Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry part 14

Today I'm going to finish up with Supplement III's monsters, taking a look at a number of psionic nasties.

SU-MONSTERS: They resemble a "wasp-waisted, great-chested hound" with a monkey's head, and if it wasn't for later illustrations in AD&D I might have a hard time imagining what that is meant to look like. Anyway, they're chaotic evil, live underground or on the surface, and have four prehensile feet with sharp nails, which they use to hang upside down to ambush prey. They're often found in family units, and as usual the female will fight at double value if her young are attacked. Good ol' Dad ignores the kids, but goes likewise nuts if his woman is attacked. They have a "latent psionic ability", and what this means is that if anyone near them uses a psionic power, they can retaliate with some form of psionic attack. They themselves are completely immune to psionics.

And you know what? Psychic monkeys. I can't wait to spring a whole pack of these things on an unsuspecting party.

BRAIN MOLES: These are small rodents that inhabit "most places above and below ground". So they must be quite common. This ties in with my previous ideas about the origin of psionics if I say that various rodents are being mutated as well. Rodents are everywhere, after all, and at least this is an explanation for why Brain Moles won't be encountered earlier in the campaign.

They're attracted to psionic activity (even that originating from spells), and seek to feed on it by "psionically burrowing". On a psionic character this works like a really powerful Mind Thrust, and on non-psionics replicating a power with a spell it has a chance to drive them insane. The only out is to run away or kill the bastard mole.

CEREBRAL PARASITES: These are invisible creatures that can become ethereal or astral, that attach to psionic characters and feed off their psionic energy. Once they feed enough, they reproduce and drain even more energy until the victim is used up. The only way to detect them is for a psychic to carefully examine the victim's aura, and then they can be treated like a disease.

I do wonder what happens when a character is completely drained of psionic power, though. There's nothing to indicate that it results in death. Is it just that the character becomes markedly less effective as a psionic? Perhaps that is disadvantage enough, especially if he gets into psionic combat with something.

THOUGHT EATERS: Appearing as a sickly grey, skeletal platypus with an enormous head and webbed paws (Undead Psyduck?) these creatures live in the Ethereal Plane and are basically mindless. They can sense psionic activity in the physical plane, and absorb any psionic or spell energy used near them. They can even consume the thoughts of non-psionics, resulting in permanent loss of Intelligence. Here we get a bit of insight into what low Intelligence actually means. If you have 0 Intelligence, you are dead. At 1, you are alive but mindless. At 2 you are an idiot, and at 3 you are an imbecile, and at 4 you are a "low-grade moron". Nice.

Back to the monster, you can defend against it with the Mind Blank spell and other mental defenses, but it can only be attacked by ethereal characters.

And that's it for the monsters. It's a nice bunch, mostly Demons and psionic-related creatures, but not really the sort of things that will see heavy use until higher levels. I can see why they didn't appear until the third supplement.


Since I seem to have a bit of time, I might as well dive into the copious list of artifacts herein. And this is great stuff, a real trove of old-school D&D lore. I like how the items are given a list of suggested powers, but the DM is encouraged to change them up so that players won't know exactly what to expect. I'll probably go with the powers listed, as my players are unlikely to ever crack the cover of Eldritch Wizardry.

It should be noted that all of these items are one-of-a-kind, most are thousands of years old, their owners generally become like Gollum, and those who try to destroy them usually end up dead. Sounds promising so far.

THE INVULNERABLE COAT OF ARN: This is a shining coat of chainmail, said to be a relic of a bygone age. Not much to go on there, but it fits any humanoid regardless of size and makes the areas covered completely invulnerable to physical attacks. It's also resistant to spells and fire, and makes the wearer completely immune to acid, cold and disease. Suggested Powers: Invisibility, double speed, wearer's touch poisons any human, and wearer shrinks 2 inches every time the armor is used. Heh. It's awesome, but the drawbacks ensure it's use is temporary at best.

THE MACE OF CUTHBERT: This mace is said to be a holy relic from the times of St. Cuthbert, and this is our first mention of this Greyhawk deity (and I believe the first mention of any official deity). It's a +5 weapon that can only be used by good Clerics. Suggested Powers: Levitation, fire resistance, dispel magic 4 times a day, death spell 2 times a day, only activated when it kills a specific monster type, and loses powers when it kills a different specific monster type. That last ability makes it a little unreliable, and I'll have to work out just which monsters make sense for such a power. Perhaps once I know a little more about St. Cuthbert I'll be able to figure something out.

THE SWORD OF KAS: D&D lore, ahoy! This sword belonged to Kas, the one-time bodyguard to the legendary lich Vecna. Alas, that's all we get of the story at the moment, but there's more to come when I get the a certain infamous Hand and Eye. Kas is said to have been the mightiest swordsman of his age, and the sword is made from a thin grey blade of unknown metal.

The sword is +3, +5 against demons, undead and godlings. It's sentient (as all swords are in OD&D) and has very, very high Intelligence and Ego - it's likely that it will possess most of its wielders, and since it is evil will cause a lot of headaches. Suggested Powers: Water breathing, become ethereal 2 times a day, cast a double-strength Cause Serious Wounds 2 times a day, complete magic immunity (but also cannot cast spells, and permanently drains any magic item the wearer touches), restore a level lost to energy drain once a week (it's suggested the level might be drained from a nearby friendly PC...).

Next: More artifact-y goodness.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry part 13

Supplement III continues, with more weird and wondrous monsters.

COUATL: These are winged snakes covered in feathers, rarely found outside of warm jungles. They are also said to be found "flying through the ether", which I am taking to mean the Ethereal Plane, as my memory is telling me they are extraplanar in later editions. Hmmm, having checked the Monster Manuals for AD&D 1e, 2e and 3e, there's nothing explicit, but they do have the power of etherealness from 2e onwards, so I'm on the right track.

Couatl's have a whole load of special abilities – they can polymorph themselves, cast spells as a 5th level M-U and/or a 7th level Cleric, and possess a pretty high level of psionic power. All of this means that they are regarded as divine beings by the inhabitants of their homelands. Luckily for PCs they are Lawful, and luckily for DMs who want to use them as antagonists they have Neutral tendencies.

KI-RIN: The Ki-Rin, which "somewhat resembles a cloudy horse", lives by itself in the clouds, and its hooves rarely touch the ground. They're totally lawful good, and as is usual with Gary, that means that they are super-powerful. Get this: in addition to being of the highest intelligence, they can travel astrally or ethereally, are resistant to all magic cast by a user under 12th level, have 90% resistance to all other spells, can cast spells as an 18th level M-U, and possess every single M-U psionic ability! Oh, plus they have all the abilities of a djinni at double strength. And their air spells are twice as powerful. And they can talk to anything. As much as Gary designed some real rat bastard evil monsters intended to hose the PCs, he had a penchant for making the good guys really overpowered. There's a slight balance in place with the Ki-Rin's tendency to ignore human affairs, but the proper magic can get around that right quick.

SHEDU: The Shedu is said to be somewhat like a Lammasu, having a human's head on the body of a winged bull. They are even said to be cousins of the Lammasu, which is a tidbit to remember, even serving pretty much the same purpose as Lawful Good guys who protect those who serve Law. The only real difference is that they have a load of psionic powers, and can travel Astrally or Ethereally. They seem a little redundant, actually, and I suspect they're probably here just to check off another name from mythology.

INTELLECT DEVOURERS: Ah, a lovely new evil beastie for my collection... Chaotic, evil, intelligent and highly malign – these are the kinds of things that really enamour me towards a monster. Now, I remember these guys as being brains on legs, but here they appear as "a ball-like body of sooty black poised upon four legs." Their colouring lets them hide in shadows like a 10th level Thief, and as such they like to live deep underground, or aboveground in the darkest places. They have claws, but in general attack only with psionics, and they eat psionic energy – "whether gained from the dying shriek or by more subtle means." Rad. If anyone nearby uses a psionic powers, the Devourer will stalk and ambush them, and if it kills the poor guy it will inhabit his body and try to get at other characters. As with most monsters in this book they come with a lot of psionic powers, and they're a bastard to kill. You'll need a +3 weapon at least, and even those do just 1 point of damage. Bright light will drive them away (being shadowy beings, I guess) and a Fire Ball acts as such, but Lightning Bolt is barely effective. Death Spell works a quarter of the time, but Power Word Kill does the trick (it would want to at that level!). Oh, and they roam the Astral and Ethereal Planes. Gary's milking those planes for all they're worth now that they're properly defined.

Adding these new monsters should be no trouble. One lives in jungles I presume to be far away from the City of Greyhawk, one lives in the sky, one lives in the Astral or Ethereal Plane and the last inhabits remote regions underground. None of them are likely to be bumped into on your average dungeon or wilderness jaunt.

MIND FLAYERS: We've seen Mind Flayers before, in The Strategic Review #1, but here they are for the first time in an official supplement, so let's see what is different. Surprisingly, not much. Their stats are unchanged, and so are their special abilities, the only addition being that they now have Psionic Powers. Their Mind Blast is also very slightly changed, in that a few of the numbers on the old Mind Blast chart are switched to ranges. For instance, what would once have put a character in a coma for 3 days now does so for 1-4 days. Although it does seem that Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits are more resistant than they were – I chalk this up to the awakening of psionic potential in all the humanoid races. The fact that Mind Flayers are now more psychically powerful than they were will tie in nicely as well - obviously they are doing something to enhance themselves, probably building some giant brain-thing or other. The side-effect of the Giant Brain's emanations is that humans and some other types are getting powers too.

NEXT: I finish up with the monsters. Get ready for psychic monkeys, people!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry part 12

With the rank-and-file demons out of the way, we move to the Demon Princes. It's noted that there are several such Princes, but Supplement III only has details on Orcus and Demogorgon.

ORCUS: This demon lord is 15' tall, grossly fat, with the head and legs of a goat, the wings of a bat and a poisonous tail. The picture of him that is provided is pretty cool if simplistic, and has remained the basis for the character's depiction all the way up to 4th Edition.

In terms of powers, this guy gets it all: High intelligence, 85% magic resistance, and immunity to all weapons of less than +3 enchantment. Shall I list his at-will abilities, just for fun? Oh yes I shall: continual darkness, charm person, create illusion, cause fear, detect magic, read magic, read languages, detect invisible, ESP, pyrotechnics, dispel magic, clairvoyance, clairaudience, lightning bolt (12 dice!), suggestion, polymorph self, wall of fire, telekinesis, speak with dead and animate dead. Not enough for you? He also gets these once a day: feeblemind, project image, any of the symbol spells, polymorph any object, shape change, and time stop. Oh, and he has an 80% chance of gating in any other type of demon. He'll never gate in another Prince, which is a nice hint about the nature of demonic politics, but at that stage it's probably a moot point.

The list above does speak to the way the game has developed with 4th edition. Even at this early stage, monsters had a bunch of special abilities. 4e pared them right back, citing that things had become too complicated, and I agree that by 3rd edition they had. But in OD&D I feel it works, mostly because you can pretty confidently just look at the name of the ability and extrapolate its effects off the top of your head. That's the beauty of one paragraph spell descriptions.

But I digress. Moving back to Orcus, we discover that he can summon certain members of the undead because he is their Prince. This ability is a doozy, even moreso than the power to gate in other demons. 2-8 vampires are going to ruin your day, you know?

Orcus also wields the Wand of Death, which is made of obsidian and topped with a skull. It's very metal. Anyone touched by it is killed or annihilated unless they're on Orcus's level - that includes other Demon Princes, High Devils, Saints, and Godlings, all of which have been hinted at in Gary's revision of alignment.

DEMOGORGON: Gary was really firing up the imagination when he came up with this guy. He's 18' tall, with the scaly body and legs of a giant lizard. His arms are tentacles, and he has two heads, each of which resembles an evil baboon. I've always thought baboons were kind of creepy looking, so kudos on that. He's rumoured to be supreme among demons, and able to command all cold-blooded creatures, such as snakes and octopi.

As for spell-like powers, I won't list them, as they're pretty much the same as those of Orcus with a few swapped around here and there. Demogorgon can't animate or speak with the dead, for example, but he does get Power Word Stun.

In addition, DG has a hypnotic gaze, and if he fixes the stare of both heads he can hypnotise a whole bunch of guys depending on their hit dice. Anyone under 15 hit dice is affected automatically, but luckily the commands are obeyed for just a few rounds. If just the left head gazes, it works as a Rod of Beguiling, and if the right head gazes it causes insanity.

And just so you don't get the idea to melee this guy, his tail causes level drain of 1-4 levels. And his tentacles rot any body part they touch, making limbs fall off in 6 rounds. It's not quite as final as Orcus's Wand of Death, but there's something even more horrifying about having your arm rot than just being instantly annihilated.

DEMON AMULETS: It turns out that the Demon Princes, and lesser Demon Lords, have their souls contained in amulets. Anyone who possesses the amulet has power over the demon, though not for more than a day. After that the wielder has to return it to the demon, or else can destroy it and exile the demon to the Abyss for a year. Presumably such treatment would not be looked on kindly when the year is up... There are other dangers of carrying one of these, as it doubles the chance of a demon hearing when you say his name, and any demon you're not controlling will instantly attack you. In general any demon thus commanded is going to be pissed off, but there's a slim chance that exorbitant payment for aid rendered, and careful return of the amulet, will placate it. But because this is Gary, it's couched in terms that make it seem highly unlikely.

Oh, and to finish up, we get the psionic strengths of the various demons, all of which have psionic power except for Type I.

NEXT: More monsters of the crazy variety.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry part 11

Today I'm tackling the debut of everyone's favourite denizens of the Lower Planes, the Demons. Demons have been mentioned in D&D before, most notably in Gygax's alignment article from The Strategic Review, in which we learned that they live in the Abyss and are the epitome of Chaotic Evil. But this is the first time we get anything approaching detail – and while it's a good chunk of detail, it seems pretty sparse from a modern perspective.

The section begons with a note that there are demons of various types, as well as the Demon Princes Orcus and Demogorgon. Huzzah, long-standing canon! All demons can see in the dark, teleport without error, cause darkness, and use the Gate spell to summon other demons. So, yikes, already. Also, every demon type has magic resistance, meaning a percentage chance to totally shrug off any spell.

Again it's reiterated that Demons are Chaotic Evil, and the stronger types rule over the weaker. Demons range from Type I to Type VI, and any demon over Type V is not slain when killed in combat but forced back to its home plane for 100 years.

Demons don't serve anyone willingly and in general try to kill their masters whenever possible. Unless they take a liking to someone – then they only carry them off to be a slave (much better!). For added fun, if anyone speaks the name of a powerful demon, there's a chance the demon will hear and turn his attentions upon them – meaning a swift death to the weak, of course. The chance is quite high as well, much to my delight.

Type I: A sort of human-vulture hybrid, with weaker abilities than the other demons – it can even be hit by normal weapons!

Type II: A disgusting frog demon. Again they can be hit by normal weapons, but they can also cause fear and levitate.

Type III: These guys are huge, with goat heads, pincer hands, and a seemingly useless set of regular human arms. Once more, surprisingly, they can be hit by normal weapons. I was certain all demons required magic to hit, but I suppose that's the later editions talking to me. Besides the regular demon abilities, they can polymorph self, but it seems more useful for trickery than combat when your natural form is that of a four-armed demon.

Type IV: Ah, now we're talking. These winged ape-boar demons have a whole host of nasty abilities, and they can only be hit by magical weapons. Most potent among their arsenal are the symbols of fear and discord, and the ability to gate in demons up to Type VI.

Succubus: Taking a detour from the regular demon types, we find the classic demonic temptress. In addition to high magic resistance and an immunity to normal weapons, their kiss causes level drain, and they get a number of abilities related to disguise and mind control. For ultimate fun, their Gate even has a slim chance of summoning one of the Demon Princes – I guess they help out the hot chicks more than the weird ape-boar things, huh?

Type V: A demon with a snake's body, and the torso of a six-armed female. As before, high magic resistance and immunity to normal weapons. They can use a weapon in each hand, and like the succubus they get a chance to Gate in a Demon Prince.

Type VI: Hmmm. Not sure what's going on here, but my entry seems to be incomplete here. All we get is the note that they are 12' tall, highly intelligent, and that they have more powerful versions of the abilities already gifted to other demons. If we go back to the stats, it's noted that they roll a 10-sided die for hit points, rather than the usual 8. Going back even further to the Table for Attack and Damage Type, it seems that this monster is a replacement for the Balrog. Interesting. It would be nice to have the complete entry, though.

It's surprising to me the lack of real detail we get here. So far, the demons are all just a physical description and a bunch of special abilities. Admittedly that's not much more than we get for the other monsters in OD&D, but I was expecting a little more. Perhaps a bit more of the lore will become apparent when I get into the Demon Princes next time.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry part 10

Monsters! Monsters! Everybody loves 'em. Well, everybody except for adventurers that is. But everyone whose opinion matters. Supplement III has a whole lot of awesome new beasties that have stood the test of time and editions. But first, some changes to some old favourites.

TRITONS: The fish-men introduced in Supplement I now have a chance to gain psionic powers. So this means that whatever is awakening the minds of the PC races is getting these guys as well (and a number of other monster types as you will see below).

TITANS: Introduced in Supplement I, these uber-powerful giants are surely strong enough already, aren't they? Nah, they need 60% magic resistance now. How did they get it? It's a mystery, but I'm going to chalk it up to them regaining the favour of some god or another. In addition it's revealed that they can talk to any kind of giant, and they are very buddy-buddy with Storm Giants. They can now gain psionic powers, and as if that ain't enough they're completely immune to psionic directed against them. With all this extra power, the DM can now use them to Titan the screws on his players (har har).

LICHES: Continuing the trend of monsters that are already strong enough getting a major power-up, Liches also gain psionic potential.

COCKATRICES: Now that the Astral Plane and the Ethereal Plane have been concretely established, there's a need to elaborate on how certain monsters interact with them. First up is that wonderful chicken-monster the Cockatrice, which is said to extend into both of these planes. As such its beak (which turns anyone on the regular plane to stone) will instantly kill a creature touched in the Astral Plane. Anyone in the Ethereal Plane is turned into ethereal stone, and can only be seen by creatures able to see ethereal. There's something extra-rad about a monster that can turn you to stone that only exists in another dimension.

BASILISKS, GORGONS and MEDUSAE: For consistency's sake, all of the other monsters that can turn your ass to stone are given the same abilities as the Cockatrice above.

CATOBLEPAS: Add the Catoblepas to the above category as well. As if that monster's insta-death-no-save-gaze wasn't absurdly deadly enough...

INVISIBLE STALKERS: These beasties live in the Astral and the Ethereal Plane. When encountered in these places they can be dimly seen and thus more easily struck, which is a rare case in OD&D of a special exception making something LESS deadly.

GRAY OOZE: Now this is a good one. It's revealed here that Gray Oozes have a sim intelligence, and that occasionally one might have latent psionic potential. So if anyone uses a psionic power near one of these things, it will lash out with a psychic crush. This tickles me greatly, and reinforces oozes as something alien and unknowable.

YELLOW MOLD: Similarly, a large colony of Yellow Mold can form into a collective intelligence. If any creature approaches such an intelligent mold, it will deliberately attack with a cloud of spores, and if psionic powers are used near it, it will retaliate with the most powerful version of Id Insinuation. Normally you can't retaliate, unless there's a Cleric on hand with the ability to telepathically communicate with plants.

So that takes care of the monsters that have been introduced previously. Next time I'll tackle the various forms of Demons, and maybe the Demon Princes if I'm feeling extra-productive. (Unlikely.)