Thursday, November 13, 2014

AD&D Monster Manual part 49

SPECTRE: Spectres debuted all the way back in D&D Vol. 2: Monsters & Treasure, as part of the original crop of undead.  The original entry was pretty sparse, though, and we get a lot of good fluffy detail here.  It's first said here that spectres are undead humans that exist primarily on the Negative Material Plane.  They also hate sunlight, as "daylight makes them powerless".  This powerlessness isn't specified, but I would rule them incapable of attack in any form.
  They get the standard raft of undead immunities: sleep, charm, hold, cold, poison and paralysis.  To balance that they're now vulnerable to holy water, and a raise dead spell can destroy them if they fail a save vs. spells.
  In original D&D, it was said that "Men-types" killed by a spectre return as a spectre.  Here it is specified that only humans are affected in this way, and they now return as only half-strength spectres.  It's not exactly a contradiction, but I do wonder at Gary's rationale here.  Why can't dwarves, elves and halflings be undead?
  And yes, finally, Spectres still drain two experience levels with every successful hit in combat.  Yes, it's a bastard, but I've made my stance on level-drain perfectly clear before.  In a plot-based game the depends on progression of the characters, it's a nuisance that holds up the game.  In a sandbox game where exploration is the main focus, it's one more obstacle to overcome.  Suck it up and get on with the adventuring.

Stat Changes:
Number Appearing: Old - 1-8, New - 1-6; Hit Dice: Old - 6, New - 7+3

Thursday, October 23, 2014

AD&D Monster Manual part 48

GIANT SNAKE: Unless I'm missing something, this might be the first proper appearance for giant snakes.  They're mentioned here and there, and a sea-dwelling variety is introduced in Supplement II: Blackmoor.  They do show up in the ubiquitous Wandering Monster tables of Supplement III.  But this is, so far as I can tell, the first entry for your average, land-dwelling Snake of Unusual Size.  Huh.

As Gary has seen fit to provide us with a good variety of snakes, I'm going to treat them as I would a new monster, and outline each one below.
  Amphisbaena: This thing is just delightfully weird: a snake with a head at each end that moves around by forming a circle and rolling around like a hoop.  This is the sort of thing that's just too wacky to spring from Gary's mind, and sure enough I see that it's a genuine mythological creature.  The D&D version is a deadly customer: it has 6 hit dice, two attacks a round, and poison that can kill instantly on a failed save.  There's nothing sad here about the amphisbaena's origin, but I'm willing to work with the version from Greek mythology, which states that they were born from the blood that dripped from Medusa's head as Perseus flew with it over the desert.  That's pretty rad.
  Constrictor: As you might have guessed, this variety of snake likes to drop down on its prey and squeeze them to death.  There are guidelines given for characters who want to pry the snake from its victim (you'll need four humans each with a Strength of 16+), but nothing said about what the victim can do to escape if he's alone.  Get hopelessly crushed to death seems to be the answer, though I would err on the side of giving them a chance to escape (with a dagger, perhaps).
  Poisonous: The standard variety venomous snake.  It's not clear that said venom is lethal on a failed save, but I would assume so.  There are some varieties that even inflict 3-18 damage on a successful save, and in AD&D that can be a hefty sum, even to a high-level PC.
  Sea Snake: The Sea Snake is the closest to that which had stats in Supplement II, so let's do a comparison: AC has improved from 6 to 5; Movement was 20", but has slowed to 12"; Hit Dice was 6, but is now 8-10; bite damage remain at 1-6, constriction damage goes from 2-8 to 3-18.  The snakes from Supplement II had the ability to swallow people whole, like a Purple Worm, but that's not present in the Monster Manual. They still like to coil around small ships and crush them, however.  And now, to justify these changes!  I figure that this is a larger variety of sea snake we're seeing now, which makes it slower, but with thicker scales.  As for the loss of the swallow attack, well...  I'm stumped.  Perhaps they're just that little bit slower, and can't strike fast enough to surprise someone and swallow them.  That'll do.
  Spitting: Spitting snakes are exactly like the poisonous variety above, only they can spit their poison up to 3".  Nasty.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

AD&D Monster Manual part 47

GIANT SKUNK: Unsurprisingly, giant skunks have appeared in just one place in D&D's history to this point: the wilderness encounter tables in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry.  Those tables are the source for all manner of seemingly harmless non-monsters that have inexplicably ended up in the Monster Manual.  You have to admire Gary's dedication in including everything.

Giant skunks are quite tough, and as expected their musk spray is their most potent weapon.  Seriously, you don't want to be hit by it.  It doesn't just smell bad, it does all kinds of nasty things to your character.  If you fail a save vs. poison you'll be blinded for 1-8 hours, and suffer a 50% drop in Strength and Dexterity for 2-8 turns.  That's not the worst of it: any cloth material hit by the musk rots, and that includes magic items that fail a save.  Players are not known for respecting the combat capabilities of real-world animals, but once a skunk disintegrates their cloak of displacement that's bound to change.  (I'm wondering if a bag of holding counts as cloth.  It would be pretty funny for a spatial disruption to destroy the entire party just because a skunk sprayed them.)

SLITHERING TRACKER: Slithering trackers debuted in The Strategic Review #5.  Their entry here is near-identical to the original.  Slithering trackers are transparent blobs that tend to follow their victims, wait for them to sleep, then suck out their "plasma".  They're very difficult to spot, and they secrete a substance that can paralyse their victim; not something a solo adventurer wants to tangle with.  The only change made to this monster is with how difficult it is to hit; originally it was treated as Armor Class 1 unless the attacker could detect invisible objects.  (I can only assume that, in my theoretical campaign, the Adventurer's Guild eventually teaches people how to spot them better.)


Slugs of the giant variety first appeared in Supplement I: Greyhawk, and just as with slithering trackers above, Gary has left them mostly as is.  They're incredibly tough, having 12 Hit Dice, and are completely immune to blunt weapons.  Their most potent attack is an acid spit that defies both the regular attack roll/Armor Class system, and saving throws.  Instead it has a base 50% chance of hitting, increased or decreased based on range.  (They're always inaccurate on the first spit, though, with a 10% chance to hit; no word on whether that one gets modified by range.)  Unfortunately, a big omission has been ported over from the original entry: the acid spit has no damage listed!  It's a pretty big oversight.  My instinct is for it to work like dragon breath, with damage equaling the slug's hit point total, and a save for half damage.

Friday, May 16, 2014

AD&D Monster Manual Part 46


Shedu first appeared in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (though technically speaking they first appeared as part of Assyrian mythology, so far as we know).  They've changed little in concept since then, being described as powerful beings that help the cause of lawful good, often found on the Astral and Ethereal Planes.  The main change to Shedu comes with the change in the psionic system.  Shedu rely heavily on psionics, but the system described in the Monster Manual doesn't really match up with the one in Eldritch Wizardry.  It's not going to come until the Player's Handbook is released, so it's hard to gauge at this point how different the Shedu functions in practice.

Stat Changes:
Hit Dice: Old - 9+2; New - 9+9


Shriekers first appeared in The Strategic Review #3.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again now: Gary just didn't make alterations to the monsters that he created for The Strategic Review.  Shriekers are presented here almost word-for-word as they were there.  It's likely that no-one reading this needs a reminder, but just in case: shriekers are mushrooms that live underground, and if you get too close to them they emit a piercing shriek that can attract monsters.  Purple worms and shambling mounds like to eat them.  The only changes Gary made were a minor clarification to the duration of their shriek, and a slight increase in number appearing.

Stat Changes:
No. Appearing: Old - 2-5; New - 2-8


This staple of fantasy gaming first appeared, of course, in D&D Vol. 2: Monsters & Treasure.  They've received something of a power boost, which I will easily explained away as an advance in the dark magic used to animate them.  In addition to a doubling of their speed and hit points, skeletons have also received an resistance to sharp/edged weapons, now taking only half-damage from them.  They are specifically said to be immune to sleep, hold, charm and cold-based spells (though most of these were implied in the rules before, just not in the skeleton entry itself).  They're also now vulnerable to holy water, which deals 2-8 points of damage to them (pretty much like all the undead in the Monster Manual).

It's also outright stated that, although skeletons use weapons, they always deal 1-6 points of damage, regardless of the weapon wielded.  I chalk this up to their animated nature, and the fact that they have no real muscles.  It doesn't make complete sense, but it's good enough for D&D logic.

Stat Changes:
Movement: Old - 6; New - 12
Hit Dice: Old - 1/2; New - 1

Friday, April 18, 2014

AD&D Monster Manual Part 45

This hiatus has lasted long enough.  Let's do this!


Shambling Mounds first appeared way back in The Strategic Review #3, and have otherwise only been mentioned in the absurdly comprehensive Wandering Monster tables for Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry.  As with most of the creatures created by Gary for The Strategic Review, Shambling Mounds have been changed very little (even down to the exact wording of certain sentences).  What we have is a living mass of vegetation that has a whole load of resistances and the ability to suffocate any character that it hits twice in any melee round.  The deadliness of the suffocation ability has been softened somewhat; instead of a character dying in 2-5 rounds, it now takes 2-8.  Balancing that out is a serious omission.  In OD&D, the Shambling Mound could not attack while it was suffocating someone.  In AD&D, that restriction isn't mentioned, so while characters might take longer to suffocate, Shambling Mounds have probably become deadlier on the whole.

Shamblers' immunity to fire, resistance to cold, and growth when struck by lightning remain unchanged, and they still take half-damage from all weapons.  The only difference made is that their vulnerability to the spells plant control and charm plant has now been broadened to encompass other spells that affect plants.

Shambling Mounds' hit point determination has also been standardised.  In OD&D they used d10s, but here they use d8s like every other monster.  It evens out pretty well, because the number of Hit Dice has been upped.  The strongest variety of Shambling Mound used to have from 9-90 hit points.  Now it has from 11-88, a negligible difference.  I'm sure the average totals are different, but no so much as to drastically change the monster's power level.

Stat Changes:
Hit Dice: Old - 6-9 (using d10s); New - 8-11 (using d8s)


Sharks were previously covered in Supplement II: Blackmoor, where they were described as Giant Sharks.  In the Monster Manual we're given stats for regular Sharks and Giant Sharks, but the stats given in Supplement II more closely resemble those for the regular variety.  I suppose that what was considered giant back then has been superseded with the discovery of Sharks of still greater size...

Sharks were described in very rudimentary terms in Supplement II, so what we get here is an expansion of their behaviours and abilities.  They're given the ability to detect noise underwater up to a mile, and can scent blood from a similar distance.  They're said to be particularly vulnerable to ramming attacks, though there is nothing mechanical to back this up.  My personal favourite bit?  Any Shark that is motionless will die in 2-5 melee rounds.  It's not entirely scientifically accurate, but it does make fighting Sharks a bit different from other combats.

The damage ranges given for regular Sharks are a little ambiguous.  Three separate ranges are given, but there's no indication of which to use.  Presumably it's linked to Hit Dice, and there are conveniently six possible Hit Dice totals.  It probably breaks down like this: sharks with 3-4 Hit Dice do the lowest damage, 5-6 use the middle range, and 7-8 use the highest range.

Giant Sharks come in two varieties: Giant White Sharks, and prehistoric Megalodons.   They're functionally identical.  Where they differ from regular Sharks (besides having a lot more hit points) is their ability to swallow creatures whole.  If that happens, you've got six rounds to bring the Shark to 0 hit points, or that swallowed character will be digested.  Attacks from within a Shark's stomach begin with a -1 penalty to damage, and that penalty gets bigger every round.

Stat Changes (comparison between Giant Sharks from Supplement II and regular Sharks):
Number Appearing: Old - 2-12; New - 3-12
Armor Class: Old - 5; New - 6
Hit Dice: Old - 4 to 9; New - 3 to 8

Friday, March 28, 2014

Comeback Attempt #4 (aka I Really Mean It This Time!)

So.  Here I am again, with another attempt to kickstart this blog back to life.

It's not the first time that I've tried to come back.  The blog has been more or less inactive since early 2012, and 2011 wasn't my most productive year either.  I made a brief stab at turning this into a Fighting Fantasy blog last year, but that fell by the wayside.  It seems that I'm just unable to muster any enthusiasm for it.

I don't really know why that is.  D&D had been one of my regular obsessions since the late 1980s, something I loved deeply and was always ready to play or discuss.  Then, somewhere after the announcement of 5th edition, it lost its hold on me.  I still love fantasy, and to be honest I still love D&D.  But it doesn't dominate my thoughts in the way that it used to, and as a result the blog fell into disuse.

Even so, it nags at the back of my mind.  I want to post.  One of the reasons that I started this project was that I wanted to read every D&D product ever (or at least those made by TSR).  The Ultimate Sandbox was a way for me to do that, and also have some fun with it along the way.  I enjoyed piecing together the early years of the game's history, and drawing connections between disparate bits of lore and arcane rules.

I think perhaps it fell apart when I hit the AD&D Monster Manual.  It's a book I love to read, but blogging about it grew difficult.  It's mostly a compilation of monsters that had already appeared in earlier products, and in a lot of cases there weren't many changes to highlight or things to discuss.  It's also long; I was much more engaged with this project when I was plowing through the shorter supplements and issues of Dragon.

The thing is, I'm close to the end.  My last post (Part 44!) covered Sea Hags, Sea Horses, Sea Lions and Shadows; by my count that leaves me with 48 monsters to go.  I'd previously covered about 175 monsters, some I'm more than three-quarters done.

I hate leaving things unfinished, so here is what I plan to do.  Forget the Fighting Fantasy stuff; I've kicked that over to another blog.  At the very least, I'm going to slog my way through the Monster Manual.  Once that's done, I'll assess whether I want to continue.  The answer will probably be yes, because I really want to read all of this stuff.  And if I'm reading it, I might as well be posting about it.

I expect that I'll make my next update within the next week or so, and I plan to post at least once a week from there on.  It won't be the most frequent schedule, but I figure that even slow progress is some progress. See you in several days time for AD&D Monster Manual: Part 45.  (I hope.)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Jack Manley Giveaway

As some of my readers will know, I have a novel available as an e-book and in paperback. At the moment I'm running a giveaway on Goodreads, in which five lucky winners will receive a free copy of Jack Manley and the Warlord of Infinity in paperback.  There's a week to go before the giveaway closes, so if you're interested i n snagging a freebie follow the link and sign up:

Thursday, August 29, 2013

On the Monster Manual and the Ultimate Sandbox

I've gotten so caught up in promoting my book and reading Fighting Fantasy books that I have neglected to let my faithful readers know what has become of the Ultimate Sandbox project, and my read-through of the AD&D Monster Manual.  Never fear!  That project has not been abandoned.  I will get back to it eventually, and back to D&D as well.  For the moment I'm into gamebooks.  Deal with it, and be patient.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Citadel of Chaos: Concluding Thoughts

While The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a seminal classic of the genre, it is undoubtedly a flawed one.  The Citadel of Chaos takes everything that worked about its predecessor and fixes most of those flaws.  The result is one of my all-time favourite gamebooks.

The basic plot is the same as in Warlock: you have to invade a wizard's stronghold and kill him.  But where the first book's adventurer had no reason to do so beyond greed, the hero of The Citadel of Chaos is trying to save his homeland from invasion.  It's a cliched set-up, but it's also a stronger one.

Firetop Mountain often felt like a series of disjointed rooms and monsters, none of which seemed to interact with each other.  The setting of the Black Tower is a much better design than Firetop Mountain.  While it shares the same structure of discrete encounters that bear little connection, everything in the citadel feels like part of a whole.  The castle setting feels much more alive.

Even the battle at the end of the book is better, and the confrontation with the Warlock was by no means done poorly.  The duel with Balthus Dire is masterful, though, with many paths to victory or defeat.  It may be my favourite gamebook battle of all time.  Dire has personality, and he's challenging without being impossible.  There are so many fun ways to try and end his life (and a lot of fun ways he can end yours).

If the book has one flaw it's that it can feel a little short.  It has the same number of entries as Warlock, and is similarly terse in writing style, but there are fewer encounters overall because of the increased flexibility offered by the spell system.  The book feels shorter because every encounter has options galore, and I find this much preferable to the books where you are faced with unavoidable fight after unavoidable fight.

Russ Nicholson once again turns in some stellar work.  He's freed here from the limits of vanilla D&D-style fantasy, and gets to inject a healthy dose of off-beat weirdness.  The Wheelies are probably the pinnacle of this, one of the greatest and most nonsensical fantasy monsters ever.

I really do love this book.  Steve Jackson delivered a stone-cold classic on his first solo outing.


Much the same as The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, I must confess that I am very familiar with this book.  I don't know it as well as the former book, but I'm still able to find the path to victory with little difficulty.  For me this was a memory test, pure and simple, as even a character with low stats can make it through without too much difficulty.  The place where I almost came unstuck was the three doors in the dining hall.  I couldn't remember which one led into Lucretia Dire's bedroom, and had to take a guess.  I got lucky there; facing the Hydra without the golden fleece is unadvised.

Also: I am changing the rules slightly.  Previously, I had awarded myself a single bonus point for completing a book on my first attempt.  Now, I am allowing myself to roll 1d6 and use the result as my bonus.  Trust me, I'm going to need this boost: I already know how many tries it took me to finish Deathtrap Dungeon.  I am altering the deal, Steve and Ian; pray I don't alter it any further.

I started the book with a Skill of 10, which grants me 3 points.  As I completed this book on my first attempt, I also get by bonus die, on which I have rolled a 3.  Adding to my previous total, the scores are now:

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Citadel of Chaos, Attempt 1 Part 2


When my last post ended, I had just reached a large dining hall, lined with paintings and suits of armour.  This is a sort of choke point for the adventure: every path eventually leads here, and most of the really deadly encounters take place after this point, as a lead-up to the confrontation with Balthus Dire.  My adventurer was basically unscathed, and armed with an Enchanted Battlesword that made him pretty fearsome; let's see how he fared in the latter stages of The Citadel of Chaos!

I decided to ignore the suits of armour, as Fighting Fantasy adventurers generally stick with leather armour; and besides, I was a wizard!   I studied the paintings instead, finding a portrait of Balthus Dire.  Continuing the grand tradition from The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, looking at the painting cost me 1 Stamina point due to fear.  I'm imagining some kind of rad Vigo the Carpathian-style painting here.  It did add 1 to my Luck, though.  Not that I needed it.

Two staircases provided egress to a landing above, and I made my way up using the one on the right.  Nothing untoward happened to me, so I assume that the other one was trapped.  On the landing there were three doors, and I chose the left-most one.  It was locked, but I was able to open it with my copper key (which I had earlier murdered some fellows to obtain, if you recall; it was all in self-defence).

Inside was an opulent bedroom, wherein a lovely lady was lying in bed.  Immediately she shouted at me and fired beams of liquid fire from her eyes, which is standard procedure for women whose bedrooms have been invaded.  Especially for Balthus Dire's wife, Lucretia!

Unfazed by the approaching eyebeams, I coolly told her that I had a gift, and proffered the Gark's hairbrush.  (Again, obtained through violent means; again, I plead self-defence.)  Immediately she dispelled her eyebeams and set about combing her hair in the mirror, not seeming to care that I could now see her in her pyjamas.  While she did so, I nicked a golden gleece from her bed with a successful Luck test and dashed out the other side of the room.  Never leave adventurers unattended around golden objects, people, no matter how large and unwieldy.

I found myself at the bottom of a staircase, and climbed until I reached two doors.  I opened the right-hand door into a sort of plush living room, the walls of which were lined with animal heads.  Balthus Dire's man-cave, perhaps?  I thought that this might be a good place to wait in ambush for him, until the head of a dog started barking at me, and a carpet flew from the floor and clipped my ear.  Then one of the chairs turned into a dude and asked what I was doing there.  "Fuck this noise," I thought, quickly slamming the door and choosing the other one.  There was far too much weirdness going on in there for it to end well.

The other door opened into a room with a deep pit.  There was a chest on a platform inside the pit, and a coil of rope near the entrance.

Now this was a lot easier to take in.  I had read about the Doompit Trap in a library book earlier, so I decided to leave this room and carry on.

More stairs led upwards to a door, which opened into a dark room.  Then suddenly: GANJEES!

Just seeing that dude made me lose 1 Skill, 2 Stamina and 1 Luck point.  Which is fair enough, because that's pretty much how I feel every time I look at the illustration, another of Russ Nicholson's nightmare-inducers.  I hunted around in my backpack for an item to use, and by chance my hand closed on the jar of ointment I had looted earlier in my adventure.  The Ganjees recognised it as "The Ointment of Healing", and agreed to let me pass if I gave it to them.  I'm not sure what these ghostly figures could do with this ointment, but that face was pretty vile; it might help with their skin condition.  I flung the ointment at them and high-tailed it out of there.

More stairs up, another door.  Inside the next room was a terrible foe: a six-headed HYDRA!  And a metric ass-ton of dead adventurers!

Spurred by my previous success, and operating on a rudimentary knowledge of mythology, I reached into my backpack and pulled out the golden fleece.  The Hydra snatched it from my hands and slunk away, as I bolted from the room.  This sequence of events had "end-game" written all over it.

At the foot of the stairs this time there was a sign: "HALT. None may pass but by order of Balthus Dire."  He really should put that sign before the bloody Ganjees and the Hydra; anyone who has managed to get past them isn't going to be deterred at this point.  I climbed the stairs, and came to a stop at an impregnable door with a combination lock.  Remembering my spot of research in the library, I turned the numbers and opened the door, prepared to confront Balthus Dire.

No sooner did I enter than a bloody great trident came hurtling at my throat.  I stopped it with a Shielding spell, and came face to face with the demi-sorcerer himself.

I don't care what anyone says about Balthus Dire's haircut, he is totally rad.  Just check out his spiked wristbands, they are so metal.  The first thing he did was call me an "impudent peasant", then he sicced a CLAWBEAST on me, a hairy brute with four arms that ended in vicious hooks.

I gave Dire my best "bitch, please" look before casting a Weakness spell on the Clawbeast and casually running it through.  I decided to press my advantage and cast an ESP spell on Dire.  A few images jumbled through my mind, the most interesting being a ring on his finger and a razor-edged sword.  It didn't last long, as he blocked me from his mind, then caused an earthquake by slapping the ground.  I countered with a Levitation spell, and rose into the air.  There were a number of places I could float to, but I opted for the window.  Again remembering my library research, I grabbed a curtain and pulled it down.  Sunlight streamed into the room, and Balthus Dire slowly died beneath the sun's wholesome rays.  Huzzah, I was a successful assassinator!  I burned Dire's battle plans and prepared to return home in victory.

Except... I had no Levitation spell left.  If I had one, I could have floated out of the window and down to the ground with ease.  (So why couldn't I have floated up the same way?)  Without it, I would be forced to try and escape through the Citadel.  But never mind that, I still got to paragraph 400 and succeeded in my mission: that counts as a victory regardless of the unknown fate that awaits me.

(All illustrations used courtesy of Better than me!)