whites and blacks are not so bright, in comparison, and reds and golds are smarter. But the rules don't state that explicitly.

Again, I don't think every dragon needs to be super smart. Allowing the players a chance to outwit a dragon now and then can be fun for everyone...if the players think to try and outwit the dragon.

Sleeping Dragons: And actually, now that I've reread a few sections, I start to see why many DMs ignore the Number Appearing range of 1-4 dragons in an encounter. All of the examples, including here, say things like "when a dragon is encountered" which gives the impression that dragons are usually (or should usually be) encountered solo.

So every dragon (or group of dragons? Should the DM roll individually for each dragon? Good luck with that, players!) has a chance to be asleep when encountered. If your party is lucky enough to catch a sleeping dragon, you can get a free round of attacks and spells in (at +2 to hit) while the dragon wakes up. Unlike the sleep spell's description, you can't just auto-kill the dragon, but you can put a dent in its hit points before it wakes up and breathes on you.

Subduing Dragons: A few posts back, discussing Morale rules, someone (JB of BX Blackrazor, maybe) asked what's the difference between a dragon losing morale and surrendering, and a dragon being subdued? I think, personally, that a dragon that loses morale still is in a position to bargain, whereas subdued dragons surrender unconditionally. There's nothing explicit in the rules about this, but from a reading of the morale rules in general, and the rules for subduing dragons, that's how I'd play it.

Oh, and if you don't know, crazily confident (or magically overloaded) PCs can attack "with the flat of the sword" not doing any real damage to the dragon (meaning its breath is still at full strength) and if they manage to get it to "0" then the dragon is subdued, because it knows it could have been killed.

But the dragon will try to escape or cause trouble for the PCs, while grudgingly serving them until allowed a chance to escape, or ordered into an obviously suicidal situation, or sold. Yes, you can sell a dragon for up to 1000gp per hit point! Subduing the dragon is VERY risky, but if you can pull it off, you can get filthy stinking rich. You get the dragon's treasure and can sell the dragon for nearly as much more. I wouldn't advise it until Name Level or higher, when you need crazy amounts of treasure like that to level up, anyway.

My question regarding subduing dragons has always been, who's buying these subdued dragons? And what do they do with them once they're purchased? If that's not on Jeff Rients' list of 20 Questions About My Campaign, it probably should be.

Age: Here's a subsection I sometimes forget, because it's easy to just use the stat block as printed. But in BECMI, young dragons simply have fewer hit dice (up to 3 less), and older dragons have more (up to 3 more).

Again, maybe it's just because these are the rules I started with, but I find this simpler than the OD&D/AD&D way of having a set number of hit points per hit die by age, and the overly complex tables of a dozen different age categories in 2E/3E, each with increasing stats and powers. One reason I like it is that until that first breath weapon hits, players have no idea who many hit points, exactly, the dragon is going to have. The other is that it's a lot simpler just to add or subtract a few hit dice to a dragon to make it older or younger, than to consult all those tables.

Treasure: Their treasures are also proportional to their age, with younger dragons having 1/2 or 1/4 of Type H, and older dragons having up to double. Now, treasure type H is the most generous of treasure types, so even 1/4 of that is a pretty nice haul. So young, relatively inexperienced would-be dragon slayers would still come out alright if they can find a young, 3HD white dragon to battle.

But, as this section points out, dragons rarely leave their treasure out in the open, or unguarded. And now's a good time to once again point out that there should be 1d4 dragons per lair, meaning only 25% of the time should there be a single dragon only. Best scout out that lair before charging in!

Gold Dragons: The final section gives us a few special notes on the lawful Gold Dragon. They always talk, always cast spells, and can shapeshift into any human or animal form at will. They also get a choice of fire or chlorine gas, but still only three breaths per day, and the DM should always decide which type of breath they use.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

another f'n cool session

Last night, the stars were apparently right. Not only did my family schedule work out to allow me to run another session of Chanbara, but Dean, Alexei, Jeff and Jeremy all showed up to play. We haven't had four players since the first session.

We spent a bit of time at the beginning leveling everyone up to 6th, and making sure everyone had the correct version of the rules. I'd also updated a few small things due to feedback from Stefan and his group, so the Bushi characters (Alexei's samurai Ringo, Dean's sohei Monban, and Jeremy's kensei Kuro) all now have a size-up opponent ability, which was helpful for them.

I'd started them off with the prophecy they'd been seeking, and gave them a few clues about things they could do in it, plus had the daimyo ask them to track down a stolen katana (which was in the prophetic dream). I had two paths planned out for them, figuring they'd either do one or the other. They of course did a third. So I had to improvise a bit.

But the session started off with some fun RP, the improv led to a very short combat (morale check in round 1 ended it in the party's favor), then some interesting decisions on the part of the players about how to move forward. They made a choice (one of the things I'd planned for), and that led them to another choice (the other thing I planned, and one which is something I'd run 20 years ago with my Evansville group). It looks like the players are interesting in following up choice #2, so I'll have to update it from AD&D OA to Chanbara, but that shouldn't be too hard.
Many attempts were made to charm these lovely sisters.

After the session, everyone said they had a great time. The title of this post is a quote from Jeff. And Dean gave me a bit of praise that I wasn't expecting. Compared to many other games he's played set in unfamiliar settings, he thinks I've done a great job with my rules of a) not overloading it with new terminology, and b) making the new terminology that is in the game very easy to grasp.

That was actually something I was concerned about. Speaking Japanese fairly well, I knew I had the potential to go overboard with using the language. So that comment from Dean makes me feel like I'm on the right path with the tone of the rules. And the fact that everything is running smoothly makes me feel like I should get the game edited and then into layout. I think it's about ready to go!

Fingers crossed, I'll be defending my dissertation in November. If that goes well, I'll get the manuscript into shape, get a decent cover and back, figure out what sorts of print options would be best, and publish over the winter break.