Easy Peasy Wracked with Diseasy

Illustration by Jon Kaufman

For the second edition of Blood & Treasure, I had a few goals in mind: 1) Better layout. 2) Incorporate errata and edit like crazy. 3) A little more gonzo, a little less standardized. 4) Streamline anything you can streamline.

That brings me to disease. The rules I used before were relatively easy, but I wasn’t really satisfied with them. I hit on this point in a post a while back, and developed a disease system that I published in NOD 28 that focuses on symptoms rather than on named diseases. For Blood & Treasure, I decided to use a simplified version of this. While somewhat random, it takes into account the monster or dungeon level delivering the disease, and hopefully sets up a race against time aspect that will add to rather than diminish the drama of an adventure.

DISEASE

When a character is injured by a contaminated attack, touches an item smeared with diseased matter or consumes disease-tainted food or drink, he must make an immediate Fortitude save. If he succeeds, his immune system fights off the disease and he suffers no ill effect.

If he fails the saving throw, the TK rolls 1d6 and adds the Hit Dice of the monster that infected him, or the level of the dungeon on which he was infected. Consult the table below. The infected creature will suffer all of the effects on the table up to the number rolled. The effects start at the times indicated on the table.

For example, a character who is both fatigued and sickened with feel the effects of fatigue in one round, and the effects of being sickened in 1 turn.

If an ability score is indicated, roll 1d10 to determine which score is affected:

Each day, the creature can attempt a new Fortitude save against the disease. If the roll is a failure, he continues suffering the ill effects as indicated on the table. If he succeeds, those ill effects are reduced by one level. When the character suffers no further ill effects, the disease has run its course.

While the character is diseased, they do not benefit from natural healing, although magical healing works on them. A cure disease spell will, of course, completely eradicate the disease, ending all ill effects.

Of course, once “cure disease” shows up, it just doesn’t matter, which is why the system is short.

I MIGHT CHANGE SAVING THROWS

This brings up the other part of the game I might streamline. I say might, because I haven’t made the change yet.

Saving throws in the game currently use three categories – Fortitude, Reflex and Will. As categories, they make sense and players can generally figure out what save they should be making when a situation comes up.

A post over at Delta’s D&D Hotspot got me thinking of another way that is more “gamist”, but which I think might be an improvement.

Delta was showing how the OD&D fighter’s saving throws went in an order from easiest to hardest, with the easiest saves being the one’s against the most dire circumstances. I like this idea. Why should it be easiest to save vs. petrification? Because failing that save means your character is dead, unless you have a high enough level magic-user who can turn you back. It treats saving throws more as “get out of jail free” cards than as simulating something real. I know this will bug the heck out of some folks, but I like it. It keeps the game a game.

This got me thinking about using a single saving throw number for each level – so only one number on the sheet, which fits into streamlining – with a blanket +3 bonus against instant effects that are (almost) unalterable – things that really screw up your precious character like instant death, polymorph, paralysis, petrification and the like. The classes would then have their own little +1 to save vs. something – fighters vs. dragon breath, spellcasters vs. spells – that sort of thing.

If I’m honest … it also saves lots of room in the books and makes monsters a bit easier to run.

Again, I haven’t made this change yet, but I think I’m going to.

I’m like 90% certain I’m going to.

Probably.

I think.

Dragon by Dragon – November 1980

It’s time for another review of the grand old Dragon, and this time with a special guest appearance by White Dwarf #21. I figure, why not look at what WD was up to during the same month of Dragon I’m reviewing – see how the gaming communities in the US and UK differed.

First, though, we’ll dip into the Dragon and see what $3 got you back in 1980.

As you might be able to tell from the cover, this issue presents a new version of the Witch as an “NPC” class, written by Bill Mulhausen and revised and edited by Kim Mohan and Tom Moldvay. The first was back in Dragon #20, from November of 1978. I guess November is the month for witches.

This version is much like the one that will appear a few years later, dividing the witch into low (level 1-16) and high (level 17-22) orders. This is reminiscent of the AD&D druid. Here are a few of the essentials of the witch:

Requirements: Intelligence and Wisdom must be 15 or higher, must be human or elf (and elves are limited to 9th level, and can multi-class as witches).

Hit Dice: d4 to 11th level, +1 hit point per level thereafter.

Attack and save as magic-users.

Witches receive bonus spells for high Intelligence, as a cleric does for high Wisdom. Their chance to know each spell and such are as for a magic-user. For younger readers, AD&D magic-users had a percent chance to be able to learn any given spell of a level. This was based on their intelligence. You had to roll for each spell to see if a magic-user could learn it. So yeah, you could conceivably have a magic-user who couldn’t learn magic missile, fireball or lightning bolt.

The witch has rules for followers (gains 1d10x20 at 9th level if she establishes a place of worship), and rules about how many apprentices she can have.) She can apply for membership in the high order at level 10 if her Intelligence and Wisdom are 16 or higher and if she possesses a magic crystal ball, mirror or libram. High order witches can advance to 22nd level, and they receive special high order spells at each level from 16 to 22.

Besides their spells, they can brew poisons and narcotics, which they learn as they advance in level. This includes sleep (3rd level), truth (4th level) and love potions 6th level). She can read druid scrolls with no chance of failure, magic-user and illusionist scrolls with a 10% chance of failure and cleric spells if the spell is also on the witch’s spell list (8th level).

Witches can manufacture one magic candle per month at 9th level. The candles can cause love, offer magical protection, heal damage and other effects. She gets a familiar at 10th level, can brew flying ointment at 13th level, control dolls at 15th level, can fascinate with her gaze at 17th level, use limited wish at 21st level and shape change at 22nd level.

The witch has 8 levels of spells, which involve lots of charming, divination, some healing and a few offensive spells. It’s a cool class, but I can’t help but think you’d be just as well off with a magic-user.

Dave Cook (that one) offers some survival tips for the Slave Pits tournament at GenCon XIII. I only mention it here because those adventures went on to be classics when they were published as modules.

We also learn in this issue that Frank Mentzer won the 4th Invitational AD&D Masters Tournament at GenCon XIII. Dig that crazy shirt …

 

Speaking of great Dungeon Masters, this issue has a DM Evaluation Form for players to fill out. Here’s a sample …

 

This runs on for several pages and 43 questions! A couple issues ago, a reader complained that the adventures in the magazine were filler. This, ladies and gentlemen, is filler. I’m guessing GenCon kept them busy.

The Bestiary has some choice bits …

 

This is an amazon, art by Erol Otus (of course), monster by Roger E. Moore. I’d detail the monster stats here, but frankly, they’re humans and the women do all the “men’s work” and vice versa. Not much to see here – but the art is cool.

Todd Lockwood has a monster called a Tolwar that is basically a trunkless elephant who can telekinetically throw boulders (2d12 damage). They serve as loyal mounts.

Tolwar, Large Monster: HD 6, AC 15, ATK 1 slam (2d4) or 2 boulders (900’/2d12), MV 40′, SV F10 R11 W17, AL Neutral (N), XP 600 (CL 7), Special-Hurl boulders, only surprised on 1, telekinesis (100 lb), catch boulders with telekinesis (75%).

Ed Greenwood presents the lythlyx, a weird spiral creature that whips, constrict and drain blood from people.

Lythlyx, Large Aberration: HD 6, AC 19, ATK 1 whip (2d6 + constrict 3d6 + blood drain 1d4), MV 15′ (Fly 20′, Swim 20′), SV F13 R14 W11, AL Neutral (N), XP 600 (CL 7), Special-Blood drain can be used to heal monster (heal 1 hp per 4 hp taken), immune to charm, command, fear, hold monster and sleep, psionic attacks (all).

Now, give me a bunch of amazon warriors on tolwars hurling boulders at a band of adventurers who have stolen some amazon gold and are hiding in a half-ruined wizard’s tower, and you’ve got an adventure.

Philip Meyers has an article about disbelieving illusions, or more specifically phantasmal force. He comes up with a little system based on the intelligence of viewer and how suspicious they are about what they’re seeing. In the table below, situation 1 represents a character who has been informed about the illusion, and 6 is where the character expects to see what the illusion is depicting – in other words, 1 is super suspicious, and 6 is not suspicious at all.

 

 

The number is the percent chance of disbelief. It is increase by +20% if olfactory or thermal components are expected but not present, +20% if aural components are expected but not present, +10% if victim of illusion is an illusionist, -10% if victim is surprised and +10% if victim’s Wisdom is 15 or higher.

I reckon you can do about the same by giving a bonus to save vs. phantasmal force as opposed to improved phantasmal force or spectral force.

This issue contains a Traveller adventure called Canard. I won’t comment, because I’ve never played Traveller, but if you’re a fan, it’s probably worth checking out.

Two reviews which might be of interest – the first a Game Designers Workshop (not Games Workshop, as I originally posted) offering called Azhanti High Lightning, about fighting aboard a giant starship. The review was positive, but wonders whether or not they should have tried to tie it to Traveller.

They also review SPI’s DragonQuest, their first “serious” foray into Fantasy RPGs. The reviewer likes it – the intentional rather than random character generation, the action points in combat – but does not care for the way experience is handed out. Overall – positive review, and another reminder that Old School gaming was already becoming “Old School” in 1980.

I’ll also note Hero, by Yaquinto Games. It was an “album game” – “The physical layout is like that of a double record album. The components are stored in the pockets, while the playing surface is printed on the two inside faces.”

 

Very cool idea, and it would be fun to see something similar done these days, especially considering the connection between Old School gaming and bitchin’ Heavy Metal album art.

I liked this comic …

 

A scroll of illiteracy would be a great cursed item in a game.

A fair issue of Dragon, with a couple notable bits.

So, what was White Dwarf up to in November (really Oct/Nov) of 1980.

First – cool cover, but there are much better WD covers yet to come. You also notice, right off, that the layout of WD is much more professional than for Dragon at this point. Dragon makes some improvements over the years, but frankly never looked as good, and by the 1990’s and 2000’s looked terrible.

In this issue, Andrew Finch presents some cool material inspired by The Chronicle of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever. We have a new class, Lore Lords, who combine the spell-casting ability of magic-users and clerics, along with d8 hit dice and studded leather armor. Fortunately, this is balanced by a high XP requirement. Similar classes are the Rhadamaerl, who specialize in the lord of stone, and Hirebrand, who specializes in the lore of wood. There are also Bloodguards, who serve as bodyguards for Lore Lords, songs of summoning and words of power. Having never read the Thomas Convenant books, I cannot rate how accurate these classes are, but for fans they’re probably worth checking out. One bit I liked for Lore Lords was their ability to communicate telepathically with one another. A cool house rule might permit magic-users with intelligence and wisdom of 15 or higher to communicate this way with one another.

Roger E. Moore (yeah, that guy) presents a merchant class. It’s actually pretty close to the Venturer class I did, and I promise I hadn’t seen this write up when I wrote mine. Moore’s merchants can open locks, appraise items and use suggestion and command when speaking with people. These are all percentage skills, like those of the thief. Good class.

Azhanti High Lightning gets a review in this issue – positive as in the Dragon.

The Fiend Factory has several cool monsters, the Brothers of the Pine, Chthon, Enslaver, Micemen, Dragon Warriors, Grey Sqaargs and Cyclops. Here are some quick stats:

Brothers of the Pine, Medium Undead: HD 3, AC 15 [+1], ATK 1 weapon, MV 30′, SV F15 R15 W12, AL Chaotic (LE/NE), XP 1500 (CL 5), Special-Cast one 1st level druid spell per day, shrieking wail (save or flee for 1d8 turns), immune to cold, resistance to electricity, vulnerable to fire, only plant-based spells affect them.

Chthon, Medium Aberration: HD 8, AC 20, ATK nil, MV 0′, SV F13 R- W9, AL Chaotic (LE), XP 800 (CL 10), Special-Mineral intellect that hates all animal and plant life, especially intelligent, control up to 20 plants and animals (save to negate).

Enslaver, Tiny Aberration: HD 2+1, AC 14, ATK special, MV 10′, SV F19 R17 W12, AL Chaotic (CE), XP 200 (CL 3), Special-Blindsight 30′, 90% chance of hiding among rocks, dominate creatures that touch them (save negates), hosts freed from domination must make system shock roll or die, hosts are immune to pain and mind effects.

Micemen (crossbreed of brownie and orc!), Small Humanoid: HD 1-1, AC 13, ATK 1 javelin and dagger, MV 30′, SV F14 R16 W16, AL Chaotic (LE), Special-Infravision 90′, shun bright lights, surprise (4 in 6). Despite the picture, I’d like to see these dudes as evil piglets dressed as Robin Hood.

Dragon Warrior (made from dragon teeth), Medium Construct: HD 5+1, AC special, ATK 1 weapon, MV 20′, SV F14 R14 W14, AL Neutral (N), XP 500 (CL 6), Special-Cannot speak, obey commands, last for a number of turns equal to the dragon’s age category, +1 to hit, +2 to damage, attack as 6th level fighters, immune to parent’s breath weapon type, sleep, charm and hold, clad in scale armor and armed with broadsword, disintegrate when killed or dispelled.

Grey Sqaarg, Medium Construct: HD 6, AC 22, ATK 1 grapple, MV 20′, SV F14 R14 W14, AL Neutral (N), Special-Constructs built by ancient dwarves, never initiate attack, fight with strength bonus to hit and damage equal to combined modifiers of attackers, grapples to incapacitate people, made of solid stone, magic resistance 30%.

Cyclops, Large Giant: HD 6, AC 14, ATK 2 claws (1d6), bite (2d6), MV 30′, SV F10 R14 W14, AL Chaotic (CE), Special-Hypnotic stare, -1 to hit melee, -2 to hit ranged, +2 save vs. illusion, prefer to eat demi-humans to humans, breed with human females.

White Dwarf #21 also contains a sci-fi boardgame called Survival and a dungeon called the Tomb of the Maharaja. It is, I’m afraid, quite short and not terribly interesting.

All-in-all, some pretty cool stuff from the Brits in November 1980 – and of course, lots of art by Russ Nicholson.

Well, that does it for this edition of Dragon by Dragon. As always, I leave you with Tramp …

The Saboteur – A New-Old Class

Circa 1984, I was in 6th grade and discovering role playing games – well, Dungeons & Dragons. I’d played a game with a friend who only knew the game based on watching his older brother play. He drew up a dungeon on graph paper, and during recess he ran me through it using a D6.

The next step was me getting Moldvay Basic from Toys ‘R’ Us, then Cook Expert, then into the AD&D line (dude – rangers are cool).

Now, I want to bring the younger readers back into these primitive times. Photocopiers existed, but they weren’t cheap. I convinced my mom to spend a decent chunk of change letting me check out copies of Dragon magazine from the library, take them to Kinkos, and copying articles at $.25 a page. Eventually she found it cheaper to get me a subscription for Christmas. Before I got to that lofty place, though, the way I copied stuff was with a typewriter. I remember borrowing module B1 – In Search of the Unknown – from a friend and typing it page by page – double column (which involved actually making a few spaces and then writing the line of text in the next column) and then tracing the pictures. Hey – it worked – got B1 for free (wish I still had that copy I typed).

Around that time, I decided to write my own game. To say it was heavily influenced by D&D rules would be an understatement, of course, but I was smart enough to know that if the game was to be original, I needed to spin things a bit. Thus, the thief became the saboteur. I don’t remember much about the old saboteur (again, wish I still had those typewritten pages somewhere), but today I got to thinking about that old game, and those old times, and figured I’d make a new saboteur class for Blood & Treasure.

THE SABOTEUR

Hit Dice: d6 per level, +2 hp per level after 10th
Attack: as thief
Save: as thief

Saboteurs must have a dexterity score of 9 or higher and an intelligence score of 12 or higher. They can wear up to leather armor and cannot use shields. Saboteurs can use daggers, flails, clubs, maces, morningstars, crossbows and firearms.

Special Abilities

Saboteurs are skilled at the following tasks: Climb walls, hide in shadows, move silently, open locks, remove traps, use and disable mechanical devices, use magic items (after 8th level) and operate siege engines. For many of these tasks, they require a set of sabotage tools.

Saboteurs are capable of concocting explosives. At 1st level, they can concoct black powder explosives that deal 1d6 points of damage per pound. They can attach fuses that take from 1 round to 1 minute to detonate. One pound of powder requires 1 day and 10 gp for the saboteur to create.

When a 3rd level saboteur strikes a foe that is wearing armor, he can forgo dealing damage and instead lower their effective Armor Class by 1 per 3 saboteur levels. The effective AC of the armor remains lowered after the combat until it is repaired by an armorer.

At 6th level, the saboteur can spend an extra day and an extra 25 gp (so 2 days, 35 gp) to make a more refined and powerful explosive that deals 1d10 points of damage per pound.

Saboteurs always deal double damage with their weapons and explosives against constructs and mechanical devices. This includes magical constructs. A 6th level saboteur can damage golems even without magic weapons, though he does not deal double damage against them. Moreover, when he successfully strikes a golem by rolling a natural ’20’, the golem loses its magic immunity for 1 round.

9th level saboteurs can damage magic items to the extent that they lose their powers for up to 1 day per the saboteur’s intelligence bonus (if she has an intelligence bonus). The saboteur must be able to handle the item, and must employ lodestones, lead wire and a silver hammer to temporarily cancel the magic item’s properties.

Saboteurs do not build strongholds, but they do gain followers. Starting at 7th level, a saboteur attracts one follower per level until they reach 11th level. Followers who die are not replaced. Roll these followers on the following chart:

1. 1d4 gnome tinkerers (0-level)
2. 1d3 rogues (0-level – see henchmen section to determine abilities)
3. 1d2 men-at-arms (leather armor, short sword, light crossbow)
4. Assassin (roll 1d2 for level)*
5. Thief (roll 1d3 for level)*
6. Saboteur apprentice (roll 1d4 for level)*

* Takes a 10% share of the saboteur’s experience points.

Dragon by Dragon – October 1980

While the world is embracing Spring outside (at least here in Las Vegas), Dragon by Dragon is getting into Fall, with the cover to the October 1980 issue warning “the doomed only beyond this point”. Let us throw caution to the wind, and dare to plumb the depths of issue #41 of Dragon.

For a start, the cover is by Steve Oliff, and is his first for the magazine. Steve is nothing to sneeze at – he has his own Wikipedia entry! Check out his official site if you have a mind to.

Todd Lockwood also has a piece inside – I’m looking forward to it.

I think it’s important for those who are interested in the history of gaming to understand that the same petty moaning and complaining that goes on on the internet today went on on the letters page of Dragon 30 years ago. This issue we have the ever common “I don’t like it, so nobody else should get to see it because its existence negates my happiness” stuff, but also this little gem …

“While I found the article in #37 on neutral dragons interesting, I should like to point out that there is no real need for them in anyone’s world.”

So there you have it. Mr. X (I won’t reprint his name) has spoken. I’d like to point out that there’s also no real need for idiots in the world, but what would be the point.

Speaking of art that one letter writer probably didn’t like …

 

… the contribution by Todd Lockwood, I believe. Now, onto the cool stuff in this issue:

First and foremost, we have a selection of new monsters by Tom Moldvay, including Saraphs from the Elemental Plane of Fire, the Apollyon (servants of Death), the Asperim, who are “super-imps” meant to exasperate players and the Hacamuli (one of the messengers of Orcus).

Since the Apollyon got an illustration, I’ll do some quick Blood & Treasure stats for him:

Apollyon: Large Outsider, HD 15, AC 16 [+1], MV 30′, Fly 60′, ATK 2 claws (1d6) and bite (1d8 + Poison IV), Very intelligent, Neutral alignment; Special-Death ray eyes (1d100 damage), wounds from claws will not heal except by magic and bleed for 1d4 damage per round until healed, bite poison can only be neutralized by cleric.

Ashleigh Parker presents some more new monsters, born in the depths of Hell – the Possessors. Their prince is Selm, and there are three types – Kuei, Pisachas and Asuras. These are incorporeal monsters who are used to possess mortals. They would make highly interesting monsters in a campaign of court intrigue – multiple people possessed by different possessors, all serving Hell unwittingly. Just when the players think they’ve gotten to the bottom of it, they realize they’ve only uncovered one layer of the plot.

Lewis Pulsipher chimes in with “Patron Demons”. This is a neat article, with rules for Chaotic Evil characters making pacts with demon princes. By making sacrifices, he or she can call on the demon prince, who will either show up himself, sent a lesser demon, or send a monster to fight with the caller. You could use this article as the basis for some Chaos Cult wars – the players busting chaos cults, who are sacrificing innocents and then can call on demon princes to help them conquer a kingdom or who knows what.

Here’s a clip from George Laking‘s “Restless Dead” article …

“A thief, however, may attempt to steal from the dead. The Dungeon Master should judge the success and the possible repercussions of the attempt on the type and amount of grave goods taken, precautions-magical and otherwise-taken by the thief, methods used and other significant variables.

Note that robbing any burial mound of recent manufacture (defined as up to ten centuries old) will bring back the dead spirit 10-100% of the time, depending on the age of the burial mound. The DM rolls a d 10 to determine age. then percentile dice to see if the spirit responds.”

The article goes on to describe hauntings by various undead NPC’s who the characters were too cheap to bury properly.

Speaking of quotes, this one from Gary Gygax in “Making Monsters Meaningful”

“Too often DMs complain that monsters are too weak, spells and magic too strong, or players too clever. What is actually stated in most such cases is that the DM is a Dungeon Milquetoast rather than Master.”

The Old Man, throwing some shade.

Quite often, I’ve found that I had to hold back because I was a bit better at tactics than my players, and could make minor encounters pretty threatening just by using some common sense. You have to gauge your players – if they’re good, go all in. If they’re not, killing 20 characters a session won’t do anyone much good, so slow down and hope they catch up.

The Gygax article also features a couple new spells, Crystalbrittle and Energy Drain.

I haven’t mentioned G. Arthur Rahman‘s “Minarian Legends” articles for a few issues, but they’re always very impressive and well worth reading for folks working on creating interesting, engaging, deep campaign worlds.

In Sage Advice, one for the “I like where they’re minds are at” file …

“Question: Is it possible for a high-level Cleric and Magic- User to work in conjunction to create a moving Blade barrier? A Telekinesis spell would provide the motion.”

Oh, and apparently, no – it wouldn’t work. But that’s what the spell research rules are for …

Also …

“Question: When an offensive spell’s range is “touch,” does the touch have to be with a hand?”

Hmmm

In a Len Lakofka article about the inner planes, there is an interesting table for generating whether encountered monsters with Int scores of 4 or lower are hostile. It depends on the relative strength of the party, if they look rich (Occupy Greyhawk?), if the monsters are hungry, etc. Check it out …

 

You could probably simplify by saying 5% chance per following condition met: Monsters chaotic, monsters evil, monster’s hungry, party outnumbered (by 2 to 1 or more), party looks rich, party looks weak. That gives a max 30% chance of unintelligent monsters being hostile.

If the monsters are intelligent, you can allow alignment differences to play a role.

I’m of a divided mind on these articles. My instinct would be to let the inner plane be an exotic place with some rules lite ways to make it distinct from the Material Plane. On the other hand, if a group of adventurers has advanced from 1st level to the point where they can enter the elemental planes, maybe you should take some major pains to make it more than just the material plane with some fancy window dressing.

At a minimum, his descriptions of the planes are pretty cool …

“Elemental Plane of Earth: Soils are translucent, though they may be differently colored. Rock and mineral formations are solid (cannot be seen through or passed through) if they are over one cubic foot in volume. Pebbles and the like can be passed through and seen through. Large rock formations might require Passwall or Phase Door spells. Either spell would produce much longer tunnels on the Elemental Plane of Earth than on the Prime Material.”

 

Giants in the Earth time! Moldvay brings us the following legends this month:

  • Poul Anderson’s Tauno Kraken’s-Bane (8th level half-elf ranger) from The Merman’s Children – a reminder I need to read more Anderson.
  • Robert Adams’ Sir Geros Lahvohettos (9th level fighter) from Revenge of the Horseclans – a series I’ve heard of, but never read.
  • Gordon R Dickson’s James Eckert/Gorbash (0 level teaching assistant/10 HD dragon) from The Dragon and the George – which is sitting on my side table waiting for me to finish The Three Musketeers.
  • Orvar-Odd (21st level fighter) from Arrow-Odd: A Medieval Novel translated by Paul Edwards and Hermann Palsson
  • Heidrek (15th level fighter) from Hervor’s Saga

TSR would do well to cobble all of the stats Moldvay did for Norse heroes and legends and put them out as a mini-Legends and Lore.

Andrew South has a new monster in this issue, the Quatsch. The quatsch is a monkey with yellow fur and a skull face. Here are some quick B&T stats:

Quatsch, Small Monster: HD 1; AC 15; MV 40′; ATK bite (1d4); AL CN; XP 100 (CL 2); Special-Voice causes confusion.

From Phil Meyers, there is the Necroton, a sort of metal crab construct made by wizards – super old school cool in the illustration by Roger Raupp

Necroton, Large Construct: HD 8 to 12 (40-60 hp); AC 17/21 [+1]; MV 30′; ATK 2 pincers (2d6); AL N (NE); XP 4,000 to 6,000 (CL 10 to 14); Special-Eyebeams (paralysis for 1d3 rounds or, 1/day, fireball with damage dice equal to monster HD)

Greg Holley introduces the super-intelligent elemental Well Spirit and Jon Mattson brings the Sandbats and Swampbats – giant flying manta rays dudes. Awesome.

The final piece in this issue is “The Mansion of Mad Professor Ludlow” by James Ward. This is D&D, but not quite D&D. From the introductory paragraph:

“You are all young campers on a week-long camping trip through the woods and wilderness. In the middle of a nighttime hike, you become separated from the rest of your group. None of you is worried, however; you have all taken excellent compass directions and are sure you can eventually find your way back to the campsite. So, with this great chance to do a little exploring on your own, you set out into the woods as a group.”

This one begs to be played on Halloween – could be a good Google+ live session. And how about that Willingham art?

As always, I leave you with Tramp’s Wormy. Have a productive week citizens, and if you can’t be Lawful, at least try to be Good.

Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition – Skills

Part of cover illustration by David Williams

From now until the game is released, I’m going to do some weekly posts on how the 2nd edition of Blood & Treasure is shaping up.

Blood & Treasure was designed to be rules lite and options heavy, and that isn’t changing in the new edition. My goal is to take nothing out of the game, but to, wherever possible, correct old mistakes and streamline old rules to make them easier to understand and play. That brings us to subject #1 – Skills.

Or tasks, as I prefer to call them. I thought the old system was pretty easy – to whit – if a character is unskilled at a task, roll 1d20, beat 18 and succeed. If a character has a knack (such as an elf searching for secret doors), roll 1d20, beat 15 and succeed. If a character is skilled, roll a saving throw to avoid failure at the task. That way, the skilled – such as thieves climbing walls – get better at tasks as they advance.

Apparently, though, it caused some confusion for people, specifically the saving throw idea. So, how do we adjust?

As follows:

To perform tasks outside of combat, one need only tell the Treasure Keeper (TK) what they wish to accomplish. If the TK thinks the task can be accomplished without much difficulty, he merely tells the player they were successful.

If success is in doubt, either because of the degree of difficulty of the task, or conditions that would make success unlikely, the TK can require a task check.

To make a task check, the player rolls 1d20 and adds to this roll the relevant ability score modifier (see table below) and any bonuses they might have for their race, class or other circumstances.

If the roll is 18 or higher, the task check is a success. If the roll is lower than 18, it fails, with the consequences of the failure determined by the Treasure Keeper.

If the task is one in which a character class is “skilled”, they add their level to the task check.

The ability scores associated with various tasks are as follows (though note that the Treasure Keeper may rule that under some conditions a task might be modified by a different ability score.) …

What follow that is a list of possible tasks, and the ability score that modifies them, such as acrobatics modified by dexterity or swimming modified by strength.

Several tasks rely on using tools. Trying to perform these tasks without the proper equipment should be done at a -2 penalty.

The key thing to remember about tasks checks is that if it seems reasonable that a character can do it, there is no need to roll dice! Save the rolling of dice for difficult, dangerous or dramatic tasks.

Here’s where the options kick in. For those who like the 3rd edition approach, I have an optional simplified skill points system:

Skill Points (Optional)

If your players would like more control over their character’s skills – and you want them to have that control – you can allow them to spend “skill points” on the various tasks in this chapter, each point spent giving them a +1 bonus to use those skills in play.

When attempting a task, the player rolls 1d20, adds their skill bonus, ability modifier, bonuses for race or circumstances, and attempts to roll an 18 or higher to succeed.

The number of skill points available to a character to spend at each level depends on the character’s class. Multi-class characters add their class’ skill point totals together.

 

For those who instead prefer the way old editions handled such things, I have a system inspired partially by the rules for finding secret doors and partially on the original (pre-Gygax) thief class that has been making the rounds in the OD&D blogosphere of late.

Simple Task Checks (Optional)

If you would like to keep task checks extremely simple, you may use the following system:

If characters attempt something at which they are untrained, roll 1d6. On a roll of 1, they succeed.

If they are attempting something at which they excel due to their race, such as elves finding secret doors, roll 1d6. On a roll of 1 to 2, they succeed.

If they are attempting something at which they are skilled due to their character class, consult the following table:

 

 

If the task is more difficult than usual, the TK can rule that it must be rolled on a larger dice, usually d8 or d10.

Note that this system does not take into account ability scores, which may disappoint some players.

So, three options on handling skills in Blood & Treasure taking up about a page and quarter in the rule book. As a game master, I would probably let the players use the standard system, and would use the simplified system for monsters and NPCs.

As always, I’d like to hear the opinions of the readership, especially those who are interested in Blood & Treasure.

Next time, I’ll discuss what I might do with saving throws in 2nd edition Blood & Treasure

Thinking About Armor

While playing with Blood & Treasure’s second edition, I was thinking about armor and it occurred to me that you could characterize the armor table as follows (with AAC standing for Ascending Armor Class, and DAC standing for Descending Armor Class):

Leather = AAC 12 / DAC 8

   mixture of leather and metal, but mostly leather (like brigandine) = AAC 13/ DAC 7

   mixture of leather and metal, but mostly metal (like jazeraint) = AAC 14 / DAC 6

Metal mesh = AAC 15 / DAC 5

   mixture of mesh and solid, but mostly mesh (like mirror armor) = AAC 16 / DAC 4

   mixture of mesh and solid, but mostly solid (like plate & mail) = AAC 17/ DAC 3

Solid metal = AAC 18 / DAC 2

The values above are for a full or almost full suit of armor – from shoulders to lower arms and torso down to knees. For half-armor – shoulders to upper arm, maybe covering upper legs – you deduct a point from the Armor Class value. You could probably take it further, and drop the bonus by 2 for “quarter-armor” for those punk barbarians out there who like to accessorize with armor without really committing to it.

A shield still gives the normal 1 point bump (or in Blood & Treasure, a 1 point bump for bucklers, and a 2 point bump for larger shields).

The point of this would be to make it easy to figure out what protective value different types of armor should have – not just real armor that doesn’t show up on the old leather-mail-plate table, but also illustrations of fantasy heroes and heroines in the fantastic armor artists often dress them.

Also …

GRIT & VIGOR

In print

200 pages of rules and ideas for modern adventures

Gunslingers, daredevils, private eyes, samurais, scoundrels and even scholars!

Hard cover $26.99 | Paperback $18.99

As always, if you purchase a hard cover and email me the receipt, I’ll send you a download link for the PDF

Dragon by Dragon – September 1980

September 1980 is the time.

Between the covers of a Dragon Magazine is the place.

I’m pressed for time today, so let’s get down to business and discover the top ten best things about Dragon Magazine #41 (then I need to kill weeds, mow the yard, get a haircut, edit Mystery Men! and commission art).

1. METHODISTS AND MELEE
Our first article is a time capsule of what was going on in the RPG world at the time, namely the backlash by pseudo-religious folks against D&D. 

Written by Arthur W. Collins … or more properly Reverend Arthur W. Collins … who created the neutral dragons from a few issues ago, this one seems like a “let’s get a religious guy who digs D&D to write an article about how great the hobby is, so the other religious people who hate D&D will look worse.”

For example …

“The non-churched population generally views the Christian faith (and religion in general) in terms of a body of rules and regulations designed to keep one from enjoying oneself. This is a false view, but a prevalent one, and voices in the Christian community have been raised of late saying that such things as Dungeons & Dragons are questionable at best (damnable at worst). The double effect of misunderstanding and misguided righteousness on either hand have made fantasy role-playing games a hot topic in the religious community. It is my purpose to lay out a Christian understanding of the uses of fantasy, and then speak from a pastoral perspective on the value of role-playing games.”

It’s a fine article, and worth reading.

Side note – although I cannot be sure, this might be the fellow himself.

2. JIM HOLLOWAY

Holloway is beginning to appear in Dragon at this point (I think I mentioned him in the last review), which is cool with me. I was always a big fan of his stuff – it had an Osprey quality about it that I always liked – grounding the fantasy in some gritty reality. He’s still learning at this point – the cover is him as well, and isn’t as crisp as later Holloway covers will be. Still – it’s fun watching these artists grow.

3. MOLDVAY’S GIANT IN THE EARTH

Such a great series of article, if for no other reason they offer wonderful opportunities to argue with other nerds about which fictional character could kick which fictional character’s ass.

This one includes stats for some female fantasy favorites, and a couple fellows from the sagas.

C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry (14th level fighter with 18/49 strength)

H. Rider Haggard’s Ayesha (27th level cleric, 9th level fighter with ability scores ranging from 15 to 18/00 – I’m guessing her player used the “roll 20 dice, take the best 3 method”)

Robert E. Howard’s Valeria (17th level fighter, 8th level thief)

Sigurd Fafnirsbane (20th level fighter, 12th level magic-user, 8th level cleric) – this fellow also includes a bit on the Norse runes

Starkad (23th level fighter)

4. DRAGONS HAVE ONE MORE REASON TO WORRY

This issue has two interpretations of the effects of bathing in dragon’s blood, via the sage of Sigurd / Siegfried.

The first is by Robert Plamondon, who gives us the following:

1. AC benefit is one step for every 10 hit points of the dragon, dropping fractions.

2. Successive applications are cumulative to AC 0 (or AC 20 using ascending AC).

3. The only way to beat AC 0 is to slay Tiamat or Bahamut, who give AC -2 and AC -6 respectively.

4. The formula for combining armored skin with actual armor is AC = AC of armor + AC of skin -10. So, AC 9 skin and AC 8 armor combine for AC 7 (=9+8=17-10=7). The formula works for ascending AC as well.

5. The dragon must be dead and must have been slain with edged or piercing weapons. Initial damage cannot have been delivered by heat, cold or electricity. Poison ruins the blood. The magic in the blood lasts for 1 hour. Only one person may bathe in the blood.

6. The toughening of skin is permanent, and only protects against attacks that would pierce the skin, so the bonus can be added to saves against poison needles).

7. There may be a weak spot, where the blood did not cover. The DM knows this, and perhaps assassins could discover this weak spot as well.

The second way to go is Moldvay’s. He points out in the original myth, Sigurd does not bathe in blood, but rather accidentally sucks a blood-covered finger and gains the ability to speak with animals.

To Robert’s system, Moldvay would make the following changes:

1. Armored skin and armor do not stack – use the better of the two.

2. The blood must be the dragon’s heart blood.

3. Only the character that delivered the killing blow can get the benefit of the blood.

5. MAGIC DOORS

Alan Miller in the Bazaar of the Bizarre has a nice random table of magic door abilities, which include intelligent doors, wizard locked doors, illusions, doorknobs that cast fear and doorbells.

6. PRIMITIVE COMPUTER GAMES

There’s a nice article reviewing several Avalon Hill computer games from back in the day. These babies were for the TRS-80 and Apple Pet, and were loaded via cassette. They cost $15 in 1980, which corresponds to about $43 today.

What I really found interesting was the size of these programs, which ranged from a low of 8.5 K to 15 K. Boy, they could do a lot with a byte back in the olden days.

Also this:

“A final note here about pirate copies. Computer programs are just like books and games; they have copyrights. The manufacturer charges the customer for what it costs to research, produce, package, and distribute the games. Some profit is thrown in on top of all this. Without the profit they wouldn’t be in business . . . and you wouldn’t get the games! They are not out to gouge the public. Our markets (oil excluded) are still competitive; if someone else can make a better product for less, the expensive line will either lower prices or fail.

Unlike the recorded music industry, the home computer game field is in its infancy, and there is no real standard yet for just how to market such things. Some companies cloud their programs in machine language, which makes the game harder, but still not impossible, to copy. What it does do is make the program, and the game, next to impossible to change. Other manufacturers, and I heartily applaud Avalon Hill for doing so, put their programs in BASIC (the language most hobby computers speak). This allows the gamer to “play” with his game. You can modify each program in a thousand ways to customize it as you see fit. A gamer can look at every facet of his copy of a board game, throw out the rules he doesn’t like, and make up new ones to suit his fancy. A computer program is no different; let’s keep it this way—and respect those copyrights!”

7. NAPOLEONICS

William Fawcett has a neat article with skirmish rules for 25mm Napoleonic figures. Obviously, I won’t republish them here, but they are well worth a look. If you just added a fantasy supplement to these bad boys …

SIDE TREK – RIDES NEEDED

Yeah, the old days were sure different. Dig this little tidbit …

RIDE NEEDED: I would like to go to Dundracon ’81 and I need a ride from the Los Angeles area. I will help pay for transportation. John Salguero, 449 East Avenue R-7, Palmdale CA 93550.

(Note: Requests and offers for rides to/from convention sites will be printed in this space free of charge for anyone who sends notification to Rides, c/o Dragon Publishing, P.O. Box 110, Lake Geneva WI 53147.)

8. MONSTER ART

The “Dragon’s Bestiary” in this issue features the Silkie by Tom Moldvay. Good monster, and indicative that the game had already started moving beyond the dungeon.

What I really liked about this, however, was the art by Roslof.

Likewise – Ed Greenwood’s Tomb Tapper is all well and good, but dig the art!

9. FINIEOUS FINGERS

I didn’t love this strip like I loved Wormy, but it was probably more D&D than Wormy and probably the first good effort of translating the game into a comic strip. Here’s a nice collection of NPC’s for your own game:

10. THE HALLS OF BEOL-DUR

This is a full adventure by Dave Luther, Jon Naatz, Dave Niessen and Mark Schultz. You have to love an adventure that starts with this:

“It is highly preferable that a large party begin the adventure (attrition will take its toll), and it is essential to the success of an expedition that most, if not all, party members be 8th level or higher.”

It also has a formula for an “original procedure for saving throws” which is really a system for ability checks:

“Roll 3, 4, or 5d6 (the number of dice varies) and subtract one point from the dice roll for every two levels of experience the character has attained. Compare the resulting number to a specified ability (this also varies), and if the adjusted dice roll is less than the character’s score for the ability in question, the saving throw is considered made.”

It’s a solid dungeon delve, with tricks, traps and monsters galore. Also some pretty neat art.

  
That will do it for Dragon 41, folks. Not the best issue, but a good one overall. Enjoy the day, the Super Bowl, the sunshine, etc. 

Hell is for Geniuses

In working on my Blood & Treasure revision, I started thinking today about one of the aspects of monsters that often gets overlooked – intelligence. Starting in AD&D, monsters started getting intelligence ratings, and I think most referees note them and use them to help play a monster encounter, but I wonder whether they really take them into consideration.

Let’s take Hell for an example.

Illustration by Thomas Theodor Heine

Many devils have a high intelligence rating, making them the equivalent of college graduates or even geniuses. A few are super geniuses – and we’re not talking Wile E. Coyote super geniuses, but the real deal – folks smarter than Einstein, Elon Musk and Tony Stark put together. They’re also lawful (evil, but lawful), which means they can work together. Imagine it – thousands of super geniuses working together to create a tech boom in the depths of Hell.

There is some literary precedence for this idea. Milton, in Paradise Lost, noted that the rebel angels used engines of war – possible cannon – in their battle against the Heavenly Host. This was probably an early version of casting “modern” warfare, with its noise and smoke and fire, to our typical vision of Hell, or a Hellish landscape.

We could go a step further, and let the devils in a campaign go full steampunk. What a surprise for high level adventurers, who are expecting the cover to a heavy metal album, and instead enter a nightmarish “World of Tomorrow” when they visit Hell – something more Kirby-esque than classical art. This would also mean that the allies of Hell on the Material Plane would have access to some interesting “magic items” – cannons of course, but also rocket packs, difference engines, steam-powered tanks, etc.

This could make for an interesting campaign, as Hell embraces sorcery and super-science and begins equipping mad wizards and anti-clerics with steam-era technology to conquer the Material Plane, with the adventurers left to discover what this stuff is, how it works, where it comes from and, ultimately, how to stop it. Maybe they’ll need to engineer a rebellion in Hell – the low-order devils against their masters, like something from Metropolis. Or maybe they’ll need to ascend the Seven Heavens and petition the solars and planetars for help in storming the Hellmouth – thousands of aasimars and elves and dwarves brightly arrayed against an undead army that looks like it might have crawled out of the trenches of the First World War!

It could be epic.

Illustration by Thomas Theodor Heine

NOD 28, Revisions and Goodies

It’s a bad sign when you start all of your blog posts with “I’m sorry I haven’t posted lately …”. Still, I’ve been a busy boy, so I have a good excuse. Here are my current RPG projects and a glimpse at what I would like to do moving forward, as well as a few RPG odds and ends mixed in to make this more than an advertisement.

NOD 28

First and foremost – I’ve put NOD 28 out for sale today as a PDF! It’s going for $4.99 – 78 pages, with part one of the Trollheim Mountains hex crawl (trolls, pseudo-Russians, elemental folk, a crazed demigod, etc.), a Swiss mercenary character class, new rules for handling disease in RPG’s and a campaign idea for a “World of Atlantis” game drawing from Theosophy’s notion of “root races”. Tons of fun for $4.99. GET IT HERE or HERE.

BLOOD & TREASURE 2nd edition

I’m about 80% complete with editing and laying out the new B&T Player’s Tome, and about 35% complete with the Treasure Keeper’s Tome. The 2nd edition will not be a major departure from the first, but I’ve made some adjustments to saving throw values, XP requirements, I’ve tried to give the sorcerer some personality and make the ranger the cool cat I remember from youth, streamline any rules that could use streamlining, etc. The goal is still RULES LITE – OPTIONS HEAVY. Most of the work I’ve done is concerned with improving the layout and incorporating the first edition errata. I’ve also commissioned new covers from David Williams, which are being colored now. Here’s a sneak peek – half of this image will be the Player’s Tome, the other half will be the TK’s Tome.

If anybody has an ingenious old school idea they think would improve fantasy gaming, let me know and I’ll see if I can’t incorporate it into the rules.

QUICK MONSTER: GOATMAN

Goatmen live in hidden valleys, deep within forbidding mountains. Half mad, chaos flows through their veins. When the moon is full, they descend into the lowlands, seeking out people to torment or torture.

Goatman, Medium Monstrous Humanoid: HD 1; AC 16; ATK 1 slam (1d6); MV 30; SV F15 R13 W14; XP 250 (CL3); Special-Auras.

Goatmen cause fear (as the spell) to all within 10′ of them. Each time a person succumbs to this fear, the goatman grows larger, gaining 1 hit dice (and all that goes with it). At 6 HD, they become large creatures and their aura changes to one of madness (save or go temporarily mad). Each person that goes mad causes the goatman to gain another HD. At 12 HD, the goatman becomes huge, and the aura becomes one of death. All within 10′ of the beast must save or die. Each creature that dies increases the goatman’s hit dice by 1. At 18 HD, the goatman explodes into shadow and ceases to exist. The land where he explodes becomes permanently blighted and haunted by the souls of those who died.

MYSTERY MEN! Revision

I’m further along with the MM! revision than B&T. The book is laid out, the rules tinkered with, and now I just need to give it a thorough editing. This version will still have the sample Shore City setting and the sample adventure, but will also include several write-ups of heroes and villains.

NEW SPELL: UNWITTING ALLY

Magic-User 2
Range 10′ radius
Duration 1 minute

One enemy helps you despite himself. When this spell is cast, one enemy within 10′ chosen at random must pass a Will save or become your unwitting, unwilling ally. Every move the creature makes has the possibility of helping you. For each action, roll 1d6.

1-2. The creature’s action proceeds as normal.
3-5. The creature’s action proceeds as normal, but has a side effect useful to you.
6. The creature’s action is twisted to your purpose entirely.

Help, in this case, is up to the referee, but would include things like the monster making a move, but also accidentally tripping or running into one his allies, the monster making an attack, but accidentally attacking an ally as well, etc.

BLACK DEATH

The latest Quick and Easy RPG is Black Plague, which really just needs some editing and it’s ready to go. This one is set in the era of Europe’s religious wars (mostly the Hundred Years War), and is intended to be grim and gritty – more survive than thrive. This Q&E is a bit heftier than past editions, due to containing a bit more setting info and some rules for disease and damnation.

QUICK MONSTER: LEAF SWARM

A leaf swarm is a swarm of vicious green insects. They descend on a tree, strip it of leaves, and then take their place. When a creature nears the tree, the leaf swarm strikes, surprising on a roll of 1-4 on 1d6. The monster’s stings cause blindness. The first save a creature fails blurs their vision (-2 to hit and damage), the second failed save blinds them for 1 minute, and the third blinds them permanently.

Leaf Swarm, Tiny Vermin: HD 4; AC 13; ATK 1 swarm (1d3 + special); MV Fly 60; SV F14 R13 W14; XP 400 (CL5); Special-Blindness.

THE FUTURE

What I’d like to start doing next is producing more adventure material for the games I’ve written. No more games for me – just fun, supplemental material.

For GRIT & VIGOR I want to do setting books that cover different eras – the historical events that lend themselves towards adventure, the equipment, the personalities. Each book would also have an adventure for that era. These would be trade paperbacks, probably 40 to 60 pages.

For MYSTERY MEN! I’d like to do some short books of heroes and villains, also accompanied by an adventure or two. They might be themed, or they might just be whatever tickles my fancy. These would maybe run 20 to 30 pages, trade paperback.

For BLOOD & TREASURE I’d like to do some adventures, with a few new monsters, new spells, etc. Again, trade paperback, probably 30 to 40 pages.

I also want to start writing supplements called THE LAND OF NOD that would provide hex crawls, mini-adventures and other setting material. These would probably also be trade paperbacks, maybe in a landscape format. Page count here would probably be around 120 pages. The first step would be to collect and revise the old NOD hex crawls.

I still have a revision of Space Princess and Pars Fortuna slated for the second half of this year, and I have more Bloody Basics I would like to make.

So – that’s what’s on my agenda for 2016. We’ll see how far I get. Hopefully, as the revisions and editing slows down I’ll have more time for blogging. I have tons of ideas that need to be fleshed out, and God willing I’ll start that fleshing process as the year wears on.

Cheers!