Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On Hiatus

Just a quick note to let you know that as of now I am on a Christmas break. From today until the 4th of January, I will be without the internet, and consequently unable to post updates. I expect to start up again pretty shortly after I return.

A merry Bah Humbug to you all.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Dragon #5 part 2

Witchcraft Supplement for D&D: I love how the guys at TSR just published this thing even though they have no idea who wrote it. Truly, it was a different time, and there's absolutely no way Wizards of the Coast would be able to do this now.

This is a lengthy and thorough article on the subject of Witches. I know it is far from the last, but after this monstrosity I wonder just what is left to say. Anyway, the Witches presented here are all NPC monsters, part of an ancient order. The first thing the article does is to add them to the Wilderness encounter tables. No matter what terrain you are in, every roll of 5 or 7 now has a 50% chance to be a Witch instead of the monster shown on the chart. It's said that they favour woodlands and orchards, but that doesn't stop them showing up everywhere else.

About a third of Witches are Lawful, while the rest are Chaotic. There's no provision given for Good or Evil, so I guess the author was working from the old alignment system. Chaotic Witches are further subdivided into Low Order, High Order, and the forbidden Secret Order, which never mix with the other types

From there we get into Witch Magic, beginning with a note that Efreet, Djinn and all Clerics are completely immune to it. That last one is a big surprise to me, given that it's a positive boon to the PCs. I guess we can cross Gary off the list of potential authors...

Lawful or White Witches can cast 7 spells a day from a list that mostly consists of healing spells with a few other utilities like invisibility thrown in for good measure. A small percentage of White Witches are 'ancient', and once a week can cast a more powerful spell from a special list. There's some really powerful stuff there. Youth can remove 40 years from a character's age. Influence will automatically turn a character Lawful. Banish Any One Creature will instantly send one creature to Hell with no saving throw. Enchantment allows the Witch to create any magic ring, potion, weapon, or miscellaneous item in day at no expense. Lastly, Seek allows the Witch to find any object, place, or creature and visualise its surroundings. Yep, that's a nasty set of powers alright, and it makes me glad that they are strictly the purview of NPCs.

Chaotic or Black Witches have a more versatile spell list than their White counterparts, though they don't do healing at all. Low Order Witches cast 4 minor spells a day, while High Order cast 4 minor and two major spells.

There are a few new spells in the minor category. Pit opens a hole 15 feet deep in the ground. Fire Box creates a hollow cube of fire around a target. Diminish Plant/Animal/Men shrinks every creature in its area. Plant Entrapment causes plants to entangle creatures in the area.

The major spells are all new, though not as powerful as those for the White Witches. Paralyzing Pit is like the Pit ability above, but anyone in the pit must make a saving throw or be paralyzed. Undead Control lets the Witch command undead. Aging adds 20 years to the age of any living thing. Circle of Blindness seems to cause blindness and deafness to everyone within the range, as well as providing a refuge from all detection spells. Curse is an open-ended means by which the DM can hose players in any way he chooses, though it doesn't work on anyone enclosed in silver. Poison Touch grants the Witch a save or die attack, or lets her coat items in poison. Curtain Wall creates an extradimensional room in which the Witch can make her lair.

Secret Order Witches are extremely antisocial loners who never have help of any kind, but are extraordinarily powerful. Due to their long life, they become intimately familiar with their surroundings, and are impossible to surprise in their lairs. They are smart enough not to attack unless they feel threatened. Here a little bit of history about them:

"In forgotten ages past, in kingdoms unheralded and dead centuries of untold history, a fiery confrontation emerged between witch covens world-wide. The myriad witches of the woodlands and the fields formed an alliance which dominated all other covens. This group forcibly directed the studies of other witches, and great emphasis was placed on the magic of plants and animals, that they might grow stronger still in their respective domains. But there were those who sought darker and more Godly enchantments, pursuing powers of devastation and the very elements. They promised to teach what they learned, to enslave the world of men, and to shape raw power to the ends of witches everywhere. This the alliance would not permit, for power inspires fear, fear of those that have it. Those who allied with the new Secret Coven were cast out, and in time only the mountains offered refuge to the members of this radical coven."
These Witches can cast six 'Group A' spells a day, which are just the general run-of-the-mill Cleric and Magic-User spells. It's 'Group B' where the real doozies reside, and Secret Order Witches get 3 of those a day. Intensify greatly amplifies any natural phenomenon. Wither causes every living thing in the area to rapidly age and die. Weight Concentration/Dilution allows the Witch to control the weight of any creature or object. Quake causes earthquakes. Vaporize turns stone into fog for quick excavations. Solidify is the reverse, and good for trapping creatures too slow to escape. Volcanic Circle creates a ring of lava that flows outwards and burns anyone caught for 10d6 damage. And Reflections makes any spell targeted at the Witch bounce back at the caster.

The Secret Order also has a bunch of magical weapons. Only High Order witches, an 'ancient' White Witch, or a Wizard of 13th level or above can wield them. A Cleric who touches one will suffer instant death, 'for clerics are disciples of deities, and the secret witches recognize no power but their own as supreme'. The Skull of Death is a dragon skull helmet that can command undead and cast Finger of Death. Mountain Seeds become the size of a castle when thrown, and can be used to crush armies and such. Leech Dust forms a cloud that sucks the blood out of its victims. Assassin's Eyes are invisible eyes that fly around and cast Charm Person or Death Ray. Witch Wands can cast a bunch of the various witch spells per day. A Serpent Belt is like the snake belt but better. A Seed Satchel contains seeds that transform into stuff, like a wyvern or a wall of thorns. A Hornet Cape lets the wearer fly, command flying creatures, and fire stingers. Finally, a Potion Cauldron lets the Witch produce any potion in a single day.

From there we go to Lairs, and the treasures that Witches keep in them. Every Witch has a flying broomstick, of course, as well as a crystal ball. They also have familiars, which is the first mention of that concept in D&D. Lawful Witches have small birds or animals, while the Chaotic Witches get rad stuff like Basilisks, Wyverns, undead, or a Warlock. Chaotic Witches trap their lairs with curses, while the Lawful ones make do with manual traps (because a Curse is so much more evil than a crossbow bolt to the neck).

Lastly, we deal with the generic Witch items that might appear in any treasure hoard regardless of the Witch's alignment. Some are from older supplements, while most are new. The Snake Belt is a belt that turns into a snake strong enough to strangle a Wyvern. Ivy Bracelets bestow plant control and the ability to talk to plants, but are delicate and easily destroyed. Dart Rings fire poisonous thorns. The Locket of Satan is only found with evil Witches, and grants command of any three Chaotic creatures in range. Love Lockets are only found with good Witches, and any male humanoid who gets within range is instantly smitten and will do anything the wearer wants. Thorn Twine is a thorny vine that can do all sorts of rope tricks and also slash people with its thorns. A Guardian Egg can be turned into a Hill Giant, a Roc, or a Dragon Turtle. Hill Seeds expand greatly in size and mass whn thrown, acting like cannonballs. Luck Charms give bonuses to attack and defense, as well as wishes and the ability to find better treasure. A Mirror-Crystal protects against Charm Person, sleep spells, paralyzation, curses, and anything else that controls your mind. Amulets of Power let a spellcaster memorize more spells, and increases the power of those spells by 50%.

Phew. That's that. One tidbit to take away from here is the frequent mention of Satan. I'm more than willing to have Satan as one of my Dukes of Hell, so adding him to the campaign is no problem. Introducing the Witches all of a sudden will be more problematic, but I'm tempted just to put them in the encounter tables and be done with it. If I come up with an explanation later on I'll use it.

The Gnome Cache Chapter Five: In which Dunstan and Mellerd travel to Deepwell and join with a merchant heading north. Some observations:
  • The Upplands north of Crosshill Road are wild and desolate. Rabbits live there.
  • It takes a week by foot to travel from Huddlefoot to Deepwell.
  • Dolph is the liveryman in Deepwell. He can't read very well.
  • Evan the Trader is a dealer is rich furs from Nehron-land.
  • The town of Rheyton lies north of Deepwell, and further north are the forests of Nehron.
  • Not too far from Deepwell live the wild Kimbry, who are known to brand their horses.
  • Some coin types are named: plumbs, and gold scruples (or scrups).

Next: The Dragon #6. Sea Trade! Psionic Revamp! Morale! Looks like things are getting a bit more complicated...

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Dragon #5

Before we begin, may I just say how good it is to have an issue of The Dragon with actual D&D content in it? Empire of the Petal Throne may be rad, but it can't match the love I bear for its progenitor.

This issue has a number of articles that I won't be using in my campaign. The Dragon Rumbles editorial talks about fiction submissions, and the expansion of the magazine to eight issues per year. Out on a Limb features a letter defending fiction in the mag, another one implausibly trying to recruit 55 assistant DMs, a letter prophetically bemoaning the plethora of new rules and sub-classes, a continuation of the debate about Tolkien elves, and finally a letter from Garry Spiegle about how all sorts of gamers are needed to grow the hobby. Beyond the Wizard Fog is the second tale of Niall of the Far Travels by Gardner Fox, with more reasonably entertaining sub-Conan storytelling. And finally, the infamous Gandalf Was Only a Fifth Level Magic-User, in which the author tries to model Middle-Earth's most famous wizard in D&D terms. Silly man, doesn't he know Gandalf was a Cleric?

The issue kicks off with an article about Witches, but it's a lengthy bugger. I think I'll leave it for now, and maybe tackle it later in the week.

METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA ADDITIONS: This article features a number of small things that missed inclusion in the main rulebooks. There are rules for a gel that neutralizes radiation, fire extinguishers, radioactive material in containers, and a pendant that greatly enhances the senses. The article finishes with some notes about methods of curing poison. As usual, these rules will be incorporated into the campaign where appropriate. Some won't necessarily apply, given that D&D characters making trips to the Starship Warden will be operating under D&D rules.

TRIBAL SOCIETY AND HIERARCHY ON BOARD THE STARSHIP WARDEN: Gee, do you think Metamorphosis Alpha was a recent TSR release at this point? There has been a lot of content for it, and I suspect a marketing push.

Anyway, the article gives some brief details about the nature of tribal life, and especially the role that shamans play in the game (mainly to send the PCs on quests and provide some healing and knowledge). After that it gets a little bit into the goals of the Androids that have infiltrated the tribes, as mentioned in a previous article. It also talks about the Wolfoids, their sworn enemies, master weapon-makers who trade their skill for knowledge and devices. The information presented is basic, but gives just enough to present some adventure seeds for PCs who make the journey to this strange place.

CREATURE FEATURE – THE ANHKHEG: Huzzah, it's classic D&D monster time! The Anhkheg is a giant centipede-like creature that lives in the soil of forests and farmland. And since they like a bit of meat with their soil, I can imagine that they make life a bit hard for your average Greyhawk farmer. They generally attack with their mandibles, but when desperate can squirt digestive acids as a ranged attack.

Introducing these monster shouldn't be much of a problem, as I just need to have some farmers start whinging about being eaten. I may not even give a reason for the sudden anhkheg plague. Some things just happen without a nefarious plot going on.

HOW GREEN WAS MY MUTANT: Gary provides an article for Metamorphosis Alpha, and wouldn't you know it, it's a series of random charts! There are a apparently a lot of mutated humans on the Starship Warden, and these charts are designed to randomly determine what one might look like, from skin colour to head type to number of fingers. Useful, if not too intersting a read.

WIZARD RESEARCH RULES: This article is an extensive supplement to the rules for magical research already provided in the OD&D booklets. The writer has taken care to make things consistent with what already exists while providing a number of interesting options not previously available. I'll list the major ones below:

  • Spells can now be researched to permanently increase ability scores, though only once per score per character. All I have to say here is, yikes. The ability increase gets higher with the caster's level, to the point where an 18th level caster can raise a score by 1d12! There are going to be a whole bunch of super-characters roaming my campaign after this beauty gets introduced... Luckily, I have a 'back-to-basics' plan in the offing, more of which I will reveal when the time comes.
  • Only really high level casters (Wizards/Witches and Patriatchs/Matriarchs) may create or change magical items.
  • Normal weapons and armor can be enchanted to +1 with an expenditure in time and money. You can create more powerful weapons, but the result is rolled on a lovely chart that has a number of cursed options to go along with the goodies.
  • Spells can be embedded in items at significant cost.
  • Magic items can be duplicated (except for scrolls, potions, weapons, armour, wands and rings containing spells).
  • There are rules for making True Rings, as in Tolkien. This takes a load of gold and XP. They can contain a bunch of spells, and also can be used to totally control any lesser ring touched to it (including the wearer of said ring). Lovely, says I. The more Tolkien flavour in my D&D the better.
  • Wizard Blades, magic swords that can be wielded by Magic-Users, can be created. They can hold a bunch of spells, and can even range up to +6, higher than anything else in the game thus far. Useful for modelling Gandalf, I suppose.
  • There's a discussion of the XP costs of forging a True Ring or a Wizard Blade, and how there's no way to avoid said cost. I love this bit so much I must quote it: "Any attempt to evade this rule is taken as a personal insult by virtually everyone in Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes."
  • There's a great bit about wizards being able to permanently lose hit points in order to spontaneously create a magic item, by using a Power Word of Distress. This one could be abused, but hit points are so precious for magic-users that it's going to bite anyone who tries it as anything less than a desperate measure.
  • Any PCs can sacrifice magic items to the gods in order to get some sort of aid or reward. It's a good way for DMs to get certain items out of the game, and the rewards are left up to DM fiat. Lovely...

There are a lot of new abilities given here for spell-casters, but I don't plan on inroducing it all in a big lump. I'm going to seed information about all of these abilities in various places throughout the dungeons. Perhaps the PCs will discover them, and perhaps not. Maybe an NPC will use the knowledge against them? Either way, it has to be said that this is great article with tons of flavour.

Next: I finish up The Dragon #5 with Witches and The Gnome Cache.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Dungeon Geomorphs


This product is the first released by TSR that does not pertain to the rules directly. Instead it is a game aid intended to help DMs design their dungeons. What it consists of is a number of sample dungeon sections that can be combined together into various forms to make a complete dungeon level. This is another product that I have never toyed with myself. I can certainly see its usefulness for running games off the cuff, and the dungeon layouts look varied enough that exploration of them would be interesting.

(It should be noted at this point that I'm working from the compilation of Dungeon Geomorph Sets 1-3 here, rather than the original OD&D version. I'm not sure what differences there are in the maps between the two versions, but I do know that there are some minor variations in the text. The original text can be found here.)

The obvious way for me to incorporate this product into my campaign is by making a dungeon level out of the geomorphs. That leaves the question of where I should place this level, with the answer being the Sample Dungeon from OD&D Vol. 3, somewhere on level 1 or 2. It's open-ended enough that I know I won't be contradicting any D&D canon here, and Gygaxian enough in origin that I will feel justified in combining the two.

That leaves the sample encounters, all designed by Gary himself. I'll be leaving them where they are placed on the geomorph maps, and I don't feel the need to change anything here. With traps, holy men and giant spiders, they have the sort of D&D flavour that pleases me.


Given the shortness of these entries, I figure I'll tackle all three geomorph sets at once. Now for this one I do have the original. A cursory comparison of this to the later compilation shows that the maps are the same, which pleases me greatly given that I don't own the other two sets. This is basically the same product as Set One, except that the maps are primarily made up of natural caverns instead of straight dungeon corridors.

As with the first set, I'll be making a dungeon level out of the geomorphs to be included in the sample dungeon from OD&D Vol. 3. The 6th level is denoted as being 'Caverns', so that's where I'll place the geomorphs.

The sample encounters given here are a lot more deadly than those of Set One, and to my mind a bit more interesting. We even get a brand new monster, the Aurotyugh, a sort of living treasure pile. The similarity of the name to the more famous Otyugh monster may be coincidental, given the unlikelihood that the two are related. Or perhaps they both stem from the same language, with a similar meaning despite their differences?


It's back to dungeon rooms and corridors with Set Three. I'll be placing the level created with these geomorphs below the cavern level of the sample dungeon; a look at the cross-section will show that further levels are implied by the word ETC. and an arrow.

Again the sample encounters increase in deadliness, and they also start to take on some of the key Gygaxian tropes, most notably in the inclusion of an evil temple. This temple is dedicated to the demon Sha-Hec'urah. It's not a name I've encountered in other D&D books, which is not to say that it isn't out there somewhere. Barring further details, I will be making Sha-Hec'urah a minor Demon Prince, and this temple his major site of worship in the World of Greyhawk.

Next: The Dragon #5! Witches! The Anhkheg! And a big helping of Metamorphosis Alpha!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Dragon #4

Issue #4 of The Dragon is a spotlight on Empire of the Petal Throne (henceforth referred to as EPT). As such, I won't be going into too much detail here. Yes, I am hoping to use Tekumel as a world that the PCs might stumble into, but given that this world has little bearing on the history of D&D I think it best not to get bogged down in the material. Especially when I have little grounding in the material myself.

I'll begin with the ubiquitous list of articles that will have no bearing on my campaign. Dragon Rumbles has an editorial by Tim Kask bigging up the merits of Empire of the Petal Throne. Miscellaneous Oddball D&D Stuff is once again pure parody, and I have to say that there's a lot of this type of thing in the early days of the mag. As with other unsubtle parodies, it gets tossed out. Wizards Defined is yet another humour article that runs down the capabilities (or lack thereof) of various levels of Magic-User. Mapping the Dungeons is still chugging along with names and addresses. Wargaming World shows some D&D and EPT figures, including some lovely pig-faced orcs. Finieous Fingers continues the classic strip. The Temple of Vimuhla shows an intricate model of this building from Tekumel as designed by MAR Barker, the creator of the setting. The focus of the article isn't that useful to me, but there are some small details about Tekumel to be gleaned here. Recommended Reading is the precursor to AD&D's Appendix N. Gary gives here a list of inspirational fantasy books, with the usual suspects like Tolkien, Howard, Lieber, Lovecraft and Moorcock. It also has a number of things not included in the AD&D version. I'll have to do a comparison one day.

Reports Submitted to the Petal Throne: This is a follow-up to an article from The Strategic Review #7, which featured a number of plot hooks in the form of missives to the Emperor. For that article I did a detailed write-up of the various hooks, but this time I'll stick to more general terms. The article begins with Professor Barker reporting on some goings-on in various EPT campaigns that differ from his own. He declares that each EPT campaign is an equally valid parallel universe. This won't ever come up in my campaign, but I found it a nice touch from Barker nonetheless.

The missives given here are a varied bunch. The first deals with the drug Zu'ur, and is a follow-up to events detailed in the last article. Another involves people being kidnapped and forced into a life as guards of the Tolek Kana Pits. It goes on. I'll be reviewing all of these plot hooks and working them into my campaign when time comes. But it really gives a vivid picture of the strangeness and political intrigues of Tekumel. It's a fascinatingly alien setting.

Notes on Androids in the Starship Warden: Ah, the lone non-EPT article in the issue. It describes the origin of the androids in the game Metamorphosis Alpha, and their infiltration of the various human factions on the ship. Given that Gary has had D&D characters taken to the Starship Warden, I'll definitely be including it in my campaign, along with the info in this article.

Jakalla Encounters: It's a chart for random encounters in the Foreigners' Quarter of the city of Jakalla (from EPT). It has the standard encounters with beggars, drunks, street toughs, muggers and pickpockets. There is also a pimp encounter, with the possibility that the pimp will try to hire any character who is beautiful. The beggar ancounter will occasionally be a noble or god in disguise, which I find awesome, especially given the propensity of PCs to mistreat the beggar population. There is also an encounter with priests of the Goddess of the Pale Bone, which is just an unbearably rad name.

The Battle of the Temple of Chanis, 2020 A.S.: This is a lengthy article about a large-scale battle, complete with fictionalised account from one of the soldiers involved therein. This battle will of course be a part of the history of Tekumel in my campaign, and the characters described will be NPCs (though possibly dead, depending on when this happens relative to the current game year). The account of the battle as written by one Chaeyan Tikkumeshmra will be available for the PCs to read in a library somewhere if they wish. I'd like to have it provide a clue to some larger mystery, but nothing springs to mind just yet.

Creature Features – The Mihalli: These creatures are humanoid shapechangers that were once nearly destroyed by nuclear fission bombs in a war with humanity. (Man, EPT sounds cooler with each tidbit I read.) They are completely alien in mindset and incomprehensible to humanity. This is simulated with a random dice roll. It's a nice touch, but in a way I think it undermines the inhuman intelligence I attribute to these guys. Alien, yes, but complete randomness could make them pretty ineffectual and incapable of realising any sort of goal.

Creature Features – The Vriyagga: These monsters dwell underground in the mythical 'City of Red-Tiled Roofs'. Given the weirdness of their description, I'll reproduce it below:

The Vriyagga is a creature to strike terror into the most heroic breast: a huge pair of wheel-like appendages revolve around central axes like the treads of a tank, powered by gnarled and knotted cores of muscle-fiber. A great central braincase hangs between these, and from the lower part of the parody of a face there depend four (or more in larger specimens) great tentacles covered with powerful suckers. The mouth is lined with poison-dripping purple feelers, which can also serve to kill and ingest its victims. The ebon eyes are like great black opals, drinking in all available light and allowing the Vriyagga to see in the dark.
Nice, and the illustration just cements the strangeness here. Generally it seems like these guys just lurk in their city and eat people that wander in, but that's classic D&D monster behavior. Not everything needs a motivation!

Roads from Jakalla: This piece of fiction involves a group of adventurers being hired to take a book to the Emperor to save a general from assassination by the Priestly Party. Rather surprisingly, they fail this mission, which leaves me free to use the plot as an adventure seed, and the characters herein as NPCs.

Percentile Roll to Obtain an "Eye" as Treasure in EPT: The 'Eyes' of EPT are powerful magic items, each type with different powers. This is a chart to randomly determine what type of Eye has been found. They all have awesome named like The Abominable Eye of Detestation and The Eye of Ruling as a King in Glory, but no further info is given on them here. My favourite is the Eye of Exquisite Power Over Maidens.

Next: Dungeon Geomorphs – Set One

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Swords & Spells

Swords & Spells (which is not Supplement V, for the record) is intended as a replacement for Chainmail. It provides a ruleset intended to simulate large-scale battles that is more compatible with D&D. Where Chainmail and its Fantasy Supplement provided the framework that D&D was built on, Swords & Spells springs from the framework of D&D itself.

I’ve read in certain places that the rules provided here are a little sloppy and not quite complete. I’m in no position to judge, as I’ve never tried them in practice and am not a frequent wargamer to begin with. So I’ll refrain from providing an opinion on that score, and simply note the things that I find interesting in the rules, and how they will impact my campaign. I don’t want to get too deeply into things here, because this is more of a D&D adjunct than a supplement for the game itself. (And because I find wargame rules fairly dull to read.)

The first thing to note is the Turn Sequence. Given that OD&D has no Turn Sequence of its own, I’ve appropriated the one from Chainmail. Swords & Spells provides a similar one, but with provisions made for spells and breath weapons. It also has a bit at the start about ‘Readied Spells’, which can be cast immediately at the start of the round. This is a concept that hasn’t been brought up yet, and that I’ve never seen clarified in the rules, but I have had lots of players try to ‘ready’ spells at the table. It got into the zeitgeist somehow! Mechanically I will allow it from this point, with a caster able to cast the majority of his spell before a combat and release it at the beginning. However, that spell has to be released before any other spell-casting can be done. You readied a Fireball before a potential fight then ended up talking it out? Bad luck sucker, you have to let that baby fly before casting anything else.

Later in the rules there is a list of spells with ranges, durations, and areas of effect. There are cases here where these have been provided for spells that did not have them previously. In those instances I will use the numbers given here. I won’t be using the numbers given for those that already exist. Battlefield magic is different to regular magic, and all the usual handwaving.

As for the rules in general, the major difference from Chainmail lies in the way melee is conducted. Casualties are calculated using D&D stats, which is what makes this game more compatible. The base damage inflicted by each unit is figured out with a formula using size and weapon, then cross-indexed by the level of the attacker and the defender’s Armor Class. The base damage remains fixed throughout the game, so it all seems pretty simple once the initial calculating has been done. But as I said, I’m no wargamer.

Now, as those of you who have been following along will already have figured out, I’ll be replacing Chainmail with Swords & Spells at this point. What this indicates for the campaign is that a much larger variety of creatures and monsters are being incorporated onto the battlefield, and tactics are changing to accommodate that. I may even put a few parties of monster hunters into the dungeons, whose goal is to capture vicious beasties to be trained for warfare. Or perhaps the PCs will be hired for such a task. Either way, from here on in if they get involved in a mass battle I’ll be using Swords & Spells.

Next: We’re nearing the end of the OD&D era, people. Next up is The Dragon #4.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Dragon #3 part 3

A PLETHORA OF OBSCURE SUBCLASSES: This article presents a bunch of new classes for D&D. The editor is quick to note that none of these are to be considered official, and that DMs shouls exercise caution when allowing them into the game. In light of this, the following classes will generally be reserved for NPCs (unless a player really really really wants to take one on).

HEALERS: As the name implies, this class's speciality is the healing of other characters. They are not restricted by race, but must have high scores in Intelligence, Wisdom and Dexterity, and are also forbidden from Chaotic alignment.

Otherwise, the Healer is a spellcaster with a mixture of Cleric and Magic-User spells, and their main draw is that they get a bunch of powerful healing spells earlier than Clerics do.

In addition, the Healer gets a number of spells that are new. Detect Poison and Detect Disease show the presence and type of each. Detect Phase shows treasure or creatures that are out of phase. Cure Blindness does what it says. Energy is a spell to restore levels lost to energy drain. Cure Lycanthropy heals that affliction. Wake Spell awakens anyone put to sleep by various means, which seems pretty weak for a 4th level spell. Cure Paralysis does just that. Longevity takes ten years from the target's age. Size Control negates magical effects that shrink or enlarge the target. Improved Cure Serious Wounds is a better healing spell, and seems remarkably similar to what will eventually be known as Cure Critical Wounds. Sterilize cleanses a room of slimes, molds or infections. Neutralize Gas clears an area of harmful gases. Remove Charm and Cure Deafness both work as advertised.

SCRIBES: Scribes are said to rare and expensive specialists with the ability to scribe magic from scrolls and books into the spell books of the PCs. In fact they are said here to be the only ones capable of doing so without being driven insane, but this is patently untrue. I will chalk it up to propaganda from the Guild of Scribes as a way to drum up extra business.

The rest of the class write-up is devoted to how much it costs to hire one, how likely they are to succeed at the job, and how likely they are to go insane in the course of said job.

SAMURAI: Ah, the insidious Eastern influence creeps in... This version of the Samurai (the first of many) is presented as a sub-class of Fighter, needing only a Dexterity of 15 or higher to qualify. The Samurai prefers to carry a katana and wakizashi (Japanese swords) and a composite bow. If anyone takes his katana, the Samurai must pursue the thief or else commit suicide.

The major ability of the Samurai is to strike critical blows with his special swords. This is done by rolling a certain number over the required target to hit, and the result is that the target loses either a quarter, half, or all of his hit points. A look at the critical chart also shows that severed limbs are frequent. Rad, especially considering it's going to exclusively for NPCs (heh heh heh).

Samurai also get an increase in Dexterity upon reaching certain numbers of experience points. This is a weird mechanic in itself, relying on XP total rather than level. It's not unheard of in later D&D, but it is a rarity.

Samurai armour is then detailed, ranging in quality from AC6 to AC3. In general it is lighter than regular D&D armours.

Samurai also know judo, which means they can throw their opponents about and stun them for 1 or 2 turns.

The write-up ends with a look at the Yumi, the Samurai's composite longbow, and it's abilities.

BERSERKER: You have to love a class that opens with a special warning from the editor. Berserkers are a Fighter sub-class, requiring an above-average Constitution and a below-average Intelligence. They aren't allowed an AC better than 6 at 1st level, and they can't use magical shields and armour, or develop psionics. But they do get double XP for killing stuff, at least until they get their wereshape. (Yep, wereshape.)

Each berserker belongs to a clan dedicated to one of the various types of lycanthrope. Once the berserker gets high enough level to have a wereshape, that is the form he takes when going berserk. The DM determines when conditions are right for a good berserking, but certain conditions can cause it automatically, or at least raise the chances. A berserk character causes opponents to check morale, gets +2 to hit and damage, is immune to psionics and adds 6 to his level when wielding a magic sword. However, they may not withdraw from combat, is weakened after his fit ends, and has a chance to lay into his teammates.

In addition to this, their Armor Class gets a boost every couple of levels, attributed to the gods themselves. At 4th level their chance of being surprised is reduced. At 6th they can detect hidden and invisible enemies, and gain a follower who is either a fighter or a bard. At 10th level they are finally allowed to hire people, being prohibited from this before.

Each of the clans has a single Clanmaster, and the usual duel is required if a character wants to progress to that level.

Given the Bardic connection intimated above, I'll probably tie this class into the same clans that the Druids belong to.

A NEW VIEW OF DWARVES: This article expands on the abilities of Dwarves, giving them a much more Tolkien flavour. It's fairly compatible with Dwarves as they already exist in OD&D, but from this point this article will be taking precedence.

The first thing we get is a chart for Dwarven Fighting-Men, now with their own level titles. Level 9 is listed as 'Dwarf King'. There are said to only be seven families of Dwarves, and so there can only be seven Dwarf Kings in the world at any one time. One of these families is said to be the line of Durin, which fits nicely with my Middle Earth theories espoused in earlier posts. There are currently no Dwarf Kings, so the first characters to take the titles will fill the role.

Dwarven Clerics are now allowed as PCs, so long as they have a Wisdom of 15 or higher. Dwarven Thieves now roll a 6-sided die for hit points, instead of 4. They are also expressly forbidden from becoming Magic-Users, Assassins, Monks, Paladins, Illusionists, Rangers or Sages.

A number of Dwarven abilities are listed next. The first five are simply those already given to Dwarves in OD&D. The rest involve Dwarves being able to appraise gems, detect magical arms and armour, and work as smiths, armourers and engineers (all provided their ability scores are high enough). Dwarves are restricted to the use of short bows or crossbows, and are given a penalty when using larger melee weapons. They need an extremely high Dexterity to know how to swim, and a high Intelligence to consider riding a horse.

There's a short section of how Dwarves relate to other races, and it goes along the usual lines. They will attack Orcs and Goblins, they dislike elves and men, are neutral to hobbits and react well to other dwarves. It's interesting to see they are neutral to 'Noldor' Elves, further cementing the Tolkien influence on the game and the setting.

COMBAT MODIFICATIONS FOR DEXTERITY: This chart gives combat modifiers (missile and melee) for Dexterity, taking into account the existence of Exceptional Dexterity from an earlier issue of The Dragon. I'm inclined to keep this option strictly for the Thief class, and certainly not to let it stack with Strength modifiers. A PC can have his Strength modifier or his Dexterity modifier, but not both at the same time.

Next: I delve back into the world of mass combat, with Swords & Spells.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Dragon #3 part 2

The Gnome Cache Chapter 3 and 4: Gary's serialised novel continues. In these two chapters, Dunstan escapes from the ruffians he hooked up with last time, and takes the stableboy Mellerd into his employ. As for tidbits for me to include in the World of Greyhawk, see below.

  • The Inn of the Riven Oak is run by Innkeeper Krell, with the help of Meggin the buxom tavern wench.
  • The soldiers searching for Dunstan serve the Overking, and are called Warders.
  • Silver pieces are known as nobs, and there are 20 coppers to 1 silver. This is different to the exchange rate from D&D, which is 5 copper to a silver.
  • South of the area around Endstad are forbidding deserts. To the east, not far from Endstad, are the Monley Isles. West lies the vast expanse of Silent Forest, and beyond that the outpost of Far Pass and then nothing but arid steppes. North the realm of the Overking stretches for a time, into the blue Upplands, until reaching Arnn River, where the independent northern folk give strong resistance.
  • The Overking is named Eddoric IV.
  • The badge of knighthood in the Overking's realm is a pennon and acorn.
  • Huddlefoot is a small village at the base of the Upplands, about a day's ride by horse from the Inn of the Riven Oak. It is on a secondary lane which connects Forgel Road at Dyrham to the Wild Road just above Edgewood. It has a large inn, stables, a blacksmith, other businesses and yeoman's cottages.
  • Mellerd is a stableboy at Huddlefoot's inn, apprenticed to Master Grund. His brother is named Taddy.
  • About half a day's walk north from Huddlefoot is a stream that is the only inlet to Lake Dyrn. The Hills of Dyrn continue for two days travel beyond this, at which point Crosshill Street cuts across them.
  • Not far from the Hills of Dyrn are the Hills of Nyrn, said to be home to gnolls, and slimy creatures that live in cursed lakes.

Birth Tables for D&D: This article provides a much more complex method of character generation, one that shows what sort of social standing and wealth your PC will have. All sorts of things are determined by rolling on charts: social class, how many siblings you have and your rank among them, whether you are an orphan or a bastard, how much money the character starts with, how much money the character gets as a monthly allowance, the character's skills, his father's occupation, etc.

There's an option for randomly determining race, which has a few interesting tidbits. The first is the mention of half-goblins and half-orcs, the first time we've seen either thus far. The second is the spread of races in each social class. Elves are never less than gentlemen or nobility, while half-orcs and half-goblins are never more than commoners.

Race also now determines how many dice are rolled for each ability score. For example, Hobbits now roll 2d6 for Strength, but 4d6 for Constitution and Dexterity (presumably taking the best three, though it doesn't say). In addition, there are now ability score requirements for each race. A Hobbit's Strength must range from 3-12, and both Dexterity and Contitution must be 13 or higher.

The final step is a doozy: you roll percentile on a chart based on your social class, and this determines how many experience points you begin with. And yes, this means characters can begin at higher than 1st level. A character could conceivably begin with 13,000 xp if he's very lucky!

The writer notes that in his campaign demi-humans cannot rank higher than Earls. This is fair enough I think, so far as human lands are concerned. And it can be assumed that any demi-human who is important in his own lands won't be gallivanting around in dungeons.

Finally, an example character is created who I'm going to use as an NPC. This character is a noble bastard who is well-to-do. His father is a Duke, a courtier, an interpreter, and also a 4th-level Magic-User. The character is a human cleric who begins at 2nd level. Looking at the authors of this article, I see that their names are Brad Stock and Brian Lane. I will combine the two names, and call this NPC Briad Stane. Eh, it's passable.

So what does this mean for the campaign (besides a new form of character generation)? I would say that it indicates an influx of adventurers trained from outside the Adventurer's Guild, from all walks of life, seeking their fortunes from the lands abroad. It will certainly make for some interesting party dynamics, that's for sure.

Next: More of The Dragon #3.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Dragon #3 part 1

My epic trek continues, with a foray into The Dragon #3. As usual, I'll begin with a brief description of those articles which have no bearing on my mammoth project.

Dragon Rumbles starts the issue with an eloquent editorial defense of the use of fiction in the magazine. Does Anyone Remember War of the Empires sees Gary reminiscing about an early play-by-mail sci-fi wargame. The Adventures of Finieous Fingers and Fred and Charly sees the debut of a classic comic strip, and the aforementioned title character. Wargaming World talks about some new miniture releases, while Mapping the Dungeons continues its list of DMs. Out on a Limb features one letter from a guy who likes the mag despite his utter lack of knowledge about D&D, another from a guy who's annoyed that TSR won't let him photocopy their stuff, and yet another from a Tolkien nerd who disagrees with the new elven rules from last issue. Two Penultimate Sub-Classes introduces the Idiot and the Jester as potential classes for D&D, but they are very silly. I'm not against silliness and humour in the game, but it's a subjective thing and I know what's going to work at my table and what isn't. So I'm exercising my right to exclude parody elements here. Finally, Gencon IX's Elimination Tournament answers the many complaints about that event and names the various winners.

Otherwise there is a ton of D&D stuff in this issue, so bear with me. This one might take a couple of posts.

Notes on Women & Magic – Bringing the Distaff Gamer into D&D: Ah yes, this article. This is the first time that D&D (at least so far as TSR is concerned) tries to differentiate between male and female characters. It does so by the usual method of lowering the female ability scores, but at least they get some extra abilities to balance it out. It's too bad the whole article is full of sexist attitudes, but I'll try to include it in my campaign nonetheless (as you may have noticed, I find this less problematic than bad jokes).

First off, female characters are limited to becoming Fighters, Thieves, Clerics or Magic-Users. It is not said whether this includes the various sub-classes, but I'm inclined to think that it does. I see no reason to further penalise someone for choosing to play a woman.

Ability scores for women get a change as well. Wisdom, Intelligence, Dexterity and Contitution remain unchanged, but Strength is now rolled with an 8-sided die and a 6-sided die, for a range from 2 to 14. Charisma is replaced by Beauty, which is rolled with two 10-sided dice, and this ties into a number of spells described later.

Next, the four classes each get a new experience table, complete with gender-specific titles for each level. So a 2nd-level female Fighter is known as a Swordswoman, and a 1st-level Thief is called a Wench, that sort of thing. It's apparent from a quick glance at the experience tables that women advance quicker than men, so it's not all about limitations and weaknesses. There's a note at the end advising to subtract one level from the fighting ability of female characters, with the reasonable excuse that otherwise they would outstrip their male counterparts due to faster advancement.

The article then goes into the differences between the classes when used by females. Thieves are first, and they are now given the ability to cast some minor spells at high levels. Some are pre-existing spells, such as Light, Read Languages, Sleep, Mirror Image, Detect Magic, ESP and Knock. Others are new, such as Charm Man, Charm Humanoid Monster and Seduction. They also get the ability to read Tarot Cards, with the ability to answer simple yes/no questions, but I have the same reservations here that I have for anything that lets players predict the future.

Fighters can use the spells of Seduction, Charm Man and Charm Humanoid Monster. They also have to accept penalties on encumbrance and the use of heavy weapons and armour, as their Strength is lower. They do get a +1 bonus when using a dagger (as do all female characters, apparently) but it's hardly a balance.

Magic-Users get a bunch of new spells that I'll briefly go over here. Seduction allows the female to do exactly what the name suggests, with a chart for success chance based on the race of the caster and the victim. The inclusion of Orcs on the chart is amusing, especially when you see that they are more attracted to Elves than to their own kind. (Then again, that is true of all the races present.) Charm Men is a variant on Charm Person (and seems less effective at that). Charm Humanoid Monster is another variant on the same. Poison lets the caster poison food or drink at a distance. Magic Mount summons a Wind Horse, presumably a type of equine elemental. Mind Meld lets two Magic-Users combine their minds to increase in power, though any damage suffered is likely to result in insanity for the two so melded. Spirit is a spell that lets the caster move around in an incorporeal form. Horrid Beauty lets the caster affect the target with her beauty, the exact effect depending on whether her Beauty score is high or low.

Female Clerics are not alowed to use their Beauty unless they are Chaotic. Chaotic Clerics can use the Worship spell, which is yet another charm variant.

Now, the tricky part is to incorporate this into the campaign. I was initially thinking of an anti-female movement on the part of the Adventurer's Guild, but that doesn't really fit with the increased rate of advancement. Also, I'm not into making a player operate by different rules just because he or she wants to play a female character. So I'm going with a somewhat opposite approach: a decidedly pro-female movement within the guild, one that emphasizes the use of feminine wiles as a way to empowerment. I'll make it a purely optional thing, in that any female character will be invited to join. If they accept, they get a whole lot of extra abilities and faster advancement at the cost of lower Strength and some sexist attitudes. Otherwise, there is always the option of refusing, in which case the female PC will use the same rules as before.

Next: The Dragon #3 continues.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes

And so it comes to this: the last D&D supplement! Come on, it says so right in the foreword. No more supplements after this one, honest! Well, technically it's true, because this is the last official product for this version of D&D. But it still seems laughable at face value.

Supplement IV is a strange beastie, not at all like its predecessors. It has a much more focused goal: the presentation of a number of mythologies and pantheons for use in D&D. It's pretty much just a bunch of stats and descriptions for gods, kind of like a super-charged Monster Manual. It's not something I've ever needed to use in a game, but it could provide for some fun in high level campaigns I'm sure.

As the material here doesn't really pertain to the development of D&D and its signature mythos, I won't be going into too much depth. I'll cover each mythology presented here in brief, list the gods who get write-ups, and talk a little bit about how they'll be incorporated into the campaign. If you really want to know more about Zeus, for example, your own research will be far more effective than anything I can write here.

EGYPTIAN MYTHOLOGY: As noted these are the gods of ancient Egypt. The following gods get write-ups: Ra, Shu, Geb, Thoth, Set, Osiris, Anhur, Ptah, Seker, Horus, Bes, Isis, Tefnut, Nephtlys, Anubis, Bast, Renenet, Amset, Hapi, Tuamautef, Qebhsennuf, Apesh, and Apshai.

A number of new monsters are also introduced. The Minions of Set are powerful fighters that can turn into giant snakes. The Sphinx is a lion with a woman's head. While bloodthirsty, they may spare someone in exchange for a good story. Fire Snakes are small serpents that like to sit on piles of treasure, and can breathe fire for lots of damage. Winged Serpents also have treasure, and can spit a powerful contact poison. The Phoenix is a large flaming bird that regenerates damage and is 100% magic resistant.

Life Sceptres are weapons used by the gods. Any god wielding this weapon is unkillable, as their life force is held in the weapon itself. If the god is struck he will take no damage – only destroying the weapon can kill him.

Given that the World of Greyhawk is a parallel Earth, it is easy to say that the Egyptian gods were once worshipped there by a great many people. While this may have waned over the centuries, there are still pockets of worship here and there, and these gods can still be called upon if any character so wishes.

It's noted that some of these gods will give aid to mortals. For example, there's a 5% chance that Set is watching when a being does a highly evil act, and will gift him with some powerful minions. Ptah may aid someone who invents something useful. Horus might help a Lawful character seeking vengeance. The percentages given are quite high, and I honestly don't want such a proliferation of divine intervention in the campaign. I will restrict these chances to either those who openly venerate the Egyptian gods, or to those deeds done in the lands where they were once worshipped.

INDIAN MYTHOLOGY: The following gods are covered here: Indra and his elephant, Agni and his red chariot, Shiva, Surya and his chariot, Vishnu, Brahama and his 70-foot tall goose, Rudra, Kali, Devi, Lakshmi, Sarasuati, Ratri, Vasha, Yama and his buffalo, Varuna, Tvashri, Karttekeza and his peacock, and Krishna.

There are a number of monsters detailed as well. Maruts are wind spirits in the form of powerful warriors, the shock troops of the gods. Rakshasas have been introduced already in The Strategic Review #5, but here they are far more powerful, bearing little resemblance to their weaker cousins. Yakshas are similar to but weaker than the Rakshasas here, though still slightly stronger than those shown earlier. I suppose that Rakshasas come in a variety of power levels, and only the weakest are found commonly. Elves in Indian mythology are called Ribhus, and serve the gods directly. Indian Ogres are the same as the regular kind, except that they can polymorph themselves at will. The Nagas here come in three varieties. The Guardian Naga and the Water Naga are not much different than those already introduced in The Strategic Review #3. The Master Naga is new, having seven cowled heads and the ability to cast Cleric and Magic-User spells at 10th level.

As with the Egyptian mythos, the Indian gods were once widely worshipped but have since fallen into obscurity.

GREEK MYTHOLOGY: The following Greek gods are presented here: Zeus and his white eagle, Poseidon, Hades, Apollo, Athene, Ares, Hermes, Hera, Cronos, Coeus, Prometheus, Epimetheus, Atlas, Oceanus, Crius, Nike, Hecate, Hephaestus, the Furies, Pan, Cerberus and the Hundred Handed One.

Cyclopses are presented here as a variation on the Storm Giant. Satyrs are introduced here as very strong protectors of the forest.

Again, the Greek gods were once worshipped in the World of Greyhawk.

CELTIC MYTHOLOGY: These Celtic deities are presented here: Daghdha, Manannan Mac Lir, Donn, Oghma, Goibhnie, Silvanus, Dunatis, Nuada, Dioncecht, Git, Medhbh, Liegh, Cu Chulain, Math, and Balor.

The Torc of the Gods is a short rod that lets it wielder shapechange at will. The Tathlum is a weapon, made by coating the head of an enemy in lime and letting it harden. It will do great damage to friends or relatives of the head's former owner. Druids are prevalent in Celtic mythology, and are the same as presented in Supplement III.

The Celtic mythos are a part of the campaign in the same way as the previous pantheons.

NORSE MYTHOLOGY: The following Norse gods are in the book: Odin (and his many accoutrements), Thor (ditto), Tyr, Bragi, Balder, Heimdall, Hoder, Vidar, Vali, Uller, Forseti, Loki, Frey, Njord, Frigga, Freya, Idun, Aeger, Ran, Hel, the Norns, the Valkyrs, the Einheriar, various giants (Hyrm, Surtur, Mimir, Sterkodder, Hymen, Vafthrunder, Skyrmir, Mokkerkalfe), Garm, the Fenris Wolf, the Midgard Serpent.

In addition, various monsters are detailed. Dragons of the green, red and white varieties are here with no changes. Dwarves here are statistically the same as in D&D, but have a number of cultural differences. Light Elves are the same as D&D Elves. Dark Elves are mentioned in D&D for the first time, as evil subterranean dwellers. Nissies are dwarves with pointed red caps. Neck are like a hybrid of Nixies and Harpies. Mermen are the same as in D&D. Fossergrims are mermen that live in waterfalls.

The characters from the Sigurd Saga are given here, mostly focused on Sigurd himself. I'll need to research these stories to see if they can have any historical context for the World of Greyhawk.

The Norse mythos are a part of the campaign in the same way as the previous pantheons.

FINNISH MYTHOLOGY: The real stars of Finnish mythology are not gods but powerful heroes. Those presented here are: Vainamoinen, Lemmikainen, Kullervo, Joukahainen, Ilmarinen, Ilmatar, Louhi, Thumb Height Man, Sampsa Perlervoinen, Water Hero, Tounelea, Old Crone of Pohjola, Son of Pohja, Maiden of Pohja. There are gods shown here as well (Ukko and Ahto the only two given full entries) followed by a selection of unique monsters. Even the mothers of the various heroes get a general write-up, and are pretty bad-ass.

The Finnish mythos are a part of the campaign in the same way as the previous pantheons.

HYBORIAN MYTHOLOGY: I've already established that Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age is a part of the history of my World of Greyhawk. Here we get write-ups for many of the gods and monsters from Howard's stories.

We start with Conan himself, who is presented as a 15th level Fighter with the abilities of a 9th level thief. It's evident here that the D&D rules were never good at modelling fictional heroes, because Conan doesn't conform to the rules much at all. And his ability scores are obscenely inflated.

In additon we get entries for Crom, Mitra, Set, Asura, Tsathoggus, Hanuman the Accursed, the Blood-Stained God, Yama, Thugra Khotan, Thoth Amon, the Black Seers, Epemstreus the Sage, and many other monsters and items. Any of my readers out there who haven't read Howard's Conan stories are urged to do so. Not only are they a major influence on D&D, they're ripping good yarns in their own right.

MELNIBONEAN MYTHOLOGY: This is the mythology of the Elric stories, as written by Michael Moorcock. Now, we already have the Hyborian Age in the recent past. A bit further back in the past we have Tolkien's Middle Earth. The world of Elric can be incorporated even further into the past than that, before the world was reshaped by the war between Law and Chaos. Again, if you haven't read the Elric stories, get out there and do so. They're awesome.

Elric gets an entry here, of course. He's a 10th level Fighter and a 19th level wizard, and has a magic ring and the sword Stormbringer on top of that. Other characters given entries are: Moonglum, Yyrkoon, Theles Kaarna, Arioch, Lord Xiomberg, Orunlu, Mordagz, Fate, the Dead Gods, The Mountain Gods, Kakatal, Straaash, Grome, Misha, Meerclar, Haaashasstaak, Roofdrak, Muru-Ah, Lileet, Nnuuurrrr'c'c. Elenoin, Grahluk, and a whole bunch of unique monsters and things.

MEXICAN MYTHOLOGY: The following divine entities are given entries here: Quetzacoatl, Tonatuh, Huitzilopochtli, the Goddess of the Jade Petticoat, Tezcat, and Mictantecuhtli. There are Water Women that act as Nagas, and Water Monsters that are like OD&D's Sea Monsters.

This mythology is treated in the same manner as the other real-word mythologies in this book.

EASTERN MYTHOLOGY: The following gods are shown here: Huan-Ti, Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya, Shan Hai Ching, Lei Kung, Yu Shih, Fei Lien, Feng Po, Wen Chung, the Spirits of the Air, Lu Yueh, the Beings Called 'Center', 'Spring, 'Summer', 'Autumn' and 'Winter', Shang Ti, Tai Yang Ti Chun, Yama, Chung Kuel, Kuan Yin, Tou Mu, Lei Chen Tzu, Chao Kung Ming, No Cha, the Shen Shu, and Ma Yuan Shuai.

Eastern Demons are the same as Indian Rakshasas. Their Fairies are small winged humanoids with powerful magic. There are also Evil Spirits that can inhabit statues and animate them.

Eastern Dragons are very different from the regular D&D types. They have three stages of metamorphosis. When young, they have the head of a horse and a lizard's body. In their middle years they have a camel's head, demonic eyes, metal skin and spotted wings. In old age they look like regular D&D dragons. They get a number of abilities not found in the regular types: polymorph self, invisibility, and ESP. Green dragons are lawful, and immune to anything made from wood. Blue dragons are made of the sky, and immune to anything launched into the air. Red dragons are evil fire-breathers. Gold Dragons can be any alignment. There are Yellow Dragons, also known as Imperial Dragons, that can breathe fire and summon storms. They live underwater and are fond of eating pearls and opals. There's also a type of dragons that draws treasure to it like a magnet, and is coated in gold and gems like armour. Its breath weapon is twice as strong as a gold dragon's.

This mythology is treated in the same manner as the other real-word mythologies in this book.

And that concludes my brief overview of what's in Supplement IV. Next time I'll be delving back into The Dragon, with issue #3.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Dragon #2 part 2

First things first, apologies for missing my posts over the last week. I have been very ill, and I suspect that I was level-drained by a KFC fillet burger. But enough of that! Hale and hearty, I continue with The Dragon #2.

THE GNOME CACHE part 2: The second part of this serialised novel sees Dunstan encountering a bunch of no-good bandits who easily convince him that they are of the noble sort who rob from the rich and give to the poor. There's nothing here as significant as what was in the first part, but a number of minor details can be gleaned.

  • Three leagues from Endstad (the village that Dunstan came from), the Wild Road runs into the King's Way, and there is a shrine there to Saint Cuthbert of the Cudgel (who has already been introduced by way of Supplement III).
  • A short walk through the woods from the shrine is a thorp that is home to the Inn of the Riven Oak.
  • Along Wild Road is the Edgewood, and therein is a castle inhabited by Baron Teric.
  • There are "strange lands" westward beyond Far Pass.
  • As I've said before, these details may have nothing at all to do with the World of Greyhawk as it was published, but I'll try to reconcile the details if I am able.

HINTS FOR D&D JUDGES Part 3 – THE DUNGEONS: This article gives some advice on spicing up your dungeons, mostly in the form of sample tricks and traps. Given that the author's own dungeon of Castle Blackstar was used as an example in a previous article, I'll be using the various tricks described here to flesh out that place. Such details will include:

  • Entrances under the nearby town, the guard barracks, and a peasant's hovel.
  • A shattered skeleton that, when reassembled, will either attack, serve the party until destroyed, lead to the nearest unguarded treasure, or lead to his master (a high-level magic-user).
  • There's a chart here for determining traps on treasure chests that I will use only in Castle Blackstar.
  • Some of the coins in this dungeon are sentient, and will attack, or scream if taken from their resting place.
  • Somewhere in the dungeon is a dragon who has a hoard of gold pieces that are really made of chocolate wrapped in gold foil. (Ehhh. This one I might ignore.)
  • There's an area here guarded by a realm of chaotic dwarves.
  • Some gems in this dungeon can be commanded to transform into a random monster.
  • Some monsters in this dungeon will turn into gold pieces when killed. (Just like in Super Mario!)
  • The following destinations can be reached via portals in Castle Blackstar: the Santa Maria on its way to discover America, the Normandy beaches on D-Day, the USS Nautilus (a nuclear-powered sub) on its shakedown cruise, and the Little Big Horn as blue-clad cavalry attack. Other destinations are Larry Niven's Ringworld, Tolkien's Moria, Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborea, Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World and Fritz Leiber's Nehwon, the Starship Enterprise and the Bermuda Triangle.
  • The following special monsters may be encountered here: those found in the works of HP Lovecraft, the sandworms of Dune, Larry Niven's "Puppeteers", Dickson's "Dorsai", and the martians from War of the Worlds.
  • There's a 10'x10' room that will shrink anyone crossing it so that it seems to be 200'x200'. This serves to drive mappers crazy.
  • There's a room maze full of transporters that constantly return the party to the centre.
  • There's a room with unguarded treasure that, when touched, activates secret doors allowing hordes of hobgoblins to attack.
  • There are underground rivers and lakes here, as well as a random chart for determining the inhabitants of islands.
  • Somewhere in the dungeon is a Pool of Endless Ogres.
  • Somewhere in the dungeon is a room full of gems. Three turns after the gems are taken from the room, half of them turn into orcs and attack.
  • Some magic items found in this dungeon: a ring that works like a Staff of Wizardry, an Unholy Sword, a dagger that works like a Wand of Fireballs, an idol that answers yes/no questions once a week, and an incense burner that works like a Crystal Ball.

So what I have is a hodge-podge of stuff that will make up Castle Blackstar. The real trick here will be combining it into something resembling a cohesive dungeon, but I think it can be done. The result may not be convincing, but I'm not so sure a good dungeon has to be.

Oh, and more importantly, we get a few tidbits about Castle Greyhawk. Besides the main entrance at the castle, it has entrances in an old dry cistern, a simple hole in the ground, and even a pool of quicksand. Now the quicksand entrance has been disavowed by Gary, which makes me believe here that the author was just trying to hose prospective players. "Yeah, suuuure that quicksand leads into the dungeon! Of course it's safe! Lots of good treasure to be found!" That's how I plan to use the "quicksand entrance" in my campaign: as a rumour started by malicious NPCs trying to rub out the competition.

Lastly, there are a number of new magic items given here that I will probably only place in Castle Blackstar: the Hobbits' Pipe (which can blow controllable multi-coloured smoke rings), the Pipeweed of Tranquility (which calms hostile creatures), the Pipeweed of Stoning (which turns creatures to stone), Pipeweed of Illusion (acts like Phantasmal Force), Pipeweed of Acapulco (makes the smoker over-friendly and dazed), the Ring of Magic Missiles (can fire magic missiles and be recharged by the spell), Bag of Infinite Wealth (turns base metals to gold), the Helm of Forgetfulness (makes the wearer forget everything he knows), and the Ring of Infravision (see in the dark).

And I have to say, there sure is a lot of pot humour in early issues of The Dragon.

THE FEATHERED SERPENT: This article gives factual information on the ancient god Quetzalcoatl. There's little here that's directly relevant to D&D, but should my PCs ever venture into a land where this god is worshiped I'll go back to this article to flesh out various details.

A NEW D&D CLASS – THE ALCHEMIST: We get another new class for the game, but this one was never used in future products. The basic gist of the class is that they can create and use a whole bunch of different types of potions and other useful things such as acids and poison. I won't go into too much detail, except to say that I don't really see the appeal. Given that the class didn't make it into AD&D, I'll restrict these guys to NPCs that can be hired by the party. There is already a Guild of Alchemists derived from material in earlier D&D books, so this class will a sort of adventuring subset thereof.

There is an interesting section at the end of the article that overhauls the poison system. Animal poisons now have levels of potency based on the monster's hit dice, and will have more or less effect based on the hit dice of the victim. I will use this to supplement the regular 'save or die' system, but for the life of me I can't think of a way to justify it. Eh, maybe later. I'm tired.

D&D OPTION – WEAPON DAMAGE: The concept of weapon mastery for Fighters and Thieves is introduced here. Fighters master one weapon per 3 levels gained, and Thieves every 4 levels. The bonus is minimal – each weapon simply gains a slightly higher damage range. Thieves are restricted to swords, daggers and the sling – poor buggers are always getting the short end.

Another option instead of higher damage is to choose a weapon combination to dual-wield. You need a Dex of 13 to do this, and only one-handed weapons are allowed. Dex 16 is required for two swords, or for sword and flail. Alas, you can't use two flails at once – logic trumps awesomeness for now. Any character who does this can attack twice per round, or attack and still count as shielded.

Oh, and I see a weapon called the Dwarf Hammer is intoduced here. There are no details given besides a damage range, but there it is.

Aaaaand we finish the issue with an ad for Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes, which I'll be attempting to gloss over next.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Dragon #2 part 1

With The Dragon #1 completed, I move straight into issue #2. These are the glory days, when D&D supplements weren't being catapulted out of TSR every day of the week. I will savour it while I can.

As usual, I'll quickly run through the articles that are of no relevance to my campaign. Dragon Rumbles has editor Tim Kask talking about the rising popularity of fantasy. We get part 2 of Search for the Forbidden Chamber, a short story I dismissed last time for being too satiric. Mapping the Dungeons has the obligatory names and addresses of DMs. Shadow of a Demon is fiction from Gardner Fox in the vein of Robert E. Howard. It actually rather good for a Conan knock-off, but it's not related to D&D in any way. Lastly, the games Venerable Destruction and Star Command get reviewed.

Oh, and I should note that this will be a fairly short entry. I have new Wheel of Time to read.

MONKISH COMBAT IN THE ARENA OF PROMOTION: This is a new combat system designed for when monks fight each other for level advancement. Remember that there are a limited number of high-level monks in the world, and a character has to defeat the one directly above him to advance.

The basics are simple. Damage Points Taken (the equivalent of hit points) are calculated by multiplying Strength by Constitution and adding your level x 10. Damage Points Given shows how much damage a character inflicts with a normal blow, and is calculated by adding Strength, Dexterity and half Intelligence.

Combat here does not involve dice rolls, but instead selecting from a number of moves: blocks, kicks, punches, etc. In each round of combat, both fighters select six moves in secret. Then the two are compared to see how many blows have been struck. You can change your move with a successful percentile roll under your Dexterity, and I honestly can't see why you wouldn't try this every round when you are hit. Although there are a lot of arcane rules about how many of each strike or block you can use in a round, so that could mitigate overuse of that rule.

The fluff aspect of the duels is described in a very rudimentary fashion. They all take place in a ceremonial arena, overseen by the next highest monk. The fighters approach from opposite sides of the arena, bow once to their past masters, once to their sensei, and once to their opponents. Then, they fight. I like the simplicity, it works for a bunch of hardcore ascetic badasses.

So yeah, I'll bring this in if any Monk PC gets to the stage of having to make advancement challenges. If any smartass asks why he can't use this system all the time, I'll explain it as a special form of ritual combat only used in these duels. It don't work unless your opponent is using it as well.

GENCON UPDATE: This is all pretty standard con stuff for Gencon IX, with a description of the rules for the D&D tournament. I'd normally ignore it, but down near the bottom we get a description of the scenario being used.

“ . . . The group of adventurers in question has offended the resident Wizard of
the town in which they reside, having referred to him as a ‘shriveled old nit.’ He is about to end their miserable existences with a well-placed fireball, but stops short of uttering the final words of the incantation. Eyeing them speculatively, he offers them a chance to redeem themselves. He tells them a tale of a highly magical staff that once belonged to him, but was stolen a few ages ago. He now believes it is in the dungeons of a nearby ruin, and says that if they find it and bring it back to him he may just see them in a different light, so to speak. The party is ecstatic, relatively, at the opportunity to save their skins, and readily agree to the adventure, thinking that they will be able to line their own pockets as well as retrieve the old fool’s bit of magic kindling. As they neglect to ask him why he doesn’t go with them, or why he hasn’t recovered this bit of magic aforenow, he does not volunteer the information. Before sending them off, he takes the Mage aside and tells him they should begin their search off the Sixth Stairway, at the same time convertly slipping a curiously carved piece of amber into the Mage’s hand. . .”
I'm not sure if this ever made it into any released module. If not, I will incorporate it after a fashion. I will place a particularly obnoxious wizard in the City of Greyhawk, and if the PCs piss him off they will get into the scenario detailed above. The staff will of course be in Castle Greyhawk.

CREATURE FEATURES – THE REMORHAZ: Is that Erol Otus I spy? Why, indeed it is, and I believe his first work for TSR. And very nice work it is, with the worm-like Remorhaz facing down some doomed bastard with a pole arm.

The Remorhaz is a long worm with many legs, a blue underbelly, small wings near its head, and a back covered in reddish protrusions. They live in cold mountains and frozen wastes. They come in three sizes, each with a different number of hit dice (6, 10 or 14).

It's not stated in the description, but the Remorhaz has a fiery breath weapon whose damage is dependent on the size of the creature. It also has 75% magic resistance, not to be sneezed at. The protrusions on its back get really hot, and will melt any non-magical weapon that strikes them. They have a good Armor Class, but their underbelly and head are more vulnerable.

That's that, except to note the trivia that they flap their tiny wings when near prey. Not sure what that will accomplish in my game, but I'm going to make them do it anyway.

Next: Part 2!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Dragon #1 part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Dragon #1 part 1

Today I move on from Supplement III, and tackle the premiere issue of The Dragon. Formerly known as The Strategic Review, this magazine is now twice as big and a whole lot more fancy. The content isn't particularly different at this stage, but there's an air of professionalism about the thing that wasn't their in the previous incarnation. TSR is moving up in the world!

First up, the articles that have no bearing on my D&D campaign. Fafhrd and the Mouser Say Their Say has Fritz Leiber talking about a lot of Nehwon material, with some amusing repartee from both characters thrown in. Though I doubt I'll need it, I should still make a note to check back on this article for info once the Lankhmar supplements are released for D&D. Dragon Rumbles and In the Cauldron are the standard 'welcome to the magazine, this is what we're doing' material. The Battle of Five Armies in Miniature show how to convert the game based on that battle into a Chainmail scenario. Wargaming World and GenCon Update are the usual con-related stuff. The Search for the Forbidden Chamber is a short story that is undeniably D&D but also far too satirical and rooted in 1970s culture for me to even consider it. Len Lakofka's Miniature Rules are exactly that, an alternative system to Chainmail for resolving large-scale fantasy battles. As I have Chainmail, this isn't necessary for me. Hobbits and Thieves in Dungeon provides two new characters for that particular boardgame. Royal Armies of the Hyborian Age gives the stats for a number of minor nations that didn't make it into that game. There are also reviews for a number of games, such as Classic Warfare, Citadel, and White Bear and Red Moon.

One thing you might have noticed above is that I'm excluding a number of things that could plausibly be integrated into a D&D campaign. That's because the material in The Dragon feels much more optional than that in The Strategic Review. A good deal of the former seems to be coming from freelancers, while the latter was almost exclusively Gary and his pals. And now, to the D&D!

HOW TO USE NON-PRIME-REQUISITE CHARACTER ATTRIBUTES: This article provides a system for mechanical resolution for stuff that isn't in the rules. So if your Fighter wants to move a boulder or jump over a pit or something, these rules come into play. It's a pretty simple system, but it has perhaps too many steps to flow well at the table.

Basically, you roll percentile dice and add the relevant ability score as well as your level. Looking on the chart shows you what die to roll next, with a higher result getting you a bigger die. Then you roll the die type shown on the chart, multiply the result by the same ability score, and you have a percentage chance for success. It works in an inconsistent sort of way, but three rolls to resolve one action is a little much. I'll be using this system until something better comes along, and the good old catch-all explanation of guild training will cover its introduction.

Further into the article we get some examples of what exactly these rolls can be used for. One such use is to discover the proper method of operating all mechanical and magical devices. Does this include magical items? I am thinking that it should, given that the game has few other methods of identifying them at the moment besides trial and error.

Another example given is for duplicating Thief skills such as Pick Locks. This one also seems fair enough, and is restricted to a straight percentile roll against the character's ability score. Sure, it makes the Thief a little less special, but it also ensures he won't be overshadowed in his own arena. (Although there is the potential for a low-level character with high Dexterity to perform better than the Thief.)

This system also gives PCs a chance to use magical items not normally permitted to their class. In this case the percentile roll required is the relevant ability score divided by 4. I like the way that this rule expands character options while making the chances of success small enough that it won't be abused.

One other tidbit from the article that I'll be using is the sample PC, Grod. Grod is a 4th level Fighting-Man with the following ability scores: Str 17, Int 9, Wis 5, Con 14, Dex 14, and Cha 12. I will have him as a member of the guild, and a frequent adventurer in Castle Greyhawk.

MAGIC AND SCIENCE: ARE THEY COMPATIBLE IN D&D? In this article, Jim Ward puts forth the notion that magic and science are not mutally exclusive in D&D. I've been opposed to this viewpoint in the past, but the more I delve into the old-school material the more I appreciate mixing sci-fi and fantasy. The majority of the article goes on to present a race of technologically advanced beings, and I'm definitely going to hide these guys away in the World of Greyhawk somewhere.

The first thing to note is that they live on the island of Atlantis. Atlantis has been mentioned previously as an underwater city full of fabulous treasure, and there's no reason I can't incorporate the two. The beings are known as the Artificers, and they have a whole lot of technology specifically designed to counter magic. The first of these is a pistol that fires various coloured pellets, each with a specific effect. These range from disintegration, to draining magical items, to the equivalent of the maze spell. They also possess Blue Spheres, which are round flying robots that float near their masters and fire rays to help them. Some rays harm the enemy, while others are beneficial to the Artificer, such as the healing ray.

The Artificers also have a 'mighty offensive and defensive analogic computer'. It's able to analyze and counteract any spell, and it can also scan PCs to determine exactly how many hit points they have. This is pretty nasty stuff, as the computer can then generate a beam that deals exactly twice as much damage as the target has hit points. But like all good fictional computers, you can defeat this thing with logic, Captain Kirk style.

So yeah, I'll have the Artificers living underwater in Atlantis, once an island and now a sunken city. There will be plenty of treasure there, but the Artificers will be tough nuts to crack should the PCs go there.

LANGUAGES, or Could You Repeat That in Auld Wormish? This is an article about languages, quite obviously. It begins by recapping what the rules say about languages, and so far as I can tell it gets things right. Then it goes off to explore various aspects and possibilities of the rules as written.

The first is alignment languages. The writer brings up the notion that characters can learn and speak opposing alignment languages, albeit with difficulty. I had previously posited that these languages were passed down by the Gods, and impossible to comprehend by those of opposite ideals and mindsets. I suppose with the recent alignment splintering caused by the addition of the Good-Evil axis we can suppose that this rule is now being bent. From this point forward anyone can learn any alignment language, but they will have less chance of understanding theose of opposing alignments.

The question is raised of what beings exactly have languages of their own. Animals and plants are said to, probably because there are spells that allow communication with them. Inanimate objects are ruled out, which suits me very well. Even the possibility of talking to bacteria is raised, but I will rule this out as well on the grounds that mindless things cannot be conversed with. The rule of thumb here is that if an item or spell allows you to talk with something, then it has its own languages. As far as plants go I will allow characters to take plant languages. Plants will have a low level of sentience that is gradually fading, and will shortly be gone altogether.

While each species will have its own languages, there are also group languages that certain types of animals all speak. Equine is one example, understood by all horse-like beings, and Canine is the same for dogs. Cavemen speak Cavish. There is also Auld Wormish, the language of ancient dragons. The Great Tongue is the group language spoken by all giants. Lycanthropes are given a greater chance to understand Common than before, which makes sense given that they mostly come from human stock.

The writer then talks about a rule which would allow characters to forget one language and acquire a new one upon gaining a level. I'm not too fond of this, but I may allow it as a magical process the character can undertake if he so wishes. For pay, of course...

Finally the article discusses the possibility that humans will speak more than Common, that each nationality will have its own language. I'm certainly open to this, but I'm going to leave it open for the moment. Further reading about the World of Greyhawk should answer this in time.

Next: The Bulette! The Wilderness! Illusionist Additions! The Gnome Cache! And... Eldar?!?