Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Scientific Items for Blood and Treasure

It's been too long since my last post, but I've been pretty busy editing Blood & Treasure Second Edition. While the second edition is mostly about fixing errors and streamlining rules, I also decided to add a little extra to the game to make it more than just a revision. What I came up with was a few scientific items to spice up dungeon treasures. The items are, of course, optional for those TKs who do appreciate science fantasy.

Here's a little sneak peek at the items.

Scientific Items

Some TK’s may wish to mingle some science (or science-fantasy, really) into their game. Perhaps their campaign is set long after a great war that left the world in a primitive state, and thus powerful scientific artifacts are hidden in ruins. On the other hand, it could be a “sword & planet” or planetary romance campaign, not unlike the world of Barsoom in Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter of Mars series of books, which mingles objects of super science alongside swords and armor.
Whatever the reason, the following tables can be used to roll random scientific treasures to include in your dungeon ruins.

d%         Science Value01-12     Power crystals (1d6)
13-18     Bionics
19-21     Blaster
22-23     Brain implant
24-29     Chronometer
30-34     Cubitron
35-37     Electro-whip
38-41     Exoskeleton
42-44     Flying discs
45-47     Force belt
48-50     Holo-projector
51-58     Infrared goggles
60-61     Jet belt
62-63     Laser sword
64-68     Mutagen capsule
69          Preservation collar
70-75     Ray gun
76-78     Shock gloves
79-83     Sonic pick
84-89     Spacesuit
90-92     Throwing disc
93-97     Tri-scanner
98-00     Vibro-dagger

The items will require a flow chart to figure out.
 Here are a couple descriptions:

Bionics: Bionics are scientific items that can be attached to living bodies, improving them in various ways. The table below determines what bionic part was found:

d6 Bionic
1. Arm—left
2. Arm—right
3. Eye
4. Leg—left
5. Leg—right
6. Pincer

A bionic part can either be held up to a freshly severed stump, in which case it attaches itself (and stops the bleeding), or it can be opened and then sealed over the body part. In this latter case, the bionic item soon destroys the part it was fastened over (a painful process) and ruins it for future use.

Bionic items are not powered by power crystals. Rather, they integrate themselves into one’s own body, and power themselves biologically. Each bionic implant a character has “drains” one point of constitution while it is still implanted. When removed, the drained point of constitution is restored (though the body part is not).

Arm: Increase strength by +1; if both arms are bionic, unarmed damage is 1d4

Eye: Darkvision to 60’, find secret doors on roll of 1 to 4 on 1d6

Leg: Increase speed by +10 feet per round; leap 15 feet forward and 5 feet backward or straight up

Pincer: Gain melee attack for 1d6+1 damage; opponents suffer -2 penalty to save vs. grapple attacks

Skullcap: Increase intelligence by +2

Blaster: A blaster is a large device that fits over one’s hand. It is powered by one’s life force rather than a power crystal. Each time it is used, the user must pass a saving throw or suffer 1 point of constitution drain. This drain cannot be healed until the device is removed, which requires a character to roll d% under her combined intelligence and wisdom scores.

While attached to a character, the blaster can send out a laser blast (120’ line, ignores half of armor’s armor bonus, deals 3d6 fire damage) or a sonic blast (60’ cone, 2d6 sonic damage, save vs. deafness for 1 hour, crystal and glass items must save or be shattered).

When a character's constitution falls below 5, he becomes Chaotic. If constitution is reduced to 0, the user becomes a mindless zombie and the blaster falls from their hand.

Flying Discs: These 2-ft. diameter metal discs can be adhered to the feet and provide the ability to levitate up to 60 feet off the ground, or fly at a speed of 60 feet per round. They consume 1 charge from their power crystals per 10 minutes of use.

Laser Sword: These swords appear to be no more than a pommel until activated. They drain 1 charge from their power crystal per minute of use. Laser swords give off light as a torch and ignore half of non-magic armor’s armor bonus. Laser swords deal 1d10 damage.

Power Crystal: These small, luminous crystals provide power for scientific items. Each crystal holds 10 charges when it is found (unless it is found in an object that was being used, in which case it has 1d10 charges).

Sonic Pick: This 8” long metal wand can be used to find secret doors, open locks and find and remove traps. The user must roll 1d20 under their intelligence score to successfully use the device. Each use uses 1 charge.

And if Brutorz Bill is reading this - yeah, the mutagen capsules come with a little random mutation table.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Dragon by Dragon - June 1981 (50)

Sometimes it's hard to believe how long ago, in human terms, 1981 was. Of course, 35 years is a drop in the bucket in cosmic terms, but for a 44-year old man, it's significant. Having a brain that absorbed the early '80s one day at a time, it just doesn't seem old, sometimes like it was just yesterday.

Enough of that. Dragon #50 came out 35 years ago this month, and here's what the 5th anniversary issue has to offer.

We begin, of course, with the cover by Carl Lundgren. Very nice piece of work, and certaily appropriate for the issue, depicting a dragon hovering over its hoard of treasure (or it it the dragon's hoard?)

As I so often do, I'll start with an advertisement for a new "family board game" by TSR ...

I'm picturing those old game covers or ads from the 1960's that show a smiling family playing a board game. Little Susie having to tell mom she's "The Duke of New York - A-number-one!" I just watched the movie a couple days ago, so it's fresh in my mind.

It should come as no surprise that they have a page for the game at Boardgamegeek.com.

The game was written by "Zeb" Cook, who also wrote the Expert D&D set.

Now that I've dispensed with the TSR's homage to Snake Plissken, let's get to the first article in this anniversary spectacular - Gregory Rihn's "Self defense for dragons". The article purports to give "everyone's favorite foe a fighting chance". The article posits that dragons, as they were written in 1981, were too easy to defeat by a large, well-organized party, especially given the treasure to be gained by defeating them. This would prove to be an important article to later editions of the game, for it expands the dragon's attacks quite a bit, adding 2 wing buffets, 2 wing claws, a foot stomp and tail lash. In essence, it gives the dragons enough attacks to hit all the attackers likely to be surrounding it in a fight. He goes on to give a couple ideas for good dragon tactics.

This is followed up by Lewis Pulsipher's "True Dragons: Revamping the monster from head to claw". This appears to be the theme this issue - dragon's just ain't good enough. Pulsipher gives a long table with many more age categories and a few additional powers, including shapechanging (I like this one), causing terror and some special powers. One of them - two heads - I'm planning on adding to Blood & Treasure. It also has random tables of spells known, a random table of breath weapons, with the old standards as well as a few new ones - radiation, stoning, windstorm, hallucinogen, negate magic and polymorph. All goodies! Here's Pulsipher's take on radiation:

Those failing to roll a d20 lower than their constitution become unconscious and will die of a wasting “disease” in 1-4 days. The “disease” is cured by Cure disease and Remove curse. Effects of the disease are only slowly repaired by the body after the cure. A victim might look ravaged five years after his cure if he was near death, and this may affect his charisma.

Radiation as a curse. I dig it.

Overall, I think I like Pulsipher's take a little better, using special powers instead of additional attacks to get the job done. Both would go into beefing up dragons in later editions.

Colleen A. Bishop hits on baby dragons with "Hatching is only the beginning ...", which covers little dragons from egg to birth. It's a long article, with lots of tables. Maybe worth a look if you're planning on having a baby dragon in the party for a while.

Robert Plamondon gets us off the dragon train and introduces some folks called the Kzinti. I don't suppose they need much introduction to the folks who read this blog. They're tough customers here, with 4+4 HD and two attacks per round. A small group could really bedevil a party, and they're Lawful Evil to boot. The article covers their arrival on D&D campaign worlds, their religion, social organization, magic, psionics, etc. Very thorough for a monster entry, but no info on them as a playable race.

For those interested in the history of the hobby, David F. Nalle's reviews of some old time 'zines may be of interest. He covers Abyss by Dave Nalle, Alarums & Excursions (such a great name) by Lee Gold, The Beholder by Mike G. Stoner, The Lords of Chaos by Nicolai Shapero, Morningstar by Phillip McGregor, Pandemonium by Robert Sacks, Quick Quincy Gazette by Howard Mahler, The Stormlord by Andreas Sarker, Trollcrusher, The Wild Hunt by Mark Swanson and Zeppelin.

Pulsipher has another article, a very long one with way more math than needed to deal with gaze attacks in D&D. Personally, I let people close their eyes entirely (and open themselves to all sorts of trouble), or try to avoid the monster's gaze and suffer a penalty to hit, etc.

Larry DiTillio's article on the glyphs in his campaign world didn't do much for me.

The Chapel of Silence by Mollie Plants is a prize winning dungeon at IDDC II. It's a relatively small dungeon, but looks like a good one. It begins with all the adventurers having a strange dream, and goes from there - maybe a well-worn idea now, but clever back in the day.

Back to rules articles, "The Ups and Downs of Riding High" by Roger E. Moore covers flying mounts. Its a pretty thorough look at all the potential flying mounts in AD&D at the time, and covers their diet (most are carnivores), advantages, disadvantages and how much weight they can carry. It's a useful article to keep in your pocket, in case somebody starts flying around on a dragon and you need some ideas on how to spice up the experience.

This advert caught my eye ...


At first, I assumed it was the old computer classic, but it's something entirely different.

The Dragon's Bestiary presents the Giant Vampire Frog by Alan Fomorin. How do you not love these guys?


Here's proof that Mark Herro was nobody's dummy ...

"Home computers may be the most important new consumer appliance to come along in decades. Any device that can control household lights and appliances, edit and type letters and reports, selectively monitor United Press International and the New York Stock Exchange, and play some great games besides, may be almost indispensable in the years to come."
Word up!

This issue had a couple cartoons of note. First, an argument that persists to this day ...


And an old take on Batman vs. Superman ... or Batman and Superman vs. something else


And as always, we finish with a bit of Wormy, as we begin to move into the wargaming story line ...


Have fun on the internet, and for God's sake, be kind to one another!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Courtly Love for Paladins

Here's another notion I came up with for Blood & Treasure Second Edition that I decided not to use in the rules, as it seemed to be just one more thing to stack on top of paladins. Although the ability is designed for paladins, it could be extended to any Lawful Good character if a referee wished. It is probably most useful in a chivalric campaign.

The ability is, of course, inspired by Lancelot and Guinevere.

Courtly Love

Before reaching 5th level, a paladin may select a charming man or woman as their object of courtly love. The chosen must have a Charisma score of 13 or higher, and must be a member of the aristocracy, nobility or royalty. They may be married, and must not be Chaotic. The paladin holds them up as an ideal and does heroic deeds in their name and for their favor. The paladin may not deny them requests, so long as they do not violate his alignment and code of conduct, though in disobeying the object of courtly love becomes displeased, and the paladin suffers a -1 penalty to attack and to all saving throws until they are again pleased. The paladin remains true to their courtly love forever - they may not "break up" with them without losing their paladin status.

When the paladin performs a heroic deed for their courtly love, there is a chance in 20 equal to the paladin’s level that their love is pleased and grants them a token (a scarf, a pin, a lock of hair, etc.) While in possession of this love token, the paladin may invoke the the following effects three times: Add his love's Charisma bonus to an attack roll, a damage roll or a saving throw.

When so pleased by their paladin, there is a percentage chance equal to the paladin’s Charisma score that the courtly love is overcome by emotion and attempts to seduce the paladin into a true romance. The paladin may not give in to this temptation without breaking his code and losing his paladin status. That being said, to refuse makes the courtly love displeased (see above). A Lawful love will not press the matter, but may suffer as per a geas if their love is not returned. A Neutral love will press the matter, forcing the paladin to pass a saving throw to resist the temptation. The TK may add the paladin's Wisdom bonus to the saving throw, but must subtract his love's Charisma bonus from the roll as well.

Uh oh - he better not try to turn undead any time soon ...


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Don't Lose Your Barbaric Edge

This is a half-formed notion that came to me last night while working on Blood & Treasure Second Edition. It's not in that book, but I thought somebody might find it useful.

The idea of a "barbaric edge" comes from good old Robert E. Howard, who posited the notion that barbarians were in many ways superior to members of civilization, whether they be decadent nobles or downtrodden peasants. Barbarians in Howard's fiction are usually a cut above non-barbarians.

The Edge

In games, the barbaric edge allows you to treat one of the following ability scores - Strength, Dexterity, Constitution or Wisdom - as though it were an 18. Each morning, a person with the barbaric edge can decide which ability they will treat this way. Ability damage affects the temporary score, and the real score if the damage persists and the barbarian chooses to boost a different ability score from the one that was damaged.

Note that druids who boost Wisdom do gain extra spells for high Wisdom, but clerics do not unless they worship something wild and primordial. One might permit it for a cleric of Thor, for example, but not a cleric of Minerva.

Example: Crom the Barbarian (pictured above) wakes up one morning and stretches his iron sinews. He normally has a strength score of 13 (a +1 bonus). Today, he'll increase his bonus (but not his actual strength score) to +2. Tomorrow he might be feeling especially cat-like, and improve his +0 dexterity modifier to +1.

Gaining the Edge

How does one obtain a barbaric edge? By living rough in the wilderness and eschewing the soft pleasures of civilization. This means that the barbaric edge is open to any class, provided they do the following:

1) Always sleep outside in the wilderness; in a pinch, sleeping in an alley or field will do. This means no beds, no pillows - no more than an animal pelt to protect you from the elements.

2) Low retention of wealth; you can keep 10% of your found treasure to spend on equipment and gear (maybe more if you use a system that requires paying for training to level up), giving the rest away. Treasure is there to be won, not enjoyed - think of it as catch-and-release. Treasure not kept must either be discarded as though it were trash, given to others (who may not spend it on you) with a hearty sniff of contempt, or spent in a tavern on booze and sex (i.e. drinks on the house, and you must drink until you collapse or get in a rip-roaring fight).

3) No fancy clothes or armor; you retain the barbarian edge by wearing no more than leather armor or maybe a chainmail shirt if they are used in the campaign. You cannot wear silks and satin - really just a loincloth and sandals or fur boots will do when you're not fighting.

4) A lack of trust for civilization and civilized people. A barbarian can adventure with civilized men and women, but they must be kept at an emotional distance, and the barbarian must sneer at and criticize their soft living and decadent morality. This is primarily done through role playing.

5) A barbarian's food must come from his own hunting, gathering or fishing rather than from "iron rations" and magic. If this means going hungry, so be it. The barbarian may indulge in a tavern after an adventure, but only once and only in terms of a tavern crawl as in (2) above.

Losing the Edge

Breaking any of these rules means the barbaric edge is lost. No ability boosts. It can only be regained by living by the above rules for a full month of game time (or perhaps for two or three game sessions if that's easier to calculate). Only after that time spent living wild does the barbarian shake off the excesses of civilization and regain his barbaric edge.

Don't trust them Conan, they use rugs!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Dragon by Dragon - May 1981 (49)

May of 1981 saw me turn 9. I hadn't heard of D&D back then (and wouldn't for another 3 years), but if I had heard of D&D, and subscribed to Dragon Magazine, this is what would have shown up in my mailbox that month.

Pretty cool cover, right? There's more inside, in a 12-page section dedicated to the work of Tim Hildebrandt.

Of course there's more than just my Hildebrandt in this issue ... let's check it out.

First up is a new ad by Ral Partha, this time featuring their new line-up of Adventurers miniatures. I got curious this time and decided to look up Ral Partha's address - 5938 Carthage Ct, Cincinnati OH.

It came up with this impressive ediface:



I'll show off a few more old RPG addresses in this post if I get a chance.

Now that we've looked at Ral Partha's old digs, let's get to the fun of complaining readers, in this case William G. Welsh, on the archer class in last issue:

"Second — “Kobolds, goblins, dwarves, gnomes and halflings cannot become archers.” In the last chapter of the third book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there are no less than three incidents where the effectiveness of hobbit archers is demonstrated. Also, refer to the AD&D Monster Manual, p. 50, under halflings, under special attacks, note “+3 with bow or sling.”

This stuff kills me. The answer from the editor was:

"None of the ideas presented in articles in DRAGON magazine are official rule changes or additions, unless the article specifically says so (and there haven’t been very many of those). The people who write articles that we publish aren’t trying to get everyone to play the way they do, and we certainly don’t hold that opinion ourselves. As is the case with many of the game rules themselves, the articles in DRAGON magazine are suggestions, ideas and alternatives."

It amazes me when that has to be said, but if comment sections on the internet have done anything, it's to prove that things like that still need to be said. Could various school systems around the globe please spend a few minutes explaining to people what "opinion" means?

The meat and drink of this issue, other than the special art section, is about tournaments. No, not knights trying to poke each other with lances and Robin Hood splitting an arrow, but D&D tournaments. If I'm honest ... I have no interest at all in them, but I'll try to give them a quick review.

The first article discusses fairness in scoring tournaments, giving a long list of actions that should go into scoring points, and explaining that DMs need to make sure players know how they'll be scored. Sounds logical to me.

The next bit discusses improving on the Slave Pits tournament adventure, followed by Mentzer's reply that "It isn't that easy". I can remember getting the Slave Pits module as a kid (I guess about 4 years after this issue was published) and being confused about the whole tournament concept - how you didn't use the full map, and scored things. As a kid, I wasn't sure if I was supposed to care about this stuff or not.

Strangely enough, the article complaining about the adventure is really complaining about the size of the teams in the AD&D Open, specifically that nine-person teams are too large. Mentzer explains the problem - not enough Dungeon Masters at the tournaments. Can't argue with that.

Dig this:


Old Horny indeed. Let's hope those horns on his head were the source of his nickname. And here, keeping with the theme of this post, is Dragontooth Miniatures old location:



Or is it? A Hilton? I'm thinking perhaps the old building was torn down and replaced. That, or Conrad Hilton had a secret hobby.

The next few articles are a bit too timely to make sense to talk about here - GenCon is growing, , GenCon East fills the Origins 'hole' (I'm sure that's not as filthy as it sounds) and there are nine ways to win the painting contest at GenCon.

Okay, enough of that convention stuff. Next up: Samurai!


This is an interesting take on the character class. The editor's note mentions that the author, Anthony Salva, holds a first degree black belt in Hapkido. The class that follows is heavily influenced by this, and it's really a bit more like an alternate monk than the samurai most people would expect.

That said, it's a pretty groovy class. It's tough to make it in - you need Str 15, Dex 17 and Int 15 to qualify, but the class is open to gnomes, halflings, elves, half-elves and humans.

This version of the samurai cannot use armor, but his AC improved by 1 per 4 levels. They can use two-handed swords, short swords, bows and staffs, and a samurai of 4th level or higher can obtain his "personal weapons", which are sacred to him. It mentions the weapons of honor - "Katana, Wakizashi and Nunchakos" are described later in the article.

Apparently Dragon Magazine got there first. Source
The samurai's special abilities are as follows: Jump front kick (-3 to hit, 2d6 damage), judo throw, ceremony of fealty-weapons of honor (4th level; and here it mentions that katana do 1d12 or 1d10 damage, wakizashi 2d4 or 1d8 and nunchako 1d8 damage), sweep and double chop (5th level), crescent kick/side kick combination, back roundhouse kick, illusionist spell ability (8th level), "360" and downward kick, the slaying hand (10th level), flying side kick (requires movement, -3 to hit, 1d20 damage) and a samurai who becomes a shogun (13th level) has a 25% chance to obtain 30 psionic power points. They go on a bit later to mention they can reduce falling damage, hide in shadows and move silently as a thief, and can dive and roll over obstacles.

This class would probably be a blast to play, especially as a gnome. I've often thought that the monk would make a pretty good "cartoon hero" class, and this version of the samurai has me thinking of Samurai Champloo and other anime samurai. If anyone has experience with this class, please drop a note down below and let us know how it went.

Brief pause for the birthplace of Traveller



Merle Rasmussen now brings us a nice Top Secret article about special ammunition - armor-piercing, dumdum, gyrojet, duplex, etc. Lots of stats (and I mean lots with a capital "L"), but probably useful info for other games as well.

Karl Horak has an article called "Getting a world into shape", which gets into different shapes for campaign worlds, as in cylinders, polygons, etc.If you want a campaign world in the shape of a 20-sided die, this is the article for you.


Giants in the Earth in this issue presents some Poul Anderson characters - Holder Carlsen (14th level paladin) and Hugi (5th level gnome fighter). The art by Roger Raupp is great:


He's always fantastic with knights and warriors. The article also has stats for T. J. Morgan's Ellide (6th level fighter)

G. Arthur Rahman has an article on historical names - Anglo-Saxon, Byzantine, etc. Very useful then, less so now with the resources of the internet at one's disposal.

Jon Mattson's article "Monster mixing - AD&D creatures adapted to a C&S campaign" show that Dragon was not yet the house organ for TSR that it would become (though it always had more outside content than White Dwarf once it became GW's house organ). While the article is quite useful for players of Chivalry & Sorcery, it also has an interesting piece at the end - a flowchart of AD&D monster predation:


And now you know.

Up next in the magazine is the section on Tim Hildebrandt's art. I'd post some images (aside from the cover above), but a Google search (or clicking on the artist's name up above) will do you more good these days. Take a look - I think you'll like what you see. I will post this quote from the interview with the artist:

“One thing leads to another thing leads to another thing and you start growing and growing. Things keep expanding, and the more I do myself, the more I see that there is to learn.”

Lots of wisdom in those words.

The Dragon's Bestiary in this issue features the Loren Kruse's Nogra ("a small creature with long, sharp claws which somewhat resembles a hairless lynx"). The basic stats for Blood & Treasure are below:

Nogra, Small Magical Beast: HD 2, AC 15, ATK 1 bite (1d4), MV 20', SV F12 R11 W15, INT Low, AL Neutral (N), XP 200 (CL 3), Special-Body secretes a substance which absorbs all light (including into the infrared and ultraviolet spectrums), liquid is also a contact poison (save or blinded for 2d4 rounds), light sensitivity

Leonard Lakofka has a new class for this issue (which hopefully doesn't do halflings wrong) called the Alchemist. Another old Dragon classic. It seems like such an obvious class for D&D, but it's tricky. My version was essentially Dr. Jekyll, to give it a twist and make more than a guy who isn't remotely as useful as a magic-user. Lakofka's is, in fact, not an adventurer.

Lakofka's alchemist has to have Str 9, Int 10, Wis 6, Dex 9, Con 14 and Cha 16 to qualify, and they must be human, elf or half-elf, with only the humans hitting the highest levels. They only earn XP by "plying their trade", not adventuring. They can make pottery, blow glass, identify potions, manufacture poisons and manufacture magic potions. It's a useful class, and could be adjusted to be an adventurer, but as a non-adventuring NPC I'm not sure why one needs to go to the trouble of having levels. It seems like a "novice-veteran-master" approach would work just as well, or even just "the alchemist can do what the DM to needs her do" concept. That being said, Lakofka always puts a lot of work into these things, and his alchemist is no different and thus is worth the read.

Gary Snyder now gets into the weeds on the issue of wishes and how to adjudicate them. This brings up a great point about fantasy gaming and gamers. I'll often be watching some tv show or movie and think, "That ploit element would never work in a game - the players would kill that guy in a heartbeat / or they would never touch that statue, 'cause statues are always trouble in a dungeon." The idea of wishes probably seemed so simple when the game was first written, and then creative players got ahold of the concept and made DM heads explode. Snyder gives ten rules to keep wishes in check which have largely been adopted into the game.

It's followed up by a short article/story about wishing by Roger E. Moore.

Paul Montgomery Crabaugh has an artcle about travel and clothing in DragonQuest.

If you need a time keeper program in BASIC, Mark Herro has you covered in this month's The Electric Eye. Blast from the past to see those IF ... THEN statements and GOTO commands. I learned on a VIC-20, which is actually still sitting in my closet.

Side note - I love this Grenadier miniature ...


Great sculpt

Side note II - A bit of Wormy


And now on to White Dwarf 25, the June/July 1981 issue. I'll keep this one brief, and just cover the bases:

Lewis Pulsipher has the third part of the Introduction to D&D series, covering spellcasters. Great art in this one.

Trevor Graver has Optional Skill Acquisition for Travellers. This one ditches the random tables (which are pretty cool) for a skill point system. Control vs. Chaos, the eternal struggle in game design.

Roger Musson has a nice article on The Interesting Dungeon - worth the read.

Tony Chamberlain & Paul Skidmore have an interesting "clerical AD&D skirmish for a large number of players" called Lower Canon Court. This is another one that would probably be fun to play with a big group on Google+.

This issue has some clever magic items - the bowl of everlasting porridge, the bell of watchfulness - a notion on determining handedness in games by Lew Pulsipher (left-handed males 8%, females 4%), and Roger E. Moore has a bit on fake torture items.

Andy Slack has Vacc Suits in Traveller.

Dream Demon!
The Fiend Factory this issue is themed The Black Manse, and has stats for Dream Demons (which are really cool) by Phil Masters, the Incubus by Roger E. Moore, Brain Suckers by John R. Gordon and the Guardian by Simon Tilbrook. As always, the art is top notch. It's a shame there was never a Fiend Folio II - so many great monsters were left behind.

Lewis Pulsipher's second article this issue is on "What Makes a Good AD&D Character Class". I would answer - people want to play it and it doesn't screw up the game. This is pretty much what he says, focusing especially on the class not being overpowering. His example of an overpowering class makes me actually want to create it - The Guardian class he posits can listen at doors, use x-ray vision, become ethereal and has a psionic boomerang defense that kills some mind flayers. I dig it.

And that's that ... except for one more thing ...



Games Workshop's location back in 1981 ... or close to it. Hard to make out the address.

Have fun on the internet!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Duet of Spells

Since most of my time right now is devoted to editing, it's been tough to produce new material for the blog. I guess I had the Bard of Avon buzzing in my ear this weekend, though, when I wrote these thought up these spells ...

Star Crossed
Magic-User 3
30’ range
Permanent until removed

The magic-user causes two creatures within 30 feet to have their fates exchanged. The two creatures must be friends or allies of one another. The spell exchanges the ability score modifiers, attack bonus and saving throw values between the two creatures. The spell lasts until the two creatures make contact with one another while remove curse is cast on them.

Zounds
Cleric (Lawful) 2
30’ range
Lasts a number of rounds equal to the cleric’s level

One target within 30 feet has terrible, bleeding wounds opened up on its hands and feet. The pain is terrible, leaving the creature crippled (see Conditions) and imposing a -3 penalty to attack and perform tasks involving holding tools or using their hands (pick pocket, open lock, etc.).

For Lawful clerics, though, it also brings on an apotheosis, increasing their caster level by +2 and granting them a +1 bonus to save vs. magic for 24 hours.


I've been wanting to do something Shakespearean - perhaps this points the way.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Spell Hooks

I've been busy editing Blood & Treasure Second Edition for the last couple weeks, a great deal of that time spent on the spells. I'm trying to streamline them wherever possible, and there are plenty of them to edit.

While doing so, it's occurred to me how many of them are really more NPC spells than PC spells. That's not to say they cannot be used by PCs, but they often require more forethought than most players can realistically use (i.e. they are meant for plots, rather than reactions to plots), and they are not as action oriented as most PCs need in dungeon delving.

These NPC spells are useful for GM's to use as adventure hooks or encounters. Here are three such ideas:

Magic Jar

Magic jar is a natural, but I don't know that is sees much use as an adventure hook. An evil magic-user hides his essence in some vessel, and uses it as a base of operations for possessing the adventurers or their henchmen, slowly picking them off, one by one, until they are destroyed.

The plan would work as follows: There's a plain vessel in one of the rooms of a dungeon. It's plain so the adventurers leave it alone. An evil magic-user has used it as a magic jar. When adventurers first enter the room, he possesses one of the henchmen, grabbing the vessel before he leaves. He using the form to spy on the party, maybe steal something, maybe put one or more adventurers or henchmen in mortal peril in a way that is not obviously his fault. Since the henchman is carrying the vessel with him, the magic-user can possess others, slowly tearing the party apart from the inside. Perhaps he is ultimately leading them to their doom elsewhere, where he can leap back into his own preserved form.

Secret Chest

In this scenario, an adventurer moving on the Ethereal Plane stumbles (literally) across a secret chest that was abandoned there long ago. The chest is hard to open, and probably contains something dangerous that was never meant to be found or released.

Simulacrum

The adventurers are hired by a simulacrum (they don't know this) for a mission to rescue the original magic-user. The simulacrum has 50% of the original's experience and knowledge, so she's useful in the party, but not too useful, and there are important gaps in her knowledge that relate to finding the original.

Here's the rub. The original is in mortal peril, and will die before rescued. The original is also evil, and on a very dangerous mission. After the original dies, the simulacrum begins gaining more experience and knowledge, and begins to gain the evil alignment of the original. Now, the simulacrum is leading the adventurers into a trap, where she can sacrifice them to gain the immense power the original was after.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Wages of Fame

William Tell
I've seen a few systems in games for measuring the reputation or fame of adventurers. They make sense, to some extent - folks spending their kind of money and killing monsters the way they do should be pretty well known in a campaign area. But should they? And how? And what do they get from it? And why am I asking so many questions? Huh?

Here's an idea for handling fame without adding too much in the way of rules or complications. It might suck, but here it is anyways.

Accumulating Fame

How do people become famous in a medieval milieu? For the purposes of D&D and similar games, it makes sense to tie fame to deeds. Hey, if Bob jumps over a cow at the local faire, people in the village will know that Bob is famous for jumping. They'll tell others, and maybe for several villages around Bob will be known as "the jumper". So it goes with adventurers.

Since fame is tied to deeds, it also makes sense that fame is tied to XP. XP are handed out for deeds, therefore XP equals fame.

Or does it?

In our example above, everyone saw Bob jump over the cow. If Bob had done it without witnesses, and just claimed to have jumped over a cow, he might have become known as Bob the Liar rather than Bob the Jumper. So, in this system, XP only turn into fame when the deeds that generated the XP are either witnessed by the public at large, or can be proved. If you want to use this system, you'll need to put a second XP number in parentheses after the normal XP number.

You accumulate these "fame XP" by doing things in front of people, or you need to spend or display the treasure you looted, and you need to bring back trophies (at least one really good one, the gorier the better) to show that you defeated monsters or black knights or wizards. If you do these things, you count those XP towards your fame level.

Since we have a separate "fame XP", we also have a separate "fame level". For simplicity's sake, use the Fighter's XP progression in your game as the Fame XP progression. Fame levels are as follows:


The Upside of Fame

So, what do these fame levels get you?

First level fame is worth nothing.

From 2nd level onward, they enjoy the following benefits:

1) They have a percent chance of drinking for free and picking up interesting rumors in taverns

2) They have a percent chance of getting an invite to dine with notables equal to their fame level, the chance depending on the size of the settlement

3) You can employ an extra number of henchmen equal to your fame level, and their base loyalty is increased by a number of percentage points equal to your fame level

4) You can request audiences with princes, kings, emperors, high priests, etc. You have half this chance of requesting a boon in exchange for a favor, and a percent chance equal to your fame level of requesting a boon in exchange for nothing

The Downside of Fame

Fame has a downside as well. When you enter an area, your fame might proceed you. You can cut the chances of being recognized by wearing a disguise and using a different name, but lose the benefits of fame (see above) if you do so. Here's a twist - if you are moving in a group and not everyone in the group is disguised, your chances of being noticed are increased by 5% per undisguised person.

If you are recognized, one of the following happens:

Challenges: You will be challenged to a duel (magical or martial) or test of skill by other notables in the area. This will be public. Losing these challenges actually reduces your fame XP level by as much as it would have increased if you had won.

Quests: If you are neutral or lawful (good), and there's trouble afoot, you will be asked to handle it. If people have been kidnapped or there are monster's raiding the area, you are expected to solve it. If you refuse, you lose enough XP to take you down a fame level. You suffer the same consequences if you fail at the quest.

Justice: If you are chaotic (evil), you are set upon by the authorities in the area, or bounty hunters or people you wronged in the past. In other words, being famous and evil means being hunted.

For this reason, characters might discover that fame is a double-edged sword.

Death

Nobody wants to die, but dying famous is probably better than dying unknown for an adventurer. When a character dies, the following happens:

6% chance per fame level of a folk song being composed in their honor

4% chance per fame level of a biography being written about them

2% chance per fame level of a monument being erected where they died or a civilized place nearby

For clerics, druids and paladins, there is a 1% chance of them being canonized

Now, total these honors received. This is the percent chance (thus, maximum 4%) that upon death they are received by "the gods" into their company as a quasi-deity. They can still be used as PC's, with powers deemed suitable by the DM, but only in the company of other quasi-deities or demi-deities and the like. Congratulations!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Dragon by Dragon - April 1981 (48)

Happy Mothers Day to all the moms out there in blog land - and happy April Fools Day, since this week we're looking at an April issue of Dragon - #48, from good old 1981.

Before I hit the magazine, though, I'm going to do a little advertising - NOD 29 is now out as a PDF, at Lulu.com and Rpgnow.com. This one has the second half of the Trollheim hex crawl, the third part of the d20 Mecha series featuring some mecha stats that could be useful for all sorts of sci-fi games, Aaron Siddall's very cool Hyperspace campaign notes for GRIT & VIGOR, which combines Lovecraft with good old fashioned rocket-powered sci-fi, Tony Tucker's take on the luchador class for GRIT & VIGOR, a Quick & Easy mini-game pitting luchadores vs. the Aztec Mummy, a random class generator (along with a couple random classes that came out pretty good), info on using interesting historic coins in treasure hoards, the Laser Mage class and a couple tidbits for SPACE PRINCESS. All sorts of fun for $4.99.

And now, ladies and gents, on to the magazine.

We begin with an Arms Law ad, and a few thoughts on said ad by the writer of the blog:


That first bit is the problem - death being only one blow away with Arms Law. Many would argue that it's more realistic than D&D combat ... and they're right. That's precisely the problem. We already live in the real world, where death is one blow away. That's why most of us live boring lives and indulge in fantasy for our excitement. I'm not sure injecting that kind of realism in fantasy is worth the trouble. A realistic game for the sake of the challenge, on the other hand, can be quite engaging. Just a thought.

And now, God forgive me, I'm going to show another old ad. I like the tagline - "not for everybody" - clever. Here's a post about the game.

I might have mused about this before, but is anyone out there making new retro-computer dungeon crawls? For those in the know - would it be hard? I think it might be fun to create some - relatively simple games with simple mechanics for those who want to just do some old fashioned dungeon crawling.

The theme for this issue is Underwater Adventuring. I can attest to how hard it is to write underwater adventures - or at least adventure locales for my hex crawls. So much of what we take for granted on the surface doesn't work underwater. The first article, "Watery Words to the Wise" by Jeff Swycaffer, does a nice job of hitting the highlights of what does and does not work underwater. No rules, just sound advice.

Up next is the "Dragon's Bestiary", which features the Water-Horse by Roger E. Moore, Golden Ammorite by Roger E. Moore and Sea Demon by Ernest N. Rowland Jr. Nothing earthshaking here, but solid monsters for an underwater (or close-to-water) game.

The "Bazaar of the Bizarre" is also aquatically inclined, all by Roger E. Moore.

Naturally, Dragon Magazine comes through with its annual April Fools Day supplement, this one with its own cover (for Dragon #48-1/2). Truth be told, I think I like it better than the actual cover.

This month we get a bit on the Accountant character class and a game called Real Life with a nice bit of character generation:


We also get "Saturday Morning Monsters", with stats for Bugs Bunny (CG 15th level illusionist), Daffy Duck (CN and totally nuts), Popeye (LN 9th or 18th level fighter), Rocky (LG 12th level fighter) and Bullwinkle (LG 13th level fighter) and Dudley Do-Right (LG 18th level paladin).

Back into the real magazine, Tim Lasko has a bit on fleshing out the druid called "The Druid and the DM". It's a general overview of the class as presented in AD&D, along with some suggestions for rule changes involving druid spells, many involing the use of "greater mistletoe", changing the druid's initial age and how his age works in-game (kind of weird idea - not sure why I should use it, or whether it would be worth the trouble), giving them the sage's ability to answer questions about flora and fauna (good idea, but doesn't require rules in my opinion) and a few other bits. It's a combination of unnecessary complication, rules for things that don't really require rules and ticky-tack little bonuses. Not bad, per se, but not terribly useful.

Players of Top Secret, which appears to be making a comeback these days, might enjoy "Doctor Yes", a scenario written by Merle Rasmussen and James Thompson. The scenario is set on a floating island and appears to be engaging and thorough - rules for underwater adventuring in TS, and a large complex with traps and dangers. You also get stats for such personel as Chuck Morris, Bruce Nee and "Sweetbeam" Leotard.

"Giants in the Earth" presents Ursula K. LeGuin's Sparrowhawk (N 21st level Illusionist/20th level Magic-User) and Andrew Offutt and Richard Lyon's Tiana Highrider (CG 12th level Fighter/12th level Thief).

Michael Kelly's "Instant Adventures" is a neat article with a list of adventure types, along with the materials they require and the time involved in preparation. A few examples:

Assault/Raid (Bodysnatch), requires a small military encampment and takes about 20 minutes to set up.

Feud, Inter-family, requires a brief history of the feud and the feuding families, as well as a reason for the involvement of the characters; takes a couple hours to prepare.

Smuggling, Weapons, requires a war and revolutionaries in need of weapons and supplies, as well as a source for those weapons and supplies; takes about 20 minutes to prepare.

At a minimum, it's a great source of ideas for games.

Lakofka's "Mission Control" article dovetails nicely with it, being a way of detemining how tough the bad guy faced by adventurers should be. In a nutshell, it is based on the total XP of the party, that determining the level of the big bad guy and how much treasure/magic items he should have. The article gets pretty wordy and "in the weeds", but the basic ideas are solid and useful.

And so ends Dragon #48, as usual, with a frame from Wormy ...



And now begins White Dwarf #24, the April/May 1981 issue. The issue starts off with a great cover - barbarian woman and a sort of Bronze Age warrior-type before a stepped jungle pyramid with dragons or pteranodons buzzing about. Good stuff. I've mentioned this before, but I'll say again that in my opinion the quality of layout and art in White Dwarf was superior to Dragon in this period. Dragon's layout was never inspired, but the cover art got much better as time went on. Both magazines are a pain in the butt to read for folks without premium peepers, but that's not their fault, just Father Time's.

The first highlight for me in this issue of White Dwarf is some a beautiful piece of art by the great Russ Nicholson:

It suggests a great scenario - the adventurers captured and stripped of their toys - that's hard to implement. Most players don't dig it, and there's usually an idea that if you're putting them through it they're going to live through the experience. An assumed guarantee of survival takes the fun out of the scenario. Still, if you can find the right kind of players, it makes for a great game.

I found the review for a game called Quirks - the game of unnatural selection interesting. Ian Livingstone gave it a good review and it sounds like an interesting concept, wherein players create weird plants and animals and have to adapt them to survive changing climates and challenges.

WD24 also has a detective class with some interesting abilities (10% chance of noticing disguised assassins), some sage abilities, thief abilities, spells and tracking. I think I'd enjoy playing a Halfling Shamus (4th level detective).

Mark Byng has an AD&D mini-module called "The Lair of Maldred the Mighty" which is, if I'm honest, kind of hard to read for an old fart like myself. Not his fault - a layout issue.

Monster Madness has a few "of the more eccentric monsters to have graced the White Dwarf letter box" - in this case the Bonacon by David Taylor, Llort by Andrew Key, Todal and Marcus Barbor, Tali Monster by Craig Edwards, Dungeon Master by Malory Nye. For fun, the DM is below in B&T format:

Dungeon Master, Medium Humanoid: HD as many as he likes; AC 16 (chainmail and judge's shield), ATK special, MV 30', SV varies, AL CE usually, Special: 30% chance he will follow adventurers around a dungeon telling them what they can and cannot do, rolls for wandering monsters when characters make any noise at all, reading of the rules (sleep spell), consults matrices and confuses attackers, not spell affects him unless you can persuade him otherwise, weapons do half damage, susceptible to bribes of 500 gp or more (treat as charm person).
That's that, boys and girls. Have fun, do something nice for mom and then do something nice for everyone else.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Dragon by Dragon - March 1981 (47)

It's been a little while since I had the time to review a Dragon Magazine, but today is the day!

I'm going to kick it right off with a letter to the editor ...

‘The height of absurdity’

Dear Editor:

I finished reading my December issue of DRAGON magazine in a rage. I refer to the letter from the player (“Lowly Players”) who says his DM won’t let his group subscribe to DRAGON magazine because therein are things meant only for the DM.

The height of absurdity indeed.

Aside from overwrought readers, what else does #47 offer?

Up first is the AD&D exam, which might be fun to put on Google+ for a prize ... something to think about. It looks like it's mostly True or False, which suggests starting with contestants in brackets like the NCAA basketball tournament.

A letter about the elemental planes by Steven Kienle brought up a couple neat ideas, to whit:

"Play on other planes gives the DM a chance to introduce new magic items into the campaign without “overloading” the prime material world, perhaps altering their characteristics or their effects to conform with how they would operate in the alien environment."
Nice idea - offer up some magic items to help survive on the plane, but make them useless elsewhere.
"Because of the strangeness of our appearance to natives of other planes, a character’s Charisma would be reduced by from 1-3 points in attempts to communicate or deal with the creature (but never going below 3). The amount of the reduction depends on how dissimilar the two creature types are; for instance, it might be -1 on the elemental plane of earth, because both life forms have solid bodies, but it would be greater on the elemental plane of air, where the native life form does not have a solid body."

Air elementals do not favor the "flesh time".

"Natives of the elemental planes need not be entirely alien and original; but might be adaptations of creatures found on the prime material. For example, a spider native to the plane of fire would appear as a ball of fire with eight tongues of flame sticking out of it. Most undead creatures would appear different on an elemental plane, since they would be the undead form of a creature native to that plane. For instance, a skeleton on the plane of fire would appear as a network of flames instead of a structure of bones."

Neat ideas for fire plane monsters!

The letter reminds me of the old Dragon material, where it was people throwing around clever ideas without "ruling" them to death.

It is followed by a complicated thing about using search patterns while traveling astrally, yadda yadda yadda ...

Dig this awesome art ...


It's a collection of weird planar monsters by Patrick Amory (this guy?), including the wirchler (seen above), the aruchai (blobs of flesh from Limbo), the phoenix from Elysium, the furies from Tartarus, the mapmakers from Pandemonium, the flards of Nirvana and the sugo from Acheron.

Here's a slick excerpt:

"The Wirchler originates from the plane of Gehenna, the Valley of Flame. Fire is their natural habitat, much as air is ours. They are, however, known to leave their dreadful home in groups to search for new prey. At present they pay precious Fire-gems to the Night Hags in Hades in return for Larvae to torture."

Fire-gems for night hags. Nice.

Leonard Lakofka then takes a special look at the thief. It's a nice article, covering some things he thinks players miss about playing a thief - picking more pockets, sneaking into camps to steal things or make maps, etc. He also adds a percent chance to set traps, beginning at 26% at first level and topping out at 80% at 15th level. Makes sense to me. He includes a modifier for high or low dexterity, and the following racial adjustments: Dwarves +15%, gnomes +10%, halflings +8%, half-orcs +4% and elves -5%.

Lakofka also adds this tidbit: Multiple Intelligence by 12 to discover the percentage chance that a character can read and write in a language he speaks. This would only impact characters with an intelligence of 8 or lower.

Giants in the Earth presents stats by Katharine Brahtin Kerr for P. Vergilius Maro's Camilla (a Chaotic Good 10th level fighter) and Medea, Tamer of Dragons (a Chaotic Neutral 18th level magic-user with sage abilities).

Here's a quick bit from Top Secret by Merle M. Rasmussen - determining handedness of agents:

01-89: Character is right-handed
90-99: Character is left-handed
00: Character is ambidextrous

In case you needed such a table.

Here's the good stuff - a game by David Cook called Crimefighters, for simulating the heroes of pulp fiction. I wonder if anyone has done a retro-clone of this game?

Here's the "mysterious power table" for making Shadow-esque characters:

1 - Command
2 - Confusion
3 - ESP
4 - Fear
5 - Foresight
6 - Hypnotism
7 - Invisibility
8 - Luck
9 - Shadow Control
10 - Sight

Combat is measured in seconds in a clever system that requires one to state their actions and then roll initiative. Changing one's actions mid-stream introduces a 1 second penalty.

It comes with an adventure - "The Case of the Editor's Envelope". The set up isn't unlike what I did with Mystery Men!

It looks like a very playable system, with plenty that can be used by folks playing other games.

It's times like these I wish I had the time to whip up a quick game on Google+ - would probably be a blast.

Boy, some of those alien ships in Cluster look familiar:


Also a nice little Otus sketch:


And then there's Jim Holloway's illustration for Tony Watson's review of Task Force Games' Robots!.


You can pick up a used copy at Amazon.

I leave you, as always, with a bit of Tramp


Very Disney-esque, this one.

Have fun on the internet, and don't give into rage if you discover somebody won't let their players read the Dragon.
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