Wednesday, March 31, 2010

ask pesky questions

The other day for no particular reason I got to thinking about a 'What If?' scenario wherein someone else was starting a new first edition AD&D campaign. If I was invited to play, what sort of character would I want to be? Now I'm normally of the roll-the-dice-and-take-your-chances school of PC creation, so my choices would be limited by my stat rolls.  On the other hand, if the party desperately needs a particular class (i.e. no one's playing a cleric) then I would be willing to take one for the team. But I got to thinking that if the field was wide open, what sort of further information would I need from the DM? Here's a few questions I've come up with to ask the DM, broken down by class.


Are you using weapon vs. AC or speed factors?  That would radically affect my weapon choices.
Any weapons considered particular high or low class?  E.g. would being a crossbowman preclude me from being knighted?
A first level fighter is a Veteran.  Has my character been in any famous battles?
Can I play a knight or do I start out as some low class schlub with a spear?
How picky are you about encumbrance?
Do you use any crit charts or rules about attacks versus folks not wearing helmets?
Do I have any particular obligation to a military organization or feudal lord?


What sort of gods do I have to choose from?
Which gods have temples in the starting campaign area?
Do I have any particular obligation to a certain temple or high priest?
Are the gods at each other's throats, such that I would get in trouble for honoring deities besides my own?


Do I get to pick my starting spells?
Do you track material components?
Are new spells available for purchase anywhere?
Do I start out as a member of a magic-user's guild or a graduate from a mage's school?
Am I an apprentice to a higher-level MU?


Do you object to evil characters?
Am I a member of a thef's guild?
Do I start with criminal contacts for fencing goods, smuggling, obtain poisons or drugs?

Obviously some of these questions are mechanical, some are about the DM's style and some concern the campaign world.  More question could easily be written for the other classes in AD&D and the various races.  I'd hate to make up a perfectly decent half-elf druid only to discover after play begins that half-breeds are universally reviled in the setting and that the DM took the mistletoe rules seriously!

The point of all these questions is not to put the DM on the spot, so if you actually asked some things like the above list you'd probably do well to put it in an email before the first session.  Some of these questions could end up being things the DM hasn't thought about yet for this particular campaign.  That's not a bad thing.  The DM is probably going to spend some time on the campaign no matter what you do, you might as well steer them towards topics you care about.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I was going to post about pesky questions to ask your DM...

...but then my daughter brought this home from school and I just had to share.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Random Wilderness 'Specials'

Working off the top of my head to expand on yesterday's post.  Please suggest other ideas in the comments below.

1. Statue - see Ready Ref Sheets
2. Ravaged Ruins - see Ready Ref Sheets
3. Picturesque Scenery
4. Special Agricultural Asset (E.g. a mango grove, good fishing)
5. Entrance to Faerie Realm, an Unknown Hell or some other supernatural region
6. Tomb - see Best of Dragon, vol 1
7. Local Weather Conditions (unusually windy, foggy, etc.)
8. Frontier Fort of Kelnore
9. Disputed territory (stock with two monster rolls or look at nearby hexes for disputants)
10. Historical site (probably an old battlefield, may or may not have a marker)
11. Old Lava Flow (anything underneath it?)
12. Titan Corpse (Some of them are still laying around from the Titanomachy.  They rot very slowly.)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

wilderness stocking

Back in December Orion Cooper over at the Moldy Vale wrote a neat little piece about randomly stocking hexes on your wilderness map.  I've been looking at various random wilderness stocking techniques because the map I'm trying to fill has about 2,400 hexes.  Without random generation and computer assistance stocking that bad boy would take friggin' forever.  Besides, I love random generation, as it forces me to work with results outside the meager scope of things I could come up with on my own.

After looking over some alternatives, I decided to start with the random dungeon stocking chart on page B54 of Moldvay Basic D&D.

Assume "Monster" lairs include things like Old Man Jenkins, the grumpy turnip farmer, and change "Trap" to "Hazard" and you're good to go.  Next steps include developing random Hazards and Special charts and automating the wilderness encounter charts in the Expert rules.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

have a cool Shatnerday

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

two thoughts on Chainmail

Thought One: This post by Evan  and the list of Chainmail monsters I made last month cross-pollinated in my brain a bit and got me thinking more about the intersection between Chainmail and OD&D.  When using the Chainmail combat rules monsters that fight like men (halflings, sprites, pixies, dwarves, gnomes, kobolds, elves, fairies, orcs, zombies, etc.) cannot hurt some monsters (true trolls, dragons, elementals and giant spiders).  To defeat the latter you need someone who can fight on the Fantasy Combat Table.  That means you need at least one Hero, Super-Hero or Wizard in the party to take on these baddies.  Third level fighters can operate as a "Hero -1", as can sixth level clerics.  As far as I can tell twenty second level fighters and a dozen fifth level clerics will be utterly destroyed by a single True Troll.   The True Troll can hurt them but they can't hurt it back, if they leave things up to the combat system.  I like that a lot.  Kinda like how the Holmes Basic monster list contains a bunch of monsters completely out of the league of normal 1st through 3rd level play.  Players are forced to out-think the monsters because brute force simply won't work.

Thought Two: What happens when someone runs out of hit points?  Looking at Chainmail reminded me of D&D's wargame heritage.  Wargames normally don't really care whether a chit full of troops is dead to a man.  Although the term 'killed' might be bandied about, we're really talking about casualties, a concept which covers a lot of ground besides outright death.  Any troop that can't fight is a casualty, whatever the circumstances.  Troops too wounded to fight are casualties.  As are those troops that are captured, missing, or disabled by psychological trauma.  To a general mustering forces for the next battle, a deserter is a casualty.  From this point of view, equating running out of hit points with pushing up the daisies over-simplifies the situation.  That's one of the reasons some minis games have random die charts like the one near the end of this post to determine the fate of special figures that have been "killed".  Here's a similar chart I first developed back in 2007 for when PCs and their minions hit zero HP.

Death's Door, v1.1.

PC's and important NPCs roll on this chart when their supply of hit points have been completely exhausted. First level PCs add one to their roll.

1. Dead. Only Raise Dead or Reincarnation can help now.
2. Mostly Dead, as in The Princess Bride. Character can take no actions until roused by magic. Cure Light Wounds or a healing potion each have a 50% chance of working. Each of these methods may only be tried once. Cure Serious Wounds always works. Revived characters are -4 on to-hits, saves, and damage for d12 days.
3. Major Wound. Knocked unconscious, awaken as per number 5 below. Loss of d6 stat points, each coming off a random stat. Total debilitation for d6 months, after which stat loss heals at one point per month of complete rest, except for the last point of stat loss, which is permanent. Cure Serious Wounds turns the months of recovery into weeks but otherwise provides no further assistance.
4. Unconscious and Bleeding. Must save versus Death Ray d6 rounds from now, then d6 turns later, then d6 hours. Any failed save results in death. Any cure spell or healing potion halts the bleeding, allowing the character to regain consciousness with one hit point. Someone taking 1 round for first aid and rolling Wis or lower on d20 slows the bleeding, bumping the check interval up to turns/hours/days. After such a wound hit points heal naturally at a weekly rather than daily rate until the character is fully restored. Awaken as per number 5 below.
5. Knocked out. Awaken d6 turns later with one hit point. All attacks, damage rolls, and saves are at -2 until the character gets d12 days of rest.
6+. Close call. Character still has 1 hit point. No further effect.

Maybe I should do a new revision with captured, missing, desertion and/or shell-shock as possibilities.  Another way to go would be a gristly Rolemaster/Arduin Grimoire style crit shart that one rolls on anytime you get whacked down to zero HP.  Most NPCs would give up or run away at that point, but the PCs could buck up and fight on.  Every subsequent hit would mean additional rolls on the gruesome critical strike charts.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

best of the best

So I've got this plastic clamshell-type container I bought in the hobby section of the local Target many years ago.  I'm pretty sure it was marketed as the perfect storage device for scrapbooking.  Anyway, I decided to see how much awesome I could squeeze into it and ended up with a sort of personal top ten list of out-of-print stuff.  Here's what I've got in that container, in no particular order:

'78 Basic D&D rules (Holmes)
'81 Basic D&D rules (Moldvay)
'81 Expert D&D rules
B2 Keep on the Borderlands
Best of the Dragon, vol 1
Ready Ref Sheets
The Dungeoneer: The Adventuresome Compedium of Issues 1-6
Rat on a Stick
The Unknown Gods
The Arduin Grimoire, vol 1

Okay, that's actually eleven items, but the '81 rulebooks are a single game split into two manuals.  Looking at all that stuff together and I can't help but imagine it as one sweet-as-hell campaign.

I'd love to see a similar list of out-of-print items from other folks.  Please share in the comments or post to your own blog!

Art thou feeling it now, Mr. Krabs?

From "Mid-Life Crustacean", Spongebob Squarepants season 3.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

more on DCC the RPG

I've had a couple more requests for further info on the Dungeon Crawl Classics rpg that Joe Goodman has been playtesting at some cons.  Below's a list of what I know.  Keep in mind that I played one session with zero level characters, so my experience with this game is limited.  Also, DCC-rpg is due out in 2011 and still in early draft form, so what I say here may not be true of the final game.
  • Roll 3d6 in order for six stats: Strength, Agility, Stamina, Intelligence, Personality, Luck
  • Stat bonuses work as in 3.x: +1 for 12-13, +2 for 14-15, +3 for 16-17, etc.
  • Strength modifies melee attacks and damage.
  • Agility modifies missile attacks (and damage?  I'm not sure), intiative, Armor Class and Reflex saves
  • Stamina modifies hit points and Fort saves
  • Intelligence modifies spell casting rolls (see Sunday's post for how that works) and Will saves
  • We didn't really talk to any NPCs, so I don't know how Personality works
  • Luck is weird.  What it modfies is determined by a separate d8 roll.  I ended up with my Luck modifying all damage rolles.  Other guys got mods to saves and to-hits.  Also, Goodman noted that Luck is subject to alteration much moreso than other stats.
  • Most operations are d20 throws.
  • AC is ascending, base 10.  Scale mail is +4 AC, chain +5.
  • Weapon damage seems pretty much like you'd expect.  A battleaxe does d8, a spear does d6, etc.
  • The chart for randomly assigning race, profession and starting equipment to zero level characters is supposed to appear in the final product.
  • Not much of a skill system.  Your class and/or occupation broadly cover what you can do.
  • The charsheet has fields for "Actions" and "Weapon Proficiencies" but neither came up in play so I don't know what they do.
  • Ninefold alignment.
  • There are classes, but I couldn't really tell you what they are, since it was a zero-level game.
Although this game is clearly in the same Old School/d20 Hybrid camp as both C&C and Basic Fantasy, I found myself digging this game more than those systems.  But I've not had a real opportunity to play either of those, so a straight comparison can't be made.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Images from Gary Con 2

I really dig this ad from the insider front cover of the program booklet, despite the terrible wrong it does to the work of Erol Otus.

More Erol Otus art from inside the program booklet. 

Rob Kuntz wins the award for Creepiest V.I.P. Photo in the program.

DCC-rpg flier from the freebie table.

The dude selling official con T-shirt's was just giving away this nicely produced 88 page module!  As an early bird registrant I also scored a swag bag containing Knights of the Dinner Table #147, the Kingdoms of Kalamar Campaign Setting Sourcebook, Kingdoms of Kalamar Atlas, and Jim Raggi's awesome The Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role Playing Games And Their Modern Simulcra!  (Regarding Raggi's book:  Like dice?  Also monsters?  Then buy it!)  That stuff retails for over 80 bucks and the con only cost $20 to get into.

The back cover of the module above depicts a mock-up of the proposed Gygax Memorial.  The pic is a little too dark, but that's a gold dragon sleeping on top of a tower fortress.

Lot item from the silent auction: one (1) VHS copy of the Tom Hanks classic Mazes & Monsters and one (1) claw hammer.

Nevermind the Pathfinder screen: I got in on one of the playtest/demo sessions for the forthcoming Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.  Joe Goodman was a pretty good GM.  The guy reaching for the paper is James Mishler.  It was neat to play a game with James again.

For this particular playtest session everybody got two or three zero level characters with randomly determined races and professions.  My locksmith died fairly early on, but ol' Stinky McGee here not only survived the session, he never attacked a foe even once.  I did a fair amount of encouraging others to take all the hard chances.  At the end my character ended up with half a magic artifact (the 'demonface rod') and instructions from some goat-headed demon on the evil deeds necessary to secure the other half.  The best anybody else got were a handful of gems or some weapons or armor.  Therefore I am declaring myself the winner.

Mishler got to play in an earlier DCC-rpg session with first level characters.  He reported what sounds to me like a totally awesome but potentially cumbersome mechanic for spellcasting.  Every spell comes with a success chart something like this:

1-10: Fail
11-13: 1 foe drowsy d6 rounds
14-16: d8 hit dice put to sleep for d6+6 turns
17-20: 2d8 hit dice put to sleep for d6+6 turns
21-25: 3d8 hit dice put to sleep for d6+6 turns
26+: 4d8 hit dice put to sleep for d6+6 days

That's not an exact duplication of the system, but it gives you the basic idea.  Every time you cast a spell you roll d20 plus Int mod plus Caster level and look at the chart.  You only forget a spell if you fail.

Using the original notes from 1967, Paul Stromberg put together the Siege of Brodenberg using the same line of 40mm medieval figures and the same castle model as the original running of the event.  What's the big deal about the Siege of Brodenberg, you may ask?  It turned a young fellow named Gygax on to medieval miniatures.

The other game I got to play was an OD&D session run by Tim Kask.  Mr. Kask was the first full-time employee of TSR Hobbies.  The program said this run was for "Expert dungeon delvers" only, so I felt a little dumb sitting down at this table.  Turns out I was the only guy their besides Mr. Kask with any specific OD&D experience, so I didn't really have that much to worry about.  I ended up mapping and assigning marching orders, helping the elf next to me pick out and throw spells, while the dwarf across the table (who I put in front) determined many of our actions out of combat.

See the head of black hair bottom center?  That dude and his buddy flew in from Italy specifically to attend this convention.  They had taught themselves English in order to learn to play D&D.  I handed him the last of the three copies of Encounter Critical I had brought along to give away.  I wish I had brought my own copy to get Mr. Kask's autograph (see the inside front cover for why).

In the middle of Kask's run I look behind me for some reason and notice that if I scoot my chair back more than an inch or two I will totally bump into Frank Mentzer, who is running a game immediately behind me.  Meanwhile Jeff Easley is about ten feet away the whole time, just relaxing next to some original art that's graced the cover of many old TSR products.  Additional incidental name-dropping:  I brought along my brother-in-law-in-law's copy of Metamorphosis Alpha to get Jim Ward's autograph in it, which he was very pleased to do.  As he's signing it Tom Wham walks by and says something like "the value of that collectible just went down 10%".  They both laughed heartily.

My character from Tim Kask's game.  When in doubt pick the viking.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Happy Shatnerday!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Meet my bums.

I wanted to see if I could fit some starting Mutant Future PCs on index cards.  Click on the pics for a bigger view.

I hate buying equipment for starting characters so I rolled on these charts instead.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fight On! featuring Erol friggin' Otus!!!

Nominations for best cover art on anything anywhere are now closed.

Available in print and PDF.

One of my contributions to this issue is an interview with Mr. Otus.  It was my first time interviewing anyone for anything, so it may be a little rough.  Mr. Otus was a cool cat but it was still intimidating.  Have I mentioned lately that I have a shrine to this guy?  Intimidating as hell, my friends.

Dwarves as trap-finders

Grrrr! Fear my chainmail loincloth!
There's some interesting stuff in the comments to yesterday's post about the everyman dungeon skills Find Traps, Listen at Door and Find Secret Door.  Some folks took notice of the fact that my little chart gave members of the dwarf class a blanket 2 in 6 chance of finding a trap.  My chart was based upon Moldvay Basic and it's retro-clone Labyrinth Lord.  Here's the relevant language from the Basic rulebook:
"They are expert miners and are able to find slanting passages, traps, shifting walls, and new construction one-third of the time (a roll of 1 or 2 on 1d6) when looking for them."
That's from page B9, under the class description for dwarves, in the paragraph titled Special Abilities.  I can see how someone might infer that these dwarven abilities only apply to stonework, but the text doesn't precisely specify that.  The second parargaph of the trap rules on page B22 don't specify dwarven find traps as anything more than a superior form of the ability every character possesses:
"Any character has a 1 in 6 chance of finding a trap when searching for one in the correct area.  Any dwarf has a 2 in 6 chance."
The text in my LL rulebook mirrors both these passages sufficiently that I'm not going to bother to type it in. 

So based upon the ambiguity in the first passage and the lack of modifying language in the second one, I rule that dwarves have a 2 in 6 chance of finding any trap that anyone else can find.

Does that help us at all with figuring out the problem of the thief Find Traps ability mentioned in yesterdays post?  Here's a comment from Robert Fisher, who is a pretty smart dude and one of my go-to guys for thinking on parsing fiddly D&D rules:
Some people take the interpretation that there are two kinds of traps. Type I traps are the big things like pit traps. Type II are the small traps like a poison needle in a lock.

The 1 in 6 for everyone and 2 in 6 for dwarfs rule—in this interpretation—only applies to Type I traps. The thief F&RT skill does not. (Type I traps cannot be overcome with a remove traps roll.)

Likewise, the generic rule doesn’t apply to Type II traps; only the thief F&RT skill.
I don't really see anything in the rules that supports the assertion that "some people" are making here.  As far as I can tell the rules in question only distinguish between regular traps that anyone can find and magical traps that cannot be found (unless you've got a detect magic or something like that going).  I could see some DMs allowing thieves to find magical traps, since the rules don't specifically preclude it.  I'm pretty sure that would make thieves more magical than I want in my campaign, expecially given that the next logical step is allowing thieves to remove magical traps.  And the step after that is letting thieves pick doors with wizard lock cast upon them.  I just don't want to go there.

Finally, keeping both non-magical thieves and trap-finding dwarves sets up an interesting situation in that dwarves appear to be better at trap detection than low level thieves.  Forget about putting the thief in front to find traps, get the dwarf out there to do it.  If he finds a trap the thief can be called up to remove it.  If the dwarf finds a trap the hard way he's got better hit points, better armor and better saves.  That little bugger is in a much better position to survive setting off the trap.  By using a little teamwork that poor d4 hit die Basic thief may actually live to second level.

Image: Ral Partha dwarf from  Dude's positively skinny by modern dwarf standards, ain't he?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

You know who has played some awesome characters?

Brian Blessed, that's who!

Blessed as Richard IV in the first Blackadder series.

As Voltan in the 1980 Flash Gordan flick.

As the Duke of Exeter in Kenneth Branaugh's film version of Henry V.

One of these things is not like the other.

Here's some info from Labyrinth Lord.  With the exception of the Thief's Find Traps number, these numbers are good for B/X D&D as well.  I need to put a chart like this on my screen or include fields for this data on the charsheets.

ClassFind Secret DoorListen at DoorFind Trap
Halfling1 in 62 in 61 in 6
Elf2 in 62 in 61 in 6
Dwarf1 in 62 in 62 in 6
Fighter1 in 61 in 61 in 6
Magic-User1 in 61 in 61 in 6
Cleric1 in 61 in 61 in 6
Thief1 in 62+ in 614%+

As usual, the Thief is problematic. According to page B22 everybody has a 1 in 6 chance of finding a trap, except for dwarves who get 2 in 6. Labyrinth Lord has the same language. But starting B/X thieves only have a 10% chance to find traps, with the LL version getting a mighty 14% at first level.  Page 13 of my Labyrinth Lord rulebook specifies that thieves only get one chance to find any given trap.  That would make them actually worse at finding traps than everyone else in the party.

You'd think that goes against the intent of the design, but it wouldn't have been hard to quash the confusion by starting Find Traps at 17% or more.  What do other DMs do in this situation?  I tend to allow two rolls, a d6 roll and a percentile roll, but that strikes me as an inelegant way to handle the issue.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

populist magic

Once upon a time in 1982 Doctor Strange travelled back in time to Fantastic Four issue 19, which was set in Egypt back in the days when pharoahs ruled the land with laser beams.

Along the way Doc encounters a slave girl who sees him throw down some patented Sorcerer Supreme mojo. She reaches the logical conclusion.

Doctor Strange, being a smooth operator, plays down his magical badassitude.

The line "These forces are within us all!" made an impression on me as a youth. Magic surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together. It is available to all. This simple concept haunts me to this day. Magic-users may need special educations and expensive/rare material requirements for their enchantments, but they are not the elect. They're closer to Batman than the X-Men in this regard. Anyone with sufficient desire and dedication can make magic happen; there's no special gift the lack of which prevents someone from joining the fellowship of the arcane. A wizard isn't automatically a Chosen One.

Credit: I couldn't find my copy of Doctor Strange #53 yesterday, so I swiped all the images above from Bully's treatment of this issue. My buddy Pat made sure I saw yesterday's awesome Bully post and you should check it out too.

Homeward Bound by Jack Trombey...

...better known as the Monty Python and the Holy Grail theme music in its full glory.

Monday, March 15, 2010

old lead

A while my wife's brother-in-law Rod gave me a slew of old D&D figures. He and his wife Anne (my sister-in-law) played OD&D and 1st edition AD&D but hadn't done anything with the figures in a couple decades. I finally got around to taking some pics of these wee leaden people.

I'm pretty sure the dude on the left was in several ads in Dragon back in the day. The lady M-U in the middle is from this set. The guy on the right must be the coach for his party, as he's obviously calling time out.

I really like the flowing beard and pointing finger on the wizard on the left. Painting his hat and staff the same color was an mistake, I think. Meanwhile, the other wizard's shoulder-mounted familiar should tell his boss he's holding the scroll backwards.

This is the sort of pose I don't see much of anymore. Everybody nowadays is either in a fighting stance or a boring generic pose with nothing in particular going on.

This poor son of a bitch has a mold line where his face should be.

Normally I'd think "crap armor + polearm = generic hireling", but that blue mask effect really makes this guy stand out.

A fully clothed fighting woman with a torch? Two thumbs up! (Not that I'm against chainmail bikinis, mind you. I just feel pervy putting tiny naked women on the table and expecting female players to actually use them.)

I swear this wizard looks like he's wearing a cowboy hat. That's rad to the max.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

a very good Shatnerday

Someone posted this on their blog earlier in the week specifically for me and dillweed that I am, I totally forgot to note who did me this favor. Sorry, unidentified blogger! Please take a bow in the comments.

Friday, March 12, 2010

things I want to do better

Lighting - This post has gotten me thinking. Often someone playing a magic-user says "I'm carrying a torch" and then we forget about the whole thing. If you were really going into a dungeon would you trust the wimp in the mumu with the sole source of illumination? I sure as hell wouldn't.

Encumbrance - I don't like long tallies and making players add and subtract how many .1 pound units they are carrying. But I do like players making decisions. What is important to bring to the dungeon and what has to be left behind? And even more importantly: what treasure is worth lugging out of the dungeon? Here's a huge chest full of gold, but it'll take two dudes moving at 3" to get it out. Are those coins worth the 6 extra wandering monster checks between here and the surface?

Rations & Wineskins - I've seen (and run) lots of games where the PCs buy rations and wineskins at chargen and then everybody forgets about the whole issue. Wearing armor, carrying a crapload of equipment/treasure, and fighting ten times a day is going to burn up a lot of calories. I recall reading somewhere that troops in combat zones can be expected to go through six M.R.E.'s a day. I don't have any combat experience but I know that after a hard day of moving furniture or playing sports or whatever that everyone wants to chowdown on pizza and guzzle beer.

Colorful Fights - I usually don't need the rules to encourage me to buckle swashes, but sometimes players can use a little reminder or a push in the right direction. Perhaps something simple like Lucky Number Kung Fu, whereby every once in a while they get some sort of extra action with which they can be awesome.

Filth - After a long day in the dungeon everyone will probably come out with torn clothes, dried blood on everything and smelling like a dragon's latrine. Any self-respecting adventurer probably gets a bath and a new suit of clothes the moment they get back to town. A lot of equipment probably needs to be replaced, too.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

FYI bears are awesome


# Encountered: 1 (1d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120' (40')
AC: 6
HD: 5
Attacks: 2 claws, bite
Damage: d4/d4/d6
Save as: Fighter 2
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: VI

These enchanted animals appear to be grizzly bears with a coppery metallic sheen to their fur. Contact with a rust bear has the same effect as a rust monster, but these creatures do not hunger for or consume metals. If a rust bear hits a single target with both claw attacks it automatically hugs the victim for an additional 2d8 damage and any metallic armor worn is automatically rusted, no matter how powerful the enchantment.


# Encountered: 1 (1d2)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120' (40')
AC: 6
HD: 6
Attacks: 2 claws, bite
Damage: d4/d4/d6
Save as: Fighter 4
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: VI

Appearing as eerily translucent polar bears, all opponents of the phase bear are at -2 to hit due to its magical displacement abilities. Furthermore, the first strike against a phase bear always misses unless the attacker has access to true seeing magics. If a phase bear hits a single target with both claw attacks it automatically hugs the victim for an additional 2d8 damage, but this gives away the true position of the creature, negating the -2 to-hit penalty until the phase bear's next action.


# Encountered: 1d2 (1d2)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 120' (40')
AC: 0
HD: 7
Attacks: 2 buzzsaws, bite
Damage: d12/d12/d8
Save as: Fighter 7
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XVIII

Servants of the sword-god Nenguzei, these bipedal demon-bears have plating similar to the bulette and giant spinning buzzsaws instead of forepaws. If a war beast hits a single target with both saw attacks it automatically hugs the victim for an additional 2d20 damage. Any creature of less than 3 hit dice must save versus fear or flee in terror from these maniacal rampaging cyber-ursines.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

three even quicker items

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Wonderful Scrolls of Doctor Holmes

Over the weekend I was flipping around in the blue Basic D&D rulebook edited by J. Eric Holmes. One of the better-known quirks about the Holmes edit of D&D is the easy scroll rules. Any magic-user, starting right from first level, can make spell scrolls at the cost of only 100gp and 1 week per spell level. No doubt you can see the big gain here for MUs: once the party lands 100gp or more in loot they can dramatically increase the number and variety of spells available to the one shot wonder in the pointy hat. I adopted this rule in my first World of Cinder campaign and one of the most successful characters of that venture was a scroll-wielding magic-user. At one point Carl, the player of the magic-user, took a wad of cash and whipped up one of every spell he could cast, thereby avoiding the "Aargh! If only I had memorized X!" effect that often bedevils magic-users. 3.x D&D's Scribe Scroll feat was basically the same mechanic, so I wouldn't be surprised if that part of the system was suggested by someone who started with Holmes Basic.

The treasure section of Holmes Basic also has a couple neat bits about scrolls in it. The random scrolls section provides the possibility of finding spells scroll of one to three spells each, cursed scrolls, and three kinds of protection scrolls (vs. lycanthropes, undead & magic). According to the text following the magic item tables all spell scrolls are for magic-users only. Clerics are out of luck, except for the protection scrolls that anyone can use. One interesting lacuna is that the rules don't specify how to generate which spells are on the scrolls, allowing for the possibility of putting cleric spells on magic-user scrolls.

"Ridiculous!", you may scoff, "Dr. Holmes never intended the DM to put cure light wounds in the hands of M-Us!" Maybe, maybe not. Check out this next part. Here's the last three items on d10 chart for generating random scrolls:
8 Any potion spell except delusion or poison
9 Any ring spell except wishes or regeneration
0 Any wand spell
First off, the terms "potion spell", "ring spell" and "wand spell" sound like a lot of fun. Under this set-up the wand spells that can be found on scrolls are magic detection, secret door & trap detection, [cone of] fear, [cone of] cold, [cone of] paralyzation and fire ball. The 'ring spell' scrolls are invisibility, animal control, plant control, weakness, protection +1, water walking, fire resistance and contrariness. For 'potion spells' we get growth, diminution, giant strength, invisibility, gaseous form, speed, flying and healing.

There's lots of juice in those 'spell' lists. Here are some random thoughts:
  • Because of the four attack wands, the chance of getting a scroll you can use to zap enemies with is higher than it appears from just glancing at the random scroll chart. Ditto your chances of getting a Scroll of Invisibility, since both potions and rings come in that variety.
  • A Scroll of Healing is the same as Cure Light Wounds in effectiveness. A first level magic-user with one of those babies is actually a better healer than a first level cleric, who gets no spells under the Holmes rules.
  • If I was playing an M-U and I found a Scroll of Secret Door & Trap Detection I'd immediately ask the DM if I could put that spell into my spellbook. If the DM said no, I'd then ask if I could use it to make researching such a spell easier.
  • On the other hand, maybe magic shops might sell scrolls that magic-users can use but they can't put the spells into their spellbook. Sounds like a good way to keep the magic shops in business. "Sorry, but that Scroll of Cold comes with DRM, so you can't put it in your spellbook."
  • A Scroll of Contrariness and Scroll of Weakness look like curse scrolls, but what if you could cast those effects onto other targets? Making the evil wizard's pet minotaur Contrary seems like a cool thing to do.
  • Wouldn't it be even cooler to use a Scroll of Gaseous Form on a dragon and the poor vaporous beast is forced to watch while you loot it's hoard?
Holmes isn't my favorite version of the game, but I'm really digging on these scroll rules.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

"...and many others."

Here's an official-type announcement of the upcoming collaboration between Otherworld Miniatures and Goblinoid Games to produce official Labyrinth Lord miniatures. FYI I'm one of the "many others" mentioned in paragraph three. I'll be doing the mini-adventure for the fairy woodland set.

Saturday, March 06, 2010


Friday, March 05, 2010

even quicker fourth item

Alexis of the Tao seems to be making a lot of sense to me in this post.

three quick items

  • Tuesday's picture post seemed to go over fairly well. Gameblog reader Jayson noted "Looks like a coherent campaign setting to me!" while the mysterious d said "I want to play this. All of it.NOW." Guess what, folks? As it turns out all those images were from my file folder labeled 'Encounter Critical pics'. Maybe I'll post the color pics from that folder next week.

  • Basic/Expert D&D and its retro-clone Labyrinth Lord do not have stat requirements for human characters. I like that a lot. This allows one to play a puny fighter, foolish cleric, dimwitted magic-user or clumsy thief. What's weird is that you can end up playing an illiterate magic-user. Anyone ever see that in play? I'd probably run such a dude as a Hollywood-esque Rain Man style idiot-savant, capable of reading and using hypermathematical incantations but unable to read simple Common.

  • I vaguely remember someone leaving a random off-topic comment on the blog asking about the Tom Moldvay game Dino-Wars! If that was you, shoot me an email at jrients to the blogspot dot com. Similarly, I promised someone a copy of a map missing from a module they bought second hand. If you're still out there, please email me again. Sorry I blew you off the first time!

i made this

Image borrowed from Fear of Girls.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Gary's weirdest rule?

From page 182 of the first edition Dungeon Masters Guide (click to embiggen):

Seriously, WTF?
I can't help but wonder if back in the day some nascent campaign was utterly ruined because some 1st level spellcaster threw a cure light wounds or detect magic and Orcus showed up.

two years gone: a re-post

don't mourn the death, celebrate the life

Things You Can Do To Keep Gygax's Memory Alive
  • Play some OD&D or 1st edition AD&D, or one of the other games Gary created.
  • Adapt one of his modules to whatever fantasy system you are using nowadays. B2 The Keep on the Borderlands is a particularly good choice for "serious" role-players, if you focus on all the intrigues surrounding the various factions of humanoids in the Caves of Chaos.
  • Name your next pet Gary, Gygax, or Mordenkainen. (I am not taking any responsibilty if you name your next kid Gygax or Mordenkainen. You're on your own on that one.)
  • Build that Dragonchess set you've been meaning to construct ever since you read about it in issue #100 of Dragon.
  • Players: Specialize in an oddball polearm, swear "by Gygax's beard", play a cleric of Zagig.
  • DMs: drop the Ring of Gaxx into your setting, sprinkle some scrolls of Mordenkainen-brand spells about your dungeon, use a rust monster or a bulette.
  • Write that module or game or whatever that you've been meaning to get around to. Submit it for publication or publish it yourself.
  • Keep a sharp eye out for the next weird little game that might become a breakout hit, spawning cartoons, films, comic books, novels and countless imitators.
  • Tell the hobgoblins "It's okay, Gary sent us!"
  • Crack open your 1st edition DMG and just luxuriate in the unmistakeable Gygax prose.
  • Send a letter or e-mail to another game designer thanking them before it's too late.
  • Introduce someone else to the fun that is this crazy little hobby.
  • Game like there's no tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

the most important rule I overlook

From page B24 of Moldvay's Basic D&D:
MONSTER ACTIONS: Some monsters always act in the same manner (such as zombies, who always attack). However, the reactions of most monsters are not always the same. The DM can always choose the monster's reaction to best fit the dungeon, but if he decides not to do this, a DM may use the reaction table below to determine the monster's reactions (roll 2d6).

Monster Reactions
Dice Roll/Reaction
2/Immediate Attack
3-5/Hostile, possible attack
6-8/Uncertain, monster confused
9-11/No attack, monster leaves or considers offer
12/Enthusiastic friendship
When I don't use this chart my monsters immediately attack way more often than the 1 out of every 36 encounters suggested by the chart and they pretty much never act friendly. That's a damn shame, as it encourages the "we see it, we fight it" mentality that can really drag a good game down. And I really like the inherent instability in making friends with one of the chaotic dungeon denizens. That's a situation chock full of interesting possibilities.

It might be interesting to note that there seems to be a lot less demi-human/humanoid animosity in Moldvay Basic as opposed to AD&D. Dwarves still hate goblins and vice versa, and will usually attack each other on sight. But that's about it. A few monsters are specified as usually attacking anyone, such as minotaurs and gargoyles. But going by the monster entries in the Basic book it should be possible for any PC to befriend ghouls, gnolls, hobgoblins, lizard men, lycanthropes, orges, orcs, owlbears, shadows, skeletons, thouls or wights. Skeletons aren't noted as lacking intelligence or agency and nothing in the rules suggests that undead in general are automatically hostile to the living.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010