Death and You-Know-What

Here’s an idea for a dungeon encounter to frighten, or at least annoy the players.

Coming towards them down a corridor, the adventurers see a robed, skeletal figure holding a scythe, reaching out to them. If they flee, they soon see the figure again, coming down a different corridor towards them. The creature can be avoided at top speed, but it always comes back. Missiles and spells thrown at it do nothing. It does not speak, but its eyes do glow a glaring gold.

When the creature finally catches up to the adventurers, they discover that the figure is not Death, but rather his cousin, Taxes. The figure demands a percentage of their treasure, hands them a receipt, and then goes quietly back into the shadows.

Into the Unknown

Happy Fourth of July folks! Remember, it’s not enough to value your own liberty, you have to love other peoples’ liberty just as much as your own.

And also remember – two or three hotdogs is probably sufficient unless you want to put on a fireworks display in your gut to rival the one outside tonight.

Now then … I’m busy working, as I’ve mentioned before, on an Old West supplement for Grit & Vigor. I love working on things like this because they give me a chance to learn about things about which I only have a passing knowledge. A couple days ago, I started working on something like random encounter tables for PCs wandering around in the wilderness. I wanted to keep them relatively simple – just suggestions a VM could use to spice up an overland journey. I started out with some general categories of “encounter”, and then realized that I had no idea how frequent these things should be. What to do?

Then it occurred to me … Lewis and Clark kept a diary!

So now I’ve spent a few hours going through the diary and making notes on what they encountered each day, both while traveling in the summer and fall, and camping in the winter. Pretty interesting stuff – I highly suggest giving it a look – and here are the results, according to my encounter definitions (with the definitions following):

Encounter Travel Camp
No Encounter 01-46 01-31
Danger 47-57 32
Ruins 58-67
Herd 68-76 33-34
Predator 77-84
Warriors 85-91 35-40
Settlement 92-96
Travelers 97-99 41-00
Omen 00

Danger: This is a danger of some kind that strikes a person unawares, such as a snake bite, illness, a fall that results in injury, pests, etc.

Herd: This is an encounter with numerous large her-bivores, such as bighorn sheep, elk or bison.

Omen: This is an event that has spiritual significance to one or several of the adventurers.

Predator: This is an encounter with a large predator capable of killing an adventurer, especially if it achieves surprise. In the American West, this is probably a bear, cougar or pack of wolves.

Ruins: The remains of a settlement, such as mounds left by the Mississippian Culture, or an abandoned settlement (see below).

Settlement: A settlement appropriate to the region and time period. This includes trading posts and forts.

Travelers: An encounter with a small or large group of travelers. These people may or may not be capable of defending themselves, but their purpose is not one of violence and the group probably includes women and children. This could be a wagon train, a migration of American Indians or a prospector and his mule. There is a 1% chance that they are accompanied by a famous person appropriate to the time and place.

Warriors: An encounter with a relatively small band of armed men. It could be a hunting or war party of American Indians, a troop of U.S. Cavalry, a gang of outlaws or European fur trappers. There is a 1% chance that they are accompanied by a famous person appropriate to the time and place.

That’s enough for today – I have to prep the dog for the horrors of fireworks tonight. Be good to one another folks – love each other – it’s the only way forward!

Dragon by Dragon – October 1977 (10)

Can you feel the chill in the air – that crisp chill of Autumn? Well, of course not. It’s July in the here and now, and just reading a magazine from October isn’t going to change that unless you have a rather powerful imagination or have been dipping into the pseudo-pharmaceuticals. Let’s see what Gygax & Co. had in store for us 35 years, when the leaves of Lake Geneva were beginning to change*

October 1977 starts off with a firecracker (mixing my seasons again), as Jon Pickens presents D&D Option: Orgies, Inc. The Mule Abides has already brought this article to prominence in the OSR, but I think it’s worth mulling over again.

The article posits the problem of too much wealth in the game. To this end, Pickens decided that treasure should only be translated into XP when it was spent. Since you can only have so many suits of platemail, 10-ft. poles and weeks of iron rations, players need something else for which to spend their gold. Pickens provides the following avenues of expenditure:

1. Sacrifices: Gold given directly to gods or demons; any character can do this
2. Philanthropy: Lawful’s can give gold to charity – but not to hirelings or fellow PC’s, of course
3. Research: This is for magic-users and alchemists.
4. Clan Hoards: Dwarves and other clannish folk can give their money to their clan.
5. Orgies: Fighters (not paladins or rangers), bards, thieves and all chaotics (except monks) can spend their money on wine, women and song

There are, of course, additional guidelines to these expenditures (i.e. how much can be spent in a night or week, etc.), but I love the idea and the restrictions. Even better, he has two appendices to the article – one on gambling and one on the effects of orgies on psionics (and in my opinion, the mere existence of this appendix should make you want to include both orgies and psionics in your next campaign).

Izzat what a female goblin looks like?

Daniel Clifton has the task of following up on Orgies, Inc., and does so with Designing for Unique Wilderness Encounters. It’s a nice little article, containing random tables for determining what the terrain looks like when a few pesky wandering monsters show up in the wilderness. The tables generate the vegetation, slope, etc., but don’t provide any guidance for how this terrain impacts the battle, which is probably a good thing.

Paul Montgomery Crabaugh presents Random Monsters – by which he means monsters generated randomly, not random wandering monsters. Naturally, I need to generate at least one (which I suppose I really should include in Blood & Treasure):

Intelligence: Highly intelligent (I have a budding genius on my hands here!)
Alignment: Chaos
Type: Mammal (which means it might be a ninja)
Speed: 12
Armor Class: 7 (would have been a 6 if it was a reptile; for B&T it’s a 12)
Hit Dice: Level -2 (level being the level of the dungeon … hmm let’s pretend we’re on the 9th level of our dungeon, so 7 HD)
Hit Dice Modifier: +0 (so, 7 HD … odd that I need to roll for the HD and then roll to modify it)
Damage: 1d8

Now I need to roll for special characteristics, which is an odd percentile table. For a 7 HD monster, I’m going to assume it works as follows:

01-39 – none
40-74 – one
75-89 – two
90-100 – three

I roll a “92” (no, really, I swear it) and thus my monster has three special characteristics. I need to roll d24 for these (if you don’t know how to roll d24, I just feel bad for you) and come up with the following:

1. Hostile to clerics
2. Has anti-magic shell
3. Hostile to magic-users

I have a very hostile monster, apparently. But he doesn’t hate cans … he hates spellcasters. This makes his anti-magic shell make pretty good sense (ah, the wisdom of dice!)

I now roll another D% to see if it has “other characteristics”, and a roll of “61” tells me it does not (otherwise, it could have some insect characteristics).

Last batch of rolls determine the physical description:

Size: Medium (6 feet)
Limbs: 2 legs, 3 arms
Exterior: Feathers
Coloring: Spotted white and grey

So, what do we end up with?

Medium Magical Beast, Chaotic (CE), High Intelligence; Gang (1d4)

Hit Dice: 7
Armor Class: 12 [7 for Swords & Wizardry]
Attacks: 3 claws (1d8)
Move: 30 [12 for Swords & Wizardry]
Saves: F 10, R 10, W 11 [9 for Swords & Wizardry]
XP: 700 (CL 8)

Almesiths are strange beasts that are spawned from the residual energies of powerful spellcasting, living embodiments of nature’s abhorrence of magic. They are most often encountered in the deeper levels of dungeons, and seek out spellcasters for destruction. Almesiths look something like owlbears, and can be mistaken for those sorcerous creations. They differ in size, being no taller than a man, coloration, being covered in dark grey feathers on their arms, legs and backs and softer, white and grey spotted down on their bellies, and in two additional curiosities: They lack mouths, having instead a stirge-like tubular beak that juts 3 feet from their faces, and in that they have a third arm that juts from their chest. Almesiths attack with their large, hooked claws, and generate a natural anti-magic field (as a 7th level caster) in a 60-ft. radius. In combat, they always focus their attacks on spellcasters (clerics, druids, magic-users and sorcerers first, bards second, assassins, paladins and rangers third), ignoring attacks by non-spellcasters even when it threatens to kill them.

In the Design Forum, Richard Gilbert presents Let There Be Method To Your Madness. This is another in the series of “dungeons should usually make some rational sense” articles; the attempt to bring the retro-stupid branch of the RPG world to heel that persists to this day. I think these two camps can best be described as Phoebe vs. Rachel.

Next up is a mini-game … Snit Smashing, in which a Bolotomus waits to smash the Snits that run from the ocean so they can plant their snotch in a Snandergrab. If the Snit player manages to multiply more rapidly than the Bolotomus player can smash them, he or she wins. For the Bolotomus to win, he or she must destroy all of the Snits.

When you’re through smashing snits, you can proceed to P. M. Crabaugh‘s next article, entitled Weights & Measures, Physical Appearance and Why Males are Stronger than Females; in D&D (weird use of a semicolon). If the feminists in the audience are getting their hackles up, they might want to read the article first, they might want to read the article first. The article posits an additional 3d6 stat – Size – which can translate into bonus hit points and a modifier to carrying capacity. Yeah, males get some extra carrying capacity … and females get a +2 bonus to Con and a +1 bonus to Dex, and men get called “thick-fingered clods with facial hair”. The old “trash men to keep the feminists from calling you insensitive names” ploy. A classic.

Beyond the ability modifiers, the article has a mess of random tables for generating a random appearance (did you know males have a 30% chance of having facial hair). I don’t know that I’d use this for generating a PC, but it could be useful for generating general ethnic physical and cultural characteristics, if you want to get away from “these people look like Vikings, and these people look like East Asians and these people look like …” trend in campaigns.

The next article is Gaining a New Experience Level by Tom Holsinger. He explains that what D&D and EPT really need is some sort of dangerous ritual for characters to undertake when they have enough XP to advance in level. To which I reply, “Huh?” Favorite line in the article:

“The sacrifice of humans is generally forbidden in a populated area because too many people get upset.”

The article is actually pretty tongue-in-cheek, and would make for an interesting campaign. Essentially, it creates a sub-game that involves getting the gods’ attention with sacrifices or sacrilege, then assuming the “proper physical and psychic attitude, i.e. complete exhaustion”, which, Holsinger assures us, can only reliably be done by becoming thoroughly inebriated, during which the Emissaries of the Gods, the Great Pink Elephants, come to the character and imbue them with their new Hit Dice and special abilities. The level limits for elves, dwarves and halflings are, he tells us, because they have a harder time getting drunk. It is also why high level characters move out of town and build castles – with more hit points, they have to get super shit-faced to attract the attention of the gods, and that might mean burning things down and causing other massive disruptions to the lives of the common citizenry. This article actually dovetails nicely with Orgies, Inc. and together they could make for one hell of a fun campaign.

Next up, Edward C. Cooper‘s The Tactics of Diplomacy in Stellar Conquest. Honestly, I don’t know the game and so I’m not going to comment on the article.

In Wormy, the eponymous dragon is contemplating stumping some angry dwarves with a riddle. They’re angry because Wormy stole their bowling balls to use on his pool table. Meanwhile, Fineous Fingers is under attack by a whole guild of murderous hobbits.

And that’s it for October 1977. Good issue, I think. I have to run and set up an inflatable pool now, but I have a couple neat ideas in store for next week. Oh, and I finished writing Blood & Treasure yesterday …

Would they be changing in October? I’ve lived in Las Vegas my entire life – Summer temperatures only finally end around the last week of October, and the leaves may not change here until well into December. Basically, I have no idea how seasons are supposed to work.