Menace of the Mer-Mongrels [Mini-Dungeon]

Here’s a quickie dungeon for you, featuring mer-mongrels (essentially aquatic orcs), just in case you need something dark, wet and dangerous for your game.

Overview

This is underground and near the sea. Sea water flows down the entrance corridor. Everything is slimy and the water is about 2 feet deep (so gnomes and halflings might need floaties) throughout.

There are clumps of phosphorescent sea weed here and there, giving a dim glow to the caverns – so dim as to be useless, but enough to create weird, wavering patterns on walls.

Mer-Mongrels

HD 1, AC 13, ATK Claws (1d4) or weapon (1d6) or barbed net (1d3 + entangled), MV 20′ (Swim 40′)

Room Descriptions

1. Corridor is broken here by a waterfall – water leaking in from the ceiling. Just on the other side of the waterfall there is an aquatic assassin vine attached to the ceiling. Just beneath the waterfall, to the extreme left of the corridor, is a pit that leads to the corridor just to the right of [1] on the map (the one that leads to area [14]). That corridor is completely submerged until area [14].

2. Two lacedons are chained to the walls here. The mer-mongrels have a winch in [11] that shortens the chains, but otherwise the lacedons can wander throughout the room.

3. Water swirls around the walls, ceiling and floor of this tunnel, creating a vortex of confusion. Save vs. confusion or become dizzy (-1 to hit, AC and save) for 1 hour.

4. Three mer-mongrel guards are in this room playing a gambling game that involves plunging half a coconut into the water and seeing which player gets splashed. Each has a shagreen pouch holding 1d10 gp. One mer-mongrel has a barbed net, the other two have tridents. All three have daggers.

5. A small natural chimney in this room leads to the surface. The air is fresher here.

6. This is a supply room, containing bits of flesh wrapped in seaweed and stuffed into cubby holes, floating bottles of wine, floating boxes of candles and an odd assortment of tridents and daggers (1d6 of each).

7. Two mer-mongrel acolytes dwell in this room. They have silvery bodies, and each can cast one 1st level anti-cleric spell (chosen by GM). They are armed with footman’s maces with heads shaped like octopi with opal eyes (worth 35 gp each). A curtain of barbed chains blocks the passage to [9].

8. The high priest of the mer-mongrels (3 HD) dwells here. He can cast two 1st level anti-cleric spells and one 2nd level anti-cleric spell, and wields a mace like his acolytes (but with pearl eyes, worth 150 gp). The room is also occupied by three white fish who roam around randomly, but who can be commanded by the high priest to swim in a circle, creating either a magic scrying pool or a magic whirlpool (per a water elemental). A sunken iron chest holds 250 sp, 50 gp, a gold bracer (65 gp) and a potion of healing in an old rum bottle.

9. Mongo, the living clam god (a giant clam) dwells in this chamber, the temple of the mer-mongrels. The clam rests in the alcove in the far portion of the cave, and a coral altar has been set before the clam. A young man in rough shape is chained to the altar as a sacrifice. The altar juts about 1 foot above the water, and there are many candle stumps and a few burning candles on the altar. Right before the altar there is a submerged pit (save vs. falling – no damage from fall, but 5% chance of drowning do to an accidental inhalation of water).

10/11/13. Each of these chambers is inhabited by 1d6 mer-mongrel males armed with daggers and blowpipes from which they shoot poisoned sea urchin darts (save vs. poison or slowed for 3 rounds). Each chamber has a small stone chest containing 1d4 x 50 sp and 1d6 x 100 cp. One of the mer-mongrels has a small topaz (30 gp) hidden under his loin cloth.

12. Several sea urchins are kept in this alcove. The water here is envenomed by their presence (save vs. poison or 1d6 damage).

14. This spawning chamber is home to five female mer-mongrels. They are armed as the males, but also carry two nets. There are three young in the room, and they will fight to the death to defend them (and send them fleeing into [16] at the first sight of trouble. A stone chest here holds 200 gp and three bottles of fine wine. The chest is trapped with a sea urchin spine (save vs. poison or 1d6 damage).

15. I forgot to put this number on the map!

16. This is the lair of Yort, the chief of the mer-mongrels. He is a erudite man (he trained in the humanities at a sea elf university) who returned to his tribe when his father was slain by adventurers. Yort carries a +1 trident that can make the water boil in a straight line up to 20 feet long (1d10 fire damage, save for half damage) three times per day. He also has a silver dagger and a chest containing 500 gp, 1,200 sp, a small sapphire (200 gp) and a bottle of giant octopus ink. Yort will offer to pay adventurers off if they leave he and his people alone, but if a child is harmed will pursue them to the ends of the earth to exact bloody revenge.

 

Dragon by Dragon – November 1981 (55)

Getting back on the blogging track means getting back into the Dragon by Dragon articles.

This week, I’m going to take a look at Dragon #55, from November 1981. This one has a really good beginning – a cover by Erol Otus. The best thing about the cover – I have no idea what that monstrous thing is. This, to me, lies at the heart of old school games – the freedom to invent something new every game, or to add all sorts of fun details to things old and well-known without the need to invent new mechanics.

I think one of the downfalls of 3rd edition D&D was the attempt to standardize fantasy. Standardization may be important for “branding”, but it’s terrible for creativity. I think many corporations these days are cutting their own throats by pushing “branding” over creativity.

On to the review …

First, a moment of righteous anger from the letters page:

“A lot of people seem to have a warped view of how to create a character. Some think you start off at 20th level with all the magic you can carry. Others have the strange notion that you get experience from taking damage. (A character in my world was nearly cut in half by a weapon hit and demanded he get experience for it: Why didn’t he just beat his head against a wall until he achieved godhood?)”

I enjoyed that bit – well said Greg Fox of Scotia, New York

Second, a note of the beginning of the end of Old School in Ed Greenwood’s review of the Fiend Folio

“The beauty of the AD&D rule system is its careful attention to detail, “serious” (i.e., treating monsters as creatures in a fantasy world, not as constructs in a fantasy game) tone, and consistency. The FIEND FOLIO Tome mars this beauty. In its pages this DM finds too much lack of detail, too many shifts in tone, and too many breaches of consistency.”

Here we see the cleaving of the playership – one side needing a “serious” imaginary world and the other just needing a fun place to play for a few hours. I’m in the latter group, and of course love the Fiend Folio. It’s probably not a surprise that I don’t much are for Mr. Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms setting – though I mean no disrespect to Mr. Greenwood. He’s a hell of a creator, and deserves great respect in the gaming world. It just sounds like we’re looking for different things from our gaming.

I’ll note one more line from the review:

“Perhaps it should have been a D&D® book, not one for the AD&D™ game.”

Guess that’s why I always liked the D&D rules better than the AD&D rules.

I will indulge my sense of humor for reviews one last time here, with this peach from a second review of the Fiend Folio.

“First, the names of the dragons are given in the wrong order. If you look in the Monster Manual under the entry indexed as “Dragon: White” you would see at the top of the description, “White Dragon (Draco Rigidus Frigidus).” The Latin name of the dragon is put in parentheses after the English name. But in the FIEND FOLIO under “Dragon, Oriental” a subtitle will read, “Li Lung (Earth Dragon),” with the Chinese name first and the English name in parentheses. Now, who is going to call this dragon “Li Lung” when “Earth Dragon” is much easier to remember? The names should have been given in reverse form (Oriental name last) for the sake of convenience, if nothing more.”

The joy of writing for nerds. At least the reviewer was focusing on the big picture, and not nitpicking.

Now to the feature articles:

Dinosaurs: New Theories for Old Monsters by Lawrence Schick raises the problem we still face with these creatures that we don’t face with fantasy monsters – we don’t know enough. We know more now than we did then, of course, which means we could well be revising monster stats for these beasts forever. This is why I prefer using dinosaurs in my games as though they were fantasy monsters based on what you got in old movies … with just a dash of what we now know (the potential for brilliant plummage, for example) to make them weird.

Gary Gygax has a nice article covering some of the peoples of Oerth. This was reprinted in the old Greyhawk boxed set, and I remember reading it there and thinking “Wow, I didn’t realize you could make this kind of thing up.” It was one of those “unknown unknowns” to me as a kid. I mean, the world is full of people, so I guess people in a D&D world will look like people in our own world, so you don’t really need to describe them. I had a lot to learn about the joys of fantasy.

Katherine Kerr has a nice piece on Robin Hood (he has a price of 200 gp on his head, you know). She makes him a 12th level fighter, Chaotic Good, with some pretty high ability scores. This brings up a thought – that D&D is actually better at depicting cruel reality than heroic fantasy in some ways. After all, when we try to model heroes of fantasy literature in D&D, we have to make them very high level and usually give them very high ability scores. Much of the “evolution” of D&D over the years seems to have been an effort to make it more amenable to fantasy heroes than the original game. Sounds funny to say this, given the presence of “heroes” and “super-heroes” in OD&D.

Oh – I should add that Will Scarlet is an 8th level thief, Little John a 10th level fighter, Friar Tuck a 7th level cleric and the evil Sheriff (lawful evil, to be precise) a 6th level fighter.

“It has been recorded, in the lost scrolls of Caractos the Scribe, of which only fragments now exist, that… from the ice-world of Northumbria, many ages ago, there came a youth named Niall, son of Thorkon the Mighty, who was destined to roam the world as he knew it, and to whom was to be given the appellation, the Far-Traveler…”

So begins another tale of Niall by Gardner Fox.This is good, old-fashioned pulp barbarian stuff, so worth a read for old school sorts like myself.

Speaking of old school, this issue has a Basic D&D adventure called The Creature of Rhyl by Kevin Knuth (could this be him?).

The adventure scores one old school point with reversed names – King Namreh (Herman) and Prince Laechim (Michael). It involves treking into the wilderness to hunt a giant monster and rescue the prince from an evil magician.

My only quibble with this dungeon is the presence of some pretty decent magic items on the upper level without too much guarding it. This may be because there are a couple tough monsters lurking in the lower levels that have to be dealt with. There is a nice puzzle room here, and overall it seems like a good rescue mission sort of adventure.

Pat Reinken (perhaps this fellow?) has a nice article on the tactics of escaping danger, mostly covering magic items that help you get away from danger in one piece.

The Dragon’s Bestiary features the Devil Spider with awesome Erol Otus artwork, which makes sense since Otus invented the monster. The monster is predicated on trying to escape from sticky webs, in such a manner as to make for an exciting fight. It’s a tough monster, so don’t play with it unless you’re high enough level not to end up spider food.

Jeff Brandt introduces the Surchur, which is quite a horrifying thing, humanoid with a mass of tentacles in place of a head. It’s a mid-level monster that doesn’t have many tricks up its sleeve, but which could still give a party lots of problems. Kind of a good Lovecraftian thug.

Ed Greenwood presents the dyll in this issue, essentially a swarm of flying leeches.

The final monster is Craig Stenseth‘s poltergeist, the spirit of chaotic gnomes from Limbo and Gladsheim sent to the Material Plane to spread chaos. Nice origin idea for them.

Speaking of monsters – the magazine reviews a cool miniature called the “gorillasaurus”, which is actually a hybrid of gorilla and rhinoceros (so maybe gorillaceros would have been a better name). The image is terrible in the magazine, but I found a good shot at the AD&D 2nd Edition Holdout blog that tells a good story about using it in-game.

For comic fans, this issue has an early Snarfquest, a nice Wormy entry and a What’s New?.

As always, I’ll leave you with some Tramp and his wonderful little tree trolls …

God bless – be kind to one another – and have some fun for crying out loud!

Dread Kisthenes

Well, it is time to get back into the swing of things here at NOD after an unfortunately and unavoidable absence. Though I haven’t been as active online these last few weeks, I have been writing in what spare time I had, so I thought the easiest way to get back into blogging would be to share some of that material.

The Kisthenes hex crawl is proceeding apace – I can wrap up the basic writing in another 12 days – and then comes the editing and the writing of supplemental NOD articles. I need to commission art here really soon as well, but I think I can get the next NOD issue out by early May without too much trouble. This weekend I’m going to finally find time to get the paperbacks of the last issue of NOD and Barbarians & Basilisks up on Lulu, in case anyone has been waiting.

Without further ado … a few tidbits from the (unedited) Kisthenes hex crawl, which is based loosely on Mesopotamia and features a mad conqueror attempting to bring Tiamat (not exactly the copyrighted version from you-know-who, but something bigger and more Lovecraftian) bodily into the material plane, and other city-states competing to bring their own super-beasts into the world to oppose him. So a little Mesopotamian kaiju action for the adventurers to either stop or run away from.

(Note – the outlined areas in the map are the bits I have left to do. I usually write one chunk per weeknight, or two on weekends.)

 

Kisthenes map, plus a bit of the Nomo hex crawl to the left and Motherlands hex crawl at the bottom

0104. Damisu the Damned | Stronghold

Damisu is a necromancer whose ill-repute extends well beyond the grasslands of Kisthenes and the sands of the Crimson Waste. A waxy-skinned wastrel, he speaks in a timid soprano, pausing here and there to apply an unguent made of tallow to his dry, cracked lips. He dresses in a silk loincloth which, thankfully, he hides beneath a robe of crow feathers. Upon his head is the skull of his former master, the Mistress Utena. Her remains went to making one of several patchwork women who now serve in his manse, a decrepit old sandstone structure in a low spot on the grasslands that is soggy from a natural spring and littered with bones. The hex is patrolled by a dozen grey gnolls (encounter on a roll of 1-3 on 1d6) armed with composite bows and falchions.

Damisu is a petty man, very competitive with other magic-users (sorcerers are beneath his contempt). He is an obsequious man when presented with a possible challenge, offering hospitality in his shady domicile. In the night, the patchwork women set upon the magic-using guest and drag them through the dungeon into what Damisu calls “his arena”.

In the arena, dozens of zombies gather around two stone pillars, each pillar being about 6′ in diameter and raised 10′ off the ground. Damisu stands atop one pillar, his foe on the other. Whoever falls to the zombies is torn apart (unless it is Damisu, for they are his zombies and thus under his control.

If presented with a halfling girl with rosy cheeks and ebon locks, Damisu’s heart will stir and his mind flash back to a time long ago and a love long ago departed. How he reacts to this stimulus is up to the TK.

0540. Hawk Men | Monster

A tribe of hawk men has taken up residence in an old Chimerian citadel, a basalt nightmare stretched around a narrow peak and overlooking three valleys thick with fungal monsters. The hawk men have been raiding the surrounding settlements and then selling their plunder in Galardis. Their prince, Voltaro, has in his possession the adamantine sword of a Chimerian brave. The brave, Ull, is on the trail, and may be seen climbing the mountain and being harassed by the hawk men by adventurers moving through the hex.

0803. Pit of Despair | Monster

This hex of grassland is always strangely calm, and yet those who enter the hex feel a vague unease. Animals will not willingly enter the hex, and so the hex has mostly been left alone.

Towards the center of the hex there is a 10′ wide pit ringed with ancient stone slick with slime. The pit looks endless, and perhaps it is. It is inhabited by a caller in darkness who is summoned by tapping some-thing metal on the stone that rings the pit.

When summoned, the monster erupts suddenly from the pit, attacking all it can reach. If presented with a holy symbol of Ishtar it recoils and then one of the faces within the monster comes to the fore, a priestess of Ishtar who fled here when Ishkabibel was taken.

The priestess, while in control, will say something to the effect of, “The Mother of Chaos is coming, fed on the milk of human suffering, and with her coming the gods will again walk the earth, bringing destruction in their wake! Stop her coming, or flee this world.”

1735. Zephos | Village

Zephos is a large village (pop. 320 urban, 2,560 rural) of farmers who want nothing more than to be left alone. About 5% of the population are halflings, who work as scouts and swineherds in the village, and who help their kin from the Golden Steppe make their way to Blackpoort and other points south. The village has two competing taverns, the Sneering Pony and the Hole-in-the-Wall.

The Sneering Pony is mostly frequented by humans, the farmers gathering in the large room to drink golden ale and mead and eat roast lamb while listening to a woman bard, Hannah, past her prime but with a fantastic voice – perfect for laments. They sit, drink, eat and cry. In the room above, the merchant and artisans gather to drink spiced wine and eat pungent stews while gambling or watching bare-knuckle boxing.

The Hole-in-the-Wall is a tiny bar for halflings that is literally accessed via a hole in the wall of the Sneering Pony. It is a cozy place with many chairs with thick cushions, root beer par excellence, food not to be beat and some of the finest storytellers in the region, who weave the legends of old with fragrant pipe smoke.

2231. Monastery of Valor | Stronghold

A monastery of monks dedicated to Ninurta, the god of heroes, occupies a high ridge in this hex. The ridge is surrounded by an acacia forest populated by numerous wild goats, which are held as sacred to the deity.

The monastery is a mud-brick fort consisting of a small citadel (wherein dwell the monks) and a court-yard for their training. Several small outbuildings permit monks solitude for their meditations.

The monastery enjoys occasional visits from the knights of Lyonesse. Many young knights journey to the monastery for training, especially in the areas of courage and fortitude.

The 20 lesser monks of Ninurta fight with forked weapons used for disarming and bludgeoning foes. They pray to a white crystal formation beneath the monastery that is reached by crawling through a narrow, twisting tunnel. The cavern of the crystal is filled with warm, salty water and the walls are encrusted with smaller crystals which the monks chip off and turn into charms worn around their neck as proof they have seen the crystal.

Ninurta’s monks go bare-chested and wrap white cloth around their legs and abdomens. They paint a grey triangle on their faces and are permitted a crystal charm and leather bracers, but no other costume. Their leader is Shursab, a tall, stately woman with an abrasive personality. Only perfection is good enough for Shursab. If she meets a “perfect specimen”, there is a percentage chance equal to his or her charisma score that she falls in love with them. Shursab’s badge of office is a pair of opals on her bracers.

2844. Bacchanalia | Monster

Cultists of Bacchus have a gathering place here in the woods around a bloodstained stone table. The table sits on a low hill, the base of which is overgrown with red wild roses, a narrow stair of white stones leading up to it from a mucky gully. On new moons, a procession of fey and elven women moves through the woods lighting their way with torches and drinking from silver goblets of mind-altering wine. They become drunker as they approach the stone table, two or three men they have charmed in tow, and when they reach the top of the hill, they are joined by a trio of maenads. Under their direction they lash the men to the table and ply them with wine until they are blitzed out of their minds, before finally plunging knives into them. Satyrs watch from the woods, and gather the bodies when they have left, giving them a proper burial in the woods.

3348. Count Down to Pudding | Monster

A strange tan globe hangs from the bough of an oak. The sphere is one of force, and holds a dun pudding. The leaves of the woodland floor hide a steel box that, when the center is stepped on, forms a cube, the roof enclosing the victims of the trap and the pudding. Immediately, the force bubble begins to dissipate from the top down – it will take 30 minutes before the pud-ding can escape.

In the floor of the steel box there is a key hole which, if picked (or unlocked with the key inside the pudding), grants entry into a quasi-dimensions where the gnome thief Braba hid his treasure. The opening of the floor reveals stairs leading down into a weird cavern lit by the walls, which glow in shades of red and yellow. It will take 10 minutes to get to the treasure cavern, and another 10 to get back (though you might want to roll 3d6 to determine how many minutes it takes to get there and back). Among the treasure items is a tuning fork of no value, but which can cause the cube to unfold, allowing people to escape unharmed if the dun pudding remains contained in its force bubble.