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.