The Haunted Mansion

[When I transferred posts to this new blog, I came across this adventure inspired by Disney’s Haunted Mansion that I wrote in October of 2010. It was in draft form, but I’d swear I had already posted it when I wrote it. On the off chance that I didn’t … here it is for the month of October – enjoy!]

This is a bit of a rush job – I just thought of it this morning. I think the inspiration is pretty obvious. Hopefully it will at least give folks a laugh.

The old manor that overlooks the harbor is well known to the locals, who avoid it at all costs. Owned by a successful ship captain, it was once the jewel of the town. It seems the ship captain planned to wed a local girl of tremendous grace and beauty, and invited her to live in his home while he was away on a voyage. On his return, they would be wed. His only request was that she never venture into the attic! Alas, on the happy day the guests arrived at the manor and made merry in the ballroom while the bride was dressed and made ready. The handsome captain arrived home and sought out his bride, and was aghast when he discovered her in the attic. Her curiosity getting the better of her, she broke his only request and discovered his secret – a chest of pirate booty! The man strangled her and then hung himself.

 

If only this was the end of the sad tale – for the ghost of the pirate now descended on the happy revelers, sealing them into the manor and murdering them. Their spirits now haunt the mansion and challenge any who would venture in to discover the pirate’s treasure!

The mansion has wooden walls that resist all blows. Doors are also made of wood, but quite resistant to battering, and they always close on their own a few minutes after being opened. Windows are apparent on the outside of the manor, but on the interior either disappear entirely or allow no light to enter. The rooms and halls are appointed with candle sconces and candles lit with ghostly lights.

1. This entry hall is dusty and covered with cobwebs, but otherwise well appointed. An opening in the north wall leads into the gallery. Once the gallery has been entered, the opening is shut by a sliding wall that foils all attempts to force it open.

2. This gallery has a high ceiling and several portraits of aristocratic folk. Once the sliding wall has closed, the gallery will appear to stretch and the portraits will take on a sinister aspect, depicting their aristocratic subjects dying grisley deaths. A ghostly voice will call out, taunting the adventurers that there is no escape from the room. As the voice laughs menacingly, the gallery goes dark and then the ceiling is lit as though from a bolt of lightning, revealing a body hanging from the rafters. Each henchman with the adventurers must now make a saving throw or be possessed by a spirit of death that will transform them into mouldering coffer corpses.

Coffer Corpse: HD 2+2; AC 7 [12]; Atk 1 fist (1d6); Move 9; Save 16; CL/XP 4/120; Special: Only harmed by magic weapons, choking.

3. This dark hallway is decorated with pictures of mouldering corpses and two busts that follow the adventurers progress down the hall.

4. This room is a kitchen inhabited by a poltergeist. The kitchen contains numerous knives, rolling pins and other dangerous objects.

Poltergeist: HD 1d4; AC 9 [10]; Atk None; Move 6; Save 18; CL/XP 2/30; Special: Fear, invisibility, incorporeal, only harmed by silver or magic weapons.

5. At the top of the stairs one sees a long corridor lit by a floating candelabra. Once adventurers enter 10 feet into the hallway they will be trapped in a pocket dimension – no matter how far one walks in either direction, they cannot leave the hallway without fighting the phantasm holding the candelabra.

Phantasm: HD 9; AC 1 [18]; Atk 1 incorporeal touch (1d6 + level drain); Move 12 (Fly 24); Save 6; CL/XP 12/2000; Special: Level drain, magic jar, desecration.

6. This conservatory holds a coffin that is partially nailed shut. A skeletal entity inside the coffin is attempting to escape while four murder crows look on from above. The crows will attack any who enter the conservatory. The occupant of the coffin is a cadaver – he cannot escape without help.

Cadaver: HD 2; AC 6 [13]; Atk 2 claws (1d4 + disease) and bite (1d6 + disease); Move 12; Save 16; CL/XP 3/60; Special: Disease (fever, -1d3 Con per day until two successive daily saves are made), regenerates 1 hp/rd after being dropped to 0 hp.

Murder Crow: HD 9; AC 1 [18]; Atk 2 claws (1d4) and bite (1d6); Move 3 (Fly 30); Save 6; CL/XP 10/1400; Special: Eye-rake (if both claw attacks hit, save or blindness), when killed it explodes into a swarm of normal crows.

7. The door to this room appears to bulge outward. The room is occupied by a bogeyman, a young woman of aristocratic appearance who made the sad mistake of attending the wedding those many years ago.

Bogeyman: HD 8; AC 3 [16]; Atk 1 touch (1d6); Move 12; Save 8; CL/XP 11/1700; Special: Bump in night, frighten, shadow shift.

8. As adventures enter this comfortable room a swarm of 6 shadow rats will emerge from one wall and attack.

Shadow Rats: HD 1d6; AC 4 [15]; Atk 1 bite (1d3 + 1d2 Strength); Move 6; Save 18; CL/XP 1/15; Special: Incorporeal (only harmed by magic weapons and spells).

9. When one reaches the center of this room, which is decorated with clocks, they will suffer from a slow effect. The room will appear to grow to five times its actual dimensions, and each round spent in the room will age the adventurers 10 years.

10. Two hapless apparitions of twin moneychangers occupy this room for eternity. Their corpses, hacked by a hatchet, are in the center of the room clutching a leather sack of 300 gold pieces.

Apparition: HD 8; AC 1 [18]; Atk See special; Move 15; Save 8; CL/XP 12/2000; Special: Only harmed by silver or magic weapons, sense living creatures, choking.

11. Three ghoulish maids feast on the remains of three bridesmaids in yellow taffeta. If the ghouls are dispatched, the bridesmaids’ skeletons will burst from their bodies and attack.

12. This was the room of the bride, now empty. The wardrobe contains rich clothing of velvet and silk (worth a total of 200 gp) and a jewelry box holds a golden ring on a severed finger. Anyone touching the ring must make a saving throw or be “magic jarred” into the ring – a mourning ring – their body being transformed into a vengeful demiurge.

Demiurge: HD 8; AC 3 [16]; Atk 1 touch (1d4); Move 12 (Fly 18); Save 8; CL/XP 13/2300; Special: Transfix, soul touch, only harmed by magic weapons or cold-wrought iron weapons.

13. This séance room holds a round table and a tall wooden chair. Musical instruments float about the room, held aloft by a pesky poltergeist. A crystal ball rests on the table and holds the image of a medium’s head, one Madame Leota. Upon entering, Leota will say the following:

“Serpents and spiders, tail of a rat/Call in the spirits, wherever they’re at./Rap on a table, it’s time to respond/Send us a message from somewhere beyond./Goblins and ghoulies from last Halloween/Awaken the spirits with your tambourine./Creepies and crawlies, toads in a pond/Let there be music from regions beyond./Wizards and witches wherever you dwell/Give us a hint by ringing a bell.”

Asking her a question causes a tarot card to appear on the table. Picking up the card activates it as though it were from a Deck of Many Things.

14. This balcony overlooks a dining hall. The western portion of the room is occupied by a table filled with a gruesome feast being consumed by wights garbed as though from ancient Rome and Egypt. Other wights are riding chandeliers and drinking from bottles of wine (poison). Portraits of duelists hang on the wall, and the ghosts therein will, every 1d4 rounds, appear over their portraits and fire one of their ghostly guns (or crossbows, if you prefer) at an adventurer. Those hit by a bullet or bolt must pass a saving throw or be paralyzed for one round. The eastern portion of the room holds a dozen waltzing ghosts and a mouldering organ player. His ornate organ draws shadows from the Land of the Dead into the material world. 1d6 shadows appear each round to challenge the party. The organist is a wraith.

15. This attic holds a chest of pirate treasure (10,000 gp worth) and the ghost of the bride, turned into a bhuta by her brutal murder at the hands of her beloved sea captain. The only way out of this room is the window overlooking the graveyard.

Bhuta: HD 7; AC 4 [15]; Atk 2 claws (1d8); Move 12; Save 9; CL/XP ; Special: Death grip.

16. This graveyard offers the only means of escape from the dark dimension of the Haunted Mansion. Each round spent in the place carries a 1 in 6 chance that a mortuary cyclone will arise. Once defeated, the threat of the mortuary cyclone is ended.

The graveyard is filled with tombstones and stone crypts. The doors to the crypts are easy to open but difficult to re-open once the crypt is entered. Each crypt is a room with coffins sealed into the floor or resting on shelves in the walls.

17. This crypt is occupied by the ghosts of five musicians. A brass bell hangs from the ceiling, and when rung causes all undead within 10 feet to make a saving throw or be disrupted (i.e. stunned) for one round. Disrupted undead also suffer 1d6 damage. Each spirit has a golden harp that can be seized when the creature is destroyed. Each harp is worth 500 gp and can cast a charm person spell once per day in the hands of a trained harpist.

Groaning Spirits: HD 7; AC 2 [17]; Atk 1 touch (1d8); Move 12; Save 9; CL/XP 12/2000; Special: Chilling touch, aura of fear, keening, only harmed by magic weapons.

18. This crypt holds two aristocratic corpses, now animated as ghasts.

19. This crypt holds the spirit of an executioner and a headless knight. Both are spectres.

20. This crypt appears empty. A loose flagstone reveals a brass lock made for a large key. If the key from area 21 is used, it will cause the entire crypt to sink down into the earth, revealing a long, dark tunnel lined with mirrors. Looking into the mirror will cause a wicked spirit to attach itself to the adventurer (treat as a Bestow Curse spell – no save). At the end of the corridor there is a stairway leading back into the real world, apparently depositing the adventures in a small, stone outbuilding of the Haunted Mansion and into the daylight.

21. This crypt is larger inside than it would appear on the outside. It offers a winding set of stairs down into the earth that end in a small chamber with three doors. The first door holds a gang of four barrow wights guarding a large brass key. The second door holds a crypt thing that will teleport the adventurers back to room 2 in the mansion. The final door holds another set of stairs that seem to go at least 100 feet down into the cold earth. The end in a cavern through which flows a black river of moaning souls. A skeletal boatman waits on the shore, beckoning adventurers forward. The boatman is a charonadaemon, and he will carry adventurers into the realm of Hades.

Barrow Wights: HD 6; AC 3 [16]; Atk 1 slam (1d4+3 + level drain); Move 12; Save 11; CL/XP 9/1100; Special: Gaze causes confusion, drain one level with slam attack (save negates), characters killed by a barrow wight rise as barrow wights one round later.

Crypt Thing: HD 6+1; AC 2 [17]; Atk 1 claw (1d8); Move 15; Save 11; CL/XP 7/600; Special: Only harmed by magic weapons, teleport.

Charonadaemon: HD 10; AC 3 [16]; Atk 1 staff (1d8); Move 15; Save 5; CL/XP 15/2900; Special: Spells, fear gaze, summon demons, only harmed by magic weapons, magic resistance 55%, plane shift, telepathy.

22. This is the crypt of a transplanted mummy. It wears a golden circlet worth 1,000 gp that is poisonous to the first person who touches it (save or die).

Apparition
Apparitions are ethereal undead that are only vulnerable to attack when they themselves attack. They are reluctant to approach mirrors or objects made of pure silver. Apparitions usually speak common. They surprise on a roll of 1-4 on 1d6. Although an apparition cannot actually touch a victim, it creates the sensation of choking; a victim that succeeds at a saving throw is stricken with horror and must flee for 1d4 rounds, while a victim that fails his save must also make a saving throw or suffer a massive heart attack and die on the spot. A victim killed by an apparition will rise as an apparition in 2d4 hours.

Apparition: HD 8; AC 1 [18]; Atk See special; Move 15; Save 8; CL/XP 12/2000; Special: Only harmed by silver or magic weapons, sense living creatures, choking.

Bhuta
A bhuta is the spirit of a person who was murdered. For about 2 weeks they appear as they did in life; thereafter they begin to rot and take on a ghoulish appearance. When a bhuta hits with both claw attacks it fastens its hands around the victims throat and chokes for automatic claw damage each round. Breaking the bhuta’s grip requires one to roll 1d20 (adding their strength bonus or penalty) and meeting or beating 18.

Bhuta: HD 7; AC 4 [15]; Atk 2 claws (1d8); Move 12; Save 9; CL/XP ; Special: Death grip.

Bogeyman
Bogeymen look like translucent humans with delicate, childlike features. They can create phantasmic sounds and images (per phantom force) at will and those who look upon them must save vs. fear or stand frozen with fear for 1d6+2 rounds. Bogeymen can travel between shadows per the dimension door spell.

Bogeyman: HD 8; AC 3 [16]; Atk 1 touch (1d6); Move 12; Save 8; CL/XP 11/1700; Special: Bump in night, frighten, shadow shift.

Charonadaemon
Charonadaemons appear as skeletal boatmen in black robes. They always have a skiff and staff. They can cast the following spells: Darkness 15’ radius, detect invisibility, fear and teleport (including their skiff). Once per day they can attempt to summon 1d4 vrocks or another charonadaemon with a 35% chance of success. They can steer their skiff into the Astral and Ethereal Planes, as well as the plane of Hades. As daemons, they are immune to acid and poison and suffer half damage from cold, fire and electricity.

Charonadaemon: HD 10; AC 3 [16]; Atk 1 staff (1d8); Move 15; Save 5; CL/XP 15/2900; Special: Spells, fear gaze, summon demons, only harmed by magic weapons, magic resistance 55%, plane shift, telepathy.

Coffer Corpse
These undead resemble zombies. Although most coffer corpses attack with their fists, 25% are armed with weapons. Creatures hit by the coffer corpse’s fists must make a saving throw to avoid be grabbed around the neck and choked, suffering 1d6 damage per round automatically until killed; nothing can make it release its grip.

Normal weapon appear to do damage to a coffer corpse, but they actually do not. If the creature sustains 6 or more points of damage from a normal weapon, it will go down as though destroyed. It will then rise again, causing fear in those who witness the revival and fail a saving throw.

Coffer Corpse: HD 2+2; AC 7 [12]; Atk 1 fist (1d6); Move 9; Save 16; CL/XP 4/120; Special: Only harmed by magic weapons, choking.

Demiurge
Demiurge are incorporeal spirits that look like humans with sunken noses, empty eye sockets and semi-transparent flesh. Their gaze acts as a hold person spell. A demiurge can fly through a person’s body, forcing them to pass a saving throw or die instantly.

Demiurge: HD 8; AC 3 [16]; Atk 1 touch (1d4); Move 12 (Fly 18); Save 8; CL/XP 13/2300; Special: Transfix, soul touch, only harmed by magic weapons or cold-wrought iron weapons.

Groaning Spirit
Groaning spirits appear as incorporeal female elves. Their touch causes one point of strength drain unless a saving throw is passed. Anyone viewing a groaning spirit must pass a saving throw or flee in terror for 1d6+4 rounds. Once per day a groaning spirit can emit a death wail that forces anyone hearing it to pass a saving throw or drop dead.

Groaning Spirits: HD 7; AC 2 [17]; Atk 1 touch (1d8); Move 12; Save 9; CL/XP 12/2000; Special: Chilling touch, aura of fear, keening, only harmed by magic weapons.

Phantasm
Phantasms are spirits of pure evil. They look like hooded spectres with tentacle-like arms. The phantasm’s touch drains one level unless a saving throw is made. It can use the spell Magic Jar once per round to take possession of a creature on the material plane. The phantasm is surrounded by a 10-ft diameter aura in which undead are turned as though 3 Hit Dice greater.

Phantasm: HD 9; AC 1 [18]; Atk 1 incorporeal touch (1d6 + level drain); Move 12 (Fly 24); Save 6; CL/XP 12/2000; Special: Level drain, magic jar, turned as a 12 HD creature.

Poltergeist
Poltergeists are “noisy spirits” encountered where they were originally killed. They are invisible and incorporeal and can only be harmed by silver or magic weapons. They can attack by throwing unattended objects, hitting as though they were 5 HD creatures. Creatures hit by a flying object suffer no damage, but must pass a charisma save or be affected by fear, fleeing in a random direction for 2d12 rounds. There is a 50% chance a victim will drop what he is carrying while fleeing. Holy water and strongly presented holy symbols will drive poltergeists back but not harm them.

Poltergeist: HD 1d4; AC 9 [10]; Atk None; Move 6; Save 18; CL/XP 2/30; Special: Fear, invisibility, incorporeal, only harmed by silver or magic weapons.

“don’t forget your death certificate”

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Nodian Grimoire II

Thought up a few new spells – probably more weird than useful, but who knows?

Belch Bile (Conjuration)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: 20′ cone
Duration: Instantaneous

The magician conjures acid from their guts, belching it in a cone 20′ long and 10′ wide. All in the path of the acid suffer 1d4 points of damage per magic-user level (save for half damage). The magic-user loses their voice for one hour after casting the spell due to throat burn.

Body of Rubber (Transmutation)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: Personal
Duration: 1 hour

The spell caster’s flesh becomes as rubber. They are immune to falling damage, and in fact bounce back half as high as they fell with no effort, or as high as they fell with some effort. Bludgeoning weapons do no damage to them, and their Armor Class against all other attacks is increased by +2.

Cocoon (Abjuration)
Level: Magic-User 2
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 hour

A piece of cloth large enough to cover the target becomes a metal cocoon, protecting them from harm. The cocoon holds enough air to allow the protected individual to breathe comfortably for the duration of the spell. The quality of the metal depends on the level of the spell caster: Steel for levels 3rd to 7th and adamantine for 8th and 9th level casters. The metal is one inch thick. The cocoon weighs approximately 1,400 lb.

Freeze Ray (Evocation)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: 120′
Duration: Instantaneous

The target of this ray suffers 1d6 points of cold damage per level and must pass a saving throw or be paralyzed for 1d4 rounds.

Lifting Hand (Evocation)
Level: Magic-User 4
Range: See below
Duration: 1 minute

An invisible hand of force appears beneath the spell caster and comrades within 5 feet of him and lifts them up or down up to 20 feet per level. The hand can move laterally no more than 2 feet per level. If the magic-user and friends are still on the hand when the spell’s duration runs out, it simply disappears.

Mutation Ray (Transmutation)
Level: Magic-User 4
Range: 60′
Duration: 1 hour

A glowing green ray erupts from the palm of the magic-user’s left hand. A creature struck suffers a random mutation (see mutagen capsule in Blood & Treasure Rulebook). There is a percentage chance that the mutation is permanent equal to 20 minus the target’s constitution score, or 10 minus their Hit Dice for monsters. Constructs, oozes, outsiders and elementals are unaffected by the ray and fey creatures receive a +2 bonus to save against it.

Ricochet (School)
Level: Magic-User 2
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 minute

A sword blade touched by the magic-user gains the ability to block unerringly rays and magic missiles.

Spiraling Failure (Enchantment)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: 30′
Duration: 24 hours

The magic-user curses one dice-rolling aspect of her target – attack rolls, saving throws against a general class of threat, a particular task check, etc. For 24 hours, every time the target fails one of those dice rolls, they suffer a cumulative -1 penalty one subsequent dice rolls of that type.

Transmute Flesh to Robot (Transmutation)
Level: Magic-User 6
Range: 30′
Duration: 10 minutes

The target of this spell has their flesh and innards changed to metal and mechanisms for 10 minutes. This gives them the abilities of a construct and a natural AC of 15, but removes their emotions (and alignment becomes true neutral).

Transmute Food to Ash (Necromancy)
Level: Anti-Cleric 2, Druid 2, Magic-User 2
Range: 10′
Duration: Instantaneous

Up to 1 lb of food per level within view and no more than 10 feet away is turned to ashes.

Transmute Water to Poison (Necromancy)
Level: Anti-Cleric 2, Druid 2, Magic-User 2
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent

The magic-user transmutes up to one gallon of water per level into Poison I or one quart of water per level to Poison II, one pint of water per level to Poison III and fluid ounce of water per level to Poison IV. If the magic-user attempts to transmute a larger portion of water than allowed by their level, the spell fails. The reverse of this spell changes poisons (in like quantities to above) to pure water.

Illustration by Jon Kaufman

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A Vintage Blacker than a Necromancer’s Soul

I knocked together a draft for an adventure tonight, inspired by a map made by the inimitable Dyson Logos – support his Patreon if you dig awesome maps.

Quick Note – the patchwork woman and belle dame sans merci monsters are from the Tome of Monsters (for first edition Blood & Treasure) and the forthcoming Monsters II (for second edition Blood & Treasure).

When a war has ravaged a land, a once thriving community can become overgrown and wild. Such was the case with a little village of men in a broad and shadowy woodland. Outside that village there was once a fine temple that was abandoned when its village was abandoned. This became the home of the necromancer Joachim, who slowly broke down the protections on the bodies interred in the catacombs and graveyard and used them for his experiments.

Joachim was an odd necromancer, seeking to understand and thus cheat death, maybe even seduce it (he had a belief that Death was a woman, perhaps due to severe psychological trauma brought on by a cold and abusive mother) rather than wedding it as does a lich – a sensuous immortality rather than a bleak non-existence.

The tortured little necromancer hatched a plan that involved the conjuration of an angel. He then killed this angel with a jagged claw plucked from a demon’s severed hand and used the celestial’s ichor to brew a potion of immortality. The potion, once imbibed, did not work as he had planned, and the crime he committed against nature with the killing of an angel warped the catacombs beneath the temple. The forgotten temple was forgotten yet again, and lay dormant, its riddle waiting patiently to be unraveled.

Enter the adventurers …

The Catacombs

Beneath the aforementioned temple are catacombs, and these catacombs have been dimensionally twisted. The map included was drawn by the great Dyson Logos, and present a very interesting dungeon to explore. The arrows and letters on the map indicate where passages lead, but I’m introducing yet another wrinkle – a wrinkle in time.

Whenever the characters move from along an arrow or through a letter, they also travel in time. For our purposes, there are three time frames – Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow.

D6    Time Frame
1        Yesterday
2-4   Today
5-6   Tomorrow

You see, once the adventurers enter the catacombs, they alert the remnants of Joachim of their presence. The potion turned Joachim into a sort of ooze – a sentient ichor that seeped into the cracks of the floor. It is now bubbling up, appearing to adventurers as jellied tendrils of a deep burgundy color. In the present – Today – these investigations are tentative. In the future – Tomorrow – they will be more fervent, frequent and dangerous. In the past – Yesterday – there are no tendrils, but the catacombs are still dangerous.

Leaving the catacombs snaps people back through space and time. They awaken many hours later scattered around the woods that surround the church (1d6 x 100 yards away, random direction). They suffer complete memory loss about the catacombs if they leave without solving the adventure, but their memories return if they enter the catacombs again.

Random encounters in the catacombs vary based on the time frame. Roll 2d6 whenever somebody turns a corner, opens a door onto a corridor, makes a loud noise or casts a cleric or druid spell.

Encounters for Today

2. Tendrils (1d3)*
3. Giant Rat (1d4)
4-12. No encounter

Encounters for Yesterday

2. Patchwork Woman (1)**
3. Skeleton (1d4)
4. Giant Rat (1d6)
5-12. No encounter

Encounters for Tomorrow

2. Tendrils (2d6)***
3. Patchwork Woman (1)**
4. Jelly Ghoul (1d3)****
5. Skeleton (1d6)
6-12. No encounter

* Tendrils in Today come from the floor or walls. Each is 10 feet long, has AC 12 and dissipates if it suffers 5 points of damage. They attack as 2 HD monsters and deal 1d6 damage.

** The patchwork woman is a unique creature – she is the animated corpse of Joachim’s mother. If she is destroyed as a random encounter she does not appear elsewhere in the dungeon.

*** Tendrils in Tomorrow come from the floors or walls. Each is up to 30 feet long, has AC 15 and dissipates if it suffers 10 points of damage. They attack as 2 HD monsters and deal 1d6 damage. If they grapple an opponent, they suffer 1 point of Constitution damage each round until freed.

**** Normal ghoul stats, but they are composed of thick ooze. They suffer half normal damage from non-magical bludgeoning weapons and must engulf people (with a grapple attack) to paralyze people.

In addition, in Today there is always a 1 in 6 chance of a tendril encounter in each chamber. In Tomorrow, there is a 4 in 6 chance of a tendril encounter in each chamber.

Today Room Descriptions (Kept Simple to Save Space)

1. Nothing much – we start here. Dusty chamber, alcoves hold slabs with bones of dead high priests that remain protected from the evil of the catacombs; the tendrils and undead cannot enter the alcoves.

2. Small necromantic study. Owlbear rug, creaky mahogany chair, shelves with a few books.

3. Joachim’s living quarters. Sparse, bed with feather mattress with a zombie inside, painting of Mother on one wall, wooden chest (poisoned lock) holding three changes of clothes, a silver locket with a picture of Mother inside, a vial of blood and a silver dagger.

4. Empty.

5. Old temple. Dusty, evidence of blood spatters and bloody footprints, remnants of a marble idol – just the sandaled feet left.

6. Twelve casks of old, excellent wine. One cask is poisoned.

7. Workroom – flesh golem here is complete other than head, which is unattached and lying on a table.

8. Library of necromantic tomes.

9. Crypt – holds caskets for Mother and Father. Mother’s casket is empty save for her clothes and a locket holding a lock of Joachim’s hair. Father’s casket holds his cracked and trampled bones. When presented with the locket, the patchwork woman is treated as though affected by the hold monster spell.

10. Empty.

11. Empty.

12. Bones of Saint Hypatia in an iron-bound casket.

13. Bones of the Brother Umphal, a trio of crusader knights.

14. Ossuary of old priestly skulls.

15. A chapel of the Lawful faith turned into a chapel of Chaos. 1d4 ooze tendrils are always encountered here cradling a small wooden bust of Mother’s head.

16. Necromantic supplies such as weird solutions in vials and jars, bandages, embalming tools, hard chunks of wax and fresh smocks.

17. Bodies were once prepared here for internment and was used as a workroom for Joachim.

18. Room holds three vats, sealed. Inside are zombies with swollen heads.

19. Bodies of two women wrapped in leather straps and the patchwork woman – all three are in alcoves.

20. A casket in chains; inside is a vampire that is held in place by a silver sword of salvation. If the sword (+1 longsword, +3 vs. undead) is removed, the vampire can attack. It looks like a corpse until re-animated.

21. A dagger stained with burgundy ichor and a magic circle of silver dust that has been breached (probably by a human foot) and five white candles. The angel’s body has disappeared. 2d4 tendrils will always appear in this room from a crack in the floor.

22. Dancing dead (7 skeletons with iron crowns with a small sapphire that can fire a single blue ray that deals 1d6 points of cold damage) and three large ooze tendrils, one bearing Joachim’s face with crazy eyes. The goblet stained with ichor lies on the floor and radiates intense magic and good.

Tomorrow Room Descriptions (Kept Simple to Save Space)

1. As above plus three skeletons with jagged broken swords (save vs. disease).

2. As above, but trashed beyond all utility.

3. As above.

4. Two sallow zombies vomiting green slime.

5. As above, but swathed in magical darkness and guarded by two jelly ghouls.

6. As above.

7. As above, but the flesh golem’s head is alive and active, and can mess with people’s minds via telepathy; 1d6 tendrils will appear three rounds after people enter the room.

8. As above, but the books scream when opened.

9. As above.

10. Empty.

11. Empty.

12. Bones of Saint Hypatia in an iron-bound casket with two jelly ghouls pounding on it.

13. Bones of the Brother Umphal, a trio of crusader knights now animated as 3 HD skeletons with greatswords and burning eyes that can blind once per day – their chainmail armor is now gleaming black and +1 in enchantment. This enchantment does not last outside the catacombs, where the armor turns rusty and useless.

14. As above, plus the skulls weep with poisonous (Poison III) tears.

15. As above.

16. As above, but three zombies are here.

17. As above, but three skeletons are here.

18. Room holds three zombies with massive heads – so massive they must hold them up with their hands. They only attack by biting, and they can swallow small creatures.

19. Two belle dames sans merci and the patchwork woman.

20. As above.

21. As above, but the angel’s body has disappeared. 3d4 tendrils will always appear in this room from a crack in the floor.

22. As above.

Yesterday Room Descriptions (Kept Simple to Save Space)

1. As above, but four skeleton guards with shields and swords.

2. As above. A small table next to the chair holds a goblet of wine.

3. As above.

4. Empty.

5. As above.

6. As above.

7. Workroom – scraps of human flesh – a flesh golem that has not yet been sewn up. A head is in a jar of chemicals.

8. As above.

9. As above.

10. Empty.

11. Empty.

12. As above, but evil cannot enter this chamber.

13. As above, but evil cannot enter this chamber.

14. As above.

15. A chapel of the Lawful faith turned into a chapel of Chaos with a wooden bust of Mother on the altar with several candles.

16. As above.

17. As above; three corpses are on the slab prepped for animation.

18. Room holds three vats filled with bubbling chemicals that put off a foul-smelling cloud.

19. Two corpses of women who were beautiful in life and are preserved with only minor rotting with dark magic, plus the patchwork woman.

20. As above.

21. A smallish man with curly auburn hair and a pallid complexion is here, holding a +2 dagger and looking at a brilliantly illuminated humanoid with wings who is within a magic circle of silver dust. A golden goblet (200 gp) is on the floor near the magic circle. The angel appears concerned, but resigned to being a sacrifice – it is forgiving the man, who appears to be at least half-mad. If the angel can be saved from the necromancer (8th level), who is guarded by three zombies, the catacombs return to normal and the curse on the place is removed.

22. A simple tomb.

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Rainbow Fantasy I – The Butterfly

There are so many kinds of fantasy to choose from. Old D&D was a mish-mash of everything from King Arthur to Hammer films to Elric (which is why I love it), Warhammer does dark and gothic, there are the oiled up barbarians from 80’s movies, fairy and folk tales, weird fantasy and horror … and also what I would have called in my youth “girly fantasy”.

OK – don’t get up in arms over the nickname, but when I was growing up this was the stuff more girls liked than guys. I think most folks know what I’m talking about – rainbows, unicorns, pegasi, fairies, etc. Let’s call it “Rainbow Fantasy”.

While Rainbow Fantasy may have ended up in 80’s TV cartoons and on junior high school folders, it started long before that. Old fairy tales made some use of it, Baum’s OZ, where people cannot die is within this category, and the “hippies” during the psychedelic 60’s who were besotted with flowers and nature and pleasure in all its forms certainly used it. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is like a hex crawl through this sort of fantasy.

Where Rainbow Fantasy has gotten short shrift, I think, is fantasy role playing games. I remember when a few guys in the neighborhood and me starting playing some D&D back in the 80’s. We invited a neighborhood girl (a close friend of mine, practically a sister) to play. She created a Rainbow Fantasy-style elf character, and we all looked at her like she was insane. He had a cutesy name. D&D just wasn’t for cutesy names.

Well, of course D&D is for cutesy names or whatever else you want to cram into it. It’s a system, not a genre. Jeff Rients said it best when he said, “You play Conan, I play Gandalf. We team up to fight Dracula.” As an adult, I’ve learned to appreciate all sorts of things I didn’t as a kid, especially something as strange and creative as Rainbow Fantasy.

With that in mind, I’m going to write a few articles to bring a little rainbow into the deep, dark dungeon. Up first is a character class called the Butterfly, inspired by an old piece of fantasy art from a magazine that had very little to do with fantasy. I’ll then discuss the ways we can treat alignment and quests in this sort of fantasy to make it work, and I’ll follow up with a discussion of how existing classes and races might work in a rainbow fantasy campaign as well as introduce one more class.

You play She-Ra, I’ll play the Last Unicorn. Dracula will never know what hit him.

The Butterfly Class

Butterflies are a mystic calling of some people. Those with a lust for wandering in wide meadows of cool grass and chatting with hummingbirds, those who wish to escape the bonds of the earth and the boundaries of the mind. They can see the beauty of life and nature despite the ugliness and sorrow, and seek to spread that beauty far and wide. The butterfly is like a light in the darkness.

|Requirements & Restrictions|

Ability Scores: Dex 11, Cha 13

Alignment: Non-chaotic

Armor Permitted: None

Weapons Permitted: Club, dagger, sling, staff

|Butterfly Skills|

Butterflies add their level to the following task checks:

Communication: Butterflies can communicate with creatures that speak languages they do not understand. Much of this is through empathy and hand gestures (but not THAT hand gesture – it’s just so crude).

Fly: Butterflies can perform all manner of aerobatic stunts while flying with their natural wings or while mounted on flying mounts.

Handle Animals: Butterflies can calm frightened and hostile animals, and tame wild animals. They can teach tame animals simple tricks.

Move Silently: Butterflies can walk slowly and lightly without making a sound.

|Butterfly Abilities|

Butterflies can see auras. This includes magic auras generated by spells, magic items and the like, and alignments (Law, Chaos and Neutrality).

A butterfly can speak with all animals and is always considered a friend by non-predatory beasts. These animals will help a butterfly whenever she requests it, as long as it does not put them in direct danger and as long as she treats them with respect and kindness. A butterfly gets a +2 bonus to reaction checks with predators, and might be able to convince them to help her given the right inducements.

A 2nd level butterfly can shrink to tiny size, about 6 inches tall, and grow butterfly wings. She can do this once per day per two levels. At this size, the butterfly can fly at a speed of 60 feet per round. In this form, she can weave magic (see below). The butterfly can remain at this size for as long as she likes, and can return to normal at will.

A 3rd level butterfly can grow butterfly wings while at full size and use them to fly at a speed of 40 feet per round. She can do this once per day per three levels.

At 4th level, a butterfly can take the form of a cloud of butterflies. She can do this once per day per four levels. Treat this as the same as a magic-user taking gaseous form.

Whenever a butterfly is flying, she leaves behind a trail of glitterdust (per the spell) which falls on any creature beneath her flight path.

Butterfly Spell List

1st level – Audible glamer, calm emotions, charm person, color spray, dancing lights, detect secret doors, faerie fire, goodberry, hypnotism, light, reduce person, sleep

2nd level – Continual light, cure light wounds, darkvision, glitterdust, hold animal, invisibility, pyrotechnics, reduce animal, summon swarm (insects only), web

3rd level – Blink, cure moderate wounds, daylight, hold person, invisibility sphere, shrink item, sleep II, speak with plants

4th level – Charm monster, cure serious wounds, false forest, giant vermin, invisibility II, rainbow pattern

Butterfly Class Table

LVL XP HD ATK SV 1 2 3 4
1 0 1d4 +0 15 1
2 1,500 2d4 +0 14 2
3 3,000 3d4 +1 14 3 1
4 6,000 4d4 +1 13 3 2
5 12,000 5d4 +1 13 3 3 1
6 24,000 6d4 +2 12 3 3 2
7 48,000 7d4 +2 12 3 3 3 1
8 100,000 8d4 +3 12 4 3 3 2
9 200,000 9d4 +3 11 4 3 3 3
10 300,000 10d4 +3 11 4 4 3 3
11 400,000 +1 hp +4 10 4 4 3 3
12 500,000 +1 hp +4 10 4 4 4 3
13+ +100,000 +1 hp 5 4 4 3

 

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Dangerous Ground

Combat in D&D and its various descendants is abstract for the most part, making it fast (well, except in 3E) and easy to run, and thus pretty fun to play. So how about using abstraction to introduce dangerous battlefield conditions into a fight?

The Idea

While some battlefields may be perfectly safe to fight in, one can expect many fights, given where they occur and the genre in which they exist, to be fought in dangerous spaces. The floor could be slippery, there could be a fire pit in the middle of it, the roof could be caving in – just use your imagination.

flashVbarinActually staging a combat in such a dangerous space can be tricky, though, because the combat rules are abstract. You can use a battle grid and miniatures, but sometimes they are feasible, or you just don’t want the bother.

One way to get around this is to extend the abstraction of combat – Armor Class, hit points, etc. – to the ground itself.

As the Referee, you pick a number from 1 to 20. This is the unlucky number. When this number is rolled during combat – attack rolls or damage rolls – the roller of the number suffers an effect tied to the battlefield.

For example – the room in which a fight is taking place has a fire pit in the middle of it. The pit is about 2 feet deep and there are hot coals in the bottom of it. The Referee decides a roll of ’10’ (unmodified by anything) means somebody has stepped into the pit and burned themselves for 1d4 points of damage. He also decides this damage cannot reduce them to less than 1 hit point, and that the unlucky combatant must pass a saving throw or suffer a penalty to movement for an hour due to twisting an ankle or burning a foot.

Now – this is key – it is probably a good idea to let players know what the unlucky number is, and what can happen (in general terms) when it is rolled. Why? I’ll let Alfred Hitchcock explain:

“There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”

When the players know the unlucky number, every dang roll has some tension packed into it. You know how everybody stared with wide eyes and holds their breath when somebody has to roll a crucial saving throw or attack? You can bring a little of that to every roll during one of these fights, but only if people know the unlucky number.

A few things to consider if you decide to use this notion:

If the unlucky number is low, it means it has a more likely chance of coming up, since both attack rolls (1d20) and damage rolls (d4, d6, d8 etc.) can trigger it. If you want the effect to be more rare, make the number higher than 10.

Higher numbers also mean success can be tinged with failure; lower numbers can rub salt in the wound of missing an attack.

You can have multiple unlucky numbers. In the example above, the roof might also be in danger of caving in, so a ’10’ means stepping in the fire pit and a ’17’ means roof tiles fall on a person for 1d4 damage.

The effect can also be a time track. Using the “roof falling in” example above, each roll of ’17’ can bring the roof closer to collapsing entirely on the people in the room. Maybe it takes 3 such rolls before it happens. This introduces some great tension into the fight, and requires players to gamble a bit every time they roll the dice.

You could, maybe even should, permit people a way to avoid these unlucky numbers. Maybe they have to reduce their movement rate or accept a penalty to attack.

Whatever the unlucky number, carry the attack and damage roll through completely before the dice roller suffers the consequences. In other words, if the attack roll brings up the unlucky number AND scores a hit, the hit counts and damage is rolled before the unlucky attacker burns himself, slips, etc.

One could also use this to simulate the danger of engaging giant monsters, with a chance of being stepped on or knocked into or of a randomly flailing tail connecting for damage.

 

JMS-BLACK

 

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Libraries Made Easy

AncientlibraryalexLibraries are a common trope in fantasy art, literature, etc. The old wizard hunched over books amid a sea of books. In fantasy games, though, they leave something to be desired. They can always be used as a backdrop, of course – just window dressing – but I think it’s more satisfying to make them worth their while.

In the past, I’ve tried to detail specific books found in a library. You come up with some cute, old-fashioned title, and maybe decide what important tidbits of knowledge are to found within it, but again – mostly unsatisfying. Not an extreme amount of utility, and often they turn out not to be that useful. The book is written on an equipment list where it is forgotten.

With this system, you can get a general idea of the utility of a library with a small bit of identifying text – less than a monster’s stat block. You might still want to get fancy with book titles, and of course you will still want to describe the sights, sounds and smells of the thing to the adventurers, but at least the utility of the library will be concise and easy to remember.

Library Size

This is the first element of a library – the size. Based on the size of the library, adventurers can get a bonus to answering questions in various subjects. The size of the library also determines how long it takes to find those answers.

Here are the library sizes:

Size Description Bonus Time
Tiny Travel size +5 1d6 minutes
Small Bookshelf +10 1d6 turns
Medium Room of books – a sage’s library +15 1d6 hours
Large Several rooms – a wizard’s library +20 1d6 days
Huge Library at Alexandria +25 2d6 days

There the basic library set up. All the reference text required when you write a dungeon chamber or a city or whatever is “Small Library”.

Note that bonus here is given as a bonus on a d20 roll (and I know, it looks huge at the moment, but read on). For percentile systems, multiply by 5 (+1 = +5%). If you normally roll d6 for skill checks you’ll have to be creative.

Tiny libraries only give you one chance to find information to help answer a question. Larger libraries grant people multiple chances: 2 chances for a small library, 3 for medium, 4 for large and 5 for huge. Each time, one must roll for how long the research takes. One could, therefore, spend up to 60 days researching in a huge library and still not find the answer to their question.

Subjects

While there are many subjects a real library could cover, fantasy adventurers usually have questions that we can bundle into five subjects. For a general library, divide the library’s bonus evenly among the five subjects. A tiny library, then, would grant a +1 bonus to answering questions in each of the five subjects, where a huge library would grant a +5 bonus.

Libraries can also specialize, dividing their total bonus up between the different subjects as you see fit. To do this, you add a parenthetical to the library’s size thus: Medium library (A5, H1, L5, N3, T1). The letter corresponds to a subject and the number corresponds to the bonus.

Subject Basic Advanced
Arcana (A) Spell components, correspondences and general effects of spells and magic items Actual spell research, activation words for magic items, true names of demons
Healing (H) Non-magic diseases and poisons Magic diseases and poisons, other magical effects like petrification
Lore (L) Recorded history of the “material plane”, legends and folklore of the same Lore from primordial times, lore from other planes of existence
Nature (N) Abilities and vulnerabilities of creatures from the material plane (e.g. wolves, owlbears, halflings) Abilities and vulnerabilities of creatures from other planes of existence (e.g. demons, devils, elementals)
Travel (T) Geography of the material plane – how to get from point A to point B and what to expect along the way Same, but for other planes of existence and time travel; also existence of magic portals and how to use them

Subjects are divided into basic and advanced categories. For a basic category, use the library’s full bonus for that subject. For advanced, use half that bonus (rounding down).

Fleshing It Out

This scheme gives you a basic “stat block” for a library. There is, of course, so much more you can do with these things:

1) Describe the thing – the leather of the books, the smell of the paper, the dust, the disorder (if the library is really disordered, double or triple the time it takes to answer questions), the wood of the shelves, the tile floor, the librarian giving you the stink eye when you walk into his library in bloody platemail, etc.

2) Definitely describe the librarian if there is one. If the library is large enough, the librarian should be fleshed out as a full NPC since one might interact with them more than once. A good librarian might become an ally or enemy, or at least an adventure hook.

3) The library could present particular dangers or challenges. Maybe it is so old that each time you use it the overall bonus (or a specific bonus) is reduced by one, or is reduced by one if you fail a save or dexterity check. Maybe there are traps and thus a % chance of stumbling into them (‘15% chance of book avalanche when studying nature’ or ‘rot grubs infest the arcana books’). Maybe the library consists of engraved basalt tablets in a cave at the base of a volcano, with seams of lava between them – the bonuses are tripled, but the research involves jumping over red hot lava that can kill you.

JMS-BLACK

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Yes, But …

treasure-chest11It’s been a long slog through a dangerous wilderness and then a devilish dungeon. Henchmen have died, PC’s have bled, but in the end, Law triumphed over Chaos (with an assist by Neutrality) and the dragon is dead.

Yes, but …

The PC’s have “won” the game. They’ve completed the adventure. They’re done. Or are they? Since the name of the game is adventure, the end of a particular adventure can be a temporary thing. I draw to your attention Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs and his planetary romance set on Barsoom. If you haven’t read about old John Carter and his incomparable princess, you should, and in between the Martian sight-seeing you might also pay attention to how ERB paces the books and ends them, at least how he ends the first one because it’s a great way to run adventures.

220px-Princess_of_Mars_largeIn A Princess of Mars, every success by John Carter is a doorway to a new challenge that must be faced (and must be faced NOW!). Once John Carter gets used to the red planet, it’s pretty nonstop action – challenge followed by resolution followed by complication or new challenge, etc. When the book finally ends, the adventure does not. Like all of us wide-eyed kids who saw Han frozen in carbonite and Luke get a rough lesson about his family tree, readers of the first Barsoom novel are left hanging, waiting for the next installment.

The Notion

Almost every success in the game drives the adventurers to a new challenge, and the end of each “module” leads directly into the next for at least three “modules”. After every three, the adventurers have a chance to rest.

The idea here is not a story-driven piece, in which the players are led by the nose. The players can always choose to give up. They just have to face the consequences. They intrude on a dungeon and decide not to face the dragon – fine – but the dragon is now awake and cranky and everyone for 100 miles is suffering for it.

Moreover, when they kill the dragon, a new challenge arises from that now moldering corpse. Think about some of the classic module series of AD&D and how they linked – you finish the slavers in the under city, but now you’re led to their stockade to strike another blow against their evil.

When you design your adventures, think about how to turn one adventure into a trilogy (or how to break a mega-adventure into a trilogy of smaller adventures).

This might involve:

  1. Foreshadowing the trilogy in its first two stages – not in ham-handed way, but in such a way that as new things are revealed, the players get that light bulb moment and start making connections. It might make sense to make sure the players know there’s more in store. If the group is heading off to deal with some kobolds in the woods, an old man in the tavern might mention that he thinks the kobolds are being put up to it by the weird cult in the hills. Another might scoff and say something like, “Oh, I suppose next you’ll tell us the dragon beyond the mountains is causing the drought.” Now they know there’s more out there than just some kobolds in a 1st level dungeon.
  2. When you write the adventures, figure out how they link together, and how each is a separate adventure in its own right. Give the players bite-size chunks – bring the courses of the adventure meal out one at a time rather than all at once. The best way to do this is to make the end of one the beginning of the next one. Each adventure needs a beginning (“You all meet in a tavern …”) a middle (the delve) and an end (“… you open the treasure chest and find …”). The end holds the key to the next beginning, “… but as you fill your packs with treasure, the ground shakes and the giant diamond falls into a crevice … it looks like there’s another dungeon below the one you’ve just conquered.”)
  3. The big idea here is about transitions from one state of play to another. You might think about this in terms of PC level. The trilogy that drives PC’s from 1st through 3rd level will be different from the one that drives them from 4th to 6th level. When the PC’s move from the “basic” levels to the “expert” levels, they leave who they were behind in some ways and must enter a larger, more complex and more dangerous world. The old game had this in mind with the idea of hitting name level and building strongholds – the old life of wandering adventurer would end, and the new life of settled ruler begins. In play, this was also a transition from RPG to wargame.
  4. alternatefuturesHere’s where consequences come into play. In our own lives, there are moments where we have to choose about moving forward – say from childhood to adulthood. We can choose not to, but there are consequences. Choosing to reject adulthood does not mean the world of your childhood lives on. Things still change, and often not for the better. When the players choose to ignore that next challenge, the campaign world they inhabit changes because of their choice. This doesn’t have to be a severe change designed to force them into tackling the next adventure, but it should involve loss and a noticeable change. If in the end the players decide not to follow up, they have to live in the world they’ve created and you can embark on a new trilogy. They just have to accept that the campaign world is different and move on.

Just a notion – do with it as you will.

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Dragon by Dragon – December 1981 (56)

Ho ho ho – Merry Christmas 1981!

Let’s be honest, Christmas and the 1980’s were made for each other … or at least it sure seemed that way when I was growing up in the 80’s. Christmas had a certain magic in those days that was lost by the 1990’s. I’m sure it had nothing at all to do with me growing up, getting a job, getting married and having a child.

Enough of that – let’s see what the Dragon brought us for Christmas …

First, a bit of opinionating from Kevin Morgan

“There is no need to change the monk character class of ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.”

So there you go. If you were planning on changing the class, you can stop.

For what it’s worth, I agree with Mr. Morgan in some respects – too often a class is considered “broken” or underpowered because it doesn’t do what somebody wants it to do. Doesn’t mean the class is wrong, just means its the wrong class for the player. In AD&D days, of course, things had to be official, which is why the wrong monk for you meant the wrong monk for everyone, because we couldn’t just have a bunch of different monks running around making people happy. That would be (small “c”) chaos!

Speaking of redesigning classes, the first big article of the mag is “Singing a new tune – a different bard, not quite so hard” by Jeff Goelz. For those new to the old school, bards were once very powerful folks, far more than in modern games. It was a tough class to qualify for and as is mentioned in the article, the revised bard class of the Player’s Handbook took forever to  enter – one had to go through a succession of other classes first. The article here tries to make a slightly less powerful bard that can be played right from first level like any other character.

A couple takeaways: First, the opening vignette has two of the greatest character names ever: Jake Armageddon, half-orc fighter/assassin and Alphonse Armageddon, half-orc cleric/assassin. I salute you Mr. Goelz.

Second, the bard in this article is a great class that is very playable. It won’t be a stranger to many players of modern iterations of D&D – d6 for Hit Dice, some skills, some fighting ability, some spellcasting (illusionist and druid). Good stuff, especially if you’re running first edition and a weird-o like me comes along wanting to play a bard.

Bill Howell follows up the first article with “Songs instead of spells”. Here, Mr. Howell introduces “songs of power” sung by the bard in place of spells, with a complete song list and some details of songs not already covered as existing spells. Here’s one, done up as a spell for Blood & Treasure:

Satire (Conjuration)

Level: Bard 5          Range: Special          Duration: Special

This song is used against a prominent public figure who behaves incorrectly. The target of the spell has his or her charisma score halved until they atone for their misdeeds … unless their deeds are not really misdeeds. If the target’s actions are not truly objectionable in the moral climate of the region, the bard’s charisma is halved instead until they move at least 50 leagues away, and they may not return to the region for one full year.

This spell is actually right up my alley.

“Map hazard, not haphazard” by William Hamblin is one of those articles that has slightly lost its efficacy with time. It concerns using topographic maps in fantasy games – a good idea and a good discussion – but also includes addresses one can use to order sample maps. The internet has made finding maps like these much easier.

A touching sentiment

Gary Gygax’s “From the Sorcerer’s Scroll” in this issue covers protection circles (and the like) plus news from the northern Flanaess. It includes some illustrations and descriptions of magic circles and pentagrams, and God knows this article would have run afoul of the “D&D is Satanic” crowd back in the day. I can remember it being included in the old Greyhawk box set. He also describes the Wolf Nomads, Bandit Kingdoms, Duchy of Tenh and Rovers of the Barrens, all of which shows up in the box set as well. Brings back good memories of a wide-eyed kid reading this stuff and realizing that making up a whole world was something you could actually do.

The big feature this issue is a Top Secret scenario called “Mad Merc” – a mission set on a tropical island. It is written by Merle M Rasmussen and James Thompson, and whether you play TS or not, the materials here are super useful and there is a metric ton of it – maps, descriptions of complexes, etc. There’s a nuclear-powered drydock, native peoples caught in the crossfire and a “mad merc” named Strikewell.

The Dragon’s Bestiary this issue features Lewis Pulsipher‘s shroom, which isn’t a mushroom man, but rather a creature that looks something like a thin bear with a dog-like head that can dimension door and prefers capturing foes and holding them for ransom rather than outright killing them.

Shroom, Medium Monster: HD 4+3, AC 14, ATK 2 paws (1d6), MV 30′, AL Neutral (CN), INT low, CL/XP 5/500, NA 1d8, SA-Dimension door, subdue, surprise (4 in 6), hug.

Richard Lucas’ colfel is a big, fearsome beetle from the Negative Energy Plane, which means level drain ladies and gentlemen. Michael C. Reed’s gem vars are humanoid creatures composed of precious stones and created by magic-users. I like all of these monsters, any one of which could be a great addition to a game filled with players who have read the existing monster manuals cover to cover. I think surprises are what makes playing these rpgs fun.

Dragon 56 also has reviews of Task Force Games’ Survival/The Barbarian (positive, but the reviewer thinks they’re too simple for some gamers), Dawn of the Dead (“The game is fast-paced and a fair amount of fun, despite its decidedly macabre nature”) and GDW’s The Argon Gambit/Death Station (very positive) and Fighting Ships: Traveller Supplement 9, which the reviewer found interesting reading, but maybe not super useful for the rpg itself.

There are also book reviews, a holiday gift-giving section focused on books and the continuation of a series that looks at game design.

All in all, not an exciting issue, but I liked the bard class and the bestiary was good.

As always, I leave you with Wormy – have fun and be kind to one another.

You’re seeing Tramp take it to another level here

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The Antiquarian – Thumbnail Class Sketch

When I forget my phone at home, I usually spend lunch writing in a little notebook rather than reading. Today I had a few ideas for a class, which I present before in “thumbnail sketch” format, rather than fully realized.

This fellow will probably find his way into Esoterica Exhumed in a more fleshed-out form.

The Antiquarian …

– Rolls d4 for hit points

– Fights and saves like a magic-user

– Can read obscure languages

– Collects dusty tomes, books, scrolls – carries them on his back, so he’s hunched over – provides protection from back stabs

– Can call up the ghosts of the past to help him (knowledge, fighting, etc. – “Julius Caesar, I choose you”) – I figure this will work a little like an illusionist’s shadow conjuration spells

– Legend lore, as a bard (or more so)

– Use magic scrolls to cast spells; can always identify potions and scrolls

– Can recall ways to fight monsters (“Egad, I nearly forgot that ogres are allergic to dust mites”) – while fighting a monster, but only if the group doesn’t have what they need – they can use the method in future fights, though, and get a +1 to hit the monster

– Has bad eyesight from all the reading – easier to surprise

– Resistance to magic – 3% per level to divination, enchantment and illusion; 1% per level to necromancy, transmutation, etc.

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Downtime and Special Guest Heroes [Notion]

Yesterday, I had an idea about how one could model a magic-user taking time off from adventuring to research spells or make magic items. It occurred to me that the mechanic could also be used to balance adventurers belonging to organizations. Here’s the idea in a nutshell:

Magic-users should be able to get a palpable advantage from researching spells and making magic items. In the “real world”, we have to make trade offs in terms of time – you can study to become a doctor, or to become a lawyer, for example, but probably not at the same time. If you choose one pursuit, you miss out on another.

“You’ll have to slay the dragon without me, I’m busy.”

In games, this can be tricky. You can declare that the spell research will take a month of time, which is a month the magic-user cannot spend adventuring … but so what. The group merely schedules their next adventure for one month from now (in game time) and they go on their merry way.

Of course, this can be an obstacle in the course of some games, when the group has a limited amount of time to crack a code or stop an invasion. More often, it’s no obstacle at all – perhaps some money that must be spent for room and board, and nothing else.

Here’s an idea for how you can model this without entirely disrupting the game.

Downtime for Research and Development

Say our resident magic-user, Merlyn, wants to research the invisibility spell. The GM can decide that this will take Merlyn away from adventuring for, say, two game sessions. That means two meetings of the players to play the game. No XP or treasure for Merlyn while he’s busy hunched over dusty tomes learning how to become invisible.

In the meantime, the party hosts a special guest hero, an NPC magic-user one level lower than Merlyn controlled by Merlyn’s player. This guest wizard does not earn XP, but does get a normal share of the treasure. Each time Merlyn needs to take a break, the guest wizard can step in, always one level lower than Merlyn.

We have now to come up with a schedule for downtime required for various magical operations. Maybe something like:

Researching 1st to 4th level spells – 1 session
Researching 5th to 7th level spells – 2 sessions
Researching 8th to 9th level spells – 3 sessions

Scribing up to three scrolls or brewing up to 5 potions – 1 session
Making most magical items, including armor – 2 sessions
Making magic weapons – 3 sessions

You can use whatever schedule you think is correct.

Other classes that need to train might use a similar schedule. You could allow a fighter or monk, for example, to sit out for a couple sessions so they can learn some new special maneuver.

Downtime for Organizations

This brings up another time commitment – organizations. Clerics are supposed, in some campaigns, to belong to large temple organizations from which they should draw some advantages. The temple should provide some healing, maybe needed equipment or information, etc. To keep this from being an extra ability of clerics that other characters do not enjoy, it can be balanced by the cleric having to take time off from adventuring to serve the temple in other matters. Depending on how useful the organization is, a PC might have to take one of every ten sessions off or one of every six sessions off or whatever off to meet their obligations. The PC gets a benefit, and pays for it by missing a session now and again.

Downtime for Rest and Recuperation

The same mechanic can also be used to model recuperation time, say from a nasty disease or if you are using old AD&D healing rules from damage sustained in combat. The PC misses a session to heal up while a guest steps in to substitute for them.

Fringe Benefit

The fringe benefit from using this mechanic is that you develop ready NPC characters who can step in to become PCs when an existing PC dies. If Pauline the Wizardess has subbed for Merlyn several times, she can become the party’s new magic-user when Merlyn is eaten by a dragon.