Monday, September 28, 2015

AD&D Players Handbook part 4

Intelligence: This ability score is likened to IQ, and also defined as including memory, reasoning ability, and the capacity to learn all sorts of things not related to the written word.  It's briefly noted that the number of languages a character can learn is tied to Intelligence, with a footnote that non-human characters are generally able to speak more languages than a human.  (I wonder why this is.  It's probably not due to them mixing more freely with other races, as generally in D&D the demi-humans keep to themselves, while humans are the ones who mix in multicultural societies.  I chalk it up to their longer lifespans, and the fact that your average elf or dwarf will have lived a full human lifespan before even beginning an adventuring career.  We'll see later if this pans out; do the races with longer lifespans get more languages than those with shorter?)

Intelligence remains the prime requisite of magic-users, with an XP bonus for those with a score over 16.  Intelligence is also tied to the level of spell that a magic-user can learn: with a score of 9 (the minimum required to be a magic-user), the caster can only learn up to 4th-level spells.  At 10 he can learn 5th level spells, at 12 he can learn 6th, and so on; only a caster with 18 Intelligence can learn 18th-level spells.  (This is a change from OD&D - at least when including Supplement I: Greyhawk -  where there was no minimum Intelligence requirement for magic-users, and spells of 5th level were available to every caster.  Those with 11 Intelligence could cast 6th level spells, 13 could cast 7th, 15 could cast 8th, and 17 could cast 9th).

Intelligence also determines whether a caster can learn a specific spell.  Each caster must go through the list of 1st-level spells, and against each one roll percentile dice to see if he is able to learn it.  (The chances range from 35% with a 9 Int, and 95% at 19+).  If you succeed, you have the ability to learn that spell; if not, you can never learn it.  However, Intelligence also determines the minimum number of spells you can learn, and if you don't reach that total after going through the list once, you can go through again, testing spells until you hit your minimum.  There's also a maximum, and once you hit that you can't go any further (unless your Intelligence is raise somehow.)

(I have to admit, I've always gotten a bit confused by the rule above.  What I need to remember is this: just because I've rolled my chance to know, it doesn't mean that I know the spell already.  It just means that I can know the spell at a later date, should I find it somewhere.  It's not that difficult, really, but it's tripped me up in the past.)

There's a section at the end about "acquisition of heretofore unknown spells" that muddies the waters a little.  I think what it's trying to say is that you can check to learn any spell you find that isn't in the Players Handbook, so long as you don't exceed your maximum number for that spell level.  The wording is a little ambiguous and open to interpretation, but that's often the way with AD&D.

(Most of the above is also present in OD&D Supplement I: Greyhawk, but that book's tables provide for casters with very low Intelligence scores.  The numbers aren't all that far off otherwise, except for Maximum Spells/Level; in OD&D a 17 Intelligence will allow you to know every spell of a given level, whereas AD&D requires a score of 19 to achieve this.)

Wisdom: Ah, good old nebulous wisdom.  It's defined here as "enlightenment, judgement, wile, will power, and (to a certain extent) intuitiveness".  You could perhaps say that it encompasses every mental ability not related to academic learning, though I'm sure I haven't thought that through well enough.  It remains the prime requisite for clerics.

The table showing the various class and race restrictions based on Wisdom is an interesting one, as it says that a character with a Wisdom of 5 or lower can only be a thief.  I've always found this a bit odd, especially as your mythical or archetypal thief character embodies several of the definitions given for Wisdom above.  I certainly don't see why a low Wisdom precludes one from being a fighter.

In OD&D (and Holmes Basic, as far as I can tell), Wisdom had very few mechanical benefits besides granting clerics bonus XP.  Now it is given an effect on saving throws against spells that attack a character's willpower (examples given include charm, fear, illusion, magic jar and telepathic attack, among other).

As with Intelligence and magic-users, wisdom can limit what spells a cleric knows.  The rules are not as strict, however: it simply states that a cleric needs a wisdom of 17 to cast 6th-level spells, and 18 to cast 7th-level spells.  Clerics with a high wisdom are also now able to memorise more spells than before, but those with a score below 13 have a percentage chance that, every time they cast a spell, it will fail.  Nothing spectacular happens with a spell failure: the spell simply disappears without effect.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Some Preliminary Combat House Rules

I've mentioned before that it's my intention to cobble together a version of D&D that is exactly to my liking.  I've done plenty of thinking on the subject, but little concrete work.  Most of my D&D efforts of late have been going towards this blog, and the continuation of my 3rd edition campaign that will be happening ANY DAY NOW.  But I have a few spare moments right now, and some ideas I'd like to hammer out and share with my readers.

So, combat.  If there's one criticism of D&D combat, it's that it can get a little mechanical and repetitive.  A lot of the onus for that falls on the DM and the players, but it's an easy rut to fall into, especially a few hours into a long game session.  I'd like to develop something that makes the basic mechanics of D&D combat a little more dynamic, and takes it away from the endless loop of roll-to-hit/roll-damage.

The first thing I need to do is lay out the kinds of things I want to achieve.  I have three main goals here: create something concrete for critical fumbles, make critical hits a bit more interesting, and introduce the possibility of permanent injury to characters dropped below zero hit points.

The combat system I'm using as the base here is 3rd edition: the attacker rolls 1d20, adds his attack bonus, and that's the Armor Class struck.  It's simple, it works about the same mathematically as earlier editions, and above all it's dead simple to explain to new players.  I have no problem with descending ACs and THAC0, but I've played with countless people who could never figure it out.  In 3rd edition, I've never had to stop in the middle of combat to tell a player what AC he hit, and it's not an aspect of the game that I miss.

Critical Hits
The first thing I want to change from 3rd edition is the expanded critical hit range for certain weapons (i.e. a scimitar doing a critical on a roll of 18-20).  In my game, a critical hit is rolled on a natural 20.  I'm also doing away with the confirmation roll: there's little more disappointing than rolling a 20, then missing on the roll to confirm.  I will have a secondary roll, but it's going to determine some other stuff; once a critical has been hit, a critical it will remain.  (I've never been quite sure of the purpose of the confirmation roll, though I've heard it explained as getting around the problem of monsters that need a 20 to hit always doing a critical.  It's not a problem I particularly care about.)

(I may keep the expanded criticals in if I retain Feats in the game, and use the range in the equipment lists as the maximum amount that the weapon can be expanded to.  If a guy wants to burn two Feats so his scimitar can critical on a roll of 18+, he's more than welcome to do it.)

As far as damage on a critical goes, I prefer rolling extra dice rather than going for a flat multiplier.  I'm torn on whether to apply damage bonuses once, or to each die.  At the moment, I'll keep it conservative: for a standard critical you roll the weapon's damage dice twice, and add your damage bonus after.  And although I said that I was being conservative, I want to add the possibility of infinitely scaling damage: basically, if the dice roll well enough, there's no limit to the total damage that can be dealt.  Player's love doing astronomical amounts of damage, and I happen to enjoy making my players happy.  Besides, the monsters will be doing it as well, and I also love making my players sad.

And now to weapon and armour breakage.  Breaking weapons and armour in D&D is quite rare, and at least in 3rd edition it's something the player has to do in lieu of dealing damage.  I'd like it to happen in the course of regular combat, and to be honest I just like the imagery of a guy blasting through his opponent's shield and smashing the arm behind it.  That's the sort of thing that ought to happen on a critical, and I want to put it in there.  I also want the possibility of a player hitting his opponent so hard that he breaks his own weapon.  I've read accounts of ancient warriors pausing in the middle of battles to straighten their swords with their feet, and while those were bronze weapons, and the PCs will most probably be wielding iron and steel, I want to include something along those lines.

This is where the secondary roll comes in: not to "confirm the critical" as it does in 3rd edition, but to determine if the critical has any secondary effects.  Here's a preliminary table:

Roll (1d20)Effect
1Your own weapon breaks (if possible)
2You are disadvantaged in the next round
3-15Regular critical
16You deal a debilitating wound
17You damage your opponent's armour (if possible)
18You damage your opponent's shield (if possible)
19You break your opponent's weapon (if possible)
20Add an extra dice of damage, and roll again

Note the multiple times that "if possible" appears.  This is to stop magical weapons being broken by normal ones.  Basically, normal weapons can break or be broken by normal weapons.  A +1 weapon can break any normal weapon, and another +1 weapon, but it can't be broken by a normal weapon.  And so on: a magical weapon can only be broken by a weapon of equal magic, and can only break upon armour of an equal value.  I need to do more thinking about how this system interacts with monsters that use natural weapons and armour, but that's always a problem with D&D rules focused on arms and armour.

Being "disadvantaged" above means that you may have gotten your weapon stuck, or overbalanced yourself.  I would play it as the PC being able to make half the usual number of actions in the next round, and suffering a penalty to hit and AC (perhaps a simple -1, or maybe the Disadvantage rule from 5th edition, which involves the player rolling twice and taking the lesser value.)

A debilitating wound is something that makes it harder for the victim to fight: blood in the eyes perhaps, or an injured leg.  I'd simply play it as a penalty on all actions (-1 to all rolls, or 5e disadvantage as described above).

Damage to armour and shields would probably result in destruction in the case of a shield, and the reduction of AC bonus by 1 in the case of armour.

Critical Fumbles
My players always ask me to describe some misfortune that befalls them when they roll a natural 1 to attack.  3rd edition, at least in the core game, has no system for this, so I usually just toss something out that has no actual effect on gameplay.  I'm going to create a chart, like the one above, to throw in some effects.

Roll (1d20) Effect
1 You break weapon your own weapon (if possible)
2 You drop your weapon
3 You are disadvantaged next round
4 You deal yourself some damage
5 You damage an ally (if possible)
6-20 No effect

There's nothing too startling there, just the usual things that players expect on a fumble.  Being "disadvantaged" here means much the same as it did in the critical hit chart above.  Dealing damage to yourself is a possibility I've included, but I certainly won't have it as a full damage roll from your own weapon, or anything so ridiculous.  It might just be a flat die roll of 1d4, to represent a sprained ankle or something similar.  Damaging an ally is always fun, but I've added the "if possible" stipulation to head off particularly silly instances.  I've also left a substantial range for No effect, because I don't want to be dealing with this stuff every single time someone fumbles.  Sometimes an automatic miss can be penalty enough.

Permanent Wounds
Characters spend a lot of time in D&D being hit with swords, but outside of death they rarely suffer any negative side-effects.  I want to introduce the possibility for a character to receive a permanent injury when reduced to negative hit points.  It won't happen every time: I will probably have it as a percentage chance based on how far below 0 the character went when felled.  If he goes to -1, there's a 5% chance, at -2 a 10% chance, and so on.

Roll (1d20) Effect
1-10 Extra bleeding (character loses 2 hp per round while bleeding)
11-15 Extra bleeding (character loses 3 hp per round while bleeding)
16 Severed hand or foot (75% chance hand, 25% chance foot)
17 Severed limb (25% chance each arm, 25% chance each leg)
18 Broken bone (arm, leg, ribs, cracked skull)
19 Impressive scar
20 Disfiguring scar

You may have gathered that this one is really in the preliminary stages, as I haven't worked out the mechanical effects of severed body parts and broken bones (besides the obvious ones). Receiving an impressive or disfiguring scar will influence how NPCs react to the character in certain situations, and either could be detrimental or beneficial.

One thing I don't want this system to produce, though, is a party of permanently crippled characters. I need to figure out which spells can heal these effects. The extra bleeding effects will be healed by a simple cure light wounds spell, or even by bandaging. A severed hand or foot I would allow to be reattached with a cure serious wounds, provided that said extremity is available to press to the stump. I'd let the same spell fix broken bones. A severed limb I might make more difficult to deal with: maybe cure critical wounds? The scars I would have completely healed by any cure spell; those would only come into effect in the case of natural healing.

Gutting It Out
Finally, I want rules for PCs who just refuse to go down. At the player's option, I will allow any PC to make an attempt to keep fighting by making a Will save of DC 15 + the number of hp below 0 that the character currently has. For example, a character at -1 would have a save DC of 16, and a character at -9 would have a save DC of 24. This save must be made every round, using the character's current hit point total, and as soon as it is failed he will fall unconscious. Once unconscious, no further attempts can be made.

Any character attempting to "gut it out" has to check for the possibility of permanent wounds first. That character will bleed at twice the normal rate: 2 hp/round for most characters, but as much as 4 or 6 per round if they get an extra bleeding result as a permanent wound.

In addition to bleeding faster, there's one obvious danger: a character who is still in the fight has a greater risk of being targeted by opponents. It's one thing to be lying on the ground bleeding, but another thing to be bleeding out while also under attack. I like this rule a lot; it gives players in a desperate situation an extra chance to help their comrades, but at greater risk to their own mortality, and it leaves that choice in the hands of the player.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

AD&D Players Handbook part 3

The six ability scores are named: strength,  intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution, and charisma, as in pretty much every version of the game.  Here we also come to a departure in the philosophy between OD&D and AD&D.  AD&D characters are supposed to be above average, and it's recommended that a character have at least two scores of 15+ to ensure survival.  I'm somewhat taken aback that there's no method given for determining ability scores: players are referred to the Dungeon Masters Guide, a book that won't be released for two years after this.  It's said that the scores range between 3 and 18, but for anyone trying to learn the game from the PHB, the method of getting those numbers is a mystery.

The ability is briefly outlined as a measure of muscle and endurance, and then an example Is given to relate the ability to the real world: as a rule of thumb, a character can lift their strength score times ten in pounds over his head (so a character with strength 3 can do a military press of 30 pounds, and one with strength 18 can press 180).  (As far as I can tell, this is the first time these values are given in D&D).  I tried to look up the world record for a military press, but wasn't able to find anything official.  I was getting figures of 400+ pounds, and some over 500, so Gary is very far away from reality on this one (unless exceptional Strength scales this figure up very quickly).

Strength remains the prime requisite for Fighters, as in OD&D.  This means that a fighter with a high strength score earns more experience points.  In AD&D, you get a 10% XP bonus for a Strength of 16+.  This is a change from OD&D, where the 10% bonus came with a score of 15+, and you could also get a 5% bonus from a score of 13 or 14.  It also looks as though they've done away with XP penalties for having a low prime requisite.

Indeed, it may not even be possible to have a low prime requisite.  Next to the write-up for Strength is a table that shows what classes and races you can choose based on your strength.  To be a fighter you need a strength of at least 9, so the XP penalty is moot.  Aside from the race and class restrictions, there are also upper limits noted for female characters.  As I've mentioned before, it's a realistic inclusion, but I still don't like the idea of penalising female PCs just because they're female.

Any fighter with a strength of 18 can also roll percentile dice to determine exceptional strength (resulting in scores such as 18/54 or 18/98).  A high roll here can net the fighter (and only the fighter) some hefty combat bonuses.  There's a table below that shows combat bonuses and penalties based on your strength score.  In general, characters have actually been weakened here when compared to OD&D; the penalties for having a low score have increased, and the bonuses come later and don't advance as high.

There are also some bonuses and penalties for non-combat activities, such as carrying capacity, and opening doors.  Characters in OD&D were better at opening doors than their AD&D equivalents, but the increase in carrying capacity for a high score in AD&D is far higher than it used to be.  An OD&D character with the highest strength had a bonus of +1200, whereas an AD&D character with the same score gets a bonus of 3000.  I thought perhaps that the games used different units of weight, but it seems that both measure weight in coins.

A new addition is the ability to Bend Bars or Lift Gates, such as a portcullis.  This is given as a percentage chance, but each can be attempted but once on a particular gate or bar.  So if you fail to lift a portcullis you can't try again, but you can still make one attempt to bend the bars and squeeze past.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

AD&D Players Handbook part 2

The introduction begins by touting how great AD&D is, going so far as to claim that it is "superior to any past offerings in the fantasy role playing game field".  It also states that the system has been "written and edited in order to make the whole as easily understood as possible".  Given that there are still people arguing about the intent of these rules nearly 40 years later, I have to call foul on this one.

It goes on to describe the various races and classes included in the PHB, and the relative balance of each.  It's stated outright that fighters and clerics have been strengthened in relation to magic-users; no doubt Gary experienced the difference in raw power between the classes first-hand.  His claim that "none of these over-shadow thieves" is a little dubious, but I'll let it slide; while thieves are notably weaker in combat than the other classes, they fill a vital role in other areas of the game.  The classes and sub-classes mentioned have all appeared in the game before, but there's a new race made available to PCs for the first time: half-orcs.

Finally it gets around to trying to explain what a fantasy role-playing game actually is, which it does in vague terms.  It's a world of imagination created by the Dungeon Master, explored by the players, full of monsters and treasures, etc.  A more concrete example of how the game is played would be useful here.

Possibly my favourite part of this intro is the futile urging that players not buy or read the Dungeon Masters Guide.  (Not so futile at the time of publication, I suppose, as the DMG wouldn't be available for another two years).  I admire the sentiment that certain parts of the game should remain mysterious to the players, but it's ultimately impractical.  Inevitably those players will want to run a game themselves, and even those that don't are going to crack the DMG open eventually.  Anyone sufficiently dedicated to the game is going to want to learn its inner workings, and there's little anyone can do to stop it.

Here we get a little deeper into what playing AD&D entails.  It begins in typically hyperbolic style, describing how the player and his friends act out the roles of their characters, and work together to achieve their goals.  Particular attention is given to the idea that AD&D is played over multiple sessions, and that characters start weak but gradually grow in power.  The role of the DM in crafting a challenging world is stressed, followed by some of Gary's ideas on what constitutes a good player: have an objective, cooperate with your fellow players, know when not to combat monsters, and don't be a dick to the DM.  Sound advice.

It finishes up by noting that a character's stats must be accurately recorded (which you might like to do on an official character record published by TSR!).  Still no example of how the game is played.

There are some named PCs that I will use in my campaign: Falstaff the fighter, Angore the cleric, and Filmar, mistress of magic.  (I won't dignify the last with an exclamation point, as Gary did.)

The basics of character creation are outlined here: roll your abilities using the dice, choose a race and class, pick your alignment and name your character.  Some other steps are briefly described (languages, money, hit points), but that's the general gist of it.

It's stated outright that all characters begin at 1st level.  I've never tried this in practice; being basically soft-hearted, I allow PCs to begin at around the same level as the existing party.  I need to try it some time, if only to test the survivability of low-level characters adventuring with a higher-level party, and how long it takes them to catch up in experience.

The use of the term "level" is outlined, and it becomes apparent just how widespread it is in the game: it's used to denote character power, the strength of monsters, the power of spells, and the depth of a particular dungeon tier.  Gary mentions that he was contemplating some new terms: rank instead of character level, power instead of spell level, and order instead of monster level.  I feel like that would ultimately have caused more confusion than it solved.  The use of level as a catch-all works well as a way of describing how strong or dangerous something is, and Gary made the right call in keeping it.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

AD&D Players Handbook part 1

It seems like not so long ago that I got done with the Monster Manual, and I've already reached another foundational work for D&D.  While the Monster Manual is officially the first book released for Advanced D&D, it's the Players Handbook that truly sets that version of the game in motion.  The Monster Manual still had a foot in Original D&D; the Players Handbook is Advanced all the way.

Before I get into the book proper, I want to make special mention of the cover by Dave Trampier.  It's been praised by many before me, but it deserves every accolade.  It's wonderfully evocative of the pulp roots of D&D, and it accurately represents the type of scene that would be common to most games.  It's also the single best piece of artwork that the game had seen at the time of publication, and it's a definite sign of the growing professionalism and design standards of TSR. The game is entering a new era.

For the unlikely reader out there who doesn't know what role the Players Handbook plays in the D&D game, I'll let the description on the title page do the work for me: "A compiled volume of information for players of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, including: character races, classes, and level abilities; spell tables and descriptions; equipment costs; weapons data; and information of adventuring."  Basically, it presents everything that the player needs to know to create a character and play the game.  Everything else (and I do mean everything) will be in the Dungeon Masters Guide.  From my perspective, having started with 2nd edition, I'm always surprised by what's not in this book.

But now, on to what is in the book.  First, the Foreword, in which TSR rules editor Mike Carr writes about the importance of players to the game, and suggests some rules of etiquette that players should abide by.  I'm amused by Carr's claim that D&D is special because "even a fair number of women are counted among those who regularly play the game".  And I dare say that his description of the game as a "cult" probably did it no favours when the game came under the scrutiny of busybodies and book-burners.  Otherwise it's an adequate opener that gets across how the book fits into the game (even though it does nothing to explain what the game actually is).

Next up is the Preface, and this is where Gary Gygax comes in with his signature prose.  (You know you're probably reading Gary when the word "perforce" gets dropped in the opening paragraph.)  AD&D was apparently begun a year-and-a-half before the PHB was published, with the Monster Manual chosen as the first product because it could be worked on piecemeal.  Gary's process for working on AD&D makes a lot of sense: get all the charts and tables sorted out, then write the stuff surrounding them.

Gary then goes on to describe how demanding the D&D audience is, and toots his own horn as a way of establishing his credentials to serve that audience.  I had to laugh at his description of himself as the "first proponent of fantasy gaming".  I wonder what Dave Arneson thought of that?  Although, come to think of it, Gary did design the Fantasy Supplement to Chainmail...  He might be right after all.

The rest of the preface is about the purpose of AD&D, and how it's going to bring a certain uniformity to the game across campaigns.  There's some baffling stuff here, though.  When he writes that there will be "no baseless limits arbitrarily placed on female strength" I have to scratch my head, because that's exactly what's in the game.  (Again, though, he's got a point by using the words "baseless" and "arbitrary".  I prefer not to limit character stats by gender, but there's no denying that the upper limit on male and female strength is different.)  I'm pretty sure he's taking swipes at some other fantasy RPGs when he disparages "ponderous combat systems with greater realism", and spell point systems.  Ah, what would a Gygax editorial be without some self-aggrandizement and pot-shots at the opposition?  This preface has it all, though couched somewhat more politely than at other times.

That's all I have time for today, unfortunately.  I'm running D&D for a friend's bucks party on the weekend, so I have to sign off and do some designing.  Alas, that means I have to cut this one short.  Next week I'll be back to dig into the meat of the book.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Outdoor Geomorphs Set One: Walled City

Today's post has been a little problematic, due to one small thing: I haven't been able to find a copy of Outdoor Geomorphs.  It can't be purchased as a PDF, it costs a fortune to buy, and it's not even out there on torrent sites.  There are other D&D products that I haven't been able to find, but all none of those were commercial releases.  This one was out there in the shops, but I'll be buggered if I can find a copy.

It's not all bad news, though.  Through various sites I've been able to find scans of the front cover, the back cover, and an image from one of the interior pages.  Even better than that, all of the interior text can be read here.  So special thanks go out to Grodog at for being the only guy to make this product even partially available.  You sir, are a prince.

The text begins with Gary giving some basic tips for designing cities: sketch out a brief history, work out what type of government rules the city, divide it into various sectors (like the Thieves' Quarter, Peasant's Market, etc.), think about the city's military forces and guards.  It's elementary stuff, but this sort of advice can be handy for beginners.  I must admit to chuckling at some of Gary's example for street names.  Pimp Passage, you guys.

This is followed by a list of the types of occupations found in most medieval cities, and this is always a good one to skim over when doing city design.  It's rare that I go into that level of detail when doing initial designs on a city, but it never hurts to place some of the most commonly sought after occupations before play begins.  The same goes for the list of building types that follows.

The text ends with three sample locations.  The first is the Old Gate, which is open all day, manned by 24 guards and commanded by three NPC fighters: Runalf, Feldoc and Vorje.

The second location is the Silvery Mart, so named because it's stalls mostly sell fish.  One of the stall owners will regale his customers about his adventures on the Lake of Unknown Depths, and the friendly mermaid who told him about the City in the Lake.  he can be bribed to draw a map to the city, but warns that the crystal steps leading down to it are guarded by a huge monster.  (The Society of Sages is mentioned as a place from which further information can be sought.)

Anchor Tavern is the last place described, a fairly normal establishment frequented mostly by mercenaries and sailors.  Sometimes it will be visited by the Master Thief, Quaggy the Quick-Fingered, and at other times by the buccaneer super-hero Radvar, and his four lieutenants.  Radvar is enamoured of the tavern's serving wench Kyleen, and could cause trouble if she's seen in the company of the PCs.

That's basically all the info I can find about this product.  Since this is all written by Gary Gygax, I'll be incorporating all of this into my version of the City of Greyhawk.  In addition to the three locales above, there's some other stuff in the earlier design guidelines.  There are divisions (Thieves Quarter, Peasants Market, New Quarter, Foreign Section, Temple Block), and some sample streets (Herbal Lane, which includes alchemists, apothecaries, herbalists, with fortune tellers at one end, and some physicians, chirurgeons, leeches and barbers at the other end, where the lane T's at Medicine Row).  The Thieves Quarter contains the Thieves' Guild, Assassins' Guild, Pimp Passage, Drunkard's Walk, the Avenue of Beggars, Whore Street, Gambler's Row, and the lower end of Currency Avenue where many money lenders can be found.  At the end of Gamber's Row is Money Changer's Court, where the Usurer's Union building is.  Just up Pennyless Walk is the Almshouse of the Brothers of the Blinding Light.  The Old Town Barracks are mentioned, as is the Riverman's Hostel.  It's all stuff to remember when I'm putting Greyhawk City together.

Finally, here's a sketch of the city:

It's kind of difficult to make out the details, to be honest.  Once I have some more concrete details about the City of Greyhawk, I'll come back to it.

NEXT: Player's Handbook, baby.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Dragon #14

After more than a month, I've returned to the blog.  Most of the reasons that I haven't been posting are family related, but to be honest it also has to do with how frankly tedious this issue of The Dragon is.  There's a lot of non-D&D content in this one, and a lot of terrible fiction; both of these are things that made getting through this magazine a chore.  I made it, though.  I doubt there's much of interest to say about The Dragon #14, but at least I made it.

Editorial by Tim Kask: The editorial this month is a bit of boasting about how much the magazine has grown and improved over the last year-and-change.  For the most part, I have to agree: the art has improved, there are some legitimately good (or significant, at least) pulp fantasy authors contributing, and the whole thing looks more professional.  I'm not sure I agree that the quality of the articles has improved, though.  A while ago the mag had Gary Gygax churning out stuff that went on to become integral parts of the game.  This month has two of the worst examples of prose I've ever encountered, and very little D&D content.  I know which of those I prefer.

Name That Monster Contest: These are the results for a competition that was introduced in The Dragon #8.  An illustration was provided by Erol Otus (you can see it below), and the entrants had to provide game stats and a background based on that image.  The top three entries are printed in this article, and I plan to use all three in my campaign.  I don't see the similar physical descriptions as a problem; nobody has a problem using both orcs and hobgoblins, do they?

The first entry is known as The Creature Some Call Jarnkung.  It was created by a wizard about 250 years ago, because he wanted guards for his keep that could make intelligent conversation.  It turned out he made them too well, though, and they cast his down and destroyed his keep.  The monsters then disappeared into the wilderness, and it is only recently that they have begun making attacks on outposts and farms.  The wizard is still out there, trying to destroy his creations, but he is seldom seen.

The Jarnkung has 5 Hit Dice, ESP, 20% magic resistance, a high intelligence, and can only be hit by magic weapons.  Some older ones are rumoured to possess psionic powers, but little else is known of them.  It's a solid mid-level monster, though I can't say that it has any stand-out features or abilities.

The first runner-up is the Cursed Crimson Crawler.  Where to begin with this?  When a monster entry begins by pulling in stuff from Milton's Paradise Lost, I can only sigh and wonder how on Earth I'm ever going to mesh this with the D&D cosmology.  Anyway, it all begins with a demon named Shambar, who was once the swiftest runner in Heaven.  Shambar joined Satan's rebellion, and was cast into Hell along with all of the other rebels.  So far so good; Heaven and Hell already exist as D&D planes, and fitting Satan in there is no big deal.  I'm even happy to have the Judeo-Christian God sitting in Heaven.  I've already got Odin and Zeus, so it's no big deal.

From there we get into Adam and Eve, and the story of how the demons of Hell were cursed to live as snakes for a time after they applauded Satan for his role in getting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.  For most demons this transformation was temporary, but Shambar was super-angry about being deprived of his running ability, and he raged at the Almighty.  When the other demons regained their natural forms, Shambar's lower half remained in the form of a snake, and he became a being of pure hatred.  It's not clear where the Cursed Crimson Crawler came from, but it's likely they were spawned from Shambar, or otherwise created by him or his followers.  Fitting Adam and Eve into the history of my version of Oerth will be a tricky one, but perhaps not impossible.  I'm not sure what the origins of humans are in Greyhawk; if they remain hazy, I can have them as creations of God.  It's probably never going to come up in-game, so it's all good.  The possibility that I might have to make stats for God amuses me as well.

In terms of stats, the Crawler isn't all that tough.  It has two attacks a round, each doing 1-6 damage, and it has 3½ Hit Dice.  (Yes, you roll 3d8 and 1d4 for this thing's hit points.  I don't know why, but it's typical of the haphazard way that AD&D design was applied.)  They can throw heavy rocks (dealing 1-12 damage), and their tail often flails about in combat and hits targets other than its principle opponent.  Their most potent ability is that the knob at the end of their tail stores their pent-up hatred, and when the Crawler is killed that hatred bursts forth and causes everyone in a 30' radius to fight each other.  It's a great, novel ability that could create some fun times at the game table, and makes this monster much more memorable than the Jarnkung.

The Ulik is the third-place winner, a race that dwells underground in mountain and desert regions.  Little is known of their origins, but it's believed that they angered some god who cursed them into their current form.  They can hypnotise surprised enemies with their pupil-less eyes, and when pressed they use their tails as a mace.  They don't like to do so, though, because after 10-40 blows it will fall off, and won't regenerate for at least six weeks.  (Not to mention that it gains no advantage from doing so over normal weapons.)  It's another solid but uninspired monster, much like the Jarnkung.  It's a shame that nothing super-gonzo made the cut.  (It also makes me wonder how bad the other hundred entries were, because the winners are pretty average.)

Space Marines: Designer's Comments, Corrections and Addendum by A. Mark Ratner: In which the designer of the game Space Marines goes on an on and on about the game's origins, and makes some clarifications and additions to the rules.  It's a five-page article about a game I've never seen or played, and these older issues of The Dragon have a way of making five pages seem like fifty.

Nomad Gods by James M. Ward: This is a short review of the game Nomad Gods, designed by Greg Stafford.  Not much to see here.

Something a Little Different: Cosmic Encounter by Tony Watson: This is another review, this time of the game Cosmic Encounter, which sounds like a sort of sci-fi Risk/RPG combo.

Robots as Players in Metamorphosis Alpha by James M. Ward: Jim Ward keeps up his prolific reputation with another Metamorphosis Alpha article, this time giving rules for players who want to have a robot PC.  It's comprehensive stuff: there are rules here for different modes of propulsion, the sophistication of the robot's brain, various types of shielding and in-built devices, sensory equipment, weapons, malfunctions, and damage to the robot's structure.  It's all treated in bare-bones fashion, but there's a lot packed into two pages.  I've got the Starship Warden pencilled in as a possible adventure locale for the campaign, so I'll keep this article filed away.

Excerpt From an Interview With a Rust Monster by Michael McRery: There are times when I'm reading these magazines, and I wonder if the material is as terrible as it seems, or if I'm just too removed from the culture to "get it".  I was born in 1978, so the remnants of 70s culture were still around within my living memory, but there are articles that almost seem like they came from an alien culture with vastly different standards as to what constitutes meaningful art.  I must admit that this story begins promisingly, with the concept of an NPC who was polymorphed into a rust monster, but then it devolves into the story of some bumbling adventurers who fight some small giants then get killed by a hobgoblin king in the denouement.  I gather that it's intended to be funny, but as mentioned above, I don't get it.  Or perhaps it's just that gaming stories are almost universally terrible.  I'm willing to stretch and work this story into the background of my campaign; Richard the Boor, Fred, Me, Sauri Itasha, and Ari will be immortalised as adventurers who died in their first dungeon foray.

From the Sorcerer's Scroll: D&D Relationships, the Parts and the Whole by Gary Gygax: After the rest of the articles, it's something of a relief to read some Gygax.  Here he lays out the plan behind the D&D Basic Set, the Monster Manual, and how they relate to each other.  He states that he's currently working on the Player's Handbook and the Dungeon Master's Guide, and expects that they'll be ready by summer of 1978.  (He was right about the PHB, but way off for the DMG, which came out in 1979.)  Gary says that he believes that OD&D will "always be in demand", implying that TSR intends to keep it in print; as I understand it, this version of the game was dead by 1979.  Finally, he says that Rob Kuntz and Jim Ward (him again!) are working on an update to Supplement IV: Gods, Demigods & Heroes, intended for release in late 1978 or 1979.  (Wrong again, Gary!  This one came out in 1980).

Monty Haul and His Friends at Play by James M. Ward: Jim Ward tells a story about thinly veiled caricatures of the TSR staff getting together for a gaming session.  Much like the story above, the humour hasn't aged well, and I suspect it was pretty in-jokey to begin with.  The punch-line also relies on the reader to have a knowledge of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom books, which at the time were over thirty years old.  (I suppose the books were probably reprinted in the 1960s, but it's still no certainty that readers would be familiar with them.)  This is a curiosity for historical reasons moreso than anything else, as the term "Monty Haul" becomes synonymous with DMs who give away too much treasure; I guess this article is where it started to seep into the culture.

The Cthulhu Mythos Revisited by Gerald Guinn: This is a letter in which the author voices his indignation about the Lovecraft article from The Dragon #12.  I'm always amused by nerds debating minutiae, especially when they're obviously upset.  I'm not really sure whether this guy is right or not, but he loses points by using non-Lovecraft authors to back up his points.  August Derleth, Clark Ashton-Smith and Robert E. Howard may be great writers, but I feel as though you should stick to Lovecraft when you start questioning the authenticity of a Cthulhu article.

The Total Person in Metamorphosis Alpha by James M. Ward: Bloody hell, again?  Is Jim Ward like twelve years old?  Where does he find the time to write all this stuff?  Anyway, this article provides a series of random articles for fleshing out the background and skills of MA characters.  It cover the environment the character grew up in, what they spent the most time doing as a kid, their primary talents, some gear they might start with, and some stuff about mutants at the end.  As usual for a Ward article, it packs a lot into a small space.  It's another one for me to tuck away into my Metamorphosis Alpha file.

Comics: Wormy steals poker money from some trolls, and in Finieous Fingers Fred issues a challenge to the denizens of the castle he's trying to storm, and gets more than he bargained for.

Lycanthropy: The Progress of the Disease by Gregory Rihn: This article covers what to do when a PC becomes a were-creature, and it has a lot of interesting ideas about lycanthropy, and making it manageable at the table.

The first thing it does is posit that lycanthropy disrupts the ability to cast spells (clerical and magical) and use psionics.  I get this from a game-balance perspective, but as a DM I don't really like it.  I'd rather keep the option open for spellcasting werewolves, you know?  If I go with this, I'll include ways that characters can get around the limitation.

The nature of the initial transformations are discussed, and it's said here that they are usually involuntary, and come at times of stress.  The animal persona is dominant to begin with, until the victim gradually becomes subdued.  I like the 10% chance for the victim to go completely feral, and run off into the wilderness to live as a beast.  It fits the mythology well.

The difficulty of turning back to human form is dealt with, and it's especially hard for inexperienced lycanthropes.  A polymorph spell will do it, and an illusionist can hypnotise the creature to effect the change.  There's a slim chance that a sleeping lycanthrope will change back.  A cure disease spell will revert the victim, and remove the lycanthropy completely, as will cure lycanthropy (this spell was introduced in The Dragon #3, as part of the Healer class).

There's a bit about behaviour, with lycanthropes gradually becoming more wild, and preferring the company of their own kind.  This extends to physical characteristics as well, with the standard extra hair and fangs and such.  The children of lycanthropes are said to inherit the condition, which is another touch that I like.  The children of Chaotic lycanthropes can be taught to change from a young age, while the Lawfuls (werebears) can only change at the onset of puberty.

We learn that lycanthropy can't be transmitted sexually (good to know).  Lycanthropes are sterile in regards to animals of their own type, so PCs can't go having kids with the local bears or wolves.

Were-creatures have the natural advantages and disadvantages of their animal type when transformed.  The example given is that they can't see colour.  This extends to common-sense stuff like not being able to speak (although they can communicate with their own animal type), or hold weapons.  Potions are said not to work on them, due to their different physiology.  I might ignore this: magic trumps science in D&D, and the rule of cool trumps all.  This is followed by a lovely bit about rats not having a vomit reflex, and thus wererats being more susceptible to ingested poisons.  Lycanthropes must shed restrictive clothes and armour when changing, and items don't "disappear" or merge into them.

Then we get into the tracking of XP, and a system in which the character's experience as a werecreature is treated separately from their character class.  It's treated as though Lycanthrope is a class in itself, and the more experience the character gets the easier it is for him to change back and forth, and the more control he has.  It's a workable system, and I feel like a similar system could have solved a lot of 3rd edition's problems with monsters as PCs (Level Adjustment, I'm looking at you).

The article mentions some other were-types that aren't in the game yet: were-eagles, were-sharks, were-hyenas, were-apes and were-snakes.  The possibility of skin-changing seals and swans is brought up, and various types of werecats were mentioned earlier in the article (leopards, panthers, pumas).  There is even talk of a were-dinosaur, which is pretty much just Sauron from X-Men.

The article ends with two ideas.  The first is to give lycanthropes regeneration like a vampire, instead of complete immunity to normal weapons.  This works for me, as it fits very well with the mythology.  The second is the possibility that a lycanthrope that is killed will return as an undead, most probably a vampire.  I'm not so sure about this one, but I'm willing to throw in a 5% chance for this.

NEXT: My next post will deal with the Outdoor Geomorphs, and then it's on to the Player's Handbook.  I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Dragon #13

Another week, another issue of The Dragon.  This one doesn't have as much material to discuss as issue #12 did, so this post will probably be a little shorter.  It's an added bonus for the fiction having nothing to do with any D&D setting.

How Heavy is My Giant? by Shlump da Orc: Leaving aside the unlikely pseudonym of this article's author, I must say that this could come in handy.  The main focus is on providing realistic weights for creatures of larger than man-size, and also for creatures made of stone or other nonliving substances.  There's a bit of math involved, and to be honest I'm not all that sure how accurate it is, but it could certainly come in handy.  Of particular note is a table listing various substances (mostly metals, wood and stone), and their weight in cubic feet.  I have to commend the thoroughness of the author, because he even goes so far as to provide math for how deep a giant's footprint would be, depending on the giant's size and the surface it's walking on.  It's not the sort of thing that's going to come up in every game, and to be honest I would wing it if it ever did, but it's still nice to know that I can look it up if I ever need to.

Tolkien in Dungeons & Dragons by Rob Kuntz: In which Rob does his best to downplay the influence of Tolkien on D&D, and boost other authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard.  It seems a fair point to me; the tone of early D&D is much closer to the latter authors, and Tolkien's influence was mainly used to pad out the monsters and playable races.  You can't stop players doing their thing, though, and the Tolkien influence became greater as later generations took control of the game (peaking with 2nd edition, perhaps).  At this stage, though, Rob is correct.

The Bionic Supplement by Brian Blume: A Metamorphosis Alpha article with rules for characters who want to replace their body parts with bionics.  I do plan to have the Starship Warden as a possible adventure locale in my campaign, so I'll file this article away for later reference, but it doesn't really relate to D&D in any way.  I'd have to change the rules completely to use it anyway.

Demon Generation by Jon Pickens: Pickens provides a series of random tables with which the DM can create demons that are unique, and not drawn from Supplement III (note that we're still referencing OD&D products, as the Monster Manual may not have been released when this article was written).  Not only does he give a good range of spell-like abilities, but the look of the demon is determined by rolling twice on the dungeon encounter tables and combining the result.  Not only that, but said demon also gains the abilities of both creatures (though I'm somewhat disheartened that the author dismisses the notion of a vampire with a beholder's head as too powerful).  The article finishes with a sample demon, named Nasthrapur, who is a physical cross between a red dragon and wild cattle (so a winged, scaly humanoid with a bull's head).  I'll add him to my growing list of NPCs.

The Japanese Mythos by Jerome Arkenberg: Adding new mythos to those presented in Supplement IV seems to be all the rage at this point in The Dragon's history, and as usual I will put them into my campaign as the gods worshipped in the region of the world that corresponds to Japan.  There's little chance that the PCs will ever go there, but if they do there will be a religion there for me to use.

The gods themselves are the usual uber-powerful sort, but there are a few monsters at the end that are also very strong.  Why would a Kappa be significantly stronger than most of the monsters in the Monster Manual, especially those that are also of mythological origin?  It's a trend that I've noticed in these articles, and it bugs me a little.  I'm all for the gods and unique beings being presented in this fashion, but the mythological monsters should be in line with the rest of D&D.

Silly Songs for D&Ders by Stone So this is where it starts, is it?  I'll level with my readers here: I'm not amused by this kind of thing.  I generally enjoy the D&D humour strips, but the articles make me want to pound the author's head through a monitor.  These songs are no different.  I had initially thought I might use them as orcish drinking songs or whatever, but they make too many references to the real world, and the game itself.  So, out they go, and no part will they have in my campaign.

Warlord: Correcting a Few Flaws by Tim Kask: In which Kask rewrites the rules of the game Warlord to make it more playable.  I have no experience with the game, so it doesn't mean much to me.

The Stolen Sacrifice by Gardner Fox: This is a competent Conan knock-off, but enjoyable enough.  It's the third story featuring Niall of the Far Travels that's appeared in The Dragon, and probably the least interesting.  Mercifully, it's got nothing to do with D&D, so I don't have to dissect it.

Comics: Finieous Fingers fails to get inside an evil wizard's castle, while in Wormy two trolls discuss the merits of dwarfburgers.

Notes From a Semi-Successful D&D Player by Jim Ward: Ward provides a list of tips to help players survive, the sort of stuff that is old hat now but would have been quite clever at the time.  Casting continual light on a wand, keeping your potions in steel flasks, using poison, buying extra spell books, that sort of thing.  I do like his suggestion of polymorphing a cockatrice into a snail, then later throwing it at your enemies and casting dispell magic.  There's also a mention that the haste spell can't be made permanent, as it can cause heart failure.  Although this is not exactly what will be settled on with regard to nerfing haste, it's the first ever mention that the spell has a drawback.

Next time I'll be looking at The Dragon #14, followed by Outdoor Geomorphs Set 1: Walled City (which I should probably have done already, chronologically speaking).  After that, it's time to strap in for another long series of posts as I tackle the AD&D Player's Handbook.  Hopefully this one won't take me five years to get through, like the Monster Manual did.

Friday, June 05, 2015

The Dragon #12

Having finally dispensed with the Monster Manual, it's time for me to move on to The Dragon #12, cover-dated February 1978.

The issue begins with an editorial from Tim Kask, the main point of which is that The Dragon is now going monthly.  There's a Statement of Ownership later in the issue, and looking at it gives the magazine's average print run over the last year as 6,000.  It doesn't sound like much, but obviously it's enough for TSR to increase the frequency of release.  D&D is still very much a niche product at this point.

The More Humorous Side of D&D by Leon Wheeler: The first article is little more than a series of gaming anecdotes, none of which are particularly funny in the telling. I may incorporate them as things that happened in the past of the campaign, if I'm feeling charitable.  A character named Tallman, who is particularly accident-prone and stupid, could be used as an NPC, and a 14th-level wizard named Elross is mentioned.  Otherwise, there's not much to glean from this article, not even a few chuckles.  As with most gaming stories, you really had to be there.

A New Look at Illusionists by Rafael Ovalle: The Illusionist class was introduced in Strategic Review #4, and here are given a number of suggestions for expansion and modification.  Among the new abilities given to the illusionist is the quite reasonable ability to discern whether an illusion was cast by a magic-user or an illusionist. Their illusions are also said to be effective against Astral and Ethereal beings, and that seems fair; such creatures seem to be able to see into the material plane, so I'll allow it.  A specific list is given of what magic items they can use (it syncs up quite well with the guidelines given in the original article).  Their spell list is altered quite a bit, mostly to fit in the new spells included with this article.  These new spells are as follows: Displacement (makes the caster appear up to 10 feet from his real location), Dispel Illusion, Displacement 10' Radius, Personal Silence (like Silence, but on the caster only), Improved Displacement (has a longer duration), Discord (victim acts as though wearing rings of delusion and contrariness), Multiple Hypnosis (a group version of the Hypnosis spell from the original Illusionist article), Hypnotize Monster, Gaze of Umber Hulk, Basilisk Gaze and Beguilement (as the rod of the same name).  many other spells get minor tweaks and clarifications, particularly the spells that were introduced along with the illusionist from SR #4.  I'm happy to incorporate those as Illusionist-only spells, and I'll compare later to see which make it into the Player's Handbook (which is not far away at all).

The Persian Mythos by Jerome Arkenberg: This article brings in the figures of Persian mythology (or Zoroastrianism), in the same format as Supplement IV: Gods Demigods and Heroes.  I won't go into too much detail, except to say that it's very much a dualist religion, with the forces of good represented by Ahura Mazda and the Archangels, versus the forces of evil led by Ahriman and his demons. I will note that a lot of beings appear as "15-year old boys" when in human form.  Make of that what you will.  There is also a hero named Faridun, who is invoked against "the itch, fevers and incontinency".  As I've mentioned before, most of Earth's mythologies and religions will be present in my campaign as dying religions of the Old Gods.

Some Thoughts on the Speed of a Magic-User by Jim Ward: Most of this article is Jim Ward whinging about how fighters are faster in combat than magic-users, and using the initiative system from Supplement III to redress the balance.  I like how even in his most favourable examples, those that feature the magic-users getting their spells off first, invariably have them running away after the first round.

Ship's Cargo by James Endersby and Jim Carroll: A simple chart for determining the contents of a trading ship's hold. It's basic, but I do love that there is the possibility of looters finding a cargo hold full of exotic monkeys.

The Druids by James Bruner: Bruner spends most of the article debunking the common misconceptions about druids, and stating what we actually know about them in the real world.  It's interesting, but the old "blood and sacrifice under a full moon" version of the druid is a bit more game-worthy in my mind.  Historical misconception is what D&D is all about!

The Lovecraftian Mythos in D&D by Rob Kuntz and J. Eric Holmes: The most well-known of Lovecraft's various horrors, in a format compatible with Supplement IV.  I'm in no position to quibble with the accuracy of the article, having never read Lovecraft (I know, I'm a complete failure), but I do find the ideas and concepts riveting.  Of all the mythos introduced into D&D thus far, these are the ones that seem most compatible, and the ones most likely to see practical use in my game.

Advanced D&D Monster Manual: A quick review, in which the author notes that he had minimal involvement in the MM's development, then goes on to gush about how great it is.  The Dragon often purports to be more than a house organ, but I never see it giving negative reviews to TSR products. Admittedly, the MM shouldn't be getting bad reviews from anybody.

Quag Keep by Andre Norton: An excerpt from Norton's forthcoming novel, which is ostensibly set in the World of Greyhawk. In this little snippet a disparate group of adventurers is gathered by a wizard, who explains to them that they are linked with some folks playing a game in another world, and that disaster will come if their worlds become linked.  The writing is of its time, and the central idea interesting enough (though a little played out in 2015).  I'm not sure how much inside info Nortan had on the world of Greyhawk, but I've compiled everything from this snippet right here:

  • The City of Greyhawk has a Thieves' Quarter, with an inn called Harvel's Axe. The local stone of Greyhawk is said to be a greyish-tan colour. The Sign of the Pea Stalk has perhaps the best value provisions in Greyhawk.
  • The six protagonists of the novel (some of which are depicted on the cover above) are as follows: Milo Fagon (or Jagon, both are used), a swordsman; Naile Fangtooth, a wereboar berserker with a pet psuedodragon; Ingrege, an elven "woods ranger"; Yevele, a young battle-maid with red-brown hair; Deav Dyne, a grey robed follower (of the third rank) of Landron of the Inner Light;  Wymarc, a red-headed bard who plays a bagged skald's field harp (bagpipes?); and Gulth (or Gulph), a lizard man.  All wear magic bracelets with dice hanging from them, and all are linked to gamers from Earth.  These bracelets are magical, and the wearer can will them to affect probabilities.  I may use them as NPCs, depending upon their fates in the rest of the novel.  I suppose I'll have to track down a copy and read the bloody thing.
  • Deav Dyne is permitted only to use "the knife of his calling". Is this, perhaps, the first instance of a cleric being allowed a bladed weapon, so long as his deity permits?
  • The wizard Hystaspes lives in a tower in Greyhawk; the tower is of green stone, carved with repeating patterns and streaked with yellow. He has a pale, red-eyed messenger named Karl. He's at least 12th level, because he can cast Geas. He knows the "Lesser and Larger spells of Ulik and Dom," whatever they may be.
  • Elves are said to disdain the use of the common tongue, and can speak with birds and animals, as well as pseudodragons apparently.  An offhand mention is made of "mindtalk".
  • Baskets of fire wasps are mentioned as a light source, in a way that makes them seem quite common.
  • Hystaspes describes something as "evil as the Nine and Ninety Sins of Salzak, the Spirit-Murderer".
  • A wizard named Han-gra-dan is mentioned. He was "mightiest of the northern adepts", and lived over a thousand years ago.
  • Quite a bit of Greyhawk georgaphy is layed out.  People from Blackmer (Blackmoor?). Urnst and the Holy Lands of Faraz are seen.  The Grand Duchy of Urnst lies west of Greyhawk. To the north of Urnst is the Great Kingdom of Blackmoor. West are mountain ranges scattered in broken chains; the tributaries and rivers flowing down from there provide boundaries for many lesser kingdoms.  South of the mountains are the Dry Steppes, where few ventures besides the Nomad Raiders of Lar, who claim hereditary ownership of the land's water-holes. Farther south is the Sea of Dust, from which no expedition has ever returned; legends speak of lost and buried ships, with cargo holds full of treasure.  In the foothills of the mountains lies the Duchy of Deofp (yes, Deofp); it is only accessible by mountain passes that emerge in the Dry Steppes or the Sea of Dust, and it has been wracked by civil war between lords sworn to serve Chaos for over a year. (I've cheated and taken a look at a map of Oerth, and this just about works if you squint really hard. The only major discrepancy is that Urnst is actually east of Greyhawk. I know that the official Oerth map differs considerably to the one Gary first designed, so it's possible that Norton's description is accurate to the original design.)
  • Some coins mentioned: gold pieces from the Great Kingdom bearing the high-nosed haughty faces of two recent kings, cross-shaped copper trading tokens from the Land of the Holy Lords, silver half-moon circles coined in Faraz, mother-of-pearl discs incised with fierce heads of sea-serpents from the island Duchy of Maritiz, hexagons of gold bearing a flaming torch in high relief (unknown origin).
  • There is a song called the Harrowing of Ironnose. It tells of the ancient battle between Lichis and Ironnose. Lichis was a gold dragon, thousands of years old and the lord of his kind. Ironnose was a Great Demon, called into being by early adepts of Chaos who laboured at the task for half a lifetime.  Ironnose was intended to break Law forever, but Lichis battled him; the battled raged from "Blackmoor, out over the Great Bay, down to the Wild Coast, ending in a steaming, boiling sea from which only Lichis emerged".  After that Lichis destroyed the Chaos adepts and their castle, leaving scorched stones and an evil aura that persists to this day.  After that Lichis disappeared.
Well, that's The Dragon #12, with quite a few interesting little bits and pieces.  Next up is another issue of The Dragon, unless I decide to crack open the issues of White Dwarf that I've missed.  I think, in the interests of progress, I'll ignore them.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

AD&D Monster Manual: Final Thoughts

Before I really begin, I'd like to provide some lovely, lovely stats.  By my calculations there are 373 monsters in the AD&D Monster Manual (making it's claim of over 350 monsters on the back cover quite accurate).  202 of those have appeared before, and here are simply updated;  73 have been mentioned before, but are getting stats and a complete entry for the first time; and 98 are brand new.

I've mentioned it before, and I'll reiterate it here. The Monster Manual is not really an AD&D product.  It has the banner on the cover, and it's broadly compatible with what comes after, but at heart it's OD&D, a compilation of nearly every monster from all the products that came before it.  In many ways it's a beginning and an ending; the last product for OD&D, the first for AD&D, and the first product of TSR's golden age, the five-year period in which much of their most fertile material was published.

Although Gary included just about every creature ever mentioned in a D&D product, there were some omissions.  The most visible ones are the various entities from Supplement IV: Gods, Demigods & Heroes, but they'll be dealt with in a later book.  From the original OD&D boxed set, there are a number of monsters mentioned that didn't make the cut: Sea Monsters (although you could cover this with giant snakes and dinosaurs), Cyclops, the Juggernaut, Living Statues, Robots, Androids, Cyborgs (not quite compatible with baseline D&D), and a whole host of beasties from the John Carter of Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  The Death Angel and the Prowler, from later issues of The Dragon, also didn't make the cut.  They weren't created by Gary, or any other TSR staffers, but it's also possible that they were just created to late for inclusion.  Who knows?

In terms of its material contribution to the game, the most important thing introduced by the MM was probably the Devils. They had been mentioned in passing in other products, but they're here in all their glory, ready to incense Fundamentalist Christians everywhere. Other iconic monsters appear for the first time as well: Mimics, Otyughs, Nightmares, Troglodytes, loads of dinosaurs, and many more than I want to list here.  But for sheer effect on the game, both mechanically and in the real world, the devils take the prize.

This book also begins the game's slow march to rigid codification. There's not a single monster here that hasn't been altered or clarified, at least a little bit.  There are still oversights and omissions, but on the whole the monsters are a lot less ambiguous.  Their relationships to the Outer Planes are solidified here as well.  We still don't have a detailed description of what the various planes are like (besides what is in that one article in The Dragon), but we do know what monsters live in which planes.  The one exception is Hell.  There's a lot of info about Hell in the Monster Manual, if you want to piece it together from various monster entries.  Allow me to do so:

Level 1 - Ruled by Tiamat
Level 2 - Known as Dis. Dispater rules it, from a great iron city also known as Dis. The city is mostly populated by zombies, erinyes, barbed devils, and malebranche devils. Dispater's palace is "infernally grand".
Levels 3 & 4 - Inhabited by Barbed Devils. These levels contain many cells and prisons.
Level 5 - Home to Bone Devils. Ruled by Geryon, from a castle he rarely ventures forth from.
Level 6 - Known as Malebolge. A black stone plane, filled with stinking vapors, smokes, fire pits, and huge caves and caverns. Ruled by Baalzebul.
Level 7 - Much like level 6, but features moated castles that are home to Malebranche devils. Ruled by Baalzebul, who has his castle here.
Level 8 - A frigid level populated by Ice Devils.
Level 9 - Pit Fiends live here, where they serve Asmodeus.

Alignment is also codified here, but it's at a strange half-way point between OD&D and AD&D. Most of the monsters will stick with the alignments given to them here from now on, but the Monster Manual is working with the five-point alignment system introduced in The Dragon. The more well-known nine-point system won't be introduced until later, in the Player's Handbook. For now, Neutral Evil, Lawful Neutral, Neutral Good and Chaotic Neutral don't exist in the game.

Perhaps the most fun I had while writing these entries up (and re-reading them) was in noticing the little tidbits and snippets of information that lie hidden within the monster descriptions. Did you know that a scorpion can sting itself to death? That a skunk's spray can rot magical cloth (and therefore, conceivably damage a bag of holding and cause a dimensional rift?) Or that a Water Elemental can form itself out of ale?  It's all super-awesome stuff that I can't wait to use in a real game.

That said, it was a hell of a slog to get through, and I'm glad it's over.  Next week I'll start on The Dragon #12, which will afford me a bit more variety than post after post of monsters.  As much as I love monsters, it's nice to have a change.