Cush and Pwenet – Spanish Castles and Phantom Tombs

I’m now ensconced in writing the second half of the Cush/Pwenet hex crawl and, since I’m also fighting off a cold, thought a few previews would make for an easy blog post today!

41.43 Kimbedwe: Kimbedwe is a sizable city-state situated atop a high, dusty plateau that overlooks the rain forest. The plateau is rich in mineral wealth, and highly defensible, and thus has persisted for hundreds of years. By and large, the people of the plateau keep to themselves. They permit no entry into this hex by outsiders, having established trading posts on the edges of the hex to trade their minerals for manufactured goods (especially glass – the sands of the plateau make a very poor quality of glass). The city is constructed of stone, most of it dug up from the depths of the plateau, which is honeycombed with tunnels and mines, and even hides a small subterranean lake from which the people of the plateau pull blind crustaceans that they turn into a delicious stew.

Kimbedwe’s main problem is its isolation and xenophobia, which has led to stagnation. These problems are made worse by (or maybe caused by) the waters of the subterranean lake, which are enchanted. The waters keep people from aging, but also makes them infertile. There have been no children in Kimbedwe for many centuries. The water’s enchantment stems from a strange black stone hidden in its black depths, a stone that attracts the shades of the dead, who haunt the lake and demand tribute from their descendants in the form of palm wine. The lake is surrounded by hundreds of small (and not-so-small) shrines dedicated to these ancestral spirits. The spirits are worshipped by a cult of death priests and assassins, who do their best to keep change out of Kimbedwe.

Kimbedwe’s king, Singado, has ruled for 200 years, having relieved his father of the crown with poisoned wine. He and his warriors oppose (subtly) the death cult. They maintain a large temple to Kokou, the god of war, and keep a flock of arrowhawks which they use to patrol the surrounding jungle. When possible, they kidnap likely mates for themselves and their king, sneaking them back to the plateau in defiance of the assassins.

43.20 Spanish Prison: Traveling through the woods you come upon a narrow dirt path that runs roughly north to south. The foliage on either side has recently been trimmed. Following the path to the north eventually leads to a clearing that contains a stone circle reminiscent of Stonehenge.

Following the path to the south leads to a small valley that contains a lake. Overlooking the lake there is a castle built of pale, grey stone. The castle consists of two long, narrow wards and a central keep. The keep is surmounted by a 115-ft. tall tower with barred windows.

The castle is the home of Don Xavier de Penafiel, a duke who hails from the Kingdom of Spain on our own world. Don Xavier is a melancholy man, and deeply religious. His castle, despite its large size, is staffed by a small band of unseen servants that are enhanced by unspeaking illusions. In times of trouble, the castle is defended by 100 animated suits of armor. The only other inhabitant of the castle is its prisoner, one Francis Bacon. Bacon’s tower prison has had a permanent anti-magic shell cast upon it.

Don Xavier leads a lonely life, his primary companion being his memories of lost love and lost honor. Every few weeks he is visited by a small band of friars who bring the duke sustenance and brief companionship. The oldest of the friars, Brother Garza, is an excellent swordsman and accomplished player of at chess and taroka.

[Note – I actually ran a group through this one. Getting into the tower involved solving three alchemical riddles. I might have lost them when my old external drive went down, but if not I’ll publish it in a future issue of NOD]

44.25 Tome of the Phantom: A high cave here, dry and cool, holds a tome wrapped in ashen sackcloth. The tome is covered in blue leather, and contains the life story of the adventuring wizard Zaxon. Zaxon visited many of the lands surrounding Cush; he made many conquests and bested many dangers before finally passing away 200 years ago. This tome is possessed by his spirit, and this spirit slowly possesses any person who reads the book. For each hour spent reading the tome, one must make a Will save or be effected as per a magic jar spell.

Dragon by Dragon – December 1978 (21)

Just imagine all the spiffy Ronco products people were unwrapping on Christmas day in 1978! A few folks might have also been perusing the December 1978 Dragon magazine while they were waiting for Christmas lunch or dinner. Let’s see what it included …

First up, we have a groovy little advert from Ral Partha that would make a good elven army list or encounter list. Let’s make it random …

01-05. Wood Elf Archers (Longbow and Shortsword)
06-25. Wood Elf Infantry (Longbow and Longsword)
26-30. Woof Elf Cavalry (Lance)
31-50. Sea Elf Pikeman
51-60. High Elf Swordsmen
61-75. High Elf Spearmen
76-95. High Elf Cavalry (Two-Handed Swords)
96-100. Elfin Command Group – Elf Commander (5th level fighter/magic-user), Elf Lieutenant (3rd level fighter/magic-user)

First article this issue is a revisit of the Search for the Nile game. This is basically a response to the article in the last issue of The Dragon by the games creator.

Okay – have to share this next ad with everybody …

Next up, we have a neat little table of titles for powerful NPCs by Brian Blume. This one works like the old menus at Chinese restaurants – choose one bit from column 1, one from column 2, etc. Here are a couple examples:

The Lord Protector, His Most Distinguished Illustriousness, The Crown Prince Bob, the Incomparable Slaughterer of Dragons

The Guildmaster, Her All Triumphant Laduyship, Lady Cassandra, The Terrible Scythe of Honor

Kinda groovy – worth checking out. I’ll probably turn it into a random table and use it for Nod now and again.

Willie Callison now presents a Cure for the “Same-Old-Monster” Blues. Every long-time DM has gone through this. Mr. Callison’s suggestion is to look at the world around you and draw inspiration from nature. The giant snake, for example, can be described as any real species of snake – different types of attacks, different color patterns, etc. You get the idea.

Callison also provides the next article – Inflation in D&D. In 1978, inflation would have been foremost on people’s minds, and Willie complains about the lack of realism inherent in the D&D economy – i.e. too many gold pieces floating around. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really give any solutions to the problem. So, kind of a pointless article.

Prophet Proofing (or how to counter foretelling spells) by David Schroeder attempts to throw a monkey wrench into spells like clairvoyance, clairaudience, wizard eye, ESP and x-ray vision. I’m generally not a fan of ideas on how to screw up powers that players should rightly be able to exercise with the characters. I mean, a fighter with a high strength and two-handed sword sure does kill lots of orcs – shouldn’t there be a way to screw that up? Sneaky tricks are a good thing in D&D – keeps the players on their toes – but at the same time, the clever use of spells to overcome obstacles is one of the points of the game.

Sensible Sorcery is an article by Ronald Pehr that explores ways to make researching spells more difficult for magic-users. I think I’m detecting a theme in this article.

Robert Wagner (no, probably not him) now delivers a Boot Hill Encounter Chart. The chart is for town encounters, and is divided into two parts – Town till 8 p.m. and Town after 8 p.m. The early chart gives a 1 in 6 chance of an encounter, while the late chart gives a 2 in 6 chance. Early encounters include pickpockets, various job offers (a very good idea!), being shot at by 1 or 2 people, being mugged by 1 or 2 people, being falsely arrested or have 1 or 2 deputies after you. The late encounters include jealous husbands, being challenged to a gun fight, seeing a bank robbery, more job offers and being arrested by a U. S. Marshall (maybe this guy!). It’s a very good chart, and easily adaptable to a fantasy game or one set later than the Old West period.

Rod Stevens delivers Encounters with Personality. Here, he provides a few ideas on giving monsters and NPCs a bit of history and personality for encounters. Did DM’s actually not do this back in the day? Perhaps – old D&D had a few elements of wargame/boardgame to it back in the day, but articles like this show the progression to a more story-based game. A couple examples:

1. BLARG: Ftr. Cha/Evil. Hobgoblin. Blarg hates everything but ogres. These he emulates but they hate him.

3rd 20 5 16 7 7 6 8 6 +1 +1 shrt. sd.

8. CLARENCE LINDIR: Ftr. Law/Good. Human. He is a constable who is always accompanied by 11 other constables. He will do anything to make an arrest including arresting jaywalkers, people with water in wine skins, or anything else he can think of. He often makes up absurd charges. When in court he will then charge resisting arrest if the party didn’t come peacefully. Of the hundreds of arrests he has made, he has only gotten 2 convictions. The townspeople pointedly ignore him and call him “Clarence the Clown” behind his back.

1st 9 7 1 7 9 1 0 9 7 8 + 2 + 2 mace & spear

Next come the game reviews. Olympica is set in 2206, where a human colony on Mars is being conquered by a group mind called “The Web” (prescient in a way, huh?). One player controls the assault group being sent by the U. N., while the other player defends the Web generator from the assault.

Don Turnbull of Cambridge, England presents a section of his Greenlands Dungeon – The Hall of Mystery. It’s quite a long description, but it involves riddles (sort of), mirrors (one a mirror of opposition, the other of life trapping containing a succubus) and a host of monsters in rooms. I will share the map …

Gary Gygax pops in next with a strategy guide for Rail Baron. I’ve heard good things about this game (one wonders if it could have been used in concert with Boot Hill), but I’ve never played it. Since I haven’t played it, I won’t chime in on how good a guide it is, but it does look as though it’s quite thorough. In fact, I think it might be the longest article in the magazine.

A couple more game reviews follow. King Arthur’s Knights, which reviewer S. List describes as being similar to TSR’s DUNGEON. Players choose to be a knight errant, knight at arms or great knight, which increasing levels of power and obligations, as well as tougher victory conditions. The map was apparently gorgeous, the rules book 16 pages long and there were 11 decks of small cards. There are several Magic Places on the board, and on each one places a magic treasure and magic guardian.

Timothy Jones now presents some optional rules for DUNGEON. There are new characters (halfling, dwarf, cleric, thief and paladin), new prizes (including a bag of dung!) and new monsters (red dragons, blue or white dragons, witches, evil wizards and evil priests).

T. Watson then has a review of Tolkien’s Silmarillon. Watson describes it as the bible of Middle Earth, with the Valar as the angels, Melkor/Morgoth as Lucifer and the elves as the chosen people. Watson seems to like it, despite it being long and dry, but also seems to indicate that it’s for folks who really want to know more about the imaginary Middle Earth.

In James Ward’s Monty Strikes Back, we get another installment of gonzo dungeoneering done right. Here’s a sample:

“The three ancient white dragons guarding the door were no problem. It was just a matter of running in the chamber hasted and invisible and throwing three hold monsters at things. They didn’t have any treasure, they were just there to slow us down a bit. As we walked through the door ‘Monty gave his “evil” chuckle (which always meant we were in big trouble) and we were told that we were sliding down a sheet of glare ice. We wound up pinioned against a mass of ice spears and everybody but Freddie had taken damage. He then thought it would be a great idea to use his flaming power to melt the spears away. Ernie and I, knowing the horrors Monty could think up, tried to stop him but it was too late. We were hit from above by partially melted ice stalactites and again Freddie was the only one unhurt.”

This was my point about D&D once being something like a wargame/boardgame. The fun was in moving around the pieces, not telling their life stories.

And that’s it for December. The reviews were interesting, a few of the articles useful, but honestly not among the best issues I’ve read.

Enjoy your Saturday gang!

Spy Smasher is Smashing!

Last night, I revved up the old Roku and watched Spy Smasher Returns on Netflix. Spy Smasher Returns is a film created by putting together pieces of the Spy Smasher serial from the 1940’s, and if you’re interested in running any kind of pulp-era adventure game, you need to watch this film.

It’s not for the story – a basic little thing about Nazi saboteurs and spies operating in the United States and getting their orders from a fellow called The Mask who operates from a submarine off the coast (the coast of what – who knows?).

The acting isn’t bad for a serial, but not Oscar caliber either. No – the two reasons you want to watch this film (or the serial) are the stunts and the settings.

Gaming is often about scenes – setting the stage, introducing the players and then shouting “Action!”, which makes movies and television shows excellent fodder for the imagination. Spy Smasher has some excellent settings to drop the players into – a clay factory with roaring ovens, a rickety-looking lumber yard building, a Nazi submarine, a houseboat, a train, a motor boat, etc. All provide interesting obstacles and opportunities for supporting the action.

The second reason has little to do with gaming – the stunts. Absolutely fabulous stunts (and the same goes for the old Captain America serial, which I’ve mentioned before) that remind you how fun movies were before CGI came into existence. These knuckleheads go all out in the fight scenes – leaping around, flipping each other, bludgeoning one another with balsa wood chairs), Spy Smasher roars around on a motorcycle like a madman, a wooden tower gets blown up and collapses, a motor boat takes on a submarine, etc.

So – my highest rating (892 stars) goes to Spy Smasher Returns / Spy Smasher. Check it out HERE folks.


Seasonal Beasties: The Forlorn Grey

Forgot to mention that my last post was number 1000. If that means anything to anyone.

Now then …


Image from 7art

Sometimes that grey mist in the corridor or tunnel is just a bit of water vapor. Sometimes, though, it’s a monster that has been nicknamed “the forlorn grey”.

The forlorn grey appears as a grey fog, usually about 20 feet long and 10 feet wide. To the touch, it is clammy and chilly, and an astute observer might notice that it does not leave a damp residue on people who walk through it.

A forlorn grey usually allows a group to get within it, and then moves along with them. It obscures vision, so most folks think that they are just moving through a very long patch of fog. Each round a person spends in the fog, their minds are attacked by the strange monster.  The adventurer must pass a Will save, or lose a bit of their zest for living, not to mention suffer 1 level of energy damage. The TK should prepare several strips of paper outlining the apathy that has befallen a character who fails a saving throw. Some examples might be:

“You realize you don’t really want to be in this stupid dungeon.”

“Treasure isn’t everything.”

“That serving wench really wasn’t all that attractive.”

“It occurs to you that you don’t really have any friends.”

Once a creature within the forlorn grey reaches effectively 0-level, they take on a dull appearance, their eyes turning grey and losing their spark of life. They remain 0-level monsters at this point, normal humanoids of their type who are apt to wander aimlessly for the rest of their lives, begging for scraps and generally avoiding the company of others. They can again be restored to vigor through the use of a wish or restoration spell, and can otherwise be used as torchbearers by their former friends – they don’t care one way or the other about it.

Fighting the mist is difficult. It can only be struck for full damage by magical edged weapons, and silver edged weapons deal half damage to the creature. Bludgeoning and piercing weapons deal no damage to a forlorn grey, magical or otherwise. If actively fought, the forlorn grey can manifest tendrils of super-chilled mist, with which it can make feeble physical attacks that, on a natural attack roll of ’20’, snake down people’s throats (or through their noses), dealing double damage and forcing the victim to pass a Fortitude save or be stunned for 1d3 rounds. The creature can manifest three such tendrils.

Forlorn Grey, Large Elemental (Air), Average Intelligence: HD 7; AC 16 [+1]; Atk 3 tendrils (1d3 + see above); Move Fly 30; F11 R10 W12; AL Chaotic (NE); XP 1750; Special – Only damaged by edged weapons, silver weapons deal half damage, energy damage, stunning attack, immune to cold and acid.

Seasonal Beasties: The Gorger

October is all about horror, and obviously horror-inspired monsters (i.e. undead). November, to me, is all about fall (or autumn, if you prefer), and I figured I would try to work up a few fall-themed monsters. The reapers last week was one of them, but they also meshed pretty well with Halloween – consider them a transition monster. Today I’m presenting the Gorger!


Gorgers are akin to trolls and giants. They have a strange life cycle, hibernating (so to speak) most of the year and then emerging from their slumber in the fall to consume mass quantities and prepare for their next hibernation. They are not terribly bright, and seem to exist solely to produce offspring.

Most gorgers live in small bands, burying themselves in loose earth while hibernating, and then emerging when the air becomes crisp and the crops are in. They are omnivorous, and even a small group is capable of eating a small village out of house and home.

Gorgers looks like warty, grey trolls with over-sized mouths and ponderous bellies. Their feet and hands are tipped by massive claws (useful for burrowing as well as killing) and their legs are stubby and a bit bandy. They always attack as a group, and though not terribly bright, they are cunning and capable of tactical planning. Most uproot a small tree to use as a double-handed weapon, relying on their claws only if they are unarmed or forced to fight in tight quarters or when they are bent on swallowing an opponent whole.

When a gorger swallows a victim whole, they begin to take on that victim’s intellect (though not personality) and skills after 1 round of digestion. Each round thereafter, a gorger gains one level’s worth of their victim’s skills and special abilities (regardless of alignment restrictions) until they have the same level as their victim. For example, if a gorger swallows a 4th level thief, they would, one round after swallowing them, gain the abilities of a 1st level thief. The next round, they would have the abilities of a 2nd level thief, and then a 3rd level thief in the round after that, until finally capping off as a 4th level thief. These special abilities are retained by the gorger for 1 hour, at which point they fade at the same rate (one level per round) that they were gained. If a gorger swallows a monster, it gains the monster’s special abilities after a number of rounds equal to half the monster’s hit dice total.

Gorgers regenerate as do normal trolls.

Gorger, Large Giant, Low Intelligence: HD 8; AC 16; ATK 1 weapon (3d4) or 2 claws (1d6) and bite (1d6 + swallow whole); Move 30 (Burrow 15); F8 R11 W12; XP 800; Special – Absorb skills and special abilities, regenerate.

Noah Webster is My Dungeon Master

Here’s a goofy idea to try out – Dictionary, the RPG:

Character Creation

Open the dictionary to a random page. Find a noun – that’s what you are and, by extension, what you should be skilled at. Find an adjective – it describes you. If the first page you open to doesn’t provide enough in the way of nouns and adjectives, try again.

Task Resolution

State what you wish to accomplish. Open the dictionary to a random page. If you can find a verb on that page that can be used to accomplish the task, you succeed.

If you cannot find such a verb, you can try another page IF what you are (the noun + adjective) would suggest you should be good at what you’re trying to do. Otherwise, the task does not go as you would like, introducing a new problem to be solved. Perhaps this new problem is suggested by a word on the page you’ve flipped to.


Each successful adventure gives you a free flip you can use to get through a later adventure.


Let’s say you’re ridiculously lucky, and you flip to a page that allows you to be a Nimble Ninja. Your nimble ninja decides it need to clunk a guard over the head to sneak into a castle. You open to a random page of the dictionary and find no words that can help. But you’re a nimble freakin’ ninja, so you should be good at sneaking up on the guard and clunking him on the head, so you open to a new page. Dang – still nothing. What a crappy dictionary. So, you’ve failed. How? Perhaps you step on a stick and are forced to hit the ground. The guard knows somebody is there and he calls for help. They’re now searching the area. Your new task is to creep away unnoticed by the guards, so you open to a random page of the dictionary …

Conceivably, you could play this game alone, or with a game master (the Word Master? the Grammarian?) who controls the actions (and success thereof) of the NPC’s.

One Last Trick

Here’s a monster that popped into my mind yesterday …


Reapers look like long-armed goblins with glossy black skin and magnesium green eyes that have a slight phosphorescence. Some wear carved pumpkins over the heads, like masks. They travel in small packs and are armed with very sharp cutting blades, each one carrying a mild enchantment that makes it especially dangerous.

A creature hit by a reaper’s blade and suffering 5 or more points of damage must pass a Fortitude saving throw (or save vs. petrification) or have one of their arms lopped off. The severed arm instantly comes to life and begins grabbing at its former owner or performing any other task the reaper sets it to. Arms have the same armor class as their former owner, and 1d4 hit points. If an arm is “killed” it is destroyed. Otherwise, the arm can be reattached (remember, there’s magic involved) to its original owner once the reaper has been killed.

Some especially lucky (or talented) reapers ride strange mounts composed of severed arms. These mounts look something like centipedes.

Reaper, Small Humanoid, Average Intelligence: HD 3; AC 16; ATK 2 blades (1d6 + sever limb); Move 30; F13 R14 W14; AL Chaotic (CE); XP 300; Special – Sever and control limbs.

Manopede, Large Aberration, Non-Intelligent: HD 4; AC 14; ATK 2 slams (1d4+1 + grapple); Move 50; F13 R13 W11; AL Neutral (N); XP 400; Special – Grapple.

Severed Arm, Tiny or Small Aberration, Non-Intelligent: HD 1; AC varies; ATK 1 slam (1d3 + grapple); Move 10; F16 R16 W13; Special – Grapple.