Dragon by Dragon – May 1982 (61)

Wow – May of 1982. I was on the verge of being 10 years old, so probably 2 years away from discovering D&D, three from Tolkien and may five from superhero comic books. My only nerd-cred at the time was probably reading encyclopedias. What I do remember being excited about in 1982 – and begging to get for my birthday – were these new army figures called G.I. Joe. Have you seen these things? They’re like Star Wars figures (which I loved), but military (which I loved)! Awesome! I don’t remember exactly what I got that birthday, but I know I got a few of them, and I think I got the jet pack launch pad thingee. Unfortunately, within just a couple years I was done playing with toys, so I never had more than the originals and Doc. Good times, though!

Two-D’lusion (illusion)

A of E: 4 sq.”

CT: 1/6 segment

This cantrip is virtually the same as a phantasmal forces spell in most respects. The caster creates a two-dimensional illusion of whatever he or she desires. If any viewer observes it from an angle of more than about 45° from its horizontal or vertical viewing axis, the nature of the illusion will become immediately apparent. It is dispelled by touch or magic (dispel illusion or dispel magic). The illusion is invisible from the side or the rear. It lasts as long as the caster concentrates upon it. To effectuate the cantrip, the caster must speak a phrase descriptive of the illusion while making a circular motion with his closed hand.

Just so you know, “A of E” is “area of effect” and “CT” is casting time. I think 1/6 a segment would be 1 second, but I might be wrong on that. It’s been a while since I played AD&D.

It wouldn’t be until high school that I discovered Warhammer, and thus White Dwarf magazine. 

I always dig Giants in the Earth, either because it covers characters I know, or introduces me to new characters. This issue we get C. J. Cutliffe Hyne’s Deucalion, John Norman’s Tarl Cabot and Charles R. Saunders’ Dossouye. While I am aware of Cabot and have read some Saunders, I have never experienced first hand the characters described in this issue. I have, however, read Hyne’s The Lost Continent: The Story of Atlantis, from whence Deucalion comes (well, not really – it’s from ancient mythology really), and I can recommend it. A ripping yarn that, in my opinion, was reminiscent of Conan and such barbarian literature long before REH got his sandaled hero off the ground.

I always wanted one of those Dragonbone electonic dice rollers as a kid. A quick search on ebay revealed none for sale. Oh well – maybe some day.

Next are “Without Any Weapons …” by Phil Meyers and then “… or with a … Weird One” by Rory Bowman. The first has new rules for pummeling in AD&D, the rules for which were never very satisfying and always overly complex. They could have been quite simple, but the gaming zeitgeist of the time was all about complexity – a far cry from the old days when the game was the thing. The later article introduces new weapons for AD&D such as atlatls, blow guns, chakrams, bullwhips, etc. I had no interest in complex fighting rules, but always liked new additions like the weapons article.

For the gnome-curious out there, Dragon 61 had some groovy articles by Roger E. Moore about the littlest adventurers in AD&D. “The Gnomish Point of View” fleshes out the gnome characters – of course, your campaign may vary from Moore’s ideas, but it was always helpful, especially when I was young, to see how these things could be fleshed out. It is followed up with “The Gods of the Gnomes” – Baervan, Urdlen, Segojan and Flandal. Of course, Garl Glittergold was introduced earlier. I can remember thinking Flandal Steelskin was cool.

“Quest for the Midas Orb” by Jennie Good is the included module in Dragon 61. It was the third place winner at IDDC III, and I’ll admit I don’t know what that is. Here’s the introduction:

“Long ago in the land of Gnarda lived the worshippers of Kalsones, the god of wealth and power. Kalsones was a fair god who treated his followers kindly. As proof of his fairness and kindness in an era long past, he had presented the people with an artifact called the Midas Orb. Legends say if the Orb is held in one hand and another object is touched with the index finger of the other hand, the object touched will turn to pure gold.”

The adventure is a groovy dungeon crawl with some cool ideas in it. Well worth the read and probably well worth the exploration.

The “Dragon’s Bestiary” includes the Firetail by Ed Greenwood, the Umbrae by Theresa Berger, the Light Worm by Willie Callison and the Tybor by Jeff Brandt. Here’s the Light Worm for Blood & Treasure:

Light Worm by Willie Callison
Type: Monster
Size: Large
Hit Dice: 4
Armor Class: 14
Attack: Bite (1d6 + Poison IV)
Movement: 20′
Save: 16
Intelligence: Animal/Low
Alignment: Neutral
No. Appearing: 1 (25% chance of 1d3)
XP/CL: 1,200/6

SD – MR 75%, Immune (charm, hold, illusions), vulnerable (cold, fire)

Light worms are dungeon denizens with poisonous bites. They look like giant snakes with black underbellies and violet and light blue bands on their backs. The monster’s have two small bumps above their eyes, and stubs on their underside – perhaps vestigal legs. Victims of the light worm’s bite must save vs. poison (at +1 from the first bite, and a cumulative -2 penalty for each additional bite) or die in 1d8 minutes.

There is a 35% chance each round that the worm creates a 20′-diameter sphere of colored lights around victims within 120′. All creatures within the sphere are made dizzy for the first three rounds of their entrapment (-2 to attack, cumulative). In rounds four and five, they are so dizzy as to be incapacitated, and in round six they fall unconscious for 1d10+1 minutes, during which time they are devoured by the monster if at all possible.

Creatures that save against the sphere of lights are only made dizzy for three rounds, shaking off the effect thereafter. Dispel magic, mind blank and true seeing cut through the sphere of lights, as does a helm of telepathy.

The sphere of lights can be generated once every 12 hours.

Light worms are stunned for 1d3 rounds by the sticks to snakes spell, and the spell cancels a sphere of light currently in play.

The Monster Cards described in this issue were really cool. Each one depicts a monster painting on the front, and the stats on the back. If you can find some out in the wild, grab them, cherish them, and use them to kill player characters.

There is an article about introducing aging into the Ringside game, of which I know nothing. It is followed up by the “Jo-Ga-Oh – Little People of the Iroquois” by Conrad Froehlich. These are stats for three “monsters” that are quite groovy.

Gary Gygax has a supplement to Top Secret. Again, I know next to nothing about this game, but I like the level titles for infiltrators – snitch / foist / inside man / plant / ringer / contact / insinuator / penetrator / subversive / infiltrator. Given the title for 8th level, I guess we can assume that’s James Bond’s level. The article also has info on different types of missions, the XP value of them, and other notes. 

Boy – What’s New? With Phil and Dixie was just the best when you were in junior high …

It was fun discovering Phil Foglio’s art in old Star Trek fanzines. Everybody has to start somewhere!

Tramp’s Wormy has some gorgeous artwork – he was just getting better and better!

That, folks, is a wrap! Have fun folks, and please be kind to one another. 

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






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


Teleporting With Style

star-trek-transporterTeleport and teleport without error are old spells, and in the old school they leave the look and feel up to the imagination. Here are a few ideas on what teleportation might look like …

1. You appear line by line, like being printed by a dot matrix printer in the 1980s

2. Appear as free-floating fetus and age into current form

3. Appear as skeleton and grow muscle, tendons etc until fully formed

4. Coughed out of the 4th dimension like a hairball

5. Appear in blink of eye, but all people in area have to pause briefly and then move slightly when you appear, as though on an old TV show

6. Trapdoor opens in sky and you fall out

7. Beam in like Star Trek – lots of noise and sparkles

8. Appear in puff of smoke with a musical fanfare

Level 9-12 – a fanfare of kazoos
Level 13-16 – a fanfare from a Casio keyboard
Level 17+ – a fanfare of trumpets

9. Hole appears and you crawl through it

10. Door of light (or shadow) slides open (like automatic door) and you step through

11. Miniature volcano grows from ground and you erupt out of it

12. Swirling cloud forms in your shape and then gradually becomes solidified until it’s you

13. Lightning strikes ground and leaves you when the dust clears

14. Your form is poured like silvery, bubbly liquid that falls from the sky – you emit a small burp when you finish forming due to the ethereal carbonation in your system

15. Space shatters like a mirror, revealing you

16. Velvet curtains held aloft by cherubs parts to reveal you in all your glory

17. A giant hand descends from the sky with a paint brush and paints you into existence

18. You appear as a wavering hologram that slowly becomes real to the peal of invisible gongs

19. Your hand appears holding a wand, and slowly rises from the ground revealing you (and of course ending on your arm extended above your head

20. Purple smoke seeps up from the ground and you appear, genie-like (or Jeanie-like, if I’m being honest)

Magic from the Masters

When I was about 10 years old, Mattel introduced its He-Man toy line. I remember going over to a friend’s house to see the entire original line, which his grandparents had bought him for Hanukah. If I’m honest, they didn’t do much for me. I was a freak for G.I. Joe and military stuff at the time, and really had no interest in swords and sorcery. As a result, I never had an interest in He-Man. I mostly saw it as a cheap Filmation cartoon. It would still be two or three years before a chance meeting with Tolkien’s The Two Towers and Dungeons & Dragons would get me interested in the fantasy genre.

Fast forward to adulthood. What did not interest me as a G.I. Joe-loving kid now does interest me as a weird retro-loving adult. I can now appreciate just how bizarrely creative Mattel’s toy makers were with the MOTU line, and I can even appreciate the cartoon, though more by way of laughing at it (gently and with love) than of thrilling to the adventures of He-Man (who I just now discovered shared his voice with Morris the cat – even weirder).

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been watching a He-Man cartoon at night before bed to unwind, and in addition to the entertainment value I’ve been inspired to write a few spells that will find their way into Esoterica Exhumed. Here’s a sample:

Battle Beast (Evocation)
Level: Druid 5, Magic-User 6
Range: 30′
Duration: 10 rounds

One animal targeted by this spell becomes a battle beast, doubling its size and Hit Dice, and increasing its damage rolls by +2 points for the duration of the spell. While under the effects of the spell, the animal is treated as a monster rather than animal, and its coloration changes to something weird and unearthly. The animal gains limited sentience and low intelligence in battle beast form.

Blinding Light I (Evocation/Illusion)
Level: Cleric 1, Druid 1, Magic-User 1
Range: 5′
Duration: 1d6+1 rounds

One creature immediate in front of you is dazzled by a sudden intense light that flashes from your eyes. The victim is blinded for 1 rounds, and then dazzled for 1d6 rounds. A dazzled creature suffers a -1 penalty to attack rolls and to all task checks involving sight.

Blinding Light II (Evocation/Illusion)
Level: Cleric 2, Druid 2, Magic-User 2
Range: 20′ cone
Duration: 1d6 rounds

This spell causes those caught in the area of effect who fail a saving throw to be dazzled, suffering a -1 penalty to attack rolls and all task checks involving sight.

Chasm (Conjuration)
Level: Druid 4, Magic-User 5
Range: 60 feet
Duration: 10 minutes

You can cause the ground to suddenly disappear, shifting it briefly into the elemental plane of earth. The resulting chasm has the following dimensions: Width is equal to 5 feet plus 2 feet per level; length is equal to 1 foot per level and depth is equal to 2 feet per level. After 10 minutes, the earth shifts back into position from the elemental plane, burying anything that was in the chasm or displacing gases and liquids (such as water or an obscuring mist spell) that might have been in the chasm to the surface.

Cosmic Comets (Conjuration)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: Personal
Duration: 1 hour

You conjure three miniature comets which orbit you at a radius of up to 10′. While orbiting, they provide a +1 bonus to Armor Class. Melee attackers that miss their attack roll against you by only 1 point are struck by a comet for 1d6 damage + 1d6 fire damage. You can also send these comets streaking out at a single target, who can avoid it with a saving throw. Targets that are hit suffer 2d6 damage + 1d6 fire damage.

Homing Spell (Divination)
Level: Magic-User 1
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent

Once a magic-user has placed this spell on a nonliving item, she can, with mild concentration and while rubbing the temples, discern its location relative to her in terms of direction and approximate distance. This homing beacon is permanent, but can be removed with dispel magic or suppressed while in possession of a creature with magic resistance (dice to determine).

Raise Pillar (Evocation)
Level: Druid 3, Magic-User 4
Range: 30 feet
Duration: 1 hour

With the lifting of your arms, a pillar of solid rock rises from the ground. The ground in question must be solid – i.e. there must be rock to form into a pillar. The pillar rises 5 feet plus 1 foot per level, and is roughly 4 feet in diameter. The pillar can be raised under a creature’s feet, in which case they must pass a saving throw to avoid being lifted. If they fail this saving throw, they are carried upwards and could potentially be crushed if the pillar’s height plus their own would force them to violently contact the ceiling of a chamber or cavern. If they are crushed, they suffer 3d6 points of damage. After one hour, the pillar slides back into the ground. This spell can conceivably be used to raise buried treasure to the surface, but the soil in which the treasure was buried forms into solid rock and therefore may make the treasure difficult to access.

Sleeve of Holding (Conjuration)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: Personal
Duration: 8 hours

The magic-user can stuff 100 pounds per level worth of non-magical, non-living goods up his left sleeve. After 8 hours, the magic-user must dump the goods out of his sleeve or they disappear into dimensions unknown.

Flights of Fancy


The fly spell is a good example of a spell that succinctly (at least in old editions) explains what the spell does, but does not describe what the effect looks like. It’s easy enough to assume the flyer looks something like Superman, but how about some other possibilities:

1. Magic-user rides a rainbow, with sparkles descending like a gentle rain on those below

2. Magic-user sprouts golden wings of energy

3. Magic-user sprouts bat wings and leaves a sulfurous smell as he passes by

4. Magic-user rides a small cloud

5. Magic-user sprouts two silver discs from the bottom of his feet and rides them through the sky

6. Bottom of the magic-user’s body becomes a whirlwind (no extra effect from the wind) and he flies like a tornado through the sky

7. A bubble of magic energy surrounds the magic-user, who sits in the lotus position within

8. A giant hand descends from the sky and picks the magic-user up, depositing him where he wishes

9. Dozens of magical balloons on strings sprout from the magic-user’s hand and lift him into the air

10. The magic-user becomes a flock of sparrows (she retains a general humanoid shape and keeps the same combat statistics as the magic-user if attacked)

That’s ten possibilities – anyone care to deposit a few more in the comments?

Dragon by Dragon – October 1981 (54)

Has it been that long since the last Dragon by Dragon? Time flies and time is tight, but there should always be time to travel down through that great gaming oak to the roots and ferment in the brew of our elders.

What the hell am I talking about? The bourbon is doing its job. Let’s get started on issue 54 of the venerable Dragon and see what inspiration we can pull from this issue. Yeah, this will be less review and more “what’s cool that we can use today”.

Cool Cover

How about those angry trees on the cover by Jack Crane. How about a high level druid illusion spell:

Maddening Wood
Level: Druid 7
Area of Effect: One 6-mile hex of woodland per druid level
Duration: One season

The druid enchants a woodland with terrible phantasms. When one approaches the woods proper, the trees loom over them and seem to animate, with grotesque faces and bony claws. Creatures with fewer than 3 HD must pass a saving throw vs. fear or be frightened away. Those who are not afraid initially may plunge into the woods, but things grow worse before they get better. With each step, a save is required for creatures one additional HD higher (i.e. one step in and creatures with 4 HD must save, the next requires creatures with 5 HD to save, and so on). If a creature becomes frightened, all creatures with fewer HD must save again. As one moves deeper into the woods, the wind whips up, the owls hoot, the foliage closes in and becomes more noisome … until one has gone 10 paces in, when the illusory magic ceases and the woods become normal once again.

Eternal Complaint Dept.

“My “lack of realism” argument is very well supported in all of the AD&D entries. By taking a close look you will find an incredibly large amount of monsters in a relatively small area, which, in most cases, has not the means to support even a few of the creatures presented.”

Ruins: Rotted and Risky – but Rewarding by Arn Ashleigh Parker (R.I.P.)

Here’s the first article I dug in this issue, covering ruins – the much neglected cousin to dungeons in D&D. The article contains ideas on designing ruined cities (and thus non-ruined cities), and I love the asumptions made in the article. These are fantasy cities from the mind of Mr. Parker, and they’re awesome. Here’s a few thoughts I enjoyed:

1. Give the players a map showing the perimeter of the ruins, with credit going to the party thief. This saves time, and doesn’t give too much away.

2. Go through the map and decide which buildings are monster lairs; don’t determine what the building actually is until the players investigate.

3. The table of buildings that might be in a ruin (and thus also useful for randomly determining building use in a city)

4. Random bank vault contents! (also useful in modern games, I would think)

5. “The chance for a given thief to open the lock on a bank vault is computed by multiplying the height of the vault (in stories) by 20, and subtracting that number from the thief’s normal percentage chance to open a lock. Thus, a 17th level dwarven thief with a dextereity of 17, who would have an adjusted open-locks chance of 119% for normal locks, has only a 49% chance of cracking a third-story vault, and no chance to open a vault on the sixth story, because the adjustment for the vault’s height (6×20=120) is greater than 119.”

This is what made AD&D great.

6. Private residences are 1d4 stories high. 10% are unusual and were owned by …

7. How long does it take to find a particular building:


The Righteous Robbers of Liang Shan P’o by Joseph Ravitts

Cool article with NPC stats for some bad boys of the Water Margin. They include Kung Sun Sheng (“Dragon in the Clouds”), Tai Chung (“The Magic Messenger”), Chang Shun (“White Stripe in the Waves”), Li K’uei (“The Black Whirlwind”) and Shih Hsiu (“The One Who Heeds Not His Life”).

This is followed up by a Giants in the Earth covering E. R. Eddison‘s Four Lords of Demonland.

I Want One of These

Would also be a great game – Wizard Dragon Dwarf Assassin

Beware the Jabberwock by Mark Nuiver

This one presents stats for the Jabberwock, along with a stunning piece of art. The B&T stats are:


Type: Monster
Size: Huge
Hit Dice: 10 to 12
Armor Class:
Attack: 2 claws (4d4), bite (3d12 + swallow) and tail (2d12)
Movement: 20 ft.
Save: 12
Intelligence: Average
Alignment: Chaotic (NE) or Neutral (N)
No. Appearing: 1

SQ-Surprised (1 in 6), darkvision 90 feet, detect vorpal blade (1 mile range)

Notes: Jabberwocks mature as do dragons. They have a fearsome gaze (creatures less than 4+1 HD; frightens; frightened creatures must pass a second save or be paralyzed with fear for 2d4 rounds). Tail attacks anyone behind the creature, with a -2 penalty to attack.

Cavern Quest by Bill Fawcett

Worth mentioning this module for AD&D, which is also a sort of quiz with a system for scoring. It’s strange, but probably worth checking out, especially if you want to prove you’re better at AD&D than a friend … or foe! Each room gives you a number of options, usually preparations and actions. Based on your choices, you score points and prove your superiority over other dungeoneers. Cavern Quest could be a fun thing to run on G+ using the polling function, but it is probably too long to make it work.

Cash and Carry for Cowboys by Glenn Rahman

If you need some price lists for an Old West game, this is worth checking out. I wish I’d seen it before writing GRIT & VIGOR.

Bottle of Undead by Bruce Sears

A magic item in the Bazaar of the Bizarre. It is basically an efreet bottle that spews [01-20] a ghost, [21-35] banshee, [36-55] 1d3 spectres, [56-70] 1d2 vampires or [71-00] 1d6 wraiths.

This Makes Me Happy …

As always, I leave you with Tramp …

New Spells and a Way to Use Them

New magic-user spells – fun to create, but hard to get into a game. After all, a magic-user only has so many spells he can cram into a spellbook, and when it comes time to choose, the average magic-user is going to go for the most useful, and thus usually the most standard, spells in the game. Detect evil might be boring, but it sure is useful.

Since I was inventing a bunch of new spells yesterday, I also went to the trouble of inventing a way magic-users can actually use them. It’s a highly complex set of rules …


NOD magazine begins its fabulous eighth year with a full hex crawl covering the crumbling empire of Nomo, a Romanesque city that has lost its emperor. As the empire slowly falls, opportunity for adventures abound. The hex crawl includes three mini-dungeons and hundreds of places to visit.

Other features include:

Two old school classes, the Centurion and Dervish, as well as ideas for anti-classes designed to foil fighters, magic-users and thieves.

Rules for playing poker in GRIT & VIGOR, as well as a gambler sub-class

A host of new “eye monsters” for Blood & Treasure and other OSR games

Plus some ideas on votive orders and on introducing the most horrific concept into fantasy gaming ever conceived … Taxes!


… that are actually not complex at all, and very simple. I call it Quasi-Spell Research

With an hour’s meditation, a magic-user can prepare any magic-user spell permitted by the Referee. The magic-user must have an open “spell slot” for the spell to do this. Once a spell has been prepared in this way, it can never be prepared with quasi-spell research again. It can, at some point, be learned and added to the magic-user’s spell book in the normal way, but not using this method. The magic-user also cannot use quasi-spell research to acquire a spell for making a magic item – she cannot use it to scribe a scroll, brew a potion, etc.

Since we have a rules lite way of accessing all sorts of new spells, how about a few new spells?

Black Sun (Necromancy)
Level: Anti-Cleric 3, Magic-User 3
Area of Effect: 120′ radius
Duration: 1 minute per level

Sunlight in the area of effect becomes gray and wan. It does not harm creatures normally harmed by sunlight, such as vampires.

Fantastic Transformation (Transmutation)
Level: Magic-User 9
Range: Touch
Duration: 10 minutes

This spell requires three subjects plus the caster. All four participants must be holding hands. Upon casting the spell, a bolt of cosmic energy erupts from the spell caster’s hands and travels through the subjects. When it ceases, all four participants in the spell are transformed. The subject with the highest strength score gains the benefit of the stoneskin spell. The subject with the highest dexterity score gains the benefit of the fire shield spell. The subject with the highest wisdom gains the benefits of the improved invisibility spell. The subject with the highest intelligence score takes in the properties of an ooze. If one subject qualifies for more than one of these transformations, they choose which one they want, and the runner-up then takes on one of the other transformations. All transformations last for 10 minutes and then cease.

Freak Out (Illusion)
Level: Magic-User 5
Range: 30′
Duration: See text

You may target all creatures within 30 feet of you with waves of psychedelic weirdness. Creature with 0 to 4 HD are confused for 1 minute. Creatures with 5 to 9 HD begin dancing around like crazy beatniks for 4 rounds and are fatigued for 10 minutes. Creatures with 10 or more HD are stunned for 1 round while they ponder the cosmos, man (and engines that run on water, man – water!), and then fatigued for 10 minutes from the heavy thinking.

Light Fantastic (Evocation)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: See text
Duration: 1 hour

A beam of light departs the magic-user’s fingertip and proceeds in a direction chosen, bouncing off of solid objects as it goes generally in the direction determined by the caster. The light beam extends for a maximum of 90′ and lasts for one hour, suspended in the area cast. Any creature stepping through this beam of light must pass a saving throw or fall prone on the floor, having tripped (over) the light fantastic.

Melt (Transmutation)
Level: Magic-User 8
Range: 90′
Duration: 10 minutes

For ten minutes, the landscape and all inanimate objects around you seem to melt and bend. They become porous and strange. Walls can be walked through with a d20 roll under a character’s Wisdom score, and creatures can walk on walls and ceilings as though they were the floor. Weapons deal only 1 point of damage (plus strength modifier), and rigid objects become flexible. Everything in the landscape changes color into a brilliant, psychedelic pallet, including living creatures. After the spell ends, all sentient creatures must pass a saving throw or be sickened for 1d6 rounds. Creatures who are sickened must also pass a save or suffer 1d6 points of Wisdom damage.

Mystic Fire of Phango (Evocation)
Level: Magic-User 4
Range: 30′
Duration: Instantaneous

The mystic fire reaches out from the spell caster’s fingertips, like hands of liquid white flame, to caress the skull of the target. The spell attempts to erase from the mind of the target their three highest level spells that are also of a level the spell caster can cast. Thus, a 7th level magic-user could erase spells no higher than 4th from a target’s mind.

If the target’s highest vulnerable spells number more than three, then each spell is nominated by the target in turn and the spell caster decides if they wish to target that spell.

For each of the three to be erased, the target can choose to release the spell from their mind, or suffer 1d6 + spell level points of damage to their synapses and retain the spell. Thus, retaining an 8th level spell would inflict 1d6+8 points of damage to the target.

Recharge (Evocation)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: Touch
Duration: Instantaneous

The magician uses their own body as a battery to recharge a wand or staff. For every point of Constitution damage or every 1d6 points of hit point damage they are willing to accept, they add 1 charge to a wand or staff.

Silky Smooth (Necromancy)
Level: Magic-User 1
Range: Touch
Duration: See below

At the magician’s touch, the victim loses all of their hair or fur, being left with silky smooth skin. Creatures without hair are unaffected.

Sinister Suspicion (Illusion)
Level: Magic-User 2
Range: 120′
Duration: 24 hours

The target of this spell scans as evil (Chaotic) to detect evil spells for 24 hours.

Sun Shower (Evocation)
Level: Cleric 3
Range: 240′
Duration: 1 round

Particles of light shower down on an area 40′ x 40′ x 40′. Creatures harmed by sunlight suffer 3d10 points of damage (no saving throw) in the affected area.

Supercharge (Evocation)
Level: Magic-User 4
Range: Touch
Duration: Instantaneous

The magician supercharges a wand. On its next use (and only its next use), the wand can expend two charges to cast its spell at either double the range, double the duration or increased damage. Damage is increased by +1 point of damage per dice of damage it normally inflicts. Thus, a three dice lightning bolt would do 3d6+3 points of damage if cast from a supercharged wand.

Transmute Skin to Tongue (Necromancy)
Level: Magic-User 7
Range: 30′
Duration: 1 hour

This bizarre curse changes a creature’s skin to the texture and color of a tongue. Their skin now tastes whatever it touches, a highly disconcerting sensation that requires a saving throw each turn to avoid becoming sickened (for sentient creatures) or frightened (for non-sentient creatures). Creatures without a skin (oozes, energy creatures) are unaffected. The affected creature’s appearance is likewise disconcerting to others, who must pass a save to avoid reacting with revulsion.

Transmute Sound to Light (Illusion)
Level: Magic-User 4
Area of Effect: 30′ radius
Duration: 1 minute

This spell converts all sound in the area of effect into light. The form of the light depends on the sound; singing, for example, might produce a lovely light show, while arguing would cast a harsh reddish light on the area.

Battles, in particular, create a vivid, violent strobe effect, with each clash of arms producing a flash of light. The effect is disorienting, and each creature in the area must pass a saving throw to avoid becoming dizzy (-1 to AC, -1 to hit, each miss in combat by 4 or more points resulting in the attacker falling prone). The dizziness ends when one leaves the area, for outside the area one hears the sounds and does not see the lights.

Word Up

From “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves” via Wikipedia

Here are a few ideas on incorporating magical (or at least powerful) words into the treasure tables in your game.

All of these words are potential replacements for the venerable treasure map (which itself is a great piece of treasure). If you’re playing a game without treasure maps on the treasure list, you might need to reexamine your life choices. Or, you could just add it to the list of magic scrolls.

“Fechtbuch” is a German word for a book that teaches warriors how to fight with word and illustrations. The fechtbuch concept can be used for all classes, of course, and it occurred to me last night that the value of one of these books could be to grant a character an XP bonus, maybe +5% or +10% at the most, while they are earning XP to gain their new level. When the new level is gained, the book is of no more use to them – they’ve learned everything they’re going to learn from it.

The cursed version would do the opposite – a book written by a fool that makes true learning harder than it should be. Imagine trying to deal with a real hippopotamus after reading some nonsense in an old medieval bestiary.

A password gained in one room might help one get past a trap or monster in another room, or even another dungeon. “Swordfish” is a classic from the Marx Brothers movie Horse Feathers, and who can forget “open sesame” (or “open sez me” if you’re a Popeye fan).

Passwords can be mundane – as in a word spoken to guards to permit passage past them – or they can be magical, as in a word spoken to disarm a magic trap or lock. Perhaps every lock and trap has a mystic password given to it by its creator during the act of creation, and high level thieves have a knowledge of such passwords. While they use their picks and tools, they also whisper these words to the lock, hoping to find the one that opens it.

The “cursed” version of this would be the word that causes bad things to happen, a’ la the infamous “bree-yark” in The Keep on the Borderlands.

Secret Words
Secret words are not all that different from passwords, I suppose, but with them the power of the word is definitely magical. Secret words work on living creatures, including non-sentient creatures. The words are tied to a particular type of creature and they have a single effect. The word can be used one or two or three times before it loses its power.

The effects of a secret word should be non-offensive, and could include making the creature friendly, stopping a charging or pursuing creature in its tracks, or undoing a special attack or defense of the monster (such as “turning off” a medusa’s petrifying gaze) for a short period of time.

The mystical word “Nee” comes immediately to mind.

True Names
True names are not terribly different from secret words, though they are potentially more powerful. The idea is that every creature from beyond the mortal realm, demons, devils, demodands, angels, elementals, etc., has a secret true name that permits the speaker control over them. The true name should probably be treated as a spell – thus once spoken, it is forgotten. Otherwise, you’re giving an adventurer a pet monster to sic on his enemies, and that’s a bit more than any adventurer should get. The word, when spoken to its owner, could act as a command, suggestion or geas spell – whatever makes the GM comfortable.

Rincewind by Paul Kidby, found at Wikipedia

The true name can be used in a summoning spell to bring that specific creature to you (rather than pot luck) and put it under control. If you know the true name but don’t know the owner, a GM could give a flat 1% chance that the creature you’re speaking to is the owner of the true name you have learned. After all, fantasy stories and fairy tales are full of such odd coincidences. Speaking the true name to the wrong creature, however, might be disastrous – the creature will know what you were trying to do and may resent it.

A good example of a true name is Rumpelstiltskin.

Words of Power
Words of power take things up yet another level. These words are, in effect, the power word spells (and maybe a few others, such as control weather) in a form that anyone can use. Again, you are allowed one use to a customer, and perhaps that use comes with ramifications, as the keepers of cosmic order do not care to have things disordered by irresponsible adventurers.

Conceptually, I’m thinking of these being like the powerful spell that lodged itself in the head of Terry Pratchett’s magic-user Rincewind. Have the word of power displace a spell that a character can normally prepare (even clerics) or a skill or maneuver a non-spellcaster can normally use. A thief, for example, learns the power word kill spell, but while it’s in her head she cannot move silently, hide in shadows or pick pockets, making her a very effective murderer, but a lousy thief.

The Greek word “logos”, from Wikipedia

Blood & Treasure Going Hard (Cover)

Hey boys and girls, I finally have the Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition Rulebook up for sale as a hard cover book! The book runs $24.99, and as always if you buy the hard cover book and email me with your Lulu receipt and I’ll send you a link for the PDF.

My next steps are as follows:

* Get Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition Monster book up for sale as a PDF (this week)

* Get Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition Rulebook up for sale as a paperback (next week)

* Get NOD 30 up for sale as a PDF (next week)

* Get Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition Monster book up for sale as a hard cover and paperback (two to three weeks from now)

* Get NOD 30 up for sale as a paperback (two to three weeks from now)

Then I get the chance to work on some mini-games and figure out how to do a B&T TK Screen!

And now, since you’ve suffered through the commercial, here are a couple spells to play with:

Footfalls (Divination)
Level: Cleric 1, Magic-User 2
Range: 300 feet
Duration: 1 round per level

This spell permits the caster to hear all movement on the ground within 300 feet, even if that ground is separated from the caster by thick walls, etc. The caster knows the general direction of the footfalls, the size of what is moving and the general number (single creature, small group, large group, etc.)

Wildfire (Transmutation)
Level: Magic-user 5
Range: 30 feet
Duration: See below

This spell turns a fire or portion of fire (campfire size minimum) into a swarm of tiny fire elementals who run wild and cause as much havoc as they can before they’re destroyed. The swarm has the following statistics:

Wildfire Swarm (Tiny Elemental): HD 4; AC 14 [+1]; ATK Swarm (1d4 fire); MV 30 feet; SV 15; INT Low; AL N; NA 1; XP/CL 1,200/6; SP-Immunity (fire), vulnerable to cold.

The swarm moves and attacks as a single creature. It covers a 10′ x 10′ area, with all creatures in that area suffering an attack from the creature, and all inflammable items in the area forced to make an item saving throw or catch fire.