Rainbow Fantasy III – The Champion

I wind up my little Rainbow Fantasy series of tributes to children’s TV fantasy action shows with a class based on probably the two best such shows, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra, Princess of Power.

The Champion

Champions are warriors that draw their power from an oath to defend a Lawful place, institution or divine entity. They often appear as shining knights, and preach a philosophy of mercy, honesty and generosity. Although implacable foes of Chaos, they are not killing machines; a champion would prefer to subdue evil or convert it to goodness if possible, rather than simply slay it.

Requirements & Restrictions

To be a champion, a character must have the following minimum scores: Str 9, Wis 11 and Cha 13.

Champions must be Lawful in alignment. They can use all armors, shields and weapons.

A champion who ceases to be Lawful or whom grossly violates the champion’s code of conduct (see below), loses all special abilities, including the services of their mount (see below). The fallen champion may not progress any further in levels as a champion until she atones by gaining enough experience to gain another level without the use of her special abilities and while acting in perfect accordance with his alignment and code of conduct.

Champion Skills

Champions add their level to the following task checks:

Healing—Champions are knowledgeable about applying bandages, mending broken bones and compounding medicines, unguents and tinctures. They can stop wounds from bleeding, and with a successful check grant a +1 bonus to save vs. ongoing poison and disease.

Riding—Champions are capable of fighting while mounted at no penalty, and can use this task for dangerous (and awesome) stunts.

Champion Abilities

A champion must take a sacred oath to a Lawful cause or entity. Her sword (or other weapon) becomes a symbol of this oath. If a champion comes into the possession of a better weapon, she may transfer her oath to it.

A champion is immune to disease, and can cure disease once per week per 5 levels attained. Her touch can calm emotions (as the spell) three times per day. Comrades adventuring with a champion receive a +2 bonus to save vs. mind-affecting effects.

A 2nd level champion can heal wounds (her own or those of others) by touch. This is called the “laying on of hands”. Each day she can heal a total number of hit points of damage equal to twice her champion level. She may choose to divide her healing among multiple recipients and she does not have to use it all at once.

A 3rd level champion gains the ability to amplify her heroic powers once per day by invoking her sacred oath while holding aloft the weapon on which she took her oath. This exact form of this amplification can be chosen by the champion. To simulate this, the champion receives a number of Power Points equal to her level divided by two (rounding up) per day. One power point can be spent to gain a +1 bonus to attack or save or a +2 bonus to Armor Class or damage or a +10′ increase to speed. These power-ups last for 10 minutes. Three power points can be spent on an augury, strength or haste spell effect with duration as the spell’s in question.

A 4th level champion can undertake a quest guided by a divine vision to find and gain the service of an unusually intelligent, strong, and loyal mount to serve her in her crusade against evil. This champion can choose from one of the following mounts: Celestial warhorse, pegasus, spotted lion, tiger or unicorn (female champions only). Treasure Keepers can add other animals to this list as they wish.

The mount and its location appear in a vision. The location is no more than a week’s ride away, and the challenge involved in claiming it should be difficult but not impossible.

For every three levels the champion gains after 4th level, her mount gains one Hit Dice.
A champion wielding a weapon sword can deflect rays, beams and magic missiles a number of times per round equal to half their level (rounding down). Instead of automatically deflecting a ray, the champion can try to aim the deflection. To do this, the champion must roll 1d20 under her dexterity score; if the save is successful, her target must pass a saving throw or be struck by the ray, beam or magic missile. This ability does not work against lightning bolts or fireballs. A 3rd level champion can also choose to convert the ranged attack into a color spray spell. A 6th level champion can convert the ranged attack into a rainbow pattern. A 9th level champion can convert the ranged attack into a prismatic spray.

Swearing Fealty

A 9th level champion can swear fealty to a Lawful outsider, becoming their agent and champion on the Material Plane. The champion is charged to defend a Lawful realm under the protection of the outsider in question. To aid her on her quest, the champion gains the services of 1d4+2 followers. Roll on the following table to discover what sort of followers the champion attracts:

Roll d%
01-08  Automatons (1d6)
09-12  Crystal men (1d3)
13-20  Dwarves (1d6)
21-28  Elves (1d6)
29-36  Gnomes (1d6)
37-44  Hawk men (1d6)
45-64  Men-at-arms (1d6)
65-70  Nixies (1d4)
71-74  Pixies (1d3)
75-76  Shambling mound (1)
77-78  Bard (level 1d6+1)
79-80  Butterfly (level 1d6+1)*
81-82  Duelist (level 1d6+1)
83-86  Fighter (level 1d4+1)
87-90  Magic-user (level 1d4+1)
91-92  Monk (1d4+1)
93-96  Scout (level 1d6+1)
97-00  Sorcerer (level 1d4+1)

* See THIS POST for the butterfly class

Strongholds

A 12th level champion may conquer an evil stronghold and sanctify it for her own use or simply construct a stronghold of her own. The stronghold must be a symbol of goodness for all the land, not just a mere construction of stone and metal. When a champion occupies a stronghold, she adds 1d4+2 more followers to her retinue, plus 60 Lawful men-at-arms of a type determined by the champion.

Champion Codes

Champions live their lives by a code of virtue, and must also abide the following strictures:

• Must always seek to knock foes unconscious rather than killing them – killing is a last resort.

• May not own more than 10 magic items.

• May not retain more wealth than needed to support herself, her henchmen and to maintain her castle.

• May only employ Lawful henchmen. Champions may adventure with non-Lawful characters, but must make at least a small attempt to reform them, and must, at the end of each adventure, explain how that adventure taught a sound moral lesson.

Besides these rules, champions must abide by a code of conduct that demands honesty, mercy and generosity above all things.

Star Trek at Rules Lite Speed

Playing around on the Internet Archive recently, I came upon some old issues of Different Worlds magazine. This was a magazine I was unaware of in my youth, and I’ve enjoyed looking at another take on the RPG world in its infancy. One article in particular, “Kirk on Karit 2” by Emmet F. Milestone in issue No. 4 (1979) brought to my attention the first licensed Star Trek RPG, Star Trek – Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier. I did a little hunting, and found a copy for sale, and I’m glad I did.

Written by Michael Scott in 1978 for Heritage Models to support their range of Star Trek miniatures, Star Trek (which is what I’ll call it from now on in this review to save time and space) is a dandy little game – very old school, very rules lite. In fact, some folks seem to think it a little too rules lite, but not me. I love discovering these little games from the hobby’s origins, because they remind you just how much you can do with a very light rules set.

Here are a few highlights –

The game is very focused on its mission, which is to simulate Star Trek landing parties – I think it does this pretty well. In fact, you could spin this thing into doing Star Trek dungeon crawls with very little trouble.

Being written in 1978, it is all original Trek, including the animated series, which I really dig. This means you get stats for creatures like the K’zin and Skorr.

The rules are really simple – in the basic and advanced versions – and meld pretty well with old school D&D. The six ability scores are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, Luck and Mentality. Not too difficult to track those to D&D. Ability scores range from 3 to 18 (3d6). Characters get a modifier that is positive for every point a score is above 12 and a negative for every point a score is below 9. They also have a hand-to-hand combat value and equipment. In th basic game, you play one of the characters from actual Star Trek – Kirk, Spock, McCoy, etc. In the advanced game you can roll up a character yourself.

Sometimes hand-to-hand means butt-to-face

Combat is simple – roll 1d6 to attack, adding strength, dexterity and hand-to-hand bonus to determine total potential damage while the defender subtracts 1d6 plus luck and hand-to-hand modifiers. The resulting damage, if there is any left, is deducted from the defender’s constitution score. If damage equals more than half of the character’s remaining constitution, they are knocked out. Ranged combat is a little different, but just as simple – you have to roll below a number based on your dexterity score, with modifiers for a few common situations. Damage is based on the ranged weapon used.

The advanced game has more hand-to-hand weapons, which involve rolling more d6’s for the attack, and armor to reduce damage suffered.

Skill checks are a roll of 3d6 which must be less than or equal to whatever ability score makes the most sense. If Spock is trying to use his tri-corder to pick up signs of life, he makes a roll against his Mentality. Easy … but I would personally change it to a d20 roll rather than 3d6.

Psionic powers work basically the same way – roll under Mentality.

There is no experience point or leveling system in the game, but the author mentions that as characters succeed in adventures their hand-to-hand rating can improve or they can get bonuses to certain tasks. I like the idea of advancement being kind of arbitrary, though you would need a good Mission Master to keep things from getting out of hand.

The game has stats for all sorts of Star Trek monsters – again, a Trek dungeon would probably be lots of fun. Given that Kirk and Spock had to deal with ancient Rome, the Roaring ’20s and the Old West, a dungeon crawl would not be too outrageous … and nicknaming the hirelings “red shirts” would be entirely appropriate.

Spock: “I use my tricorder to scan for life forms on the other side of the door.”

MM: Rolling … “You detect no life forms.”

Kirk: “I bust open the door and somersault into the room.”

MM: The room contains four Klingon warriors – roll for initiative!

I really grok how simple this game is – you can pick it up and get going within minutes if you have players who understand the basics of role playing games and Star Trek. I especially love that it instantly lit a fire in me to play it and play with it – why not work up quick stats for Doctor Who characters and creatures, or Star Wars or Next Generation or whatever – it would be so easy!

If you get a chance, check it out. Expect simplicity, “rulings not rules” and lots of thinking on your feet, but also a game that you can get up and running quickly.

Also – check out that article I mentioned above – Emmet F. Milestone came up with a dandy little scheme for characters falling in love with one another – a must if Kirk is in your boarding party, though as Emmet often remarks, “Kirk has no luck in love, so his Luck modifier is never added in a Romance Roll”. I instantly want to use this in my next D&D dungeon crawl.

Heritage Star Trek miniatures – image found at Noble Knight Games

Rainbow Fantasy II

While rainbow fantasy has warriors and weapons and swordplay, it also avoids killing (except for robots – you can bash them up and not get in trouble) and doesn’t seem to care much about treasure. In other words – it is far removed from the “kill things and take their stuff” genre of fantasy gaming.

In rainbow fantasy, the point is about promoting, for lack of a better term, “goodness”. Evil must be stopped, but should not be killed, for to kill is evil. Moreover, some monsters that appear to be evil turn out to be misguided. In rainbow fantasy, the goal is to stop the evil without taking life, and thus experience points are handed out for exactly that. Killing a monster in rainbow fantasy does not get you XP – and in fact, it should get you something like a cumulative 10% deduction for XP earned on an adventure for each creature purposely killed.

To help this sort of fantasy along, it is important for the GM to do three things.

The first is to make sure that adventurers can choose to stun a creature when it reaches zero hit points rather than kill it. A stunned monster remains unconscious for 1d4 rounds and then awakens with half of its lost hit points restored. The monster must immediately make a morale check to remain in the fight. And speaking of morale checks …

The second is to institute strict morale checks for monsters, perhaps using a modified scale that makes each successive check more difficult. In rainbow fantasy, the bad guys lack courage because they lack goodness, and thus they will run away before it is necessary to kill them.

Finally, they must understand why the bad guys are fighting – what motivates them. They may be agents of “Evil” who are driven to be evil for the sake of it. They may be laboring under a misunderstanding – twisted into aggression by the bad guys through deception, or simply acting out of an innocent misunderstanding. They might also turn out to be far from evil, but in fact potential allies on a quest once everyone has had a chance to get to know one another. This means that talking and dialogue are very important in a rainbow fantasy game, as are reaction checks. Adventurers can earn experience points by understanding their enemies, apologizing for accidental slights and forgiving misunderstandings, and finding a way to live in harmony.

This might not be popular with lots of gamers – there is after all some therapeutic value in pretending to be Conan the Barbarian – but there might be more value in roleplaying solutions to problems that do not involve violence. In the real world in which we live, you cannot solve every conflict you have with swordplay – in fact, you can solve very few problems legally with violence. Practicing the resolution of conflict without resorting to violence and argument can come in pretty handy, as can making sure that the conflict you think you have really is a conflict and not just a misunderstanding.

What it comes down to at the end of every episode of He-Man and the Master of the Universe and She-Ra, Princess of Power is a moral. The challenges faced should be built around a morale, and the key to winning the adventure is identifying the moral and putting it to use to overcome the challenge.

Image found at He-Man.org

Slumming Once Again

After having reviewed David Lewis Johnson‘s fine Gathox Vertical Slum recently, I was delighted to be given the chance of reviewing a recently released adventure for the setting called Quake Alley Mayhem.

From the introduction:

“GVS2: Quake Alley Mayhem is a tournament-style module set in the world of Gathox Vertical Slum, for use with Swords & Wizardry White Box or a similar old school system, focusing on a team of fresh gang members and their attempt to retrieve an artifact for their boss.”

The adventure is nicely done, with a tidy set-up that meshes well with its setting, plus the bonus of being a tournament module – you don’t see many of those lately – and with an emphasis not on fighting, but on dealing with traps. In other words, like the Gathox setting as a whole, it’s not the same old thing.

Quake Alley Mayhem centers around a machine that one gang, the Kermen, stole from another gang, the Purple Rockets. They have this item hidden in – appropriately enough – their hideout. The adventurer’s task is to get it back, and it will not be easy. The chambers through which they must pass are trapped – not all of them, but most of them – and are sometimes guarded by monsters. In addition, the hideout is in a quake-prone area; every 20 minutes there is a quake, and every quake has the chance of altering the hideout’s layout or even dealing damage to the adventurers.

The room descriptions in the 40 page module take up 8 pages, and are well laid out for easy reading and use. The module has a brief introduction, rules on running the quakes, a guide to tournament scoring and random tables for rumors, random encounters, reactions and death and dismemberment. There is a list of three contracts the adventurers can take on to earn additional points in the tournament scoring and to spice up the mission a bit with extra goals. There are also seven pre-generated characters with character sheets so that players can get right down to business. The module also provides a Module Tracking Sheet for the GM and a blank character sheet. And, of course, the module has lots of nice art by David.

Quake Alley Mayhem is a nice introductory adventure for the Gathox setting, and at only $6.99 I heartily recommend it.

Gathox Vertical Slum – A Review

I have recently been given the priveledge of perusing Gathox Vertical Slum by its author and artist, David Lewis Johnson. For readers of this blog who also read my NOD magazine, Johnson should be well known, as his art has graced many issues of NOD (and will grace many more, God willin’ and the crik don’t rise).

I approach game materials in two ways – as stand-alone, run-as-written products (i.e. can I grab it off the shelf and run with it) and as tool boxes. David’s book, I am happy to say, works well in both in capacities.

As a “module”, it is fantastic. A well-developed city, incredibly imaginative with new things around every corner, that can play host to all sorts of adventures. Explorers will not be bored in Gathox, and players who like mysteries, puzzles, interaction and, of course, fisticuffs, will find plenty to do in Gathox provided their referee knows what he or she is doing. While Gathox is fully fleshed out and ready to go, I think one could also make modifications as needed for their group.

I also appreciate the fact that Gathox, as designed, can be dropped (almost literally) into any campaign and a wide variety of games, from pure fantasy to sword & planet to post-apocalyptic to sci-fi. The city is a wandering entity, you see, and it could show up in the World of Greyhawk just as easily as my Nod campaign world or wherever you happen to play.

As a toolbox, Gathox has all sorts of goodies between its covers. There are new and very imaginative monsters, a pretty boss little mutant class and clever rules for running competing gangs in a city setting. The rules as written are compatible with old school games of the D&D variety, so it should be as easily converted to other systems as other old school games.

Gathox Vertical Slum is published by DIY RPG Productions (just look for the sign of the flipping bird), with chapter fiction written by Josh Wagner and editing and layout design by Mike Evans. It is a well designed book – easy on the eyes, easy to read and well organized. Johnson’s art is great (but hey, obviously I’m biased there) and the fiction does a great job of conveying the intended feel of the setting.

Folks, I give David Lewis Johnson’s Gathox Vertical Slum my highest recommendation. It’s a great book – so great that I’m going to shell out some hard currency for a physical copy. I have some 5E D&D-ers that might get a fun surprise if they walk through a shimmering portal one day in the depths of Stonehell.

You can grab a copy (and I recommend you do) HERE.

Dragon by Dragon – February 1982 (58)

The Clyde Caldwell cover to the February 1982 Dragon Magazine is chock-full of fantasy tropes. You have the warrior woman in weird, revealing armor and a gnome fighter mounted on a giant lizard. You also get a Clyde Caldwell trope, namely lots of feathers. That said, I adore Caldwell’s work, and consider it fundamental to 80’s D&D.

We’ll begin this rule with the editorial – which is rare for me. This one deals with “assassin” and “killer” games, and is written on the subject due to an incident in December 1981 in which a college student playing Assassin was shot by police. I bring it up because I played a game of TAG (The Assassination Game) in junior high school. Well – briefly. I managed to get assassinated while walking from first to second period, but remember that by lunch period we were informed that the school had put an end to it due to one idiot performing an assassination during class. I suppose these days the entire school district would be put on lockdown if some kids were playing “assassination”.  What odd memories we nerds have of youth.

The first big article this month is by Len Lakofka, who is “Beefing up the Cleric.” This article introduces a multitude of new cleric spells that will show up later in official AD&D product. They include ceremony, combine (a neat idea), magic stone, magic vestment, messenger, dust devil, enthrall and negative plane protection. One spell I didn’t immediately recognize – readers of this blog might have better memories than I – Death Prayer (2nd level). This spell reduces the likelihood of a corpse being animated at a later date.

The Dragon’s Bestiary includes the sull and beguiler by Ed Greenwood and Magenta’s cat by Roger E. Moore. These last monsters are the descendants of a cat familiar who was made psionic by its mistress, Magenta, and in the process freed from its obligations as a familiar. It went out and made babies, and they inherited the psionic powers. It’s a very cool idea – a psionic cat causing trouble in a village, trouble blamed on some legendary menace the adventurers try to hunt down.

Michael Parkinson offers up “Medusa’s Blood”. This article details the many creatures that were born from Medusa’s blood, including old fantasy favorites like Pegasus, the Lernaean hydra, the chimera, Cerberus and the Theban sphinx. Some new monsters from the lineage of Medusa include Geryon (the three-headed and three-bodied giant, not the demon lord), Echidna and the Blatant Beast.

The Medusa article is followed up by “Four Myths from Greece”, with stats for Atalanta the huntress (9th level fighter), Daedalus (sage/engineer), the Sybil of Cumae (16th level cleric) and Chiron (15th level centaur ranger).

Dragon 58 has a special section all about dwarves, featuring “The Dwarven Point of View”, “The Gods of the Dwarves”, “Sage Advice on Dwarves” and “Dwarven Magical Items”. Dragon did a few of these series, and elements of them became standard parts of Dungeons & Dragons in later days, especially the dwarven pantheon. Roger E. Moore’s “The Dwarven Point of View” is one of those articles that represents the inflection point of the original DIY days and the middle phase of “explain it all”. It’s a useful article for folks new to fantasy gaming, but I suppose some folks didn’t like the Dragon magazine doing articles that might tie their creative hands, what with it being “semi-official” in D&D world.

I liked this bit from “Sage Advice”:

“Why aren’t ettins mentioned among the bigger creatures which attack dwarves and gnomes at -4?

Ettins may be big and dumb, but they don’t suffer any penalty “to hit” against dwarves and gnomes because of the most obvious difference between ettins and other big humanoids: their two heads. In the words of the Monster Manual, “One of the ettin’s heads is always likely to be alert, so they are difficult to surprise.” And, presumably, also difficult to sneak up on in any other way.”

Now let’s be honest – the answer here is “crap, we forgot to include the ettin”.

Another question that struck me is one that shows a clash of mindsets that I’ve seen myself in our hobby. The question writer asks:

“What would be a reasonable spread of races and sub-races for adventurers and NPCs? For instance, what would be the chance of a PC dwarf being a mountain dwarf?”

An interesting question, and one that would be answerable in a particular campaign, or if there was really such a thing as dwarves and we have solid demographic data on  them. I appreciate the answer:

“The chance of a player character dwarf being a mountain dwarf is 100% — if the player wants to be one, and if no circumstances of the campaign prohibit such a choice.”

I’ve fielded a few similar questions from people reading my games, as though I had some special right to tell them what they could and could not do in their own homes. Some folks have the mindset that there is a “right and wrong” to these games we play, and they seek answers from “authorities”. This isn’t a dig against these folks – it’s just a way of looking at things that differs from mine that I find interesting.

On the topic of “The Gods of the Dwarves” – I really loved Moradin when I was a kid. The demi-human pantheon was another case for me, as a young man, of being amazed that you could make up pretend gods and goddesses for a game. This article also introduces a new undead monster – the rapper.

This issue of Dragon also has a bit of fiction from J. Eric Holmes called “The Bag”. It involves a character of his called Boinger. I haven’t read this one, but I’ll include the first couple paragraphs as a taste for those who might want to delve deeper:

“Perhaps the small master is looking for something special?”

The muscular young halfling put down the leather backpack he had been examining and looked at the person who had addressed him. He was worth looking at, Boinger decided. For one thing, his species was not one the adventurer had ever seen before. The creature was obviously not human; his complexion was slate grey and his face was covered with wrinkles so that it looked like a folded piece of linen with a long, pointy nose sticking out. He was shorter than Boinger himself. Some sort of gnome, the halfling thought, out of the north, I suppose. Shorter than a dwarf, taller than a Lilliputian …”

In Robert Barrow’s “Aiming for Realism in Archery: Longer Ranges, Truer Targets” you get another article trying to make the game more realistic. This one has a useful little table about archery accuracy derived from medieval tournament data:

This article is followed up by “Bowmanship Made More Meaningful” by Carl Parlagreco. This one introduced the idea of minimum strength scores for different bows – a 16 for composite longbows, for example, or 8 for short bows. Using a bow without having the strength required presents a -2 penalty to hit per point of strength deficiency. There’s more – so check it out if you like more realism in D&D.

David Nalle presents “Swords – Slicing Into a Sharp Topic”, which gets into the weeds on that fantasy staple, the sword. You get information on its history and construction. No game stats in this one, but good information for folks new to the topic.

There is also an article by Glenn Rahman on the Knights of Camelot Game. I’ve never played the game, so I cannot review the article, per se, but I love the bit on “Acts of Villainy”. These include:

  1. Distressing a Lady
  2. Imprisoning Persons
  3. Looting a Shrine
  4. Piracy
  5. Seizing a Castle by Storm
  6. Slaying a Good Knight
  7. Slaying a Goodly Hermit Man

This is a great checklist for Chaotic/Evil characters in any game – try to do three or four of these things in every game. The article also has two awesome little tables – the kind of random fun that screams old school gaming to me. The first deals with the merchant ships you might run into while being a pirate:

The second is a random table of dying curses from goodly hermits:

It is so hard to keep track of things like this, but I love the idea of using them during play.

Speaking of useful stuff, Jon Mattson’s “Anything But Human” is for Traveller, but could be useful to anyone. It is a collection of random tables for creating aliens. As always, my review of this article consists of using it – here’s my random alien:

It’s a mammal, feline, average of 67 inches tall, that has a bonus of +1 to education and a penalty of -1 to strength and social standing (which in D&D-esque games would be a bonus to intelligence and a penalty to strength and charisma). The creature has a -3 to their psionic rating. It has no special abilities.

“What’s New? – with Phil and Dixie” covers love magic in D&D. I had a crush on Dixie as a kid … and probably still do.

This issue also has cut-out counters of all the magic-user spells to aid magic-user players in keeping track of what they’re doing.

As always, I’ll leave you with Wormy …

Grandeur from Tramp

Sniffing the Flowers in No-Man’s Land

The concept of “Edition Wars” never really struck a chord with me. I started my D&D life with Moldvay/Cook, and then bolted on all the cool stuff from AD&D (classes, races, monsters, spells). I later went to 2nd edition AD&D, ignoring anything I didn’t like and using the things I thought were cool (kits – at the time – being one of them). In 3rd edition I got tired of all the rules and hour long combats that would have taken 10 minutes in older versions of the game and ultimately abandoned it, but I never hated it and there were things in 3rd edition I thought were pretty clever.

And so it came to last Saturday night, when four of my daughter’s friends – aged 17 to 22 I think – gathered around my dining room table to learn D&D. To be more precise, they wanted to get their own game going, but since none of them have ever DM’d, and they knew I was a D&D-er from way back, they wanted to see how I ran a game. My daughter asked me if I was willing, and I was, and so the date was made.

Just a few weeks ago, I had started another D&D game because the wife of an old friend (and D&D player) wanted to try the game out. This game also included my daughter (who had played a couple times with me when she was younger), my friend (as I said, an old pro) and our wives, who had never really played. For this game, I decided to use Moldvay/Cook D&D for two reasons. The first is that I had just bought vintage boxed sets of both and wanted to play with my new toys. The other reason was that I wanted to use a game with few options and few rules so that people could ease into the game playing aspect without being overloaded with rules and regulations. We’re now three sessions in, adventuring in Jeff Rients’ Under Xylarthen’s Tower and I’ve only killed three characters … all of them belonging to my buddy, the most experienced player at the table.

So, having just successfully launched a game for novices with Moldvay/Cook, I figured that would be the best way to go with this new group. But then a complication arose … the kids had all gotten together (no including my daughter) and rolled up characters. With what version of rules I asked? D&D 5th Edition. Hmm.

The problem was that I didn’t have 5th edition and, frankly, I wasn’t going to get it. Nothing against it, but I just didn’t need another version of D&D and I didn’t have time to learn those new rules. I could have nixed the characters and required people roll up new ones for the session I was going to run, but I hate to quash youthful enthusiasm. I could have converted the characters to B&T, but since I knew they were ultimately going to play 5th edition I wanted this training session to be as useful to them as possible. My ultimate solution – I decided to wade into the No-Man’s Land between editions and cling to the faith that D&D is D&D and I could make these different editions work together with absolutely no preparation on my part.

It worked!

What did I end up running? I ran Michael Curtis’ Stonehell dungeon, which was written for Labyrinth Lord with my Blood & Treasure rules behind the DM screen and characters created in 5th edition D&D, except for my daughter, who ran a valley elf fighter named Moon Unit done in B&T. And – I want to stress – I went in 100% cold, with no knowledge of 5th edition other than the fact that lots of people think it’s pretty close to traditional D&D.

How did I handle the rules clash? If I was rolling it behind my DM screen, I was using a blend of Blood & Treasure (surprise, skill rules, saves) and a little old-fashioned D&D (listen at doors checks and reaction checks). If the players were rolling, I let them use what was on their character sheets, sometimes interpreting it through an old school lens. The first thing that took me back was the presence of more bonuses and higher ability scores in 5th edition than in old school games – not a shock, though, since I had played 3rd edition. To make up for the stronger fighting ability of the 5E crowd, I decided to bump monster Armor Classes by 2 points, and I rolled d10 for their hit points. This was after it looked like the characters were going to cut through the monsters like a hot knife through butter. After I made the change about halfway through the session, the fights got tougher and more fun.

I allowed the 5th edition healing rules and death rules to function as-is. If we were playing by old school rules, I killed three characters (including my daughters), two of them with a zombie who rolled really high on damage and who had as many hit points as he could have. Boy, did that zombie scare them. Since we used the new death rules, nobody died – which is fine. I’m not a killer DM, and hey, just getting knocked out scared the crap out of them and made the fights more fun.

The only hurdle I’m not 100% sure how to handle is XP. By 5th edition’s character XP chart, it seems like the group would advance very quickly through levels, making Stonehell too easy for them quickly. The group wants to stick with me as DM for a while longer and they want to explore the dungeon, so I need to keep it viable. For that reason, I think I’m going to use Blood & Treasure’s XP system, which they can then translate into 5th edition’s XP values when I hand over the DM’ing to the player who is planning to become the new DM.

So – moral of the story. Do not fear different editions. Though I can’t speak for 4th edition, which was a departure from the norm, I can say that different editions can work together IF … and this is important … IF you don’t care about getting things perfectly right from a rules standpoint, and just want to have an enjoyable, engaging, exciting game. Work with the players to make a good session, regardless of the rules, and you’ll all have a good time.

Oh – and I found an online character creator that allowed me to turn my daughter’s B&T elf fighter into a 5th edition elf fighter in about 5 minutes, with the exception of picking a feat or feats.

Dragon by Dragon – January 1982 (57)

Wow – 1982. I was ten years old (well, nine in January) and still a couple years away from learning about Dungeons & Dragons. Thirty-six years ago – much as changed, and much has not. I guess all these years later, we can be happy that people are still playing D&D and AD&D and other “old school” games. Let’s start the new year by looking at the new year in 1982 in gaming …

Let’s start with the cover, because it’s pretty different from the traditional fantasy fare. We have a woman, maybe modern, knitting dragons (or something like them) onto a blanket  and the dragons are becoming real and flying into the fireplace, all while a strange painting of a man or woman looks on. The tragedy is that I can’t quite make out the signature, and I didn’t see the artist’s name in the magazine.

Update: Nathan Irving writes me to let me know the artist is Dean Morrissey, who provided covers for 16, 18, 28, 60, 84 and 91.

The first big article is “Modern Monsters” by Ed Greenwood. It’s a great article, giving modern (in 1982) vehicles and firearms stats for D&D. The article also goes into some of the pitfalls of pitting “medieval” characters against modern characters. It really all goes to the point that jumping from one reality into another was assumed to be a regular feature by our elders in the hobby. Here’s one insight you might enjoy:

Magic will ultimately determine the fate of an AD&D party in a modern setting. It is the party’s “heavy artillery,” and must be expended with caution, for it is not wholly renewable. Magic users without spell books will be unable to regain their spells.

Lenard Lakofka presents some useful ideas and tables in “Shield and Weapon Skills”, including this insight about shields after he watched some folks from the SCA put on a demonstration of medieval fighting:

Fully 60% of the blows are caught by the shield. Second, a trained fighter who normally uses a broadsword is a much poorer fighter when using a battle axe for the first time. To place these facts in terms of AD&D™ rules, some minor rule changes are proposed. A shield will now give +2 to armor class instead of just +1.

He also presents some rules for determining how long shields last in combat. My favorite scheme is for shields to have to make an item save whenever an attack roll is a natural ’20’.

The tables I mentioned are for determining an NPC’s weapon proficiencies, but they could also be used to determine an NPC’s armaments.

In the “Sorcerer’s Scroll”, one E. Gary Gygax presents some more details about the Greyhawk setting – a good read for those who use that campaign setting.

In “In Search of a James Bond”, Mark Mulkins covers how in a TOP SECRET game one could work for three different operational bureaus at the same time without sacrificing experience points. What Mark covers in three pages I would just hand wave.

Up next is an article I kinda dig called “Random Magic Items” by Pete Mohney. It’s a collection of some groovy little random tables for generating magic items. I’ll generate three of them now:

1) A magic girdle, not cursed, that gives a +1 bonus to all saving throws.

2) An amulet shaped like a double-headed axe that allows the wearer to control animals once per week.

3) A hat that provides a +1 bonus to intelligence – we’ll call it a thinking cap.

If you’re a player of DragonQuest, this issue has an article about magicians by Jon Mattson. Since I’ve never played the game, I can’t comment on the merits of the article.

This issue’s Giants in the Earth covers a couple characters I don’t know – C. J. Cherryh’s Morgaine and Vanye (with art by Jim Holloway) from the books Gate of Ivrel, Well of Shiuan and Fires of Azeroth, Lynn Abbey’s Rifkind from Daughter of the Bright Moon and The Black Flame, and two characters created by Robert E. Howard – Belit and Dark Agnes. Howard. Belit is a Chaotic Evil 10th level fighter in this write-up, though I would probably go Neutral Evil given her devotion to Conan since I conceive of Chaotic Evil as being utterly self-interested.

The special feature of this issue is an AD&D adventure called “The Wandering Trees” by Michael Malone. It is intended for characters level 6th to 9th. The adventure begins thus:

Long ago, so far back that even the elves are not sure when, Termlane Forest was the home of a tribe of tree-worshipping men. These men built a great temple at the heart of The Forest, where they worshipped their mysterious tree-gods.

The adventure concerns a forest of moving trees with only two safe ways through, and a lost temple somewhere in between. It’s a hell of a dangerous forest, so beware. The adventure also includes stakes for the Phooka.

In “Up on a Soapbox”, there are two essays – one by Brian Blume on the problems with playing evil characters in games, and another by Roger E. Moore on the benefits of playing rpg’s with women.

Michael Kluever has an interesting look at “The History of the Shield”. It’s a good primer for those who like to get crunchy. It’s not a short article, and it is well researched with a useful bibliography.

There’s a great insight into 1982 geekdom in “The Electric Eye”, namely the results of a survey regarding to what high tech goodies readers of the magazine had to play with. The results:

  • 46% have an Apple II or Apple II+
  • 38% have a TRS-80
  • 20% have an Atari 400 or 800
  • 9% have a CBM
  • 6% have no computer
  • 6% have a S-100
  • 3% have a North Star
  • 3% have a VIC
  • and 20% have some other computer

The bottom line, apparently was:

Who is the average Electric Eye reader? He’s a 17-year-old male high school student. He has owned a 48K Apple-l I+ with a disk drive, a printer, and a joystick or a paddle set for about a year. He has spent a little over $100 on software, but he mainly either copies out of magazines or does it himself. He reads The Electric Eye for the program listings and reviews, but he is also interested in other facets of computer gaming.

As always, I leave you with Wormy

Save

Holier Than Thou

I’m currently working on Blood & Treasure Monsters II, which involves fleshing out a few monster notes I’ve accumulated over the years. You know the sort of thing – monster concepts I just haven’t had time to flesh out. Among these concepts are three angels, the cherubim, seraphim and ophanim. These are the kinds of folks you just don’t want to mess with, especially if you’re chaotic. At the end of this article, I’ll talk about what I’ve just released, what I’m about to release, and what I’m going to try to release in 2018.

Image to the right of a cherub in humanoid form by Martin Harris, used under the Creative Commons license

Cherub
Type: Outsider
Size: Large
Hit Dice: 20
Armor Class: 25 [+3]
Attack: 2 kicks (4d6)
Move: 60′ (Fly 120′)
Save: 7; MR 55%
Intelligence: Super
Alignment: Lawful (LG)
No. Appearing: 1
XP/CL: 10,000/23

SA—Magic use (cleric spells, up to 9th level)

SD—Immunity (cold, electricity, fire, energy drain, magic missile, mind effects, petrification, poison, surprise and trap the soul), see invisible creatures, discern lies, protection from evil II and true seeing always active

SP—animate object, blade barrier •••, change self, commune, comprehend languages, control weather •, cure blindness/deafness, cure disease •••, cure serious wounds •••, detect evil, detect magic, dimensional anchor, dispel magic, earthquake •, ego whip •, feeblemind •, fire storm •, flame strike •••, heal, holy word •, insect plague •, intellect fortress •, invisibility II, limited wish •, mental barrier •, mind blank •, mind thrust •, polymorph any object, psionic blast •, psychic crush •, raise dead •••, random action •, read magic, remove curse, remove fear, resist cold, restoration •, shape change •, speak with dead, symbol (any) •, teleport without error, thought shield •, tower of iron will •, wind walk

The cherubim are the second highest in rank among the angels, after the solars. Called great, mighty and blessed, they appear as huge shedu with four wings and four faces, those of an angel, a dragonne, a gorgon and a gold dragon. They guard the passages from the Astral Plane to the upper planes, keeping fiendish beings out.

The dragonne head of a cherub can, four times per day, emit a powerful roar that forces all within 120′ to pass a saving throw or fall unconscious for 1d4 rounds.

The gold dragon head of a cherub can, three times per day, breathe forth a 60′ long cone of fire that deals 6d6 points of damage, or a similar cone of weakening gas that has the same effect as a ray of enfeeblement.

The gorgon head of a cherub can, five times per day, breathe a 60′ long cone of gas that turns creatures that fail a saving throw into salt, even if they astral or ethereal.

If a solar should be destroyed, a cherubim is uplifted into a new solar to take his place in that rank.

Ophan
Type: Outsider
Size: Huge
Hit Dice: 18
Armor Class: 25 [+3]
Attack: Slam (5d6) or trample
Move: 60′ (Fly 150′)
Save: 8; MR 50%
Intelligence: High
Alignment: Lawful (LG)
No. Appearing: 1
XP/CL: 9,000/21

SA—Magic use (cleric spells, up to 9th level, magic-user conjuration spells, up to 6th level)

SD—Immunity (cold, electricity, fire, energy drain, magic missile, mind effects, petrification, poison, sleep and trap the soul), see invisible creatures, discern lies, protection from evil II and true seeing always active

SP—astral projection ••, blade barrier •••, commune, comprehend languages, control weather •, cure blindness/ deafness, cure disease •••, cure serious wounds •••, detect evil, detect magic, disintegrate •, dispel magic, ego whip •, etherealness •••, feeblemind •, fire storm •, flame strike •••, heal, hold monster, holy word •, intellect fortress •, invisibility II, limited wish •, mental barrier •, mind blank •, mind thrust •, polymorph any object, psionic blast •, psychic crush •, raise dead •••, random action •, read magic, remove curse, remove fear, resist cold, restoration •, speak with dead, symbol (any) •, teleport without error, thought shield •, tower of iron will •, wind walk

Ophanim, also called Thrones and Elders, are living symbols of justice and authority (and just authority). They appear as beryl-colored wheels within wheels. The rim of the outer wheel is covered with hundreds of eyes, and the entire angel is wreathed always in divine radiance that heals the good and harms the wicked.

The space within the ophan’s wheels can be occupied by another creature, usually an angel. In this manner, the ophanim are used as chariots, or mounts, by other angels and lawful deities.

The radiance surrounding an ophan grants Lawful creatures the regenerate special ability, and deals 3d6 points of fire damage per round (double to undead) to non-lawful creatures.

An ophanim on the ground can trample a creature by rolling over it, dealing 6d6 points of damage. When flying, they can rotate so rapidly as to cause a whirlwind, like that created by an air elemental, for one minute.

Ophanim can emit up to four rays per round from the eyes on their rim. They can choose from the following:

Amethyst: Command
Silver: Hold monster
Gold: Polymorph
Sapphire: 6d6 cold damage
Emerald: Cure serious wounds
Ruby: 6d6 fire damage
Platinum: Fear
Diamond:6d6 electricity damage

Seraph
Type: Outsider
Size: Huge
Hit Dice: 16 [Regenerate]
Armor Class: 25 [+3]
Attack: Bite (4d6 + constrict)
Move: 40′ (Fly 120′)
Save: 9; MR 75%
Intelligence: High
Alignment: Lawful (CG)
No. Appearing: 1d3
XP/CL: 8,000/19

SA—Magic use (cleric spells, up to 9th level)

SD—Immunity (cold, electricity, fire, energy drain, magic missile, mind effects, petrification, poison and trap the soul), see invisible creatures, discern lies, protection from evil II and true seeing always active

SP—animate object, blade barrier •••, change self, commune, comprehend languages, control weather •, cure blindness/ deafness, cure disease •••, cure serious wounds •••, detect evil, detect magic, dispel magic, earthquake •, ego whip •, feeblemind •, fire storm •, flame strike •••, heal, holy word •••, insect plague •, intellect fortress •, invisibility II, limited wish •, mental barrier •, mind blank •, mind thrust •, polymorph any object, psionic blast •, psychic crush •, raise dead •••, random action •, read magic, remove curse, remove fear, resist cold, restoration •, shape change •, speak with dead, symbol (any) •, teleport without error, thought shield •, tower of iron will •, wind walk

The seraphim are burning serpents with burnished gold scales and six copper wings. They are messengers from the upper planes and foot soldiers of virtue.

Creatures within 30′ of a seraph suffer 2d6 points of fire damage from the intense heat unless they are lawful in alignment, in which case they are unaffected.

A chaotic creature constricted in its coils must roll 1d20 under their Wisdom score or have their alignment shifted to neutral for 3d6 days. This power does not work on chaotic outsiders, but it does leave them confused for 1d6 rounds.

A seraph can breathe a cone of divine fire that is 120′ long and deals 6d6 points of fire damage to most creatures, but 9d6 to chaotic creatures and 12d6 to the undead.

AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR …

A week ago I published the e-book for Blood & Treasure Esoterica Exhumed, an expansion to the game with numerous new races, classes, weapons, armor, spells and magic items, as well as optional rules for psionics, 0-level characters and proficiencies. The e-book is $7.99 cheap.

Later today (I hope), I’m putting NOD 33 up for sale. It features an Africa-inspired hex crawl, a continuation of the one first published in NOD 16. It has a pantheon of African deities, mostly drawn from West Africa, a new hero, villain and plot outline for Mystery Men! and a dungeon for OSR games.

In 2018, I’m aiming for three hard covers (and will probably finish two).

Blood & Treasure Monsters II is a sure thing, as I’m about 75% done with it right now. I’m waiting for a cover by Russ Nicholson (you can see a mock-up below).

Myths & Legends will collect numerous pantheons I’ve published in issues of NOD, as well as many as yet unpublished. I’m probably 35% done with this baby.

Outre Dark is a guide to the planes in the NOD cosmos. I’m maybe 15% done with this one, but it should be pretty fun to write.

Of course, I’ll still be making issues of NOD and expanding the NOD campaign setting, and I should get the Pars Fortuna revision out, which will also serve as a preview of the revisions I’d like to do on Bloody Basic in 2019.

Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival

I’ve finally found the time, between impromptu trips to Iowa and too dang much work (the real work, not the silly game writing work), to peruse Kabuki Kaiser’s Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival, with fantastic art by Evelyn M. Kabuki was kind enough to send me a review copy (PDF), and I’m sure glad he did.

I well remember when Evelyn first showed off some of the artwork on Google+ – my first thought was “dammit – flower liches – I wish I’d thought of that!” Such an enticing notion – a nice twist on an old idea.

Now I can happily report that Flower Liches is a very groovy book. You get a nice adventure with lots of action and mystery, plus a sourcebook for an interesting Asian setting that can also fit nicely into people’s existing settings (it would slip into my Mu-Pan setting in NOD like a treat), plus a dragonboat race minigame with different levels of complexity.

The book is 95 pages long, with a creative, attractive layout and the aforementioned beautiful art by Evelyn M. The text is dense – there is plenty to digest, and all of it is useful. When the text is evocative and descriptive, and it often is, it has a Clark Ashton Smith feel – weird fantasy. You get the practical and the aesthetic all in one package.

In a nutshell, the game describes itself as:

“Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival is a Chinese ghost story, a Kung-Fu action movie adventure, and a detective story. It features both location- and event-based
sequences built upon sets of tables which encourage the action to derail and to switch between martial arts displays, thoughtful inquiries, and high octane dungeon action with spirits, monsters with giant bloated tongues, and porcelain faces. They’re meant to be grotesque, picaresque, and gross; they’re spirits and liches, after all. Like in all classic Kung-Fu and Chinese ghost stories, magic and philosophical whatnot alternate
seamlessly with flurries of fists and things that croak and go bump in the dark.”

In my opinion, the game really delivers the goods. You get a colorful romp, very “D&D” and thus easy to include in existing campaigns, that challenges the players in multiple ways, including a mystery to solve (I won’t say much, to keep from spoiling it), monsters to slay and numerous strange and wonderful locales to explore.

If you dig wuxia, mysteries and weird fantasy, get yourself a copy of Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival folks – a truly original addition to the OSR.

And I’m still pissed I didn’t think of it first.