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!)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Jack Manley and the Warlord of Infinity

Some of you will have noticed that I had a long hiatus from this blog over the last couple of years.  This is the reason why: I have been working on a novel, which is now available on Amazon.

Jack Manley - soldier, adventurer, traveller of the Wild Multiverse and veteran of the All-Worlds War - has quit. After years of endless fighting he has seen too much death, and taken too many lives. But an interdimensional emperor known only as the Warlord has pledged to destroy Jack Manley for his crimes, and even Manley is not certain of his innocence. With the might of thirteen Earths at his command, the Warlord is a danger to all of reality, and Jack Manley must fight through soldiers, dogs with guns in their mouths, manticores, the dreaded annihil-apes and more before he can face him. It's cover-to-cover pulp sci-fi action adventure, as Manley battles his enemies, and confronts his bloody past. The Warlord is coming, and only death can stop him. But how can Manley defeat him without sinking back into a life of blood and destruction?

Jack Manley is a sci-fi book with a touch of parody.  I sometimes like to describe it as the result of what would happen if Kurt Russell was cast as the lead in Doctor Who.  The lead character rocket-punches a giant dinosaur in the prologue, which is pretty fair summation of the tone.

As for D&D connections, it does have some Manticores in it.  There are also a few familiar surnames in their that old-school gamers will recognise.

The book's available here, and I'd appreciate it if you went over and had a look.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Citadel of Chaos, Attempt 1, Part 1

It's time now to move on to the second book in the Fighting Fantasy series: The Citadel of Chaos by Steve Jackson.  Whereas in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain the protagonist is motivated by nothing more than sheer greed, The Citadel of Chaos provides a slightly more altruistic motivation.  The evil demi-sorcerer Balthus Dire is planning to invade the Vale of Willow with his armies, and you must sneak into his stronghold and deal with him.  I did say slightly more altruistic; this is an assassination mission, after all.

The rules for determining Skill, Stamina and Luck remain unchanged from the first book.  I rolled a Skill of 10, a Stamina of 15 and a Luck of 11, a decent set of scores despite the low Stamina.  Where The Citadel of Chaos really differs is that the reader plays a wizard.  The star pupil of the Grand Wizard of Yore, in fact.  I had to determine my Magic score by rolling two dice and adding 6.  My result was 12; this is the number of spells I was allowed to take with me on my mission.

The following spells are available: Creature Copy, E.S.P., Fire, Fool's Gold, Illusion, Levitation, Luck, Shielding, Skill, Stamina, Strength and Weakness.  I took two Creature Copy spells, two Shielding spells, and one each of E.S.P., Fire, Illusion, Levitation, Luck, Stamina, Strength and Weakness.  Most of the spells are pretty self-explanatory.  Creature Copy is probably the only one that requires a bit of explanation: it creates an exact duplicate of a creature that can fight on your behalf.

For equipment I had the basics: a sword, leather armour, a backpack and a lantern. I had no provisions with which to restore Stamina, but that's what the Stamina spell listed above is for.  Similarly, I didn't get to choose a restorative potion, either; just as with Stamina, there are spells to restore Luck and Skill.

And so, armed and armoured, and brimming with eldritch power, I set forth to Craggen Rock to slay me a wizard.

The first encounter set the tone for Balthus Dire's citadel pretty early.  Meet the guardians of the gate: the DOG-APE and the APE-DOG.

There is something sublime about the pointlessness of these two.  Eschewing all basic assassination methods, I sauntered up to the front gate and opted to pose as a travelling herbalist, here to tend to a sick guardsman of the citadel.  My cover story was watertight; I even had some random weeds to wave under the Ape-Dog's nose, but the guards were skeptical and asked me who I was here to treat.  At this point I was given the option of three names, which must all be the Orc equivalent of John or Tom or something: Kylltrog, Pincus or Blag.  I opted for the raddest-sounding name, which was Kylltrog, and the Ape-Dog let me inside the citadel.  Word to the wise: never trust an ape/dog hybrid with security.

I entered a large courtyard, and again decided to bring as much attention to myself as possible.  Spying a motley group sitting around a campfire - the group was comprised of a Dwarf, an Orc and two canoodling Goblins - I sat down with them and demanded they tell me how to get inside the citadel proper.

My brash swagger must have impressed them, because the Orc gave me the password to get inside the citadel proper: 'Scimitar'.  But when I started pestering them about a potion they possessed they got very surly and attacked me.  Three-on-one odds would be pretty tough for a first encounter, but luckily for me they decided to fight me one at a time, and I slaughtered them with little difficulty.  When the fight ended I prepared to run, expecting the sounds of alarms or approaching guards or something.  Nada.  Time then for looting!

These guys had 8 gold pieces, a copper key and a jar of ointment.  For reasons known only to Steve Jackson I was only able to take two of these, and i opted to leave the gold behind. There was also the potion that started this whole scuffle, which turned out to be a Potion of Magik.  It was good for two doses, and had the effect of letting me use a spell without crossing it off my list.  Sweet!

I could see two men talking nearby, so I approached them.  They were haggling quite vehemently about the price of a magic dagger.  The seller tried to rope me in by asking how much I thought it was worth.  Putting on my best "I know what I'm talking about" face, I high-balled the price at 10 gold pieces.  The buyer couldn't afford it, and neither could I, so everyone left unsatisfied.

Moving on, I was accosted by some weird lady air elemental.  I tried to ignore her, which just made her angry, so I told her heartily to piss off.  Apparently she likes seeing people get angry, because we then enjoyed a semi-romantic stroll before she buggered off to annoy someone else.

I reached the main door into the citadel, and knocked for the guard.  I was greeted by another fine specimen of Dire's eugenics program: a RHINO-MAN!  Luckily I knew the password, and the Rhino-Man let me inside.  Once again lax security rules the day here in the Citadel of Chaos.

Ignoring some steps downwards (on the spurious logic that Balthus Dire wouldn't be living underground) I went through a door and rang the bell to summon the butler.

This is not a man that I would put at my reception desk, but despite all appearances to the contrary he was rather polite when I confidently asked the way to the reception room.  I followed his directions without hesitation; surely he's a trustwothy guy, yeah?

At the end of the passage I followed there was a door, and inside a large Goblin-like creature was asleep.  I tried to sneak past, because dude was using his axe as a pillow.  I did not want to mess with a dude bad-ass enough to sleep on his axe, but unfortunately the GARK woke up.  Apparently Garks are goblin-giant crossbreeds, which hardly bears thinking about, especially as this one was advancing on me with his axe/pillow.

 Thinking fast, I hit the Gark with a Weakness spell (quaffing a dose from my Potion of Magik in order to retain the spell for later).  The spell hit it hard, and I was able to slay the enfeebled Gark with ease.  On its person I found 6 gold pieces and an ornate hairbrush.  At first the brush seemed a little incongruous, but then I remembered that the Gark slept on his axe, which has to seriously mess up his hair.

There were two doors leading out of the room, and I chose the one that lead to the library.  In the library I had the choice of three books to read: 'Biographies of Balthus Dire', 'Secrets of the Black Tower' or 'Creatures of the Kingdom of Craggen Rock'.  All of these sounded like essential reading, but I opted for a spot of research on the Black Tower.  I was rewarded with a whole bunch of information: apparently Balthus Dire's grandpa had built the citadel, and was later forced to  fill his tower with traps to protect himself from the evil monsters that moved in.  He also had a door with a combination lock, the code to which was 217.  Surely Balthus Dire would have changed that by now, though.

I decided to read a second book, choosing 'Biographies of Balthus Dire'.  I learned that Dire was third in a line of powerful sorcerers, and now ruled with his wife Lucretia.  (Lucretia Dire.  Really sounds like a character from a Harry Potter novel.)  Most importantly, the book contained the information that the Dire family's power only lasts at night-time, and sunlight is a poison to them.  Man, Balthus Dire really needs to keep tabs on the books in his library.  Dude is sloppy on security issues.

Feeling lucky, I decided to read a third book, but my fortune had run out.  A bunch of Orcs burst into the room, and one of them knocked me out with a blast of bad breath.

I awoke in a cell, where a two-headed lizard man was bringing me some dinner.

The creature was a CALACORM, but I ignored it while I scoffed my food.  When my hunger was sated I tried to talk to my jailer, only to be told that I would probably never be released unless it was as sport for the Ganjees.  Ganjees, eh?  They don't sound so tough.

I decided to cast a spell, going with an Illusion to make him think he's being attacked.  (I quaffed the final dose of my Potion of Magik to retain the spell.)  The illusion that appears is that of a mouse, which at first seemed like a complete failure.  But the Calacorm climbed on his chair like the black woman in a Tom & Jerry cartoon.  I offered to get rid of the mouse if he released me, which he did, and I strolled nonchalantly out of the room.

Soon I came to a door, which I busted open with my bare hands.  Inside was a little sleeping man in green pantaloons, hovering over a table.

But before I could react, a small projectile was fired at me from a catapult.  With a surplus of Stamina points I decided not to use a spell, and the missile splattered on my forehead; it was a tomato!  After that bit of nonsense I was unsurprised to discover that the little fellow was a leprechaun name O'Seamus.  I shook his hand in greeting, only to get an electric shock and the loss of 1 Skill point.  I'd had a gut-full by this point, but the leprechaun obviously had powers beyond mine, so I just sighed and asked him the way onwards.  His answer was cryptic, and little help in figuring out which of the three doors ahead I ought to take.  I picked the bronze-handled door and left the little bastard far behind.

In the room beyond I was blinded by a sudden flash of light.  Some growling creature latched onto my leg with its jaws, and I lashed out with my sword.  For some reason I couldn't hit it, and it tore my leg open with its teeth.  I had the option to cast a spell, but... why was I not losing Stamina points from that wound?  I held my spell in reserve, but to my horror the creature lunged forward and tore out my throat.  My adventure ends here.

But wait, I'm alive!  It was all a practical joke perpetrated by O'Seamus, who was laughing his guts out.  I started laughing as well, but you can rest assured; I was only laughing on the outside.  O'Seamus was fooled into thinking of me as a good sport, and rewarded me with a mirror and an Enchanted Battlesword which would add 1 to my Attack Strength in battle.  Good show O'Seamus, it makes up for the electric shock you gave me.

I left once more, this time choosing the copper-handled door.  I emerged in a wine cellar, where I was met by a limping BLACK ELF.  No, not a Dark Elf, a BLACK ELF.

I pretended to be a guest here to sample some wine, and was offered a choice of three vintages.  I chose the red wine, and just as in real life it restored 2 Stamina points and 3 Luck.  Thanking the Elf, I left.

Further up the passage was a door, which I opened quietly.  Inside was a bit of Flintstones decor: a stone table, and three  chests resting on a pile of rocks stuck together with mud.  Guarding the whole mess was a man made of stone.

The siren song of the chests called to me, but as I neared them the stone man stirred to life.  A GOLEM!  I whipped my sword out to fight it, but it was far from the most effective weapon against a stone man, and I suffered a -1 Skill penalty for the fight.  This left me with a Skill of 8, equal to the Golem's own, and the resulting battle was a desperate one.  It battered mr down to 5 Stamina before I destroyed it, but at least now the chests were mine!  What bounty lay inside?  Before finding out I cast a spell to restore my Stamina to 12.

I opened the first chest, and found a silver key.  Nice!  The second chest was locked, so I tried the key and it opened.  Inside was a green key.  I see where this is going, Jackson...  I unlocked the third chest with the green key, and found inside a glass jar containing a spider with the face of an old man.  Weird.  Someone obviously went to a lot of effort to lock this monstrosity away, so I put the jar in my pack instead of opening it.

The next door opened into a large, brightly lit dining hall, with lots of entrances.  This seems like a good point to stop for the moment.  My assassination mission will continue in the next post!

(All illustrations courtesy of  Go there!)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain: Some Thoughts

I've already written about the significance that this book has to me, so you'll understand that this is by no means an unbiased review.  This book was my gateway to fantasy gaming, and I have nothing but love for it.  I'm not blind to its flaws, though, and it certainly does have some.

Probably the biggest is how disjointed the setting feels.  There is some sort of structure to Firetop Mountain: Orcs near the entrance, tougher monsters further in, lycanthropes near the river, undead after that.  Many of the encounters are interesting, but they don't connect much at all.  This has a benefit, in that you never really know what's coming next (unless of course you're re-playing the book), but it also makes Firetop Mountain feel a bit unreal.

Structurally it's pretty simple.  The dungeon design (at least before the river) is basically a straight line, with a few branches here and there.  It wouldn't hold up for a game of D&D, but it works fine for the purpose of the book.  It's obviously designed for replay value.  You need three keys at the end to unlock the Warlock's treasure chest, but there's no guarantee that you will find them.  You will probably even find some fakes.  It's unlikely that the reader will complete it on the first try, but that's fine.  This isn't a gamebook that rewards intelligent decision-making; you can simply fail by choosing to go left instead of right.  What it does reward is persistence, mapping, and exploration over the course of multiple read-throughs.

From a structure standpoint, the Maze of Zagor is probably the most impressive thing in the book.  It's not a particularly difficult maze when you look at a map of it, but the way it's written makes it disorienting unless you map it out carefully, and the teleport traps strewn about make that even more difficult.  Sadly it's also the most boring and frustrating part of the book, and I've already mentioned how I used to get stuck here a lot as a kid, going around in circles.

The confrontation with the Warlock is also quite well done, with a number of fun options.  You can duke it out with swords, if you feel like a very tough battle.  You can drink a Potion of Invisibility and fight him that way, or you can lessen his power by burning his enchanted cards.  Or you can do what I did and go for the insta-kill by using the Eye of the Cyclops.  Gamebooks are always improved when there are multiple paths to victory.

In terms of game-design, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain hits a good balance.  There are some tough fights, but most can be avoided.  Most importantly, the book can be completed by a character regardless of Skill, Stamina and Luck scores.  The Iron Cyclops is the toughest unavoidable combat, but I have scraped through that fight with a Skill 7 character before.  At this point, the claim that any adventurer can make it through is still a true one.

I also need to give props to Russ Nicholson.  In later years his style gets a lot thicker and busier, but here I love the thin line-work.  It's brilliant, atmospheric stuff, as iconic as anything by Erol Otus or Dave Trampier. Just check the last two posts, there's some amazing work there.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is hardly the best of the Fighting Fantasy series; the authors are obviously still figuring out how the format works.  But it is very solid, well-designed and fun, with great illustrations.  It may be a little too much of a "funhouse dungeon" for some, but for me that's a bonus.  This is without a doubt one of the cornerstones of early fantasy gaming.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Score

In the interests of sheer antagonism, I am turning this blog into a competition between myself and Messrs Jackson and Livingstone.  It's only fair; they've been killing me for decades now, and it's about time I got a chance to beat them in a contest of my own devising. 

Here's how it's going to work: each time I fail to complete a book, the author of said book gets a number of points equal to my Initial Skill minus 6, i.e. if my Skill is 7, they get 1 point for killing me; if my Skill is 12 they get 6 points.  Likewise, if I succeed in completing a book I get a number of points equal to 13 minus my Initial Skill; meaning the stronger my character is, the less points I get.  I'm also giving myself a bonus point if I complete a book on my first attempt.  Ian and Steve will each get their own separate score, only getting full points on the books they individually wrote.  For the book they co-wrote they split the points evenly.  And yes, I know that there are a whole bunch of other writers on the series.  I'm counting those books as being co-written by Steve and Ian: it's what they would want!

Now I need to come clean: I have played The Warlock of Firetop Mountain a bazillion times.  I know the entire book backwards and forwards and I can draw a map of it off by heart.  This was not an entirely fair contest, though it could have gone against me if my Skill score had been lower.  Never mind, Steve and Ian will get their revenge in due course.

And so, after round 1 the tally is:

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - Attempt 1, Part 2

A the end of my last post, I was standing at the edge of an underground river, deep in the stygian bowels of Firetop Mountain.  I had a few options for crossing: a bridge, a raft and a bell I could ring to summon the boatman.  Or I could just try to swim across.  As my good friend Mad Johnny Chairleg had told me to respect the boatman, I decide to ring the bell.  The boatman rowed over from the far side, and offered to take me over for the price of 3 gold pieces.  His sign had said 2 gold, and when I complained he mentioned inflation, which is a weird thing for a subterranean boatman to be talking about.  I could have remonstrated, but instead I just shrugged my shoulders and paid him.  My money problems will vanish when I stab the Warlock to death, you know?

On the far bank I could go north-west, east, or through a door straight ahead.  I went north-west, and found a guy sleeping in an old boat guarded by a seriously harsh-looking dog.

I woke the guy up and tried to talk to him, but he had some serious attitude towards adventurers, so it was time for a bit of the old ultra-violence.  I had to fight the dog first, and the revelation that it was a fire-breathing HELL-HOUND was not altogether surprising.  That the guy was a WEREWOLF was a little more startling, I have to say.  Come on Steve Jackson, you gotta describe the dude as extra-hairy or something!

I would have expected to need a silver weapon to kill the Werewolf, but my regular sword did the trick.  I claimed a set of boat-house keys from him, as well as a jar of pickled eggs from his larder.  Seriously.  The Werewolf has stocked up on pickled eggs.  This dungeon keeps getting weirder.

Back at the river I went east, and came to a heavy door with a barred window.  Looking through I saw a bunch of SKELETONS building boats, and you know what?  It's surprising that more fantasy settings don't feature the undead as a cheap labour force.

I decided not to go this way, and went back to the river and through the door to the north.  This may have been a bad idea, because I was instantly clubbed unconscious.  I awoke in a room with four ZOMBIES, and judging by their armaments they were probably Zombie farmers.

Despite some Vietnam-style traumatic flashbacks from my youth (I used to be seriously unsettled by this encounter), I laid into these guys with my sword and emerged triumphant, without a scratch.  A search of the room was in order, and the most interesting thing I could see was the corpse of another adventurer in the corner.  On his person I found a shield, some armour, a sword and a crucifix.  Already armed with some wooden stakes, I decided to complete my anti-Vampire arsenal, and claimed the crucifix.  I also took the sword, and was delighted to discover that it was enchanted, granting me a +2 bonus to my rolls in combat.

At that point a noise startled me, and I moved on.  I don't know why, because I had just become Death incarnate, but in gamebooks - as in life - your destiny is not entirely your own.  The next room was piled with coffins, and it didn't take me long to do the math: stakes + crucifix + coffins = VAMPIRE.

Yes, a Dracula came rising out of his coffin, and I considered it my duty to do some slaying.  Holding it at bay with my crucifix, I advanced on the Dracula with my stake and mallet.  But then, disaster!  I tripped!  And then a weird thing happened.  It was a serious Inspector Clouseau moment, as a successful Luck test sent my stake flying straight into the vampire's heart, and it shrivelled into a bat and flew away.  I shrugged my shoulders and collected my loot: some gold, another y-shaped stick, and a book.  The book was given no other description at all.  It could be a copy of Warlock of Firetop Mountain, for all I knew.  I took the gold and left the rest behind.

Past a junction I came to a scene of animated tools digging a tunnel and singing Disney tunes.

With nothing to do there but watch, I returned to the junction and headed north.  Soon I found some stairs heading down, and came across three dead bodies.  Time for looting!  The first body I searched had some gold pieces, which I duly tucked away.  The second lashed out at me with claws, also providing an illustration that fuelled my childhood nightmares for years.

It was a GHOUL!  Apparently I would be paralysed if it hit me four times, but with my new enchanted sword it wasn't able to hit me even once before I cleft it in twain.  I searched the remaining body and found a map and a vial of holy water.  Normally I would keep holy water to splash on Draculas, but instead I drank it, and was rewarded with some major healing.  It was apparently blessed by the Overpriest of Kaynlesh-Ma, which is meaningless to me, but I bet it gets referenced later when the Fighting Fantasy books are stitched together into one setting.  The map was for something called the 'Maze of Zagor', but it was quite faded and not very helpful.

I went further north until a portcullis crashed down behind me, blocking my way back.  I was now in the Maze of Zagor, and let me just say that this thing is a bastard.  I've mapped it enough times now that I have it memorised, but as a youngster it used to drive me mad.  It's very well written, though.  You have to pay careful attention to the text, or you can very easily end up going around in circles.  The traps that teleport you to another part of the dungeon aren't helpful, either.  Nor is the option to search for secret doors, which more often than not activates a trap or attracts a wandering monster.

I had three encounters within the maze.  The first was a group of friendly DWARFS.  I talked to them and got some directions through the maze, then left them to their poker game.

The second was a MINOTAUR, an aggressive chap who turned out to be one of the toughest opponents in the dungeon, with a Skill of 9.  I still ganked him with little effort, and claimed his gold pieces and his key numbered '111'.

My third encounter was with the Mazemaster, a bearded old man who I intimidated into giving me directions out of the maze.  As it turns out, his directions are utter bollocks.

Eventually I emerged from the maze, right into the lair of a DRAGON.  Take a look at his eyes, I'm pretty sure I just woke him up from a nap.

 Recalling the spell that I discovered earlier in my quest, I threw up my hands and shouted: 'Ekil Erif, Ekam Erif, Erif Erif, Di Maggio!'  The Dragon tried to breathe fire, but the spell lodged his fireball in the poor bugger's mouth, and it ran off crying like it had just inhaled a whole bottle of Nando's sauce.

I continued on, and in the next room I encountered... the dreaded Warlock!

Zagor seemed pretty confident, but after my encounter with his painting I was pretty sure I knew what to do.  I held up the Eye of the Cyclops, and watched in satisfaction as he shriveled up and disintegrated.  My quest was over!  I turned to section 400 to claim my prize, and... Wait, what?  There's a locked door between me and the treasure?  Never mind, I whipped out two of the keys I found earlier and opened it up.  Wait, the treasure's in a chest with three locks?  And I need to add up the numbers on three of my keys to see if I have the right ones?  I had only found three keys: one under a snake, one inside an Iron Cyclops, and one guarded by a Minotaur.  No problem, they were the right ones, and I claimed the Warlock's treasure for my very own.

The final page of this book is pretty cool.  Not only did I find a whole load of treasure, but also the Warlock's book, which I was assured would give me unlimited power.  It didn't seem to have helped the Warlock any, but never mind that.  The possibility was even raised that I could remain as the master of Firetop Mountain, but no thanks.  You never know when some adventuring bastard is going to break into your house and put a sword through you.  No, I claimed the chest, loaded the treasure into my seemingly bottomless backpack, and headed back to the village, where many a weeping damsel awaited me.

(As in the previous post, some images were taken from

Sunday, August 04, 2013

An Apology and Some Credit

You may have noticed the extremely variable picture quality in the last post.  I was able to source a lot of the book's illustrations on-line, but there were some that I was unable to find.  Those are the ones that were taken as photos on my phone.  I am a terrible photographer, and my phone doesn't have a very good camera, but I would rather include the pictures than leave them out.  And I don't have a scanner, which means there will be bad photos popping up from time to time. Try to think of them as charmingly amateur.

As for the images that look very good, I have to give credit where credit is due: I nicked them from the great Fighting Fantasy Project blog, with the owner's permission.  Thank you, bloke from Fighting Fantasy Project whose name I couldn't find!  If you're enjoying my blog in its current form, you ought to go and check it out: he's way better than I am.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - Attempt 1, Part 1

As this is the first book of the series, it has a suitably basic premise.  There is a Warlock.  He lives in a mountain, and he has a lot of treasure.  You want to kill him and take it for yourself.  It doesn't really get much more primal than that as far as adventuring motivations go, and we're certainly not mucking about with any moral quandaries.  So into Firetop Mountain I go, sword in hand, and woe betide anything that stands between me and that shiny pile of gold.

But first, the rules.  Fighting Fantasy characters typically have three scores: Skill, Stamina and Luck.  Skill determines how good they are in a fight, and is also used for physical feats and the like.  Stamina is like health, and works pretty much like hit points in D&D.  Luck is exactly what it says on the tin.  It gets used for all sorts of situations in which very bad things might happen.  Skill and Luck are determined by rolling a six-sided die and adding 6 to the roll, Stamina by rolling 2d6 and adding 12.  I rolled an 11 for Skill, 18 for Stamina and 12 for Luck, making for an extremely viable character.  In the early books there's a decent chance of success with low scores, but rolling high makes it a hell of a lot easier.

As for equipment, Fighting Fantasy adventurers travel light: I have a sword, leather armour, a shield, a lantern and a backpack.  I also have ten Provisions, a sort of super-food that restores 4 Stamina points when eaten.  In addition I get to choose one of the following potions: a Potion of Skill, a Potion of Strength, and a Potion of Fortune.  Each of these potions has two doses, and corresponds to one of the three stats.  When used they restore that score to its initial level.  The Potion of Fortune has the added benefit of adding 1 to your initial level as well, which is pretty nifty.  I opted for the Potion of Strength, which restores Stamina.  I don't really know why, because those Provisions are mightily curative all on their own.  I probably ought to have gone with the Potion of Fortune, but what man can explain a decision he made two weeks ago, back in the mists of the past?

After the rules there is a short introduction, in which my character stopped in a village near Firetop Mountain to gather rumours about the Warlock.  Apparently he gets his powers from an enchanted deck of cards, or possibly a black silk glove.  This could be relevant, but of more interest is the fact that after a stay of only a few days, the girls of the village weep when I leave on my mission.  Don't worry ladies, I'll be passin' this way again, oh yeah...

The quest begins!

After entering a cave mouth at the base of Firetop Mountain, I was presented with that most ubiquitous of Fighting Fantasy dilemmas: a t-junction!  Should I turn east or west?  You may scoff, but whole adventures can hinge on this choice.  Fighting Fantasy adventurers do not retrace their steps unless there is no other path forward.  I turned east and came to a door at the end of the corridor, which I promptly charged with my shoulder.  Cue a Skill test, which is done by rolling two dice and trying to get a score equal to or lower than my Skill score.  I did so, and smashed through the door, falling headlong into a shallow pit for my trouble.  The pit isn't described all that vividly, but I imagine it as a rubbish dump for the denizens of the mountain, and also a means by which author Ian Livingstone gets his jollies.  Picking myself up, and cursing the loss of 1 Stamina point, I walked back to the junction and headed west.

The tunnel turned north, but there was someone asleep at a guard post there: a warty-faced ORC!  (Yes, the book capitalises every monster or potential foe you meet.  It's terribly dramatic.)

This is the first Orc I ever encountered in any form of gaming or fiction, so he holds an extra-special place in my heart.  The good vibrations must have extended to my character as well, because I tried to sneak past the Orc instead of just running him through.  This required me to Test My Luck, which is done by rolling two dice and trying to get equal or lower than my Luck score.  Every time you Test Your Luck  your Luck score drops by one point, which means that eventually your good fortune is going to run out.  Anyway, I succeeded, and managed to sneak past without waking him up.

Further up the passage there was a door on the west wall, and inside was a sleeping quarters where another Orc lay asleep.  I sneaked into his room and managed to steal a box containing a single gold piece and the Orc's pet mouse.  Or snack mouse, depending upon your view of Orcs.  I let the mouse go, which really does go to show that this is Book 1 of the series; if this were a later Ian Livingstone book this mouse would have been vital to my success.

I continued north and found another door on the west wall.  This one was unoccupied, and I assume belonged to the first Orc sentry I had encountered, but there was another box.  Which I opened, of course, only to reveal a SNAKE!

This was my first fight of the book, so I'll explain how dead simple the combat rules are.  The enemy's Attack Strength is determined by rolling two dice and adding its Skill score.  I do the same with my own Skill score.  Whoever gets the highest score wins that round, and the loser must subtract 2 Stamina points.  Repeat until someone's Stamina reaches zero, which means they are dead.  Luck can be used to make a hit deal more damage to your foe, or to reduce any damage done to you, but I don't need that here because this Snake only has 2 Stamina points.  I throw the box in the air and chop the Snake in half with a single blow before claiming the key that is hidden in the box.  This key has the number '99' stamped on it, which is a pretty common thing in the Fighting Fantasy world.  Keys, jewelry, dragon teeth, they all have numbers stamped on them for no readily apparent reason other than making it harder for cheating bastards to get to the end of the book.

Further north was yet another door on the west wall, from which I could hear drunken singing.  I burst in to find the following sordid display.

I killed them, because Orcs, and discovered that they had a book called 'The Making and Casting of Dragonfire' by a dude named Farrigo di Maggio.  It contained a spell for defeating dragons, which may or may not come in handy later on I'm sure.  Why do Orcs have a book like this?  This is exactly the sort of thing the Warlock needs to crack down on.

A T-junction!  I turned left, and entered a room where an Orc Chieftain with two left hands was whipping his servant.

Thinking that I might obtain an Orc sidekick who I could push into traps and the like, I attacked the Chieftain, only for the ungrateful bastard I was trying to save to leap to his defence.  Regardless of the odds I carved said Orcs to pieces, and set about opening their treasure chest.  It was trapped, of course, and the poisoned darts knocked off a whole 6 Stamina points.  I fixed this by bandaging my stomach and scoffing some Provisions, which leads me to believe that medical practice in the Fighting Fantasy world is less than ideal.  But it was worth it, because inside the chest were a whole load of gold pieces, a black glove, and a potion of invisibility.  Score!

I headed back to the junction and went east, then east again at the next junction, and came to a kitchen wherein five Orcs were cooking up a storm.  I was feeling pretty cocky by this point, so I calmly strode in and took them on.  Much to my delight they lined up conga-style and fought me one by one, like thugs in a Bruce Lee movie. I slaughtered them, which brought my Orc tally to a respectable nine so far, and in the kitchen I found a bow and silver arrow with a rad mysterious inscription.

A vital utensil for every kitchen.  I turned back to the junction and went north.  A door in the east wall opened into a small cell, with the following dapper gentleman there to greet me:

I let Mad Johnny Chairleg know that I was there to free him, and he calmed down right quick.  It turned out that he was an adventurer who got captured by the Orcs, and he even had some good info for me: I should pull the right lever when I get to the portcullis, and I should pay my respects to the boatman.  At that point I had the temerity to ask Mad Johnny to come with me further into Firetop Mountain, which is seriously bad form.  Dude is traumatised!  Not surprisingly he opts to leave, and I bid him farewell, not bothering to mention that there are still two Orcs loitering around near the entrance.

Further north there was another door in the east wall, this one leading to an armoury.  I took a shield, which makes it harder for foes to damage me, but it was so heavy I had to leave another item behind.  I chose my original, inferior shield; it was an agonising choice.

Further north there was yet another door in the east wall (this is not a dungeon design classic, let's just say that).  Inside was a torture chamber, wherein two GOBLINS were torturing a Dwarf.  At this point the book gave me the option to walk in, poke the Dwarf with my sword and laugh evilly.  I was so tempted, but instead I leaped in and killed the Goblins with gusto.  Sadly, the Dwarf was already dead, but I was rewarded with a lovely piece of delicious cheese.  Delicious, delicious goblin cheese.

I soon came to the portcullis that Mad Johnny Chairleg had told me about, and I pulled the right lever like he told me to.  The portcullis opened, and I went on my way unharmed.  I remember this trap well.  The other lever is a fake, a sword blade covered in wax that will cut your hand if you try to pull it.  Forewarned is fore-armed!

Past the portcullis was a t-junction.  I headed east, and soon came to an inviting chair.

This set-up screamed trap to me, but I sat down anyway and ate some Provisions.  Against all odds the chair was magical, and restored more Stamina than usual to me.  I never would have guessed.

The passage turned north, then I headed east at a junction and east again at yet another junction.  This led to a lovely marble room containing an iron statue of a cyclops, with a bloody great gem set in its eye.

Even as a nine-year-old boy I knew the set-up here, but what self-respecting adventurer could leave that gem behind?  I set to prying that baby out with my sword, and tried to stifle a yawn as the IRON CYCLOPS came predictably to life.

This guy is actually pretty tough, with a Skill of 10, but I still hacked him and his incredibly well-defined buttocks to death.  Again I was well rewarded: the gem was worth 50 gold pieces, and there was another key inside the Cyclops, this one numbered '111'.

I walked back to the junction and went north, only to be attacked by a random BARBARIAN.  No warning, no options, just a fight.  I could have run away, but this guy wasn't so tough.  For reasons unknown he was carrying a wooden mallet and some sharpened stakes.  Camping supplies salesman?  If so, his sales technique was lacking.  Still, what we really have here is Chekhov's Wooden Stake: there be Vampires in this mountain somewhere.

The next room had paintings on the wall, one of which was of the Warlock.

I took a look and learned that his name was Zagor, but I also lost a Stamina point due to fear.  Somewhere in the world, there is a Fighting Fantasy reader who died by looking at that painting.  It's not so embarrassing, though, because there is obviously some magical shenanigans going on, and I was under mental attack.  I looked through my pack for an item to use, and opted for the Eye of the Cyclops over my moldy goblin cheese.  Lo and behold the gem thwarted the Warlock's power, and I was able to continue.

The next room was just full of some random junk, like a rope and some y-shaped sticks.  I checked out the rope, kind of mystified that I wasn't already carrying some, only for it to try and strangle me. I chopped it in half, understanding now why I didnt have any.  The y-shaped sticks were bulky, and I would have had to leave something behind to carry one, so I left them behind.  What could they possibly be for?  Finding water?  Making a slingshot?  Trapping a snake's head?   The possibilities are endless.

Further north I came to an underground river, which I remember as kind of the half-way point of the adventure.  As I understand it, Ian Livingstone wrote everything up to this point, and Steve Jackson did everything after the river.  This feels like a good place to take a break, so I'll tackle the rest of my quest in the next post.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fighting Fantasy

Before I discovered Dungeons & Dragons, before I even started reading fantasy literature, there was Fighting Fantasy.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series, here's a brief run-down.  In 1982 Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone (co-founders of Games Workshop and White Dwarf) published The Warlock of Firetop Mountain through Penguin Books.  It was like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, only not crap, and had the added benefit of dice-rolling for combat and other situations.  The series continued until book 59, with various authors contributing, and it had something of a revival about a decade ago.  The books sold millions.  Millions and millions.  I've read that at one point the top 5 UK best-sellers were all Fighting Fantasy books, though I can't locate the source now.  Needless to say, they were a phenomenon in the UK, and they were omnipresent here in Australia as well.

My first encounter with them was in my primary school library, which had the first three: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, The Citadel of Chaos and The Forest of Doom.  I played through those with various levels of cheating involved, and the series remained a constant part of my gaming for years to come.  They were my introduction to D&D-style fantasy, and my perception of that genre is still massively influenced by them.

The 30th anniversary was last year, so I have missed that boat, but I have started playing through the series one by one.  As this blog has lain dormant for a while, and I'm not making much headway on my Ultimate Sandbox project, I thought I might as well write about it here.  So if you will forgive my indulgence, this is going to become a Fighting Fantasy play-through blog for a while.  It's not D&D, but it's still fantasy, innit?  And properly old-school at that.

There are some other FF play-through blogs out there, if the series takes your fancy.  Turnto400 is the funniest of the lot.  Fighting Fantasy Project provides more in-depth reviews.  Fighting for Your Fantasy is another that is rather good.  Or you could just hang around here and read my posts.  Those blogs tend to do a single attempt at a book before moving on to the next one.  My plan is to stick with one book and attempt to complete it without cheating before I continue.  It sounds like a good plan, but things could get tedious when I hit a book I'm not familiar with.  And then there's Crypt of the Sorcerer, which could conceivably take me hundreds of tries...

So, onward!  Next post, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain!

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

AD&D Monster Manual Part 44


Sea hags first appeared in Supplement II: Blackmoor as a kind of reverse dryad.  As the sea hag was so likened to a dryad in its original entry, it's that monster I'm using to compare the sea hag's new stats with.

The sea hag's death stare is still intact, but it's been somewhat nerfed.  Originally it was save vs. spell or die.  Now the sight of a hag requires a save vs. magic or the victim loses half its strength for a few turns.  Three times a day the hag can use a stare that will kill a victim on a failed save.

They were previously said to have all the powers of a dryad, which amounted to a powerful Charm spell, but that's no longer the case.  What it's gained in return is a 50% magic resistance, which seems a fair trade-off to me.

We also learn that sea hags live in salt water shallows, and they eat their victims.  Cannibal witches are rad.

Stat Changes:

Number Appearing: Old - 1-6; New - 1-4
Armor Class: Old - 5; New - 7
Movement: Old - 12; New - 15
Hit Dice: Old - 2; New - 3

So what we have is a monster that is slightly stronger physically, but has lost a good deal of its magical power.  I figure that this all ties in with wherever they gained their magic resistance from, probably some deal with the devil type thing.


Sea Horses made their first appearance in Supplement II: Blackmoor.  Here they get some added detail related to their general temperament and habitat, whereas before they were simply steeds for mermen.  Given that the mermen in the Monster Manual have fish tails and are unsuited for riding, sea horses now serve as steeds for aquatic elves and locathah.

Their damage range has been tweaked a bit as well.  Originally all sea horses did 1-6 damage with a headbutt, but now the range is dependent on how many Hit Dice the sea horse has.

Stat Changes:

Movement: Old - 12"; New - 21" (Could this be a typo?)
Hit Dice: Old - 2 to 3; New - 2 to 4


Sea lions make their first appearance here.  Anything becomes more radical by adding a lion's head (case in point), and fish are no exception - this is basically a fish-lion hybrid that inhabits coastal waters and eats people.  There's a real world animal called a sea lion, but it's just a kind of seal.  Nevertheless, Gary could never resist riffing on a pun, and so we have the much cooler D&D version.


Shadows were first mentioned in OD&D Vol. 2, and got a full write-up in Supplement I: Greyhawk.  They are still incorporeal, strength-draining shades that can only be struck by magical weapons.  The duration of their Strength-drain has been altered from 8 turns to a range of 2-8.  In addition to their immunities to sleep and charm, they have gained immunity to hold spells and cold-based attacks.  They have also become 90% undetectable, though don't ask me how that meshes with the surprise rules.  There's also a note that they are easily detectable in bright light.

The main point of difference is that in OD&D, shadows are specifically said to not be undead (or at least implied to be a class of undead unto themselves).  Here that distinction is not made, and they are undead like any other.  They do get tied to the Negative Material Plane for the first time.

Stat Changes:

Movement: Old - 9"; New - 12"
Hit Dice: Old - 2+2; New - 3+3
Damage: Old - 1-4; New - 2-5

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

AD&D Monster Manual Part 43


Salamanders were first rumoured to exist in OD&D Vol. 2, and made their first actual appearance in Supplement I: Greyhawk.  They were originally described as a type of 'free-willed fire elemental', and here it is confirmed that they originate from the Elemental Plane of Fire.  Their offensive capabilities are much the same, but they have gained a bunch of new defenses: they are now immune to all but magical weapons, and cannot be affected by sleep, charm or hold spells. Cold-based attacks do a little more damage to them now.  But basically they are the same monster with some minor cosmetic changes.

Stat Changes:

Hit Dice: Old - 7+3; New - 7+7
Tail Damage: Old - 2-16; New - 2-12


For such a classic mythological creature, satyrs have been mentioned little in D&D before this.  They show up in the Wilderness Encounter tables in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry, and a more powerful version of them appears in Supplement IV: Gods, Demigods and Heroes.  The info in Supplement IV is sparse, and bears little resemblance to what's shown here, so I'm not going to try and connect the two (or perhaps I can keep that version as a mythological demi-god, or extra-planar satyr).  Satyrs appear as dudes with goat-legs, and they spend all of their time frolicking or 'chasing wood-nymphs'.  They don't like being disturbed, but they can be bribed with superior wine.  If they do get hostile, one of them will usually play its magic pipes, which can charm, cause sleep, or instill fear.  Unsurprisingly, if their are comely females in the group, the satyrs try to charm them.  The fey-folk are pretty much all creepy rapists.


Giant scorpions first appeared in the random dungeon encounter tables in OD&D Vol. 3, then they showed up in Supplement I: Greyhawk on the Monster Attack Damage table, and then again in the Wilderness Encounter tables in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry.  But this is the first time they get complete stats.  They're exactly what you expect: big bastards, pincers, poisonous tail.  Although this is interesting: "Note that the scorpion's poison kills it if it accidentally stings itself".  At first I wondered if this has ever happened in the entire history of D&D, but then I remembered how often in the old days people used to graft critical hit and fumble tables to the game.  Yeah, it's happened.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

AD&D Monster Manual Part 42


Rust monsters first appeared in Supplement I: Greyhawk.  Their essence remains unchanged, but a lot of detail has been added.  They are now said to dwell only in subterranean places, and have an acute sense of smell when it comes to ferrous metals.  They have also been nerfed a little bit: magical weapons now get a saving throw to avoid the rust effect.  The rust monster is also significantly faster than it used to be, making it even less likely that an armoured fighter can outrun it, but some guidelines have been added for dropping metallic items to distract them.

Also, both mithral and adamantite are said to be steel alloys.  This takes a little of their mystique away, to my mind, but there it is in the book.  I just report it as I see it.

Stat Changes:

Movement: Old - 12"; New - 18"


Sahuagin first appeared in a mammoth entry in Supplement II: Blackmoor, and much to my chagrin the Monster Manual is equally wordy on the subject.  They remain the same sadistic, predatory fish-men of the sea, but Gary has availed himself of the chance to change a lot of things about them.

Though we already knew they lived in the sea, it is revealed here that they prefer warmer waters, and that they generally stick between 100' and 1500' sea depth.  That they hate ixitchachitl (the rad manta ray vampire philosophers) is also new.  The social structure of the sahuagin is retained, with nine princes all ruled over by a king, but here we discover that this is supposed to mirror the planes of Hell, as sahuagin are devil-worshippers.

The organisation of sahuagin lairs has also been re-jigged, but the general make-up is the same.  The more sahuagin there are, the more tough fighters and clerics they have.  The only real difference is that there are no longer any sahuagin magic-users.  The clerics are all female (shades of the drow, though sahuagin predate them).  We also learn that sahuagin villages are domed, but that's par for the course for underwater villages.  Their numbers have also dropped quite a bit.  Their capital now has 5,000 residents, instead of nearly 100,000.

Previously sahuagin were mostly armed with tridents and barbed nets.  They now add spears, javelins, daggers and special underwater crossbows to their arsenal.

Their physical appearance has changed quite a bit.  A lot less detail is given in the Monster Manual than we got previously, but the main thing to note is that they no longer have tails, and they have clawed hands instead of pincers.  I can see why Gary got rid of the tail, given that it inflicted 2d6 damage (a pretty hefty amount for that stage of OD&D).  And it's probably hard to wield nets and tridents with pincer hands.

In Supplement II, sahuagin were said to have been created by evil gods when the world was flooded.  Gary has retained that idea as a possibility, adding that the gods made them out of a nation of evil humans.  It's also said that the tritons believe sahuagin are related to sea elves, and claim that the drow spawned them.  (It's another early drow sighting, before they have officially appeared anywhere).

Stat Changes:

No. Appearing: Old - 10-60; New - 20-80
Armor Class: Old - 4; New - 5
Movement: Old - 18"/30"; New - 12"/24"
Hit Dice: Old - 2; New - 2+2

So the situation we have is that sahuagin have become less numerous, slightly slower, slightly tougher, and have lost their tails and pincer-hands.  The loss of the tail helps explain the lower speed, but opens a more difficult problem, as the physical changes require a greater explanation.  I keep coming back to the idea that they were created by evil gods; after all, if that's the case there's no reason they can't be recreated.  I can even tie it into the lower population levels: after a series of disastrous wars against tritons and ixitxachitl, the sahuagin turned to their devil masters and were changed into stronger forms.  Their magic-users were offered as sacrifice, and that explains why they're all gone as well.  Voila, problems solved!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

AD&D Monster Manual Part 41

I'm back with another post, just to assure everyone that I'm not taking another year-long hiatus.  I've also changed up the format slightly, to make the statistical changes less awkward to write about.  (I may even figure out how to format it properly by the next post.)  Let's have at it!


Rocs first appeared in OD&D Vol. 2.  Superficially they are still the same monster (a Bloody Big Bird), but there are some changes that alter it in significant ways.  Probably the biggest is a change in demeanor.  The original Rocs were more likely to attack Chaotic creatures and be friendly towards Lawful types.  Now Rocs are Neutral in alignment and have an animal intelligence.  They really are just big birds now, and further away from the Tolkienesque eagles they resembled before.

OD&D also has notes about the likelihood that young Rocs will be found in a nest, but here that has been dispensed with in favour of a terse note about their nests containing the treasure of former victims.  Young Rocs were previously able to be trained, but that's also been omitted. Instead we learn that Rocs are tamed and used by giants.  Perhaps the giant thing is a recent development?  It could serve to explain the change in their nature: as the giants prey on them and train them, so they become more hostile and animalistic.

It also fits with the stat changes noted below.  The steep drop in Number Appearing indicates that they've been hunted extensively by giants.  The Hit Dice totals listed below are deceptive.  In OD&D, a 6 Hit Dice Roc was standard, but the possibility for larger types with double or triple Hit Dice was given.  In the Monster Manual, only the full 18 Hit Dice variety is listed.  Again, it indicates to me that the giants have hunted out the smaller varieties.

Stat changes:         Old:        New:
Number Appearing: 1-20        1-2
Move:                     6/48         3/30
Hit Dice:                 6              18
Damage:                 4-16/4-24 3-18/4-24


Ropers first appeared in The Strategic Review #2, and like most of the monsters Gary created for the magazines he hasn't revised it much at all.  It's still the same weird creature, with strength-draining tentacles, immunity to lightning, resistance to cold, and a weakness against fire.  And an 80% magic resistance, to top things off.  It still has a gizzard that contains treasure, but the gem count has been dropped from 20-50 to 5-20, and they've picked up a taste for platinum.  (Treasure-gizzards are awesome.)  In OD&D, characters hit by the Roper got a save vs. poison to avoid the strength drain.  In the Monster Manual, it seems that is no longer the case.  They've also lost their immunity to Charm spells.  And their alignment has changed from Chaotic to Chaotic Evil (as per Strategic Review #6).

Stat changes: None


It's the dreaded rot grub, making its first ever appearance in D&D!  They're normal-sized grubs that live in offal and dung, and are appropriately weak.  But if any character touches one, it will burrow into their flesh and kill them in 1-3 turns, unless fire or a cure disease spell are applied to the victim immediately.  Presumably this was Gary's home-grown deterrent for PCs who spend their time searching every nook and cranny of the dungeon.  Hey, you want to stick your hand in a pile of shit looking for treasure?  Good luck with that. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

AD&D Monster Manual Part 40

I'm back, but don't get too excited, unless you happen to like manta rays and rhinos.  It's one more step forward in the interminable slog through the Monster Manual.

MANTA RAY: Manta rays first appeared in Supplement II: Blackmoor.  In their original appearance they could be up to 75' across, but here they are only about half that size. Statistical changes are as follows: Number Appearing has changed from 1-4 to 1; Armor Class changed from 5 to 6; Movement raised from 12 to 18; and Hit Dice lowered from to a range of 8-11.  Their bite attack now deals 3-12 damage instead of 1-6, and the Manta Ray has gained the ability to swallow its victim whole (this ability was mentioned in passing in the original entry, but it is only now concretely defined). It's tail attack has also been changed. In its original form, a PC hit by the tail required a save vs. paralysation, with no damage indicated (although it is said to be treated as a mace, so I guess it does 1-6).  Here the tail has been given a damage range of 2-20, and will stun its victim for 2-8 rounds if the save is failed.  Like many of the monsters from Supplement II this is a case of a hazily defined monster getting a huge dose of clarity.

PUNGI RAY: Speaking of clarity, this entry begins by actually defining what a Pungi Ray is, something Supplement II never bothered to do.  I realise that it would be easy enough to look the creature up in real-world books, but it never hurts to have the info on hand in the Monster Manual. A Pungi Ray is a ray with spines on its back that hides on the sea bottom. Anyone who steps on one might get stabbed by a spine, and must save vs. poison or die. The main difference between the Monster Manual version and the original is a matter of sanity: a character falling on a Pungi Ray in the original version would be subject to 20-30 attacks; now the number is 2-8.  Statistically, Number Appearing has changed from 1-4 to 1-3; Armor Class from 6 to 7; Movement from 6 to 12; and Hit Dice from 6 to 4. It has also lost the ability to attack as a giant leech should it get on top of an adventurer. Gary really nerfed this one.

STING RAY: As far as I can tell, this creature hasn't appeared in D&D before this. It's a much smaller ray, with a tail that can paralyse its victim.  A nice option for lower-level characters.

REMORHAZ: This monster first appeared in The Dragon #2. Statistically it has changed little: originally it could have Hit Dice of 6, 10 or 14, but now it ranges from 7-14. Its bite damage gets a minor tweak, from 3-36 to 6-36.  It retains the same whopping Magic Resistance of 75%, and the ability to melt non-magical weapons that strike its superheated back. Said back is now much deadlier to adventurers, though, as it is now said that any character touching it takes 10-100 points of damage.  The Remorhaz also gains the ability to swallow opponents whole on a natural 20, which incinerates and kills them instantly. Fighting one of these doesn't sound too enticing, but in true Gary fashion he tempts you by giving their eggs a value of 5,000 gp each.

RHINOCEROS: The common Rhinoceros has been mentioned as a possibility to be summoned by the Conjure Animal spell in Supplement I: Greyhawk, and has also appeared in the Wilderness Encounter tables in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry. It gets stats here for the first time.  I expected them to be tough, but 8-9 Hit Dice is well above what I was thinking. There is a single-horned variety and a two-horned variety, the latter of which deals more damage. Their main form of attack is a charge which deals double damage, and also the ability to trample "any opponent which is low enough for this action",  i.e., Hobbits.

WOOLLY RHINOCEROS: As above, but slightly tougher and significantly woollier. I believe that their only appearance has been in the Wilderness Encounter tables of Supplement III.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Tentative Plans

Hi all.

I haven't updated in a while.  I may not update in a while.  But I have plans to continue.  The blog is not dead!  Watch this space!  THE DEAD WILL RISE AND BLOGS WILL BE WRITTEN!