Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: The Strategic Review #7 part 3


Denebian Slime Devil: This creature, most probably derived from a passing mention on Star Trek, is an obvious joke monster. It appears as whatever the creature's victim finds most repulsive, or otherwise as a blob of slime. It will tirelessly follow a human-type around, and is so abhorrent that anyone who meets a character being trailed by one will either flee or attack - I'm starting to think that the NPCs of this era are emotionally stunted in some way. The creature can only be killed or dispelled by a manner determined by the DM, and there are a number of highly unfunny examples given. And to make it a complete nuisance, it doesn't aid in fights, instead hangign around and whining much like C-3P0.

I will be including this creature, but it will not be native to Oerth, or any other D&D-style world. It may exist in other sci-fi based planets, possibly in the settings for Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World. I'll be substituting my own methods for destroying it, however.

Catoblepas: Ah, a real D&D monster – what a relief. Or it would be, if the Catoblepas wasn't an utterly terrible design. It has the body of a large water buffalo, with an ugly warthog's head on a long neck – this odd physiology is the result of it adapting to its swampy environment. The creature's gaze is the equivalent of a Death Spell – NO SAVE. And get this – if you're surprised, meeting the gaze is automatic. So there's a good 2-in-6 chance of your entire party being arbitrarily struck dead by any Catoblepas encounter. Their one weakness is that it's hard for them to lift their heads, with only a 25% chance to do so on the first round. But that chance increases each round, so you're going to cop it eventually... Their tail can also stun opponents, but that's pretty much small potatoes in comparison.

When I do include a Catoblepas, I'm going to make it a damn rare creature, and also one that is sung of in tales and legends. If the PCs enter an area where one lives, I'm going to make it pretty easy for them to discover that fact.


This article presents a series of standard symbols for depicting various troop types on military maps. I'll use these on hand-outs should the PCs ever discover such a map.


This short article presents a table that gives Thieves a bonus or penalty to their special abilities based on Dexterity. This is a good thing – Thieves in OD&D need all the help they can get.

The next bit is a touch more contentious: the addition of Exceptional Dexterity. That is, if a Thief has a Dex of 18, he gets to roll percentile dice to see if he is extra-super dextrous. I don't mind the addition, to be honest. It works for the Fighter in terms of Strength, and I'm all for things that boost the Thief a bit.

The explanation for these rules being introduced will be new training techniques provided by the Adventurers' Guild – the old standby.


It's a DM advice article by Gary, which goes through the usual motions: limit magic, make the PCs work for their rewards, play the monsters intelligently, etc. The most interesting thing here is a mention of the D&D campaign played at CalTech, a monster high-level gonzo game dubbed Dungeons & Beavers. I'm tempted to throw in a sub-level of Greyhawk that is completely over the top in this manner. Gary had a King Kong-themed level entitled 'Monkeying Around', so I'd probably give it a similar pun.

Oh, and Gary confirms that none of the PCs in either Greyhawk or Blackmoor are over 14th level at this point.

That's it for today. There's an Empire of the Petal Throne article I want to cover, but it's long and I can't be bothered - those EPT articles take some getting through.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: The Strategic Review #7 Part 2

HINTS FOR D&D JUDGES PART 1: TOWNS: This articles gives a whole bunch of good advice for designing the home base for your campaign, but it's all pretty basic stuff. It's the sort of article that would have been pretty useful in the old days when everyone outside of Gary and Dave Arneson was still learning the ropes. Nowadays this is the sort of advice that's already in the books and has been drummed into anyone with even a modicum of experience as a DM.

There's a little tidbit about the writer's home dungeon – Castle Blackstar, the first level of which is made up of shops and inns, as well as the home of a high-level wizard with a balrog butler. The question that now comes to me is this: do I try and incorporate all of this stuff into the campaign? If it was from Gary, I'd do it in a heartbeat. The same goes for Rob Kuntz, Dave Arneson, or any of the other guys whose name I recognise. But where do I draw the line, and what makes one piece of campaign lore more 'official' than any other in The Dragon/The Strategic Review? I'm leaning towards tossing everything in, so I think the above stays. The line I'm drawing is with fiction - I'll only stripmine it if it's officially D&D, or it's writeen by a prominent designer of D&D.


Cup and Talisman of Akbar: This cup of gold and mithril (and the talisman commonly found within it) can only be used by Dervishes, Rangers and Paladins. Given that the talisman is engraved with an eight-pointed star and the name of Allah in Kufic script it must originate from Earth – proof of a link between Earth and Oerth grows ever stronger. The relics are worth a cool 75 thousand gp, but it has other powers. If you fill the cup with water, dip the amulet in and say the appropriate prayers, the water will become a potion of some sort. Effects range from a simple cure potion to a cure for level drain to the Universal Antidote, which I am left to assume cures anything and everything. As with all magic items not incorporated into the random tables, I'll have to place this somewhere myself. I'm thinking an Arabic sorcerer of some sort might cross over into the Greyhawk dungeons from Earth, a sort of Abdul Alhazred type, who has it in his possession.

Now, the question remains why can't Clerics use this thing? Holy items would seem to be their thing, yes? I'm thinking that this inability ties to the origins of the item – as it is an item seemingly powered by Allah, those who serve the gods of Oerth would not be able to use it. But that implies Rangers and Paladins DO serve Allah, which has all sorts of interesting connotations best saved for a later date.

Staff of the Priest Kings: This is the Clerical equivalent of the Staff of Wizardry. It can be used as a Snake Staff, and can also cast Sticks to Snakes, Insect Plague, Create/Pollute Food and Water, Cure/Cause Disease, Continual Light, Neutralize Poison and Cure Light and Serious Wounds. This is the basic model, but theres a chance the staff comes with an extra power – Find the Path, Earthquake and Hold Person, Raise Dead, Raise Dead Fully, and Restoration. Alas, no final strike capability. Clerics, as usual, just don't get the cool tricks that Magic-Users do.

Apart from some nifty abilities, this item also implies that there were once Priest Kings in the World of Greyhawk. I don't know where or when, and I can't really piece it together until I review the first World of Greyhawk folio.

Brazen Bottle: This is a brass flask shaped like a Kline's Bottle, whatever that may be. If it is opened in the presence of djinn or efreet, it will imprison the monsters inside. It can also be used on Balrogs, Invisible Stalkers, demons and air or fire elementals. In general the creature inside will be mighty pissed off, and will attack anyone in the vicinity if the bottle is opened. But – if the creature has been imprisoned for a good thousasnd years – it might decide to serve the one who freed it for 1,001 days. Lovely – items with a strong mythological flavour are always winners.

Next time I will probably finish up with the rest of Strategic Review #7

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: The Strategic Review #7 Part 1

This final issue of The Strategic Review has plenty of material for my D&D campaign, and it occurs to me that once it relaunches as The Dragon it's going to have even more. Whereas in the early days I was covering issues of this mag in one installment, issue #6 took me 4 parts. This one will probably take the same, and things are only going to grow. In other words, I ain't going to run out material any time soon.

First off, a brief mention of the articles that aren't relevant to my campaign. The first of these is relevant to D&D as a whole though – the cancellation of The Strategic Review and its relaunch into two magazines – The Dragon (with a focus on fantasy and sci-fi gaming) and Little Wars (with a focus on wargaming). One survived for a very long time, and the other died very quickly. But this is a massive step for the game, and a real sign of just how far TSR is going.

There's also a hilarious, hilarious editorial by Gary, who has gotten himself embroiled in an argument with Avalon Hill over who has the best convention. I'm giggling even now just thinking about it. It's Gary in absolute top hyperbolic form.

The comic strip Dirt debuts, and it has its own simplistic charm. If anything you've got to admire a strip that's nothing but eyes on a black background.

What Price Gold and Glory? is a short story by Jim Hayes. Now I did include a bit of fiction from last issue, but that was by Robert Kuntz – innovators of the game get a special dispensation. Not so for this piece – sorry Mr Hayes!

The letters page Out on a Limb debuts here – with two letters from Gary!

And now into the meat of things. We start with a lengthy article entitled The Dungeons and Dragons Magic System by Gary. The gist of the article is to properly outline and elucidate the "Vancian" magic system (and yes, this is the first time it it referred to as such). Spells are said to be made up of four components: verbal, somatic, mnemonic and material. So to cast a spell, the magic-user must be free to say the correct words, make the correct movement, and also he must possess the materials necessary to power the spell. There are no concrete rules set down for this just yet, but it's a good indicator of where things will go once AD&D comes around. It does give a good indication of just how effective a Magic-User caught in a Web spell will be, though.

As for the mnemonic part, that's memory. Once again it is stated that a magic-user has to memorise each spell, and once that spell has been cast it is gone until memorised once more. We've heard it before, and here it is again – but at least it's consistent. It seems that many players were misinterpreting things in their favour here.

There's not much else of use in the article, but I'd like to note Gary's assertion that there would never be 10th level spells in D&D. It's an assertion he stuck by, so good on him.

THE FASTEST GUNS THAT NEVER LIVED: It's another Boot Hill article, this time giving stats for a whole host of fictional characters. So when my PCs get to the Old West, they're going to run into the likes of The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, The Rifleman, and others. Especially exciting to me is that we get stats for Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and Yul Brynner. Sweet! My bad impressions will be getting a workout.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: The Strategic Review #6 part 4

Apologies for the lengthy breaks between posts here. I haven't been particularly into D&D of late (a probable by-product of not being able to play in a while), so getting around to writing these up has been a low priority. But rest assured that I'll keep chugging along – I can't promise to post every day, but I'll try to be a little more frequent and get this out at least a couple of times a week. Anyway, onwards with the remainder of The Strategic Review #6.

MIGHTY MAGIC MISCELLANY: This article presents a number of magic intruments, tied heavily into the Bard flavour from the previous article.

Each of the instruments is connected to one of the Bard Colleges mentioned earlier, and a Bard has to be of that college or higher to use it. If a lesser Bard tries it, he gets the old zappo so common to old-school magic items. A Bard of a higher college gets to use the abilities more than once per day.

It should also be noted that all of these instruments are identical until used – so any Bard who tries to play one won't know if he's high level enough or not. And nothing short of a wish can identify them.

Fochlucan Harp: This harp adds 10% to a Bard's chance to charm someone, and can also cast protection from evil, shield, and continual light, each once per day.

Mac-Fuirmidh Harp: This harp adds 20% to a Bard's chance to charm, and it's got all the abilities of the Fochlucan Harp as well. It can also cast invisibility, but given that the Bard has to play the harp to become invisible it's not so useful – he's likely to be heard. Finally it can be used to cast the Strength spell.

Doss Lyre: Adds 30% to charm, has all the abilities of the Mac-Fuirmidh Harp, and has other abilities too. The first is to cast Fly, but only so long as the Bard can continue to play. There are some nifty rules about how long the Bard can keep it up before collapsing from exhaustion, with the possibility of falling unconscious while in the air. The second ability is to Dispell Magic.

Canaith Lyre: Adds 40% to charm, has all the abilities of the Doss Lyre, yada yada. It can also cast Confusion and Fear, as well as a healing song – handy given the dearth of healing magic in OD&D.

Cli Mandolin: Adds 50% to charm, has all the abilities of the Canaith Lyre. PLUS! It has Telekinesis, and can heal better than the Lyre. PLUS! It contains an elemental! It's not stated what can be done with said elemental, but I assume that it obeys the wielder's commands. The mandolin can cast Remove Curse. It also has a 'song of fire' equivalent to some unspecified 4th level fire spell. The only spell that qualifies is Wall of Fire, which is good enough for me.

The article goes on about these instruments being added to the Miscellaneous Magic Item tables, but then proceeds to not outline where or how. So I'm instead introducing them as revered artifacts of the Bardic tradition. Though I won't rule out finding them in random hordes, they are generally only gifted to Bards who have done some great service for their people (those being the ones connected to the Druids).

BOOT HILL EXPERIMENTAL RULE: Since I'm including Boot Hill in my campaign, any of the various articles need to be introduced as well. This one brings in a rule whereby a character's Bravery score affects his first shot in a gunfight. In theory it's a great rule, but with no knowledge of the Boot Hill system I can't tell how it works in practice. It's a moot point anyway, as I'm going to have to adapt it to work with D&D.

GREYHAWK ERRATA: Hurrah! There were a number of things in Greyhawk that I noticed were missing, or in need of clarification. This article provides the answers I was looking for.

The Homunculus was mentioned in parts of Supplement I, but its entry went missing. Here we learn that it's a small winged humanoid created by an Alchemist and a Magic-User. Created from the M-U's blood (and a lotta cash!) it possesses all of the M-U's knowledge, and has a telepathic link with its master. The little buggers have a bite with sleep poison, but really aren't that formidable in combat – their primary application seems to be that of a spy. But if it's killed, the M-U suffers 2-20 damage. I'll introduce the Homunculus as a servant of some NPC Wizard in the dungeons – and if the PCs find his notes they'll learn how to create one as well.

The Golem entry gets a proper intro now, which does little except state that Golems are created by powerful magic-users. But at least now the Flesh Golem has hit points and a movement rate.

The Rod of Resurrection gets its entry fixed – it resurrects like a 15th level Cleric, can be used but once per day, and has 20 charges.

The Gem of Seeing, while present on the tables, did not get a write up. We learn here that it lets the user see hidden and invisible things, as well as secret doors.

Strangely, the Gauntlets of Dexterity get errata which is exactly the same as the write-up in my version of Supplement I.

And that's it for The Strategic Review #6, which I thought would be done in a single day but ended up stretched over a couple of weeks. Next time I delve into #7, which has Gary writing about D&D magic, more Boot Hill NPCs, some DM advice about building towns, magic items, monsters, Tekumel, more Gary and plenty of other stuff not really about D&D.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: The Strategic Review part 3


D&D gets another character class here, and we're definitely getting away from the more general types and more into specific roles. The original classes of D&D lend themselves to interpretation very well. The later classes, the Bard among them, are locked into a certain image, and it takes a genuine effort to break them out of the stereotypes.

In case you haven't guessed it, I've never been a big fan of the bard class. I don't think it really serves a purpose that a multiclassed thief-mage can't duplicate, and the only unique things about it are fluff. And that's not even getting into the mechanical nightmare that is the AD&D bard. Thankfully, what we have here is a much more streamlined design than that. They resemble the 3e Bard quite a lot, actually.

The introduction describes the Bard as being inspired by the norse 'skald' (a sort of warrior poet-historian), the celtic 'bard' (mediators and chroniclers who served the Druids) and the european 'minstrel' (entertainers of the nobility).

What this boils down to in terms of D&D is a class that combines aspects of the Fighter, Thief and Magic-User. They get the abilities of a Thief half their level (no backstab though), may use any weapon, cast magic-user spells, and use the Cleric tables for fighting and saving throws. They are limited to leather and chain for armour. Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits can be Bards, but can't progress beyond 8th level. To become a Bard a character must have at least an average score in Strength and Intelligence, and an above average Charisma. I take this to mean he needs 9 or above in the first two, and 12 or above in the latter.

In addition they get the ability to mesmerize any creature that hears their music. The Bard has a percentage chance for this that increases by level, and there's a lot of business about stronger creatures being more resistant to this ability. Undead have an even greater resistance than usual, but I find it interesting that they're affected at all. By the rules a mindless skeleton can be mesmerised, which I find slightly odd. Balrogs are said to have 200% resistance, which I find inexplicably hilarious. As a side-note to this ability, it's also said that Bards can negate song-based powers like those of the harpy.

The Bard can then make a Suggestion to any creature that has been mesmerized, its complexity dependent on the intelligence of the target. The most interesting part here is that Bards get XP for charming and suggesting based on the hit dice of the opponent – that's a nice little bonus!

And then we get a nice little adventure hook: a Dragon who refuses to let a Bard stop playing his restful melodies. I'll work this in somewhere, whether it be as an NPC Bard who is already a captive, a Dragon trying to capture a Bard PC, or the PCs having to kidnap a Bard to appease a Dragon. Lots of possibilities.

The last ability is that of Lore, which gives the Bard a chance to know tales and legends about certain items or places. The most useful application of this is to identify magic items, but even this isn't foolproof – it doesn't work on the magical books (which is fair enough, as they all appear identical), and only a bard of 12th level or higher can identify the various necklaces and scarabs.

In general Bards can use the same magic items that Fighters and Thieves can, and can use the musical instruments with much greater effectiveness. The major thing to note here is that any bonus to AC granted by an item reduces the Bard's ability to mesmerize creatures. I'll chalk it up to an acoustical phenomenon of protective magic. Or something.

There's an interesting detail in the advancement table – as Bards advance they progress through certain colleges. A bard of 2nd to 4th level belongs to the Fochlucan college, 5th-7th to Mac-Fuirmidh, 8th-10th to Doss, 11th-13th to Canaith, 14th-16th to Cli, 17th-19th to Anstruth and 20th+ to Ollamh. What these mean isn't detailed, but mechanically they determine how many followers a bard will attract.

Bards can be any alignment, but most are neutral. A lawful Bard loses his Thief abilities, which is a little odd, but I guess they must require a certain mindset that only Chaotics can achieve. Druids and Bards are closely connected, and I plan to use this as a way to introduce the class. NPC Bards will be assigned by the Druids to accompany various heroes into the dungeons and chronicle their exploits. The presence of demi-human Bards muddies this up a little, but I'll say the Druidic peoples are highly respectful of the various fey-folk, and allow them to study the Bardic tradition if they wish it.

Next time (notice how I've stopped typing 'tomorrow'?) I'll try to knock off the rest of The Strategic Review #6.