Thursday, August 03, 2017

lions and tigers and bears

I held off getting a copy of Edward R. G. Mortimer's Heroic Expeditions for years because the cover say it is "A Judges Guild UNIVERSAL fantasy supplement."  I'm pretty sure this label started appearing on Guild products after they lost their license from TSR to put "approved for use with Dungeons & Dragons" on the cover.  More importantly, the UNIVERSAL products I've seen from Judges Guild all use Bob Bledsaw's universal fantasy system, which he never actually released a rulebook for.  Instead, it existed as a stand-in for actual D&D stats.

The upshot of this is that every other UNIVERSAL book basically requires you to translate every statblock into D&D-ese from a language you don't speak.  I have run many adventures for the wrong system over the years and I mostly translate stats on the fly.  But running, say, a Tunnels & Trolls adventure and turning it into D&D right in front of the players feels like a fun challenge.  I enjoy it.  Bledsaw's universal statblocks feel leaden and unwieldy in comparison.  Working with them doesn't feel like playing with a strange toy, but more like doing your taxes.

Heroic Expeditions neatly avoids this peril by having the UNIVERSAL label on the front, but using mostly normal D&D statblocks inside.  Sneaky.  Anyway, the name of the module is Heroic Expeditions, plural, because it has three small adventures inside.  "Spear of Darkness" is designed specifically for a pair of half-orc characters.  I don't think I've seen a just-for-half-orcs adventure anywhere else.  "Quest for the Book of Ancestry" is designed for two halfling characters.  I'm pretty sure I've read a novel that featured a couple of halflings as the protagonists, but I don't think I've encountered any modules written that way.  The final adventure is called "Cave of Despair" and is designed for messing with the head of a lone PC of 12th level or higher.  It's one of those adventures that tries to be deep and get to the emotional heart of roleplaying, which means it is perfect for use at some tables and will ruin friendships at others.

But my favorite thing about Heroic Expeditions is not the adventures.  It's pages 37 to 40, the monster section.  This might be the greatest small bestiary ever published.  Here are the creatures it provides stats for:

Badger
Bear, Black
Bear, Brown Grizzly
Bird, Game
Boar
Bugbear
Centipede, Giant
Dog, Wild
Dragon, Green
Duck
Frog, Giant
Goat
Goblin
Goose
Hippogriff
Imp
Lion, Mountain
Minotaur
Mosquito, Giant
Ogre
Opossum
Orc
Rabbit
Raccoon
Stag (and Deer)
Spider, Giant
Spiders, Large
Sprite
Tick, Giant
Tiger, Forest
Weasel, Giant
Wolf
Worg
Dwarf
Elf
Gnome
Hairfoot
Half-Orc

That is a very silly list of critters and I love it.  Note that most of the animals are perfectly normal.  The rabbit is not a Pythonesque vorpal bunny, just a 1/2 hit die beastie with no effective attack form.  Some of the normal animals can put a hurting on a PC, though.  Here's my favorite example, transcribed so that you can use it in your game:

Goose
AC 7 (natural)
HD 1+1
Move 6" (ground), 24" (air)
Damage 0-2 (bite) or 0-1/0-1 (wing/wing)

I guess I'd use d3-1 and d2-1 for the damage rolls, or maybe d4-2, d4-3.  Either way, a goose would be a not insignificant challenge for a first level adventurer.  Maybe not as bad as the housecat stats in the in the Monster Manual II, but still a legit threat.  I've attacked PCs with Dungeon Chickens before, but those were preternaturally large (hobbit-sized) and exceedingly grumpy poultry.  I don't know if I have it in my heart to murder a PC with a perfectly ordinary goose.