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