I Love Paleontology [New Monster]

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I love the internet, with the emphasis on “net”. It’s fabulous having so much information so easily accessible, but what’s even better is that you find so many wonderful things you weren’t looking for, and in fact that you never knew existed. For example …

Illustration by Pavel.Riha.CB at the English language Wikipedia, used via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

The Odobenocetops, or Walrus-Faced Whale, or Walrus-Whale for short. Who knew? I’m just waiting for some lucky paleontologist to pull the first owlbear skeleton out of the ground.

So, in honor of this new addition to my brain matter, I present some quick monster stats. Please bear in mind, though, that I’m not going to stat up an inoffensive ancient whale that dined on mollusks. No sir – this is D&D, and that means we need an aquatic bad-ass!

ODOBENOCETOPS (WALRUS-WHALE)
Large animal, Neutral (N), animal intelligence; Pod (1d8)

HD: 8
AC: 18
ATK: Slam (1d6) and tusk (1d10)
MV: 0 (Swim 60)
SV: F8 R8 W14
XP: 800 (CL 9)

The walrus-whale is a sea mammal of the Pliocene era. The walrus-whale has a single long tooth that jutted back from its mouth and can be used as a tool and a weapon.

In combat, a walrus-whale attacks by slamming into opponents and by slashing and spearing with its tooth. Creatures hit by the monster’s tooth attack with a natural roll of ’20’ are punctured if they fail an Armor Saving Throw (i.e. roll 1d20 below one’s armor bonus, including any natural or magical armor bonuses, but excluding dexterity bonuses to AC). A punctured creature suffers 1d4 points of Constitution damage as organs are punctured, and thereafter suffers 1 hit point of bleed damage each round until healed.

Special Qualities: Resistance to cold

What the Heck Elementals

Elementals are weird, and they’re weird because they’re old.

Found with Google, used without permission

In particular, I’m referring to one’s ability to damage a fire elemental with a normal sword when the monster is apparently made out of fire. Or is it?

Elementals were there in the beginning, you see. In Chainmail, an elemental had the following statistics:

Elementals, et. al.
MV: Special
Special Ability: Special
Charge: Special
Fly: Special
Missile Range: Special
Attack: Special
Defend: Special

Really paints a picture, huh? We also know that fire drives air and water elementals back 1 move, and lightning drives earth and fire elementals back 1 move.

The rules go into more detail concerning their movement (different for each elemental – earth and water are the slowest), how they attack (as four light horse, medium horse or heavy horse) and some other details, such as their being neutral. What we never learn is what they look like. Note also that no monster in the game can only be harmed with magical weapons, though balrogs cannot be killed by missile fire, and true trolls can only be killed by fire, fantastic combat with hero types, or magical weapons.

So, elementals are really little more than a name and a set of stats. Unlike balrogs, which are well described in Tolkien, I’m not sure anybody at the time could guess exactly what an elemental looked like.

Let’s step forward to OD&D.

In OD&D, we get stats more familiar to D&D players, but still no concrete description. Air elementals can turn into whirlwinds, and fire elementals are called up from flame of considerable heat (i.e. large fires, lava pools, etc.), and water elementals are generally confined to bodies of water, though they can fight out of water. Now, I don’t own the original books, so there might be an illustration I’m unaware of in them, but I think at this point elementals are still pretty vague.

In AD&D’s Monster Manual, we get illustrations of elementals. Maybe they were always meant to look as they do in that book, or maybe that was just the artist taking a guess. I don’t know, but it does present a problem. When you’re fighting fire, air and water elementals, they don’t appear to have a solid form, according to the art, yet the old stats have been carried forward, and you can harm them with the same mundane weapons you can use against orcs and hobgoblins [Edit – as the first commenter John L noted, by this time, they had decided that elementals do require magic weapons to harm – so my blog post becomes at least 50% pointless!]. This seems weird. I’m sure it’s an artifact of the rules, and I’m always happy to just say “it is what it is” and move on, but it makes me wonder if elementals weren’t originally conceived of as being the solid creatures of Paracelsus rather than animated bits of air, earth, fire and water.

Paracelsus wrote about elementals in the 16th century. They were alchemical beings, and came in four varieties, each associated with one of the four classical elements – Sylphs (Air), Undines (Water), Gnomes (Earth) and Salamanders (Fire).

The classical elementals were creatures formed of the four classical elements but apparently appearing as being composed of flesh and blood. It makes more sense that fire elementals can be harmed with normal weapons when you imagine them as salamanders as Pliny described them: “an animal like a lizard in shape and with a body starred all over; it never comes out except during heavy showers and disappears the moment the weather becomes clear.” Pliny’s salamanders like the rain, though, and apparently can extinguish flames with the frigidity of their bodies – definitely not the fire elementals we are used to, though very much like the frost salamanders of BD&D.

Leonardo da Vinci described them thus:  “This has no digestive organs, and gets no food but from the fire, in which it constantly renews its scaly skin. The salamander, which renews its scaly skin in the fire,—for virtue.”

Now, da Vinci invented tanks, so I’m willing to take his word for it on just about anything, especially fire elementals

Paracelsus obviously associated them with the latter description, and so we have fire elementals that are not animated flames, but rather reptilians who like things hot. A description like this jibes a bit better with the monster’s stats in D&D than their appearance as living flames (or water or air) does.

So we have three options in handling the non-earth elementals:

1 – Just take them as they are, whether it makes sense or not. Probably the best route.

2 – Depict them as solid beings rather than animated fire, air and water. You don’t have to use the classical depictions  – earth elementals as little dwarves, undines and sylphs as beautiful women and salamanders as reptiles. Instead, you could make them all look like humanoids (maybe demons), or even as some sort of dragon.

3 – Make elementals a bit more powerful by making them immune to non-magical weapons, which is apparently what they did in BD&D and AD&D.

Edited for the fact that I’m a dork that forgot they changed the elementals between OD&D and BD&D and AD&D and made them only hit by magic weapons – I’m old and forgetful, so have pity on me.

Astral Anglers [New Monster]

Saw a picture of ice fishing, and this idea popped into my head.

ASTRAL ANGLER

Large Outsider, Chaotic (NE), Average Intelligence; Solitary

Astral anglers look something like crystaline gulper fish, with massive mouths and long, thick bodies. Their bodies are largely transparent, but the creatures organs are a pulsating pink, and thus can be seen through the monster’s flesh.

HD: 8
AC: 18
ATK: Bite (2d6 + swallow whole)
MV: 40
SV: F8 R9 W9
XP: 800 (CL 9)

Astral anglers appear to exist for the express purpose of eating and swimming. They never speak, and their eyes show not a glimmer of intelligence. In fact, they explorers, slowly mapping the myriad psychic eddies and flows of the Astral Plane, imprinting their knowledge on their gemstone brains.

Mapping an infinite plane is hungry work, of course, which leads to the astral angler’s strategy for hunting. The monster extends a lure into the Material Plane, and when something grabs it, the monster yanks them into the Astral Plane to be swallowed.

SPECIAL ABILITIES
An astral angler opens portals into the Material Plane by opening its mouth and expelling a weird humming sound. This weakens the barrier between planes, creating an invisible portal that can be noticed by some creatures as a ripple in space.

Through this portal, the beast extends something like a tongue. This tongue is long and pink in reality, but it is charged with psionic particles, such that in the Material Plane it appears as something the monster’s prey envisions as their fondest desire. The particles pick up needs and wants that a group has in common, so the tongue appears as the same to thing to all. This is an illusion effect, and can be overcome in the normal way.

When a creature touches the tongue, they stick fast to it unless they pass a Will saving throw. A person stuck to the tongue is suddenly jerked through the invisible portal and into the Astral Plane. The portal remains open for 10 minutes, and others can move through it without difficulty.

The original victim that is jerked in is immediately attacked by the astral angler using its bite attack.

Preview Time

Wow – it’s been almost a week since last I posted. What have I been up to? Well, aside from work, a little economics-oriented freelance stuff, and doing the family thang, I’ve been working on NOD 22 and the Tome of Monsters. So – time for a preview post!

[Oh – and the physical version of NOD 22 is now up for sale at Lulu!]

NOD 23 – The Ende Hexcrawl

Foreigners have called the plateau of Ende the land of monsters, and rightly so. In ancient days past, the elves dominated the west and the dragons the lands of Mu-Pan, but the rest of the planet was given over to monsters, especially the colossal mountains called the Great Yamas.

In the primordial days, the Kabir did battle on this plateau where the ancient river Ende runs down from the mountain glaciers. They clashed with the demons and other outsiders who sought to colonize Nod, leaving behind small pockets of these monsters and their servants, and a great fortress-temple called Aornus, wherein was hidden a mighty artifact of the kind they had used to defeat the demons and push them into the underworld beneath the Great Yamas.

Before the receding of the waters of Mother Ocean and the South Seas, Ende was a hilly peninsula jutting from the Yamas and dominated by two tribes, the Rakshasa and the Naga. The Rakshasa dominated the goblins and ogres, while the Naga dominated tribes of lizard-men and ophidians. Between them, the Rakshasa and Naga constructed the fortresses that would become the four great city-states of the plateau.

Eventually, the waters did recede and revealed the vast lowlands that would become the plains of Gondar and the tangled jungles of Djangala. These virgin territories attracted human, demi-human and humanoid tribes, who came under the sway of the monstrous tribes of the plateau for a time, before asserting their independence.

Due to the presence of the fortress Aornus and the mythical engine of destruction concealed within, the plateau has been visited by many armies over the centuries, including diving armies of demons and angels. As a result, the plateau is home to many more aasimar (called aasura in Ende) and tieflings (called teivas in Ende) than can be found throughout most of Nod.

Ende today is much as it has been for centuries, a land of adventure, danger and potential wealth. After many millennia of settlement, the land is rife with ruins hiding treasures beyond belief. The cities of the plateau, constructed over a thousand years ago, sit atop ancient iterations of them-selves, one city atop another, forming vast dungeons clogged with treasure and the non-human tribes that originated the cities before humans settled on the plateau.

TOME OF MONSTERS

This is shaping up pretty nicely. Art is being commissioned and is flowing in – below is a sample page as the layout now stands. Looks like this one will feature 145 new entries (some with multiple monsters per entry).

 Okay folks – back to work!

The Greyhawk Tomb of Horrors Company – A Campaign Notion

I’m still reading Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (it’s not a small book), and I’m now reading about the various merchant companies that held monopolies to trade with various colonies of the U.K. This got me thinking about using a similar concept in fantasy rpg’s.

In this case, you would have countries or city-states establish control over a mega-dungeon and the immediate region around it. This actually makes some sense, when you consider the incredible wealth (monetary and magical) held in a mega-dungeon. For a fun campaign, you would probably want to establish multiple mega-dungeons in a campaign world, with different countries controlling them.

Each of these mega-dungeons has a different adventurer company that holds a monopoly on its exploration and exploitation, with a percentage of all proceeds going to the government that gave it the charter. The adventurer company might be a joint stock company, in which different NPC’s (wealthy merchants, sinister types, aristocrats, and the adventurers themselves) hold stock, with an annual dividend based on how well the adventurers have done in their explorations. The adventurer company could have multiple adventurers in it, of varying levels – so players could have multiple adventurers, bringing new ones in at times as old adventurers die off or rise to higher levels and need apprentices and squires.

Moreover, as the adventurers hit the name levels, the strongholds they establish could be in the region of the mega-dungeon, as a means for the company to control the area. Of course, rival nations would want to wrest control of the dungeon away from the company and its country, so now wargaming can enter into the campaign. The adventurers might also get involved in conquering other mega-dungeons, and even establishing their own companies to exploit them.

As adventurers become more wealthy, they can attempt to buy more shares in the company, maybe rising the level of directors and having to engage in all the intrigue that surrounds big money and royal courts.

I imagine this could make for a fun framework for running a campaign.

Human and Humanoid Armies, the Adam Smith Way

I have of late been reading Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. It’s a great book, and very enlightening, not only for his insights into the operation of economics, but also for his asides regarding the American revolution and, in a latter chapter, his investigations into war.

Specifically, his investigations into the costs of maintaining an army in times of war and peace. He doesn’t get too deep into the weeds, of course, but reading Book V: Chapter I: Part I reminded me a bit of reading the demographics that Gygax inserts, piecemeal, into the Monster Manual and elsewhere in the AD&D canon.

The chapter in question regards the costs to a sovereign in maintaining an army. It gives some ideas on different phases of human development, and their effect on manpower and expense.

Smith divides human development into three categories, with the earliest being hunters, the second shepherds and the third farmers and craftsmen. In Gygaxian, D&D terms, we could think of the humanoids (orcs, goblins, etc.) and human tribesmen as hunters, the human nomads and dervishes as shepherds, and the settled humans and demi-humans as the farmers, husbandmen and craftsmen.

I found the following paragraphs interesting:

“Among nations of hunters, the lowest and rudest state of society, such as we find it among the native tribes of North America, every man is a warrior, as well as a hunter. When he goes to war, either to defend his society, or to revenge the injuries which have been done to it by other societies, he maintains himself by his own labour, in the same manner as when he lives at home.”

“An army of hunters can seldom exceed two or three hundred men. The precarious subsistence which the chace affords, could seldom allow a greater number to keep together for any considerable time.”

In other words, most humanoid encounters are going to be with warriors and their wives and children. To put it another way, the wild folks you encounter in the wilderness in D&D are all warriors. He would also place the size of these tribes at a maximum of 300 warriors.

“Among nations of shepherds, a more advanced state of society, such as we find it among the Tartars and Arabs, every man is, in the same manner, a warrior. Such nations have commonly no fixed habitation, but live either in tents, or in a sort of covered waggons, which are easily transported from place to place. The whole tribe, or nation, changes its situation according to the different seasons of the year, as well as according to other accidents. When its herds and flocks have consumed the forage of one part of the country, it removes to another, and from that to a third. In the dry season, it comes down to the banks of the rivers; in the wet season, it retires to the upper country. When such a nation goes to war, the warriors will not trust their herds and flocks to the feeble defence of their old men, their women and children; and their old men, their women and children, will not be left behind without defence, and without subsistence. The whole nation, besides, being accustomed to a wandering life, even in time of peace, easily takes the field in time of war. Whether it marches as an army, or moves about as a company of herdsmen, the way of life is nearly the same, though the object proposed by it be very different. They all go to war together, therefore, and everyone does as well as he can. Among the Tartars, even the women have been frequently known to engage in battle. If they conquer, whatever belongs to the hostile tribe is the recompence of the victory; but if they are vanquished, all is lost; and not only their herds and flocks, but their women and children become the booty of the conqueror. Even the greater part of those who survive the action are obliged to submit to him for the sake of immediate subsistence. The rest are commonly dissipated and dispersed in the desert.

The ordinary life, the ordinary exercise of a Tartar or Arab, prepares him sufficiently for war. Running, wrestling, cudgel-playing, throwing the javelin, drawing the bow, etc. are the common pastimes of those who live in the open air, and are all of them the images of war. When a Tartar or Arab actually goes to war, he is maintained by his own herds and flocks, which he carries with him, in the same manner as in peace. His chief or sovereign (for those nations have all chiefs or sovereigns) is at no sort of expense in preparing him for the field; and when he is in it, the chance of plunder is the only pay which he either expects or requires.”

“An army of shepherds, on the contrary, may sometimes amount to two or three hundred thousand. As long as nothing stops their progress, as long as they can go on from one district, of which they have consumed the forage, to another, which is yet entire; there seems to be scarce any limit to the number who can march on together.”

In D&D terms, this applies to nomads and dervishes, and maybe those barbarian tribes a high level barbarian can summon. Smith would again make warriors of all the men in the tribe, and a even a few women.

“Agriculture, even in its rudest and lowest state, supposes a settlement, some sort of fixed habitation, which cannot be abandoned without great loss. When a nation of mere husbandmen, therefore, goes to war, the whole people cannot take the field together. The old men, the women and children, at least, must remain at home, to take care of the habitation. All the men of the military age, however, may take the field, and in small nations of this kind, have frequently done so. In every nation, the men of the military age are supposed to amount to about a fourth or a fifth part of the whole body of the people.”

So now we’ve reached settlements, and we find that their men-at-arms number about 20% to 25% of the population. An encounter with 500 nomads might include 250 warriors (assuming about 50% male/50% female), while you would need a settlement of 1,000 people to muster up 250 men-at-arms.

“The number of those who can go to war, in proportion to the whole number of the people, is necessarily much smaller in a civilized than in a rude state of society. In a civilized society, as the soldiers are maintained altogether by the labour of those who are not soldiers, the number of the former can never exceed what the latter can maintain, over and above maintaining, in a manner suitable to their respective stations, both themselves and the other officers of government and law, whom they are obliged to maintain. In the little agrarian states of ancient Greece, a fourth or a fifth part of the whole body of the people considered the themselves as soldiers, and would sometimes, it is said, take the field. Among the civilized nations of modern Europe, it is commonly computed, that not more than the one hundredth part of the inhabitants of any country can be employed as soldiers, without ruin to the country which pays the expense of their service.”

This now creates a distinction between the ancient civilizations and the modern (i.e. 18th century) – the ancient putting about 20% of the population in the field to fight, the 18th century about 1% of the population.

“A shepherd has a great deal of leisure; a husbandman, in the rude state of husbandry, has some; an artificer or manufacturer has none at all. The first may, without any loss, employ a great deal of his time in martial exercises; the second may employ some part of it; but the last cannot employ a single hour in them without some loss, and his attention to his own interest naturally leads him to neglect them altogether. Those improvements in husbandry, too, which the progress of arts and manufactures necessarily introduces, leave the husbandman as little leisure as the artificer. Military exercises come to be as much neglected by the inhabitants of the country as by those of the town, and the great body of the people becomes altogether unwarlike. That wealth, at the same time, which always follows the improvements of agriculture and manufactures, and which, in reality, is no more than the accumulated produce of those improvements, provokes the invasion of all their neighbours. An industrious, and, upon that account, a wealthy nation, is of all nations the most likely to be attacked; and unless the state takes some new measure for the public defence, the natural habits of the people render them altogether incapable of defending themselves.”

Here we see a justification for 1 HD nomads and humanoids versus 0-level humans. The humans are mostly farmers and craftsmen, and don’t have much time for training. Maybe we could say 1d8 hit points of nomads and hunters, 1d6 for farmers and 1d4 for city folk would be about right.

“In these circumstances, there seem to be but two methods by which the state can make any tolerable provision for the public defence.

It may either, first, by means of a very rigorous police, and in spite of the whole bent of the interest, genius, and inclinations of the people, enforce the practice of military exercises, and oblige either all the citizens of the military age, or a certain number of them, to join in some measure the trade of a soldier to whatever other trade or profession they may happen to carry on.

Or, secondly, by maintaining and employing a certain number of citizens in the constant practice of military exercises, it may render the trade of a soldier a particular trade, separate and distinct from all others.

If the state has recourse to the first of those two expedients, its military force is said to consist in a militia; if to the second, it is said to consist in a standing army. The practice of military exercises is the sole or principal occupation of the soldiers of a standing army, and the maintenance or pay which the state affords them is the principal and ordinary fund of their subsistence. The practice of military exercises is only the occasional occupation of the soldiers of a militia, and they derive the principal and ordinary fund of their subsistence from some other occupation. In a militia, the character of the labourer, artificer, or tradesman, predominates over that of the soldier; in a standing army, that of the soldier predominates over every other character; and in this distinction seems to consist the essential difference between those two different species of military force.”

The distinction between militia and standing army is interesting. In D&D terms, the militia are the 0-level humans and the soldiers are the 1 HD men-at-arms, with perhaps a few of the better of the men-at-arms being capable of becoming 1st level fighters.

So – read your Adam Smith, and everything else you can find – for you never know where you’ll glean something useful for your hobby.