Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival

I’ve finally found the time, between impromptu trips to Iowa and too dang much work (the real work, not the silly game writing work), to peruse Kabuki Kaiser’s Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival, with fantastic art by Evelyn M. Kabuki was kind enough to send me a review copy (PDF), and I’m sure glad he did.

I well remember when Evelyn first showed off some of the artwork on Google+ – my first thought was “dammit – flower liches – I wish I’d thought of that!” Such an enticing notion – a nice twist on an old idea.

Now I can happily report that Flower Liches is a very groovy book. You get a nice adventure with lots of action and mystery, plus a sourcebook for an interesting Asian setting that can also fit nicely into people’s existing settings (it would slip into my Mu-Pan setting in NOD like a treat), plus a dragonboat race minigame with different levels of complexity.

The book is 95 pages long, with a creative, attractive layout and the aforementioned beautiful art by Evelyn M. The text is dense – there is plenty to digest, and all of it is useful. When the text is evocative and descriptive, and it often is, it has a Clark Ashton Smith feel – weird fantasy. You get the practical and the aesthetic all in one package.

In a nutshell, the game describes itself as:

“Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival is a Chinese ghost story, a Kung-Fu action movie adventure, and a detective story. It features both location- and event-based
sequences built upon sets of tables which encourage the action to derail and to switch between martial arts displays, thoughtful inquiries, and high octane dungeon action with spirits, monsters with giant bloated tongues, and porcelain faces. They’re meant to be grotesque, picaresque, and gross; they’re spirits and liches, after all. Like in all classic Kung-Fu and Chinese ghost stories, magic and philosophical whatnot alternate
seamlessly with flurries of fists and things that croak and go bump in the dark.”

In my opinion, the game really delivers the goods. You get a colorful romp, very “D&D” and thus easy to include in existing campaigns, that challenges the players in multiple ways, including a mystery to solve (I won’t say much, to keep from spoiling it), monsters to slay and numerous strange and wonderful locales to explore.

If you dig wuxia, mysteries and weird fantasy, get yourself a copy of Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival folks – a truly original addition to the OSR.

And I’m still pissed I didn’t think of it first.

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 …

Your Kung-Fu Could be Better …

When writing GRIT & VIGOR, I wanted to include some martial arts. You can’t very well have manly adventures without a few face kicks and quivering palms. To that end, there is a sub-class of fighter called the boxer which is, essentially, the monk class without the supernatural abilities.

Since the game uses feats, I decided to create several feats to simulate different styles of martial arts. All of them have prerequisites, of course, but could probably be taken by 6th level or so. Here’s a little preview of the martial arts master feats. You might find them handy in your game if it uses feats or something similar, or perhaps you could adapt them as special abilities for a martial artist class in your game.

Aikido Master

Prerequisites: Int 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer), Dodge, Expertise

An aikido master can sacrifice his own attacks against a grappled opponent to lock them into combat. Each round, the aikido master makes an attack roll, noting the total. To break the lock, the aikido master’s opponent must make an attack roll with a result higher than the aikido master’s Armor Class and higher than the aikido master’s attack roll. If he fails, he may not move or attack anyone else. If he succeeds, he may either count the attack towards the aikido master and deal damage as normal, or instead move or attack another.

Bagyazhang Master

Prerequisites: Con 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer Class), Great Fortitude, Iron Will

The baguazhang master adds his Constitution bonus to his Armor Class and to Reflex saving throws. This is in addition to his Dexterity modifier, not in place of it.

Bartitsu Master

Prerequisites: 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer), Dodge, Look Smart

When the bartitsu master gets his opponent into a grapple, the opponent must pass an Endure task check each round the grapple is maintained or succumb to pain and fall unconscious for 1d4 rounds.

Capoeira Master

Prerequisites: Dex 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer Class), Brawler, Lightning Reflexes

When fighting three or more opponents, a capoeira master may make one free trip attack per round, in addition to his normal attack, against one of those opponents.

Jujutsu Master

Prerequisites: Int 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer), Expertise, Trip

When using the throw or trip combat maneuvers, a jujutsu master adds his opponent’s strength bonus to his own strength bonus when rolling his attack roll.

Karate Master

Prerequisites: Str 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer Class), Cleave, Power Attack

Karate masters deal triple damage with critical hits when making an unarmed attack. Items rolling a saving throw to avoid being destroyed by a karate master do so at a -2 penalty.

Savate Master

Prerequisites: Str 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer Class), Brawler, Power Attack

When a savate master makes a successful unarmed attack against an opponent and rolls a critical hit, the opponent is stunned for one round or knocked prone (player’s choice) in addition to suffering damage.

Taekwondo Master

Prerequisites: Attack bonus +2 or higher, Pugilist (or Boxer Class), Flying Kick

You can make an unarmed attack against an opponent that is behind you at no penalty, or strike two flanking opponents by rolling an attack against each and splitting your attack bonus between them.

T’ai Chi Ch’uan Master

Prerequisites: Dex 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer), Dodge, Iron Will

When a t’ai chi ch’uan master is attacked in combat and missed, he may force his opponent to pass a Reflex saving throw or be grappled, or a Fortitude saving throw or be pushed back 5 feet.

Wing Chun Master

Prerequisites: Dex 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer Class), Dodge, Great Fortitude

Wing chun masters may re-roll failed saving throws made to resist combat maneuvers.

Xing Yi Quan Master

Prerequisites: Str 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer Class), Look Smart, Power Attack

When a xing yi quan master uses his power attack feat against an opponent at +3 to damage and -3 to hit and successfully attacks, he stuns his opponent for 1 round.

Monks and Swashbucklers

This post will finish my posting of the hybrid “fighting-man” classes I was using in my last game, and it involves the oft-maligned monk. Now, I grant you that the monks as presented by Gygax lo those many years ago do not fit into a medieval milieu. On the one hand, I want to say – who cares? I run my games for fun, not verisimilitude. On the other hands, lots of folks do want their games to make sense and stick to a sort of “reality”. For those folks, allow me to suggest that the monk is still a usable class. The trick is to ignore the name and the “fluff” and just look at the game stats. What you have is a non-armored combatant who is quick and generally hard to kill. In other words, a very acceptable way to emulate a swashbuckler or two-fisted pulp adventurer. Heck, I’ve even used the class to stat out Popeye (don’t ask). So, before you relegate the monk (or any other class) to the dustbin, think about how you can adapt the flavor to the mechanics.

The following content is Open Game Content.

The Monk Sub-Class
The monk is a sub-class of fighting-man. Monks train themselves in the unarmed martial arts, including wrestling. They develop lightning fast reflexes and iron wills. Most monks are trained in special monasteries, but some simply apprentice themselves to a fighting master. Different masters and monasteries use different techniques, and they (and their students) are often quite competitive.

  • Prime Attributes: Strength & Constitution, 13+ (+5% experience)
  • Hit Dice: 1d12/level (Gains 5 hp/level after 10th.)
  • Armor/Shield Permitted: None.
  • Weapons Permitted: Any.

A monk’s unarmed attack inflict 1d4 points of damage at level 1, 1d6 points of damage at level 2, 1d8 points of damage at level 5 and 1d10 points of damage at level 9.

At level 6, a monk can make a second unarmed strike each round. The secondary strike’s damage begins at 1d4 and improves to 1d6 at level 9.

Monks improve their unarmored AC by +1 at levels 2, 5, 8 and 12.

A monk’s movement improves by +1 at each level. A monk carrying a medium or heavy load loses this extra speed.

A level 1 monk can use a stunning attack once per round, and no more than once per level per day. The monk must declare its use before making an attack roll. A missed attack roll ruins the attempt, and counts towards the monk’s limitation. A foe successfully struck by the monk is forced to make a saving throw. Those struck by a stunning attack always take normal unarmed attack damage, but a failed saving throw results in the foe being stunned and unable to act for 1d4 combat rounds.

At level 2, monks gain the ability to deflect arrows and other non-magical missiles. The monk must have at least one hand empty to use this ability. When a character would normally be hit by a ranged weapon, the character may make a saving throw. If the saving throw succeeds, the monk deflects the weapon and suffers no damage. This can be done once a round at levels 2-6, and twice at levels 7-11 and three times at 12th level. The monk must be aware of the attack to use this ability. An attempt to deflect a weapon counts as the monk’s primary unarmed attack. If a monk is high enough level to have a secondary unarmed attack, the monk may still make the secondary attack. This ability cannot be used against siege weapon ammunition.

At level 3, a monk’s unarmed attack can deal damage to creatures only harmed by +1 magic weapons. A level 5 monk can damage creatures only harmed by +2 or better magic weapons. A level 8 monk can damage creatures only harmed by +3 or better magic weapons, and level 12 monks can damage creatures only harmed by +4 or better magic weapons.

At level 4, a falling monk takes damage as if a fall were 20 feet shorter than it actually is, but must be within 10 feet of a vertical surface that he or she can use to slow the decent.

At level 6, a monk can feign death for a number of turns equal to the character’s level.

At level 7, a monk’s naturally healing increases to 2 hp per day.

At level 12, the monk gains the fabled quivering palm attack. The monk can use this attack once per week. The attack must be announced before an attack roll is made. The monk must be of higher level than the target. If the monk strikes successfully and the target takes damage from the monk’s unarmed attack, the quivering palm succeeds. Thereafter, the monk can choose to try to slay the victim at any later time within 1 round per level of the monk. The monk merely wills the target to die, and the victim makes a constitution saving throw to avoid this fate.

This attack has no effect on undead or creatures that can only be struck by magical weapons, unless the monk is able to inflict damage on such a creature.

The Swashbuckler: If you don’t think that a kung-fu-style monk fits into your campaign, you can rebrand the class as a swashbuckler. In this case, the monk’s “unarmed attacks” are instead made with long sword (rapier) and dagger, and only with these two weapons. The stunning attack can represent a dizzying flourish of arms or a pommel guard to the head. The quivering palm can be renamed “the lunge”, representing that moment when the swashbuckler stabs his foe, who then staggers about for a moment before expiring with a look of disbelief in his eyes.

Level Experience Hit Dice Attack Save Title
1 0 1 +0 16 Postulant
2 1,750 2 +1 15 Novice
3 4,000 3 +2 14 Brother
4 8,500 4 +3 13 Cenobite
5 20,000 5 +4 12 Mendicant
6 40,000 6 +5 11 Monk
7 80,000 7 +6 10 Canon
8 160,000 8 +7 9 Prior
9 325,000 9 +8 8 Abbott
10 550,000 10 +9 7 Abbott
11 750,000 +5 hp
+10 6 Abbott
12 1,250,000 +10 hp
+11 5 Abbott

S&W Format

Hit Dice: 1d6+3 per level, +3 hit points per level after level 9

Level Experience Hit Dice Attack Save Title
1 0 1 +0 14 Postulate
2 2,900 2 +0 13 Novice
3 5,800 3 +1 12 Brother
4 11,600 4 +2 11 Cenobite
5 23,200 5 +2 10 Mendicant
6 45,000 6 +3 9 Monk
7 90,000 7 +4 8 Canon
8 180,000 8 +5 7 Prior
9 360,000 9 +6 6 Abbot
10 480,000 +3 hp
+7 5 Abbot
11 600,000 +6 hp
+7 4 Abbot
12 720,000 +9 hp
+8 3 Abbot

Art by Alison Acton