Monday, October 26, 2009

The Dragon #1 part 2

And now, The Dragon #1, part the second.

CREATURE FEATURE – THE BULETTE: This monster is also known as the Landshark, which the internet assures me is a reference to some obscure comedy show that we didn't get in Australia. Can't have been very good if we didn't get it. But anyway, the Bulette was cross-bred from the armadillo and the snapping turtle, taking the most vicious aspects of each. They're also a whole lot bigger than either. They were thought to be extinct until recently, which makes me think that they probably were, until some bright spark wizard figured out how to crossbreed them again.

Bulettes will eat pretty much anything, but are especially fond of horses. It's a D&D thing. You'll find a lot of monsters that like to eat people (i.e. the PCs) and a lot that like to eat horses (i.e. what the PCs are riding). You don't get so many that are fond of cows or dogs or something, because generally they're not of much use to the players. Funny that. Even better, though, is that Bulettes also like to eat Hobbits, and have been known to dig them right out of their burrows. Gary's Hobbit-bias strikes again!

They can jump, move silently, and are almost impossible to surprise. In combat they fight with teeth and claws, and their bite is a nasty thing to behold – 4d12 damage! In OD&D that's genuinely nasty. They are also hard to hit, but their eyeholes are vulnerable, as is a certain hinged part of their armour. I'm still yet to see rules on how to adjudicate monsters with different AC for different body parts. I still think I'll just go with whatever the players say they're attacking. If someone figures out to go for the eyes, they'll get the better chance to hit.

They're never found underground, and are very rare (a byproduct of being recently recreated, I guess). In the grand D&D tradition, you can make shields out of their scales, and sell their teeth for big bucks. Only mated pairs share the same area, and their young have never been seen – another byproduct of their recent recreation.

Bulette are cool, that's for certain. That bit about the Hobbits gets me every time. Since I am placing their magical recreation as a recent event, I might as well turn it into an adventure hook. The wizard making them will be doing so near a Hobbit settlement, and the poor little buggers will be getting eaten right out of their living rooms. Cue the PCs, should they desire to get involved.

HINT FOR D&D JUDGES PART 2 – WILDERNESS: This article provides some good and practical advice for designing the wilderness portion of the campaign. Like part 1 of this series it's fairly rudimentary stuff, and it is likely that any experienced DM will have seen it all before. But this was the first time this kind of thing was done, so it gets props for that.

MIGHTY MAGIC MISCELLANY – ILLUSIONIST ADDITIONS: The Illusionist class, previously introduced in The Strategic Review, gets some minor expansion here in the form of some higher levels and more spells. Surprisingly, there are a whole load of classic D&D spells introduced here for the first time. I'll try to quickly run through the new stuff by level.

1st Level: Ventriloquism and Mirror Image are the same as the Magic-User spells that already exist. Detect Illusion is a new spell that does exactly what it says. Color Spray is staple of the game that shoots multi-coloured lights that can knock enemies unconscious.

2nd Level: Magic Mouth and Rope Trick already exist. Dispell Illusion will automatically destroy any illusion that wasn't cast by an Illusionist (with a smaller chance of wrecking those cast by an illusionist). Blur makes the caster blurry and harder to hit.

3rd Level: Suggestion is the same as the Magic-User spell. Phantasmal Killer, aside from having a rad name, summons an illusionary beast from the target's subconscious fears. If the target believes the beast is real it will kill him with a single hit. Anyone wearing a Helm of Telepathy has a chance to turn the Killer back on its caster. Illusionary Script creates writing that can only be read by those specified by the caster. Anyone else who tries will be confused (like the spell effect). Dispel Exhaustion provides the illusion of being rested. This allows the target to keep going, but he'll have to rest even more once it is done.

6th Level: Conjure Animals is the same as the Cleric spell. Mass Suggestion is like the Suggestion spell, but can be used on multiple targets. Permanent Illusion works like Spectral Forces, but lasts until dispelled. Shadow Monsters III is a stronger version of Demi-Shadow Monsters. Programmed Illusion is like Spectral Forces, but it can be set to follow instructions without concentration required from the caster. True Sight lets the caster see the true form of someone who has been polymorphed. It also allows him to tell the alignment, class, level and intentions of any person (yikes! I sense a game-breaker). It can also spot invisible, displaced, and astral objects.

7th Level: Astral Spell, Prismatic Wall, and Maze are just like the Magic-User spells. Vision is for when Illusionists seek answers from a higher power. This power is more benevolent that that contacted by Magic-Users, as the worst that can happen is the caster will be sent on a quest. Figuring out who these powers are will take some extra thinking about the nature of Illusionists and their goals, so I'll come back to it at a later date. Alter Reality is like the Limited Wish spell, only used in concert with an illusion. The caster creates the illusion of what he desires, then it is made real. Prismatic Spray is like a weaponised version of the Prismatic Wall. That is a very nasty thing.

Illusionists also now get the ability to make magic items for themselves at 10th level. At 9th level they can make minor items like puppets that talk and toys and other stuff that I could see PCs trying to sell for a mint. Finally, they now also get a bonus to saving throws against illusions and other light-based attacks.

I'll throw all of this knowledge into the Greyhawk Dungeons in the form of a spellbook or a lost grimoire. If the PCs find and share it, the new spells and abilities will become available and they'll be handsomely rewarded. If not, some NPCs will eventually get it and claim the reward themselves.

THE GNOME CACHE: I feel the need to quote the beginning of this serialised novel in full:

"In the infinity of cosmic probabilities there stretches an endless succession of earths, this one being but one of the possible realities. Those in close proximity to our world are but little different from it, but countless alternatives to history exist, and as these co-worlds become more removed from this plane of reality so their resemblance becomes removed. There are, then, worlds which are gloriously superior to ours, some which are horribly worse, but most are merely different in some way. Far from our probability line is a world called by its inhabitants Oerth. It is very similar to this earth in many ways, but it is also quite different...

"If the learned men of Oerth were able to tell you its geography they would say that in relation to our planet they are quite alike. Asia is a trifle smaller, Europe and North America a trifle larger – but the scientists (or rather philosophers) of Oerth are not able to explain this for two reasons: They neither know of the alternate earths in Oerth's probability line nor do they have any sure knowledge of Oerth's geography outside their immediate areas. Likewise, Oerth has races similar in many respects to ours, and their migrations and distribution somewhat resemble those of our world, but their histories differ sharply from ours departing from our probability line some 2,500 years ago. Then the changes were but small, but over the intervening centuries the difference has grown so that there is now no resemblance between Oerth and Earth when the contemporary models are compared.

"Oerth is backward in terms of our planet. It is a dreaming world. Socially, culturally, technologically it is behind us. When the probability line split there were other changes than those of an historical nature, and scientific laws differ also. What is fact on Earth may be fancy on Oerth and vice versa. So a strange blend of Medieval cultures exist in the known lands of Oerth, and what lies in the terra incognita of Africa or across the Western Ocean is the subject of much myth and supposition only. Ships which ply the waters venture not into such areas, and few are the souls hardy enough to dare expeditions east or south, for things as they are seem quite satisfactory as centuries of tradition prove."

There we have it, right from the pen of a certain Garrison Ernst, aka Gary Gygax – the first in-depth description of the World of Greyhawk and its cosmology. This ties together a lot of things from earlier material, particularly the notion of parallel worlds that has already been put forth. References to Earth locales in the monster description? Oerth is a parallel Earth, so the monsters can come from the Oerth region that is a counterpart to the Earth region named. Frequent use of genuine Earth deities? Again, I can assume that these gods and pantheons were worshipped before the timelines for Oerth and Earth split. It's neat how everything is meshing so far, at least at this stage when Gary is controlling it all.

Anyway, on to the story itself. It starts simply enough, with a youth named Dunstan unhappy with his lot as a merchant's son in the small town of Endstad. He gets his father Rodigast drunk, steals some of his money, and rides out to seek adventure.

I'm not certain if anything in this story can be squared away with the World of Greyhawk is it is later published, but I'll try to do so anyway. We have the town of Endstad, and the Nallid River which loops west and north around it. Dunstan rides from the village towards Rauxes, city of the Overking of Thalland. The details are scant for the moment, but I know they get more specific later on. Alas, because the vague stuff is easier to reconcile.

THREE KINDREDS OF THE ELDAR: This is an article that tries to mesh the elves of Tolkien with those of D&D. Wood Elves are said to be the same as Silvan Elves, Grey Elves are the Sindar, and the greatest of the Elves are known as the Noldor. Any elf character must roll on a chart to see which of the Kindred they are.

Being Tolkien elves, they all have varying chances that they will be drawn across the sea to the lands of the Valar (i.e. right out of the campaign). This chance is rolled once per game year, and is surprisingly high – 10% for Silvan Elves and 25% for Sindar. The Noldor are supposedly exiles, and can only go to the Valar after performing a special deed as determined by the DM.

There are some mechanical changes to Elves here. Silvan Elves have no level limit as Fighters, but are greatly limited as Magic-Users. The Sindar are presented as regular D&D elves. The Noldor are extra-powerful, having no level limits, 1.5 times the normal range on all spells, and 1.5 times the normal effects for all spells. In addition, all Elves are immune to disease and sickness.

Now there are some pretty hefty bonuses available here, but that chance of being drawn across the ocean is a mighty big penalty to have hanging over a PC's head. So these rules will be voluntary. I'm thinking that the Elves have discovered a ritual of some kind that allows them to get in touch with the power of their ancestors. Any Elf PC can opt to take the ritual if he wishes, and will then get to roll on the chart and maybe get awesome powers. The risk of going across the sea will be stated up front, so that any player knows exactly what he is in for.

Now this article brings up some other implications though, especially in combination with what we just learned in The Gnome Cache. So, Oerth is a parallel Earth, right? Now anyone who has read Lord of the Rings will know that it is set in Earth's distant past. Ergo, somewhere in the past of Oerth is Middle-Earth. Or Middle-Oerth, if you prefer.

Yes, I'm going with that as part of my campaign. All the events of Tolkien's novels will have occured in the past, albeit in the European sector of Oerth. The World of Greyhawk is mostly set in the area of North America, so this may never come into play. But hell, I like it!

ROYAL ARMIES OF THE HYBORIAN AGE ADDITIONS: Given that I'm already incorporating the works of Tolkien, I might as well go for Howard as well – especially as there are some Conan modules for official AD&D. If Middle-Earth is set in the distant past of Oerth's Europe, then Hyboria will be set in the recent past of that area.

This article gives details on the military forces of some peripheral nations of the Hyborian Age – the Kushites, Juma's region in Kush, and Khitai. I'll try to remember this article when I'm sketching out details for the area.

NEXT: The Dragon #2, featuring a load o' fiction, monkish duels, dungeon-building advice, Quetzalcouatl, another classic monster, Alchemists, weapon mastery, and much much more!


Eldros said...

I like this serie very much since I found it on the forum of I've been toying with the idea of testing it myself as PbP campaign, but I don't think I am a good DM enough, with experience of D&D 3.5 and ulterior only and also there will be the problem of crediting you, which would gave away a lot of the setting. Anyway, I'm waiting for next part, as it is a great view of D&D origins. Keep it going on!

Nathan P. Mahney said...

Thanks, Eldros! Just keep in mind that it's going to be a loooong time before I have this up and running as a workable campaign. And even then, anyone who wants to use it is going to need a hell of a lot of D&D material to make it work!