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.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A Change to the Ultimate Sandbox

It's taking me longer than I anticipated to read back over my Monster Manual posts, so I thought I'd write about something else instead.  You might have noticed that, as that series progressed, I was spending less and less time coming up with rationalisations for the changes being made to monsters from book to book.  You could chalk that up to laziness (you wouldn't be far wrong), or perhaps to a desire to get through the Monster Manual as quickly as possible (you would also be not far wrong), but the real reason is this: when and if I ever get around to running the Ultimate Sandbox, I no longer want to alter the rules as I go.

When I started, what I really wanted was to begin with pure OD&D, and gradually change the rules in a fashion that emulated the changes D&D made from edition to edition.  I'm not quite so keen on that anymore.  Not only is it far more trouble than it's worth, but finding players willing to go through the whole process would be difficult.  The guys I play with are pretty happy to find a system that works and stick with it, and I doubt they'd be too keen on having to change things up every year or so.

So that plan is out the window.  The Ultimate Sandbox will be not so much focused on the progression of rules, but on the integration of every nook and cranny of the D&D books in terms of setting, the creation of one enormous sandbox setting that includes all of the D&D worlds with guidance and reference for what can be found wherever the PCs decide to go.  It's still an enormous, Sisyphean labour, but now a slightly more manageable one.

So what am I doing with the rules?  That's another Sisyphean labour to add to the list.  I've been dissatisfied with 3rd edition for a while, and 4th edition was far from the solution that I was looking for.  I waited for 5th edition, hoping that might be what I wanted.  It was a step in the right direction, but again, it wasn't what I wanted.  The only thing left to do, and a conclusion that I should have come to at least a decade ago, is to house-rule my own version of D&D.  I started this at one point, in the early days of the blog, but never followed through.  Whatever I come up with will probably be a cross between the uniformity and comprehensiveness of 3e with the power-scale of 1e, all stripped back so that it's easier to run at the table.

I don't intend to drop "rules progression" aspect entirely, though.  While I don't want to change the rules as I go, I have no problems with starting small and adding to them.  So, for example, I'll begin by simulating OD&D, using only the elements present in those rules.  So the only classes will be Fighter, Cleric and Magic-User, and the only races Men, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits.  Gradually the rest will be introduced, in the order they first appeared in the books, but without being altered mechanically.

Some of the rules I'll be tinkering with have been outlined in the blog before.  I wrote about Skills here, about starting level for new characters here, and a method for mitigating save or die effects here.  (I probably won't use that last one.)  I may post some of my house rules from time to time as I develop them, but for the moment my focus is on the Ultimate Sandbox.  I may even start introducing those house rules in my current, sporadic 3rd edition campaign.  I have some thoughts about spicing up combat that could prove to be fun, but those are for another post.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

AD&D Monster Manual: The Final Part

WOLF: There are four types of wolves presented here in the Monster Manual: regular wolves, dire wolves, worgs and winter wolves.  Regular wolves and dire wolves have been mentioned throughout the earlier D&D books, but this is the first time they get full stats.  Worgs (totally not taken from Tolkien, there's a whole different vowel) and Winter Wolves are appearing here for the first time.

Regular wolves conform to their behaviour in the real world (or at least the popular perception of that behaviour).  They live in forests, hunt in packs, and will attack if hungry. Their howling can spook herbivores (such as horses, whose meat they are said to love).  Their cubs can also be taken and trained as war dogs or hunting beasts. It's basic stuff, but no D&D game would be complete without them.  Wolves had previously (in Supplement I: Greyhawk) been given a bite attack that did 1-6 damage; it now does 2-5.

Dire Wolves are a larger relative of the wolf that lived in the Pleistocene Epoch. (This is a thing that gets lost in later iterations of D&D, when there are "dire" animals all over the place. They're not prehistoric, they're just bigger, meaner and more monstrous.)  Otherwise they act like regular wolves, they just have more hit points.  The only stat they had been given previously (again, in Supplement I) was a bite attack that dealt 1-8 damage; it now does 2-8.

Worgs are an evil, intelligent variety of dire wolf. The book describes them as "neo-dire wolves", so the relation is explicit. How they came to be so much more advanced is a mystery, though I suspect magic to be involved (isn't it always?).  They like to pal around with goblins, and as they are the size of ponies they can be ridden.

Winter Wolves live only in cold regions, and they get all the abilities you would expect from that: a freezing breath weapon, and a weakness against fire-based attacks. They're even smarter than worgs, though still evil. Their silvery-white pelts are worth 5,000gp.

WOLVERINE: Wolverines have made a single appearance in D&D thus far: the ubiquitous wilderness encounter tables from Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry.  A regular variety and a giant version appear here, but they are basically the same creature. Gary betrays a real bias against them: not only does he describe them as vicious, hateful and destructive, but they have an alignment of "neutral (evil)". In AD&D, wolverines are not just regular animals, they are actually quantifiably evil. They're fast and tough, they get a +4 to all attacks, and they have a musk attack that works like a skunk's. To refresh, the musk can blind its victims, make them lose half of their Strength and Dexterity, and rot all cloth , including any magical cloth that fails a save. That is nasty, and there's a hilarious note that wolverines will purposely spray any human food or items that they find unattended. Add in the statement that they have exceptional intelligence when it comes to hunting and combat, and what you have is a license for the DM to run them like a total bastard. Just one of these critters could eviscerate a low-level party.

WRAITH: Wraiths first appeared in OD&D Vol. 2. There they are described simply as "high-class Wights", but here they get some more detail. They are still said to be similar to wights, but they exist more strongly on the Negative Material Plane. They have no powers in sunlight (which is a new addition) so they only dwell in dark, gloomy places. As before they are immune to normal weapons, and take full damage from magical ones. In OD&D, their relation to silver weapons was a strange one: they were said to take half damage from silver arrows, with no mention made of any other silver weapons. Here that is changed, and it is simply silver weapons that deal half damage.  They've also gained the usual raft of undead immunities. Allow me to list them for the penultimate time: immunity to sleep, hold, cold and charm spells; 2-8 damage from holy water.  A raise dead spell will destroy a wraith outright. Their level drain still works in the same fashion as before, but it's clarified that anyone they completely level drain becomes a wraith at half-strength, and is under the wraith's command.

I do wonder about the link that's been drawn between wraiths and wights.  It's probable that there isn't a specific one, but it's intriguing to think that a wight who drains enough levels will eventually grow a stronger connection to the Negative Plane, and become and immaterial wraith.

Stat Changes:
Number Appearing: Old - 2-16, New - 2-12; Armor Class: Old - 3, New - 4; Hit Dice: Old - 4, New 5+3

WYVERN: Wyverns first appeared in OD&D Vol. 2. Wyverns are stupid, aggressive, related to dragons, and they have a sting that is lethal on a failed save.  This is pretty much exactly what they were in OD&D, and the changes here are very minor. The biggest addition here is probably the note that they are brown to gray, and have red or orange eyes.

Stat Changes:
Movement: Old - 9/24, New - 6/24; Hit Dice: Old - 7, New - 7+7;

XORN: The xorn is making its first appearance here, and it's a weird monster. They live on the Elemental Plane of Earth, and occasionally come to the material plane, where they feed on "certain rare minerals".  These minerals, of course, are the very same ones that PCs most often quest for: copper, silver, gold, electrum and platinum.  Only copper and silver are specifically named, but there is an "etc." included, which I take to mean that the other coin types are included in their diet. No mention is made of xorn eating gems. Xorn can smell such metals at 20 feet, and will likely demand that any coins carried by the PCs are handed over.

The colouration of a xorn helps it blend in with rock, and it can actually pass through said rock with no penalty to its movement rate, as though phasing. It takes a round for a xorn to go from fully material to being able to phase through rock, during which time it is said to be "adjusting its molecular structure". Because of these abilities, a xorn has a 5-in-6 chance of gaining surprise.

They are immune to fire and cold spells, and take half-damage from lightning (or no damage on a successful save).  The following spells affect them: Move Earth flings them back, Stone to Flesh and Rock to Mud reduce their AC to 8 for 1 round, and render the xorn unable to attack during that time, and Passwall delivers 11-20 damage. A Phase Door spell cast while the xorn is phasing will kill it outright.

I've never encountered or used a xorn in D&D, and I think I know why. They're specifically designed for the kind of dungeon-exploring, treasure-hoarding sandbox campaign that Gary was running in the mid-70s, as a nuisance monster that can eat the PCs' treasure.  They don't make a lot of sense outside of that context. 

YETI: Yetis first appeared in The Strategic Review #3 and haven't changed a great deal. They still have the same bearhug attack, except that now they hug on a roll of 20 instead of 18 or better. They have also kept the same gaze ability, where anyone surprised by the yeti must make a save vs paralysation, or become rigid with fright, allowing the yeti two free claws and a hug (this ability has been greatly clarified here).  Their camouflage in snowy regions remains unchanged, as does their susceptibility to fire. It's a basic monster, but a good one, and Gary has only done bit of tidying up.

Stat Changes:
Movement: Old - 12", New - 15"; Hit Dice: Old - 4, New - 4+4

ZOMBIE: Zombies first appeared in OD&D Vol. 2. They haven't changed in concept, being animated corpses that follow simple instructions from their masters (clarified to be a dozen words or so). A new addition here is that zombies always strike last in combat. As before they fight until destroyed, but no specific mention is made here of morale checks, as there was in OD&D. Like all undead in the MM, they are now immune to sleep, charm, cold and hold spells, and are damaged by holy water.  The biggest change really comes with their Hit Dice, as the jump from 1 to 2 is a significant one.

Stat Changes:
Number Appearing: Old - 3-30, New - 3-24; Hit Dice: Old - 1, New - 2;

Before I put the Monster Manual to bed, I have a quick word on the updated Treasure Table.  The original Treasure Table from OD&D had treasure categories from A to I.  The new version has those same categories, and although the numbers are often different, the categories follow much the same principles. For example, Treasure Type I, in the original version, has no coins but a good chance for gems, jewelry and magic. In the Monster Manual it is the same, with a small chance for platinum pieces.  Mostly, the categories correspond quite well, and have just been altered to accommodate electrum and platinum pieces, and to split gems and jewelry.

The Monster Manual has added Treasure Types H through Z, which are more specialised. Some are designed for monsters with very little treasure, some to exclude everything but magic, but on the whole they serve a much more specific purpose than those in OD&D.

I'd just like to give a quick word of thanks to everyone who has stuck with this blog.  It's been a long time since I started blogging through the Monster Manual, and a lot has changed in my life since then.  I've taken some long hiatuses, and been fairly erratic, but through all of that there are folks who've been reading and commenting regardless of my unreliability.  Thanks guys!

Next week I'll probably do a quick round-up of the Monster Manual, just to refresh myself on the major additions it made to D&D, and what it's added to my theoretical "Ultimate Sandbox".  Beyond that, I'll just be ploughing ahead much as I did in earlier years.  I think that the next book I'm tackling as an issue of The Dragon, and I'm looking forward to it.  At the very least, it's not going to take me five years.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

AD&D Monster Manual part 61

 WILL-O-(THE)-WISP: Will-o-the-Wisps first appeared in Supplement 1: Greyhawk.  They appear as glowing balls of light that lead victims to their deaths in order to feed on the life-force as it leaves the victim's body.  They haven't changed much from their first appearance.  Whereas before only one wisp would be encountered, now there's a 10% chance to meet 1-3, usually close to their lair.  As in OD&D they can alter their brightness, even extinguishing it entirely and becoming invisible.  In OD&D this invisibility wasn't given a limit, but here it is restricted to a duration of 2-8 melee rounds, and then only if the wisp doesn't attack.  (I can see why, as strictly by-the-book OD&D wisps could remain invisible at all times and still attack.)

Another thing that has changed is the range of weapons that can harm a wisp.  In OD&D, they could only be hurt by metallic weapons, but here any weapon will hurt them.  They get a hell of a compensation, though: they are now immune to every spell except for protection from evil, magic missile and maze.  As before, a wisp will surrender and reveal its treasure if near death; in OD&D it would do so at 3 hit points or lower, and here it does so at 5 hit points.  I wonder if this means that wisps can speak?  They do have Exceptional Intelligence, but no mention is made of how they communicate.

Oh, and in combat they now glow blue, violet, or pale green.  It's a charming touch.  I would also like to point out that wisps have an Armor Class of -8.  As far as I can tell, that's the best AC in the Monster Manual, equalled only by Demogorgon.

Stat Changes:
Number Appearing: Old - 1, New - 1 or 1-3; Damage: Old - 2-12, New - 2-16

WIND WALKER: Wind Walkers first showed up in The Strategic Review #3.  They remain much the same as before: ethereal wind-based creatures that dwell on high mountains or in deep caverns.  The first new thing we learn about them is that they originate from the Elemental Plane of Air.

Two factors are affected by the number of wind walkers that appear: the distance at which they are detected, and the range at which they can detect thoughts (as they are telepathic). Each wind walker present adds 10' to these ranges.  This works the same in AD&D as it did in OD&D, but it's a bit clearer in the Monster Manual.

The way that wind walkers attack is something I'm not clear on.  It's said that they attack by wind force, causing 3-18 points of damage per turn to every creature within 1" that they hit.  This means that they get an attck against every creature in that range, yes?  But once a turn?  Is that correct, or should I interpret that as once per attack round?  It makes a big difference.  Also, the original entry for wind walker had a note that they deafen victims at 20 feet.  That's not present here at all.

As before, wind walkers ca only be fought by other ethereal creatures (djinn, efreet, invisible stalkers and aerial servants are named specifically), but there are a number of spells which can affect them.  These spells are the same in AD&D as in OD&D: control weather will destroy them on a failed save, slow hits them like a fireball, ice storm drives them away for 1-4 rounds, and haste halves their hit points but doubles their damage output.  They are, as before, affected by magical barriers.  They still pursue foes tenaciously as they did in OD&D, but there they did so for at least 10 turns; here they will chase for only 2-5 rounds.

As in OD&D, they are subject to telepathic attack, and can be controlled by storm giants.

Stat Changes:
Armor Class: Old - 8, New - 7; Hit Dice: Old - 6, New - 6+3

Thursday, April 16, 2015

AD&D Monster Manual part 60

WHALE: In principle this is the same monster that first appeared in Supplement II: Blackmoor, but its absurdities have been wrangled somewhat.  Just look at the damage listed below: originally a whale fluke could dish out up to 140 points of damage, which is a little extreme.  The AD&D whale is still a powerful beast when riled, but it's been brought back to a level that fits on the mortal plane.

Whales are split into plant-eaters and carnivores, and the carnivores will often attack humans (killer whales will always attack, which doesn't sound at all accurate, but this is D&D).  In addition to the bite and fluke attacks mentioned above, whales near the surface can do a tail smash that deals damage equal to one-half the whale's Hit Dice.  I wonder if this is accurate, or if it was supposed to say hit points.  As it is, the tail smash deals from 6 to 18 damage depending on the whale's size, which seems a little paltry.

Carnivorous whales can swallow their prey whole, and the biggest can swallow a whole longship and crew.  It's said that escape isn't too difficult, but a whale's digestive juices deal 1 point of damage per turn (that's slow), and there's a 50% chance that anyone disgorged will emerge at a great depth underwater.

Never one to shy away from making dead monsters valuable, Gary says that whales often have treasure in their stomachs (this bit was in Supplement II as well).  There's a 1% chance per hit dice that each treasure type will be present.  If a whale is sick it creates ambergris, which can be sold for 1,000 to 20,000 gp, and a whale carcass is worth 100gp per hit die.  Ambergris is most often used in perfumes, and whenever I read about it it reminds me of the following quote from Moby Dick: "Who would think, then, that such fine ladies and gentlemen should regale themselves with an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale!"

Stat Changes:
Armor Class: Old - 5, New - 4; Movement: Old - 18", New - 18" to 24"; Hit Dice: Old - 40, New - 12 to 36; Damage: Old - 1 bite at 10-80 and 1 fluke at 15-150, New - 1 bite ranging from 5-20 to 15-60 and 1 fluke ranging from 1-8 to 5-40

WIGHT: Wights have been around since OD&D, and have changed but little.  The first change I noticed is that they are no longer referred to as "nasty critters", which gives them a bit of added dignity.  We learn that the term wight used to mean "person", but now refers to this undead monster, which dwells in barrow mounds or catacombs, hates all life, and shuns sunlight.  Basically, wights have become an actual concept rather than a collection of stats hoping that you've read Tolkien.

Like a lot of undead in this book, Wights are now said to exist simultaneously in the Prime and Negative Material Planes.  They can only be damaged by silver or magical weapons, which is a slight tweak: in OD&D only magic weapons could damage them, but the silver is new.  They also now get the standard raft of undead immunities, such as sleep, charm, hold and cold-based spells, and a vulnerability to holy water.  A raise dead spell will now destroy a wight outright.

In OD&D, any man-type drained or killed by a wight becomes a wight.  That's clarified here: the newly created wight is at half-strength, and under the control of the one who slew it.

But the best thing about wights, of course, is their level drain ability.  It was there in OD&D, and it's here as well, unchanged in all its glory.  May it live on forever.

Stat Changes:
Number Appearing: Old - 2-24, New - 2-16; Movement: Old - 9", New - 12"; Hit Dice: Old - 3, New - 4+3; Damage: Old - energy drain only, New - 1-4 plus energy drain

Thursday, April 09, 2015

AD&D Monster Manual part 59

GIANT WASP: Giant wasps first appeared in Supplement II: Blackmoor.  As I've mentioned before, monsters from that supplement were often heavily rewritten by Gary.  Giant wasps have remained the same conceptually (how could they not, they're based on the real-world) but they work very differently terms of the rules.  The biggest change is with their sting attack.  In OD&D most giant wasps could sting only once, and 20% of them could sting twice.  Giant wasps from AD&D can sting as many times as they want.  This has been offset by a drop in the deadliness of the wasps' poison.  In OD&D it would kill the victim after 24 hours, with no saving throw; the only way to cure it was with a neutralize poison spell.  Said victim would be paralyzed within an hour, and any movement other than teleportation would kill him outright.  In AD&D, the victim now gets a saving throw.  If he fails he is paralyzed permanently, with death occurring after 2-5 days (either from the paralysis, or from being eaten by the wasp's larva).  Neutralize poison still works as a cure, as does a nebulously defined "antidote".

A small amount of ecological info is given.  Giant wasps hunt continuously, both for food and for victims to paralyze and feed to their larva.  Some wasps build nests out of mud, and some out of paper.  A paper nest will contain from 21-40 adult wasps within.

The entry ends with the rather charming note that the wings of giant wasps are vulnerable to fire, and will immediately be burned off by a fireball or any other hot flame.  It's a small touch, and the sort of thing I would probably forget during a game, but I like it.

Stat Changes:
Number Appearing: Old - 3-30, New - 1-20; Armor Class: Old - 5, New 4; Movement: Old - 6"/24", New - 6"/21"; Hit Dice: Old - 3, New 4; Damage: Old - 1 sting for 1-8, New - 1 sting for 2-8 and 1 bite for 1-4

WATER WEIRD: Water weirds make their debut here.  They are said to originate from the Elemental Plane of Water, and to feed on the essences of living things.  How they do the feeding is unknown, but they attack by forming into the shape of a watery serpent and lashing out, striking as a 6 Hit Die creature (they only have 3+3 Hit Dice, so this is a decent leap).  Any creature they hit will be dragged underwater unless he makes a save vs. paralyzation.

From what I gather here, water weirds are almost unkillable.  They take full damage from blunt weapons, but only 1 point from any bladed weapon.  If their hit points drop to zero they don't die; instead they are disrupted, and must wait 2 rounds to reform.  They are slowed by cold spells, and take half damage from fire spells (or none on a successful save).  It seems to me that the only method that will work is a purify water spell, and who's going to have one of those memorized?

This creature has another one of those charming little abilities that will rarely come into play, but would be awesome if they ever did: they have a 50% chance to take over and control any water elemental.  It's a bit odd that a creature so much weaker than an elemental can do this, but they are quite a bit more intelligent (a rank of Very, as compared to a rank of Low).

GIANT WEASEL: Giant weasels first appeared in the random encounter tables in OD&D, but this is the first time they get an entry of their very own.  They did get a damage listed for their bite attack in Supplement I: Greyhawk (1-8 plus blood drain), but here that has been amended to 2-12.  The blood drain has been kept: when a giant weasel attacks it doesn't let go.  Instead it holds on, draining blood at a rate that deals 2-12 damage per round to its victim.  Nothing is said about when the weasel lets go, or how to get it off short of killing it.

If they're taken young enough, giant weasels have a 25% chance that they can be trained to guard or hunt.  And ooh, we haven't seen this in a while: Gary has given a monetary value to the body part of another dead monster!  In this case it's the weasel's pelt, which sells for 1,000 to 6,000 gold pieces.  (Really?  That seems super generous.)

Friday, April 03, 2015

AD&D Monster Manual part 58


VAMPIRES: Vampires first appeared in OD&D, and most of the changes presented here are clarifications to their already-existing abilities.  There are plenty of those, so strap in, this could take a while.

The first change to be noted is that vampires are now Chaotic Evil.  In OD&D's three-alignment system, they were Chaotic.  In the article that first introduced the expanded nine-point alignment system (from The Strategic Review #6) Vampires were said to epitomise Lawful Evil, but that's not the case in the Monster Manual.

As before, it is said that vampires must rest in a coffin during daylight hours.  This requirement is now lessened for vampires who are far underground, though they still need to rest in a coffin occasionally, as their power is restored only by contact with soil from their own grave.  It's all very Dracula, but I wonder about the specific use of the term "grave".  What if a vampire was never buried?  What soil do they require then?

It's noted that vampires, and all other undead, exist simultaneously in the Material and Negative Plane.  I'm pretty sure that this has been mentioned in the Monster Manual before, but it's been a while since I started this whole thing and I can't remember.

Vampires are now explicitly said to have a Strength score of 18/76, bringing them in line with the uncanny strength they usually have in stories.  The damage done by a vampire's blow has been altered to reflect this.  An 18/76 Strength gives a damage bonus of +4, and a vampire's attack now deals 5-10 damage. or 1d6+4.  It's lovely when D&D makes sense.

As before, a vampire drains two levels from its victim with every hit.  Deal with it.  They are still only hit with magical weapons, and their regeneration ability remains unaltered.  As before, when reduced to 0 hit points a vampire is forced into gaseous form.  This is expanded on here: the vampire must then return to its coffin within 10 turns and regrow its body over the course of 8 hours.

Vampires get a number of new immunities: the standard things that don't work on undead (sleep, charm, hold), poison, and paralysis.  They are also given resistance to spells based on cold or electricity.

Some other abilities that have been barely altered: turning into gaseous form at will, transforming into a large bat, a gaze that can charm a person, and the ability to summon rats, bats or wolves.  The summoning has been clarified.  Bats can only be summoned when underground.  Rats and bats do not attack, but merely confuse and obstruct vision.  Summoned creatures take 2-12 rounds to arrive.

As before, vampires will recoil from garlic, a mirror, or a lawful good holy symbol if any of these is strongly presented.  Again, this is clarified.  These objects can't be used to drive a vampire away.  Garlic only causes them to hesitate for 1-4 rounds.  With the other two, a vampire will try to position itself so that the object isn't between itself and the victim, or it might try to get a minion to deal with the problem.

(Note: the cross is specifically mentioned here as a lawful good holy symbol, further evidence of the Christian roots of the D&D cleric.  I have to decide at some point whether I will have a Christian church in my campaign, or if I'll assign the cross to an existing Greyhawk deity.  Probably the latter.)

The same three methods for killing a vampire in OD&D are given here as well: exposure to direct sunlight, immersion in running water, and a stake through the heart.  Guess what?  There are more clarifications!  Sunlight now takes a full turn to kill a vampire, but that vampire loses all of its powers during that exposure.  Immersion in water drains a third of the vampires hit points every round, thus killing it in three rounds.  A stake through the heart now only keeps a vampire dead for as long as the stake remains lodged in its chest.  To permanently kill a vampire in this way, it must be beheaded, and holy wafers must be stuffed in its mouth.  (So there's another bit of Christian iconography. Whichever Greyhawk church I assign the cross will have to get holy wafers as well, I guess.)

Holy water is now said to deal 2-7 damage on a vampire struck with it.

As in OD&D, any human or humanoid killed by a vampire becomes a vampire under the control of the original (which means demi-human vampires are a thing.  And goblins, and orcs, and maybe even ogres and giants.  Rad!).  Clarifications!!!  The new vampire is said to be "appropriately-strengthed." I suppose that means Hit Dice?  It's specifically said here that vampires can have character classes, and that a vampire cleric will be Chaotic Evil.  No word on what happens to a vampire druid or paladin; I imagine that either would lose their powers.  The transformation into a vampire now takes one day after the creature is buried, but if it isn't buried it does not occur (that answers my grave dirt concerns from earlier).  If the head vampire is killed, all the rest become free-willed.  (This would have made the ending of The Lost Boys a lot messier.)

Finally, we see the introduction of the eastern vampire into D&D.  They are the same as regular vampires, except that they are invisible.  In exchange for this they can't charm with their gaze, and can't assume gaseous form at will (presumably they still do so when reduced to 0 hit points).  I wonder about the invisibility.  The way it's worded makes it seem more like a permanent state than an ability they can use.  I would probably play it as an ability, and treat it like the spell; level-draining monsters that can't ever be seen?  No thank you.

Stat Changes: Number Appearing: Old - 1-6, New - 1-4; Armor Class: Old - 2, New - 1; Hit Dice: Old - 7 to 9, New - 8+3; Damage: Old - 1-10, New - 5-10

Just one monster today, folks.  This one took a while, but it does cover the entirety of the letter V.  Progress!