Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Dragon #8 part 2

The Development of Towns in D&D: This article gives guidelines on designing your campaign's main town or city, where the PCs go between dungeon expeditions. The advice given is generally quite good, but in my opinion it errs on the side of over-preparation. (Yes, I realise how ridiculous that is coming from the author of this blog.) There are number of little rules tidbits that I'm going to pilfer from here:

  • Cartographers sell wilderness and dungeon maps for 100 to 600 gp, depending on how remote the area is.
  • A shave and a haircut at the barbers costs 1 gp.
  • Armour and weapons can be bought at pawnshops, but they have a 1-in-6 chance of being defective.
  • There is a 1-in-4 chance that a foreign merchant or two will be present in the main square.
  • Horses can be boarded at the stables for 2-3 gp per week.
  • In the seedy area of town, there is a 1-in-8 chance per turn of encountering a thief or a band of brigands.
  • Soothsayers charge 20 gp to predict how a planned adventure might turn out.
  • There are magicians who will cast spells for a fee of 50gp x spell level. Now this is something I will have to limit to very low level spells, probably only 1st or 2nd. The price is far too low for anything more powerful, and only the weakest and poorest of magic-users would resort to selling their services for such a low price.
  • Brothels charge 20gp (and 35 gp for the special!). Bribes of 10-100 gp can be made to find out information.
  • Surgeons can heal 1-6 hit points for 25 gp with a 50% chance of success. They have a 1-in-6 chance to cure poison for 35 gp.
  • Scholars at the library can research facts for a fee that begins at 100gp and goes up as the info required gets more specific.

In addition, an inn named Falgrave's is detailed, which I will probably jam into the City of Greyhawk. It's run by a dwarf named Falgrave, and is mostly frequented by demi-humans. Falgrave himself is up on all the non-human gossip.

There's a quick method given for generating NPCs, which is pretty handy. It brings up the idea that adventurers are exceptional, and suggests rolling 3d4 for the stats of townspeople. I can support this as a general idea, but in practice there's no scope here for townsfolk to have any scores greater than 12, so I'm ignoring it. I'm also ignoring the suggestion that females only roll 2d6 for Strength and Constitution. But rolling 2d6 for every stat for kids? That I'll go with. Also provided is a means for determining random alignment, age, personality type, loyalty, initiative and level. It's nice to haved this sort of thing on hand.

To illustrate the method we get a sample NPC, Blatherson of Hillock. His stats are: Str 12, Con 9, Int 13, Cha 15, Dex 8, Wis 7. He's Lawful, old, loyal to his friends, and cooperative and friendly. He's 4th level, and though it doesn't say I will assume that he is a Fighter. He frequents the Golden Goblet tavern, where he constantly drinks mead and tells stories of his exploits in the Goblin Wars.

Introduction to Gamma World: Yes, Gamma World is going to be in my campaign, given that it has conversion rules in the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide. This article gives a brief background for the setting. The gist is that in the 23rd Century, life is great until various ideological groups start warring with each other. Into this chaos comes a mysterious group known as The Apocalypse, which issues an ultimatum to the governments of the world: stop fighting, or be destroyed. Man unites in battle against The Apocalypse, but the resulting war destroys human civilization and leaves the Earth devastated. Nice set-up, and I look forward to delving further into this later on.

A Re-Evaluation of Gems & Jewelry in D&D: This article presents a series of tables that give greater variety and accuracacy in determining the type and value of gems and jewelry. It falls a smidge on the over-detailed side, but even the author is smart enough to acknowledge that this doesn't work for the times when you find a crapload of gems together. It's fine for the smaller hauls, though.

For my campaign I'll be introducing these tables with the explanation that gem evaluation techniques make a sudden rapid improvement all of a sudden.

Still More Additions to Metamorphosis Alpha: Jesus H, is Jim Ward still cranking this stuff out? This time we get some new monsters. It's an eclectic selection, with mutated plants, animals, and even a few awful pun-based monsters modelled after the staff of TSR. The Gygarant, for example, has a Sonic Yell attack, I guess because Gygax used to shout at people a lot. You see what they did there? Eh, I'm sure it was funny to people who knew them personally.

Anyway, I won't go the details, because I don't know the MA rules at all. But all of these guys will be going into my version of the Starship Warden. Even the pun monsters, because although they are lame they are also quite functional and dangerous, at least to my untrained eye.

Next: The Dragon #9!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Dragon #8 part 1

After last issue's dearth of usable articles, it's back to business as usual. The Dragon #8 has a bunch of useful ones, including one on the Outer Planes that introduces a lot of D&D lore. But first, the articles that I'm not using.

The Dragon Rumbles editorial talks about how pleased Tim Kask is to have a story by Harry Fischer in the magazine. He also mentions that The Gnome Cache will be back next issue, but he's lying. The Finzer Family is the aforementioned story, and blimey it's long – so long that the final part is in the next issue. And So, You Want Realism in D&D is a satirical means of determining what your stats would be in real life. Using this method, my stats are very, very bad.

Planes, The Concepts of Spatial, Temporal and Physical Relationships in D&D: This article basically sets forth what will become the Great Wheel cosmology – the classic planar set-up for D&D. This will probably be the only article I tackle today, because it's a doozy.

The first thing that the article posits is that there are an infinite number of co-existing planes. While this could refer to the Inner Planes, the Outer Planes, and the many sub- and demi-planes sandwiched between them, I prefer to think that it refers to alternate realities - each alternate reality being either a published campaign setting or someone's home campaign.

The regular plane for human life is clarified as The Prime Material Plane, which includes the planet Earth (or Oerth, if you will), as well as the entire physical universe. Touching this plane are the Positive and Negative Material Planes, as well as the four elemental planes (Air, Earth, Fire and Water). The Ethereal Plane exists in the same space as the material, and can be used to travel to any of the Inner Planes (i.e. the ones that touch the material). The Astral Plane allows travel to the outer planes. It's also said to 'warp the dimension we know as length' which I don't really get. But as a mere mortal, I shouldn't understand the nature of the planes, should I?

There are sixteen Outer Planes, which are "a collection of the religious and/or philosophical goals (or anti-goals) of mankind and the other intellectual species". Classic Gygax. The Outer Planes are: The Seven Heavens, The Happy Hunting Grounds, The Twin Paradises, Olympus, Elysium, Gladsheim, Limbo, Pandemonium, The 666 Layers of the Abyss, Tarterus, Hades, Gehenna, The Nina Hells, Acheron, Nirvana, and Arcadia. This matches up perfectly with Gygax's earlier article on alignment, which has me doing the happy dance. It also gives us a bit more information, such as how many levels some of these planes have. In addition we learn that travel from the Astral Plane always places the traveller on the first level of the Plane. Also, you can apparently walk from one Plane to those adjacent to it, which I find awesome for some reason. There's not a lot of info given on the planes apart from their names, but given that most of them were drawn from mythology, it wouldn't have been too hard to flesh them out.

Where this article gets really intriguing is when it starts talking about magic weapons. Monsters that can only be harmed by a special material, like silver or cold iron, are said to exist partially in either the Positive or Negative Material Plane. Creatures that can only be hit by +1 weapons are said to exist completely in two planes at once. Those needing a +2 weapon to hit exist in three planes at once, and so on. The conclusion that is drawn from this is that magical weapons also extend into multiple planes.

The exact nature of this is explored in some pretty murky text that I'm going to try and decipher. A +1 weapon extends into planes once removed from the Prime material, a +2 weapon in those twice removed, and so on. Those with special bonuses against a certain type of creature have a more intense nature in the plane that creature has its extra existence. The article then posits the idea that every type of creature has its own sub-plane on which it has its personal existence – this is in order to explain weapons that deal extra damage to creatures that can still be hit by normal weapons. This system also allows creatures operating in the Astral or Ethereal Planes to be struck by magic weapons.

The idea is also given that magic weapons can only operate within a certain proximity to the Prime Material Plane. So a +1 weapon is only effective while you are at most one plane away from the Prime Material. Go further than that (say, into the Outer Planes) and your weapon is no longer magical. The sword of sharpness and the vorpal blade are said to have special treatment, though its not clarified what this might be – perhaps they always function regardless of what plane they're on? I'm still a bit unclear on exactly how this all works, but the beauty of it is that it doesn't really affect anything mechanically - it's just a way to explain how it all works given the existing set-up of the planes.

The article ends when Gygax drops the bombshell that this system will require him to revise the whole of D&D. It's a pretty atrange place to announce what will become AD&D, that's for sure.

As for introducing it to my campaign, I'm thinking of just dropping in a tome that has the article in it almost word for word. I'd like to see what my players will make of it all!

Next: The Dragon #8 part 2

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Dragon #7

Remember last issue when the editorial promised to expand the magazine coverage to different games? This where it begins, leaving me with a pretty small selection of articles to cover.

But first, the irrelevent ones. The Dragon Rumbles editorial talks about how far the magazine has come since issue #1, and also makes sure to point out that nothing they publish for D&D is considered official. What to Do When Dogs Eat Your Dice details ways to generate random numbers without dice. Mapping the Dungeons continues to show names and addresses of DMs. Mystery Hill – America's Stonehenge gives the history of a natural rock formation in the USA. The Journey Most Alone is a sequel to last issue's short story by Morno. And Editor's Library talks a bit about the classic game OGRE, and also gives the thumbs up to Judges Guild.

Gary Gygax on Dungeons & Dragons: This article sees Gygax writing about the genesis of the game, from the Castle & Crusade Society, to Chainmail, to Blackmoor to D&D. I won't go into the details here, because there are much better resources out there that have this info at hand. The only detail of note is that originally, Dave Arneson's barony of Blackmoor was situated north-east from the Great Kingdom. From what I remember of the official World of Greyhawk maps, the exact opposite is true. So I doubt I can make use of this, barring some past cataclysm that reshaped the land or something. But it seems a little drastic to fit around the established continuity. This is one I'll probably just have to turf out.

Military Formations of the Nations of the Universe: It's yet another Empire of the Petal Throne article by M.A.R. Barker. Say what you will of the man, he certainly was prolific and imaginative.

This is an article about the various military formations used by the nations of Tekumel. As with all EPT stuff I'm not going to get into this too much here. But this is thorough, and will really come in handy should the PCs get embroiled in mass battle on that world. Especially since the formations have names like 'The Oncoming Wings of the Hereafter' and 'The Five Fingers of Death'. Not only evocative, but completely rad.

Featured Creature – The Prowler: A Prowler is, according to the illustration here, a large green worm or serpent with creepy red eyes and a mouth full of tentacles. Their eyes have the power to irrevocably erase the mind of anyone who looks into them, turning them into a mindless zombie. They then implant eggs under the zombie's skin, then send them out to wander around for a bit until the eggs hatch and the baby prowlers eat their former host.

Although the word 'irrevocable'was used above and in the actual monster description, a zombie's mind can be recovered by three high-level Clerics all casting dispell evil. It's no wonder there are so many different ways to interpret Gygax's rules, because he contr4adicts himself here within the space of a coupleof paragraphs.

There's a cool bit about really smart Prowlers setting up hatcheries full of zombies that act as guards and egg hosts. I'm already picturing a creepy series of caves full of these bastards, so I think I have me a nice lair to place in the wilderness.

Oh, and I just checked the stats on this thing. 14 hit dice? Armor Class 1? 50% magic resistance? Constriction for 4-48 points of damage a round? Blimey, they're well hard.

One last thing – in the article here they spell zombie as 'zombei' repeatedly. I'm not sure if it's a typo or a way to differentiate from the regular undead zombie. I might put in an obnoxious sage type who insists on pronouncing the word with a slight inflection, and sharply corrects any players who pronounce it differently. (In case you don't know, I like to design NPCs just to irritate my players.)

The Gnome Cache Chapter 7: This is it, the final installment of Garrison Ernst's (aka Gary Gygax's) first novel. Except it isn't. The story ends on a cliffhanger and is never seen again. From what I've read the magazine's editor Tim Kask didn't care for it and cut it right out of there as quick as he could. Which I think is a bit of a shitty thing to do, leaving the serial unfinished. Surely there were some readers out there following it. I quite like it myself.

This installment sees Dunstan and Mellerd fleeing from the slaughter of the last chapter, and coming across a dwarf being pursued by giant frogs and frog men. The following details can be gleaned:

  • The Nehron uprising mentioned by the bandits last issue was no hoax, and they actually have taken Blackmoor.
  • East of Blackmoor is a jumble of broken terrain stretching out to the sea, home to roving bands of Nehronlanders.
  • West is a trackless forest which leads to the slopes of the Senescent Hills, an inhospitable place that is home to creatures that do not welcome men.
  • The Free City of Humpbridge bends from south-west to south across the base of the Senescent range.
  • South-west of Blackmoor, in a valley near the Senescents, is a strange black river.

With that out of the way, the question remains – what happens to Dunstan and Mellerd from here? I'm afraid to say that I am drawing the obvious conclusion: that they were killed by the giant frogs, and that's why their story ends so abruptly (don't blame me, blame Tim Kask!). That leaves the question of the frogs themselves, but earlier details make that an easy one. Giant Frogs and Frog Men near Blackmoor? It's all very reminiscent of the situation from The Temple of the Frog, the adventure module from Supplement II. I'll just have to put some evidence of the deaths of Dunstan and Mellerd in the surrounding area for the PCs to discover. Oh, and possibly include a treasure guarded by gnomes somewhere nearby – the story was called The Gnome Cache after all, even if it never got to that point.

Next: The Dragon #8

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Dragon #6 part 2

Further Rules, Modifications and Clarifications for Metamorphosis Alpha: The glut of articles about this game continues. This time we get some clarification to a few mutations that were vague in their implementation. For example, for the mutation that makes you taller than normal, here is given the exact means of determining how tall. Some other powers are given ranges and the like – simple stuff that was forgotten in the original rules. There is also a change to the poison rules that allows for extra deadliness when PCs are poisoned multiple times in a short period – given that I'm using D&D saving throw rules, I doubt these will come into play in my campaign. There are also small changes to the rules for missile weapons and vibro weapons that would make more sense to me if I knew the MA rules, I'm sure.

From the Fantasy Forge: This article details the recently released official D&D miniatures from MiniFigs. I don't have any of these, and it's highly unlikely I'll be able to get any, so they won't come into use in my game. But there are a few things to note that the miniatures indicate. The first is that the Hobgoblins are the only goblinoids with sergeants and standard-bearers – an early sign of how militant they will eventually become. The kobolds are depicted in their classic dog-faced form, which fits nicely with the art we've already seen in Swords & Spells. The gnolls are similarly hyena-headed. This is the period where D&D is starting to solidify its visual identity.

The Gnome Cache Chapter 6: In this penultimate installment, Dunstan has taken up with a merchant caravan as a mercenary protector. The chapter ends with the caravan having been attacked by bandits, and Dunstan fleeing for his life.

As usual, below are the meagre gleanings I have gotten from the story:

  • After a week's journey, the merchant caravan crosses the Aarn River and enters the walled town of Rheyton.
  • The men of the distant western plains are small and wiry.
    The land that Dunstan hails from is known as Thalland, and the people that live there are called Thallites.
  • Northerners from Nehron or Kimbry are broad, burly and dark-haired.
  • The merchant is a Thallite known as Evan. The leader of his mercenary band is called Rufus, and Baldwin is his lieutenant. One of the Kimbry in the band is known as Vardabothet. All of them probably die at the end of this chapter.
  • The Kimbry live in the Kimbry Vale, beyond which are mountains.
  • After many days travel they reach the border keep of Blackmoor, which also has a village and a guardian castle. The Nehron peasants seem unhappy with their noble lord.
  • An evergreen forest begins a few leagues north of Blackmoor.
  • The bandits mention a Nehron uprising against Blackmoor, but this could be a ruse on their part.

Determination of Psionic Abilities: This is an alternate system for determining whether a character is psionic. Whereas the old system was reliant on the PC having high ability scores, this one allows any human character to test for psionic ability regardless of score. It also gives half-human character a chance for psionics, albeit a smaller one. The major departure is that here the abilities are no longer divided by character class – any character can possess any psionic ability. Otherwise things work much the same, but those with ESP can learn psionic abilities from others.

This will replace the psionic system from Supplement III at this point in my campaign, as the psionic potential of humans broadens.

Morale in D&D: This is an alternate morale system – not only for the NPCs, but for the PCs themselves! Each PC has a Bravery stat, rolled on 3d6 along with his other ability scores. This gives a modifier to the morale roll, as does the party leader's charisma, the character's loyalty, how frightening the monster faced, the number of clerics or magic-users in the party, etc. These modifiers are added to a roll of 1d10 and compared to a chart to see how the PCs react in any combat situation.

This is the sort of ruleset that anticipates things like the Sanity rules from Call of Cthulhu, but it's the type of rule that I'm opposed to on a number of levels. The biggest reason is that it uses rules to supercede the will of the players – anything that takes choice away from the player is bad (except for magical effects, of course, so long as they're used sparingly). I'd be inclined not to use this at all, but there's a little example setting here that saves me...

The writer describes his home setting of Fantorgn, where humans are predominant and demi-humans are rare and mistrusted. I figure on using this as a mini-setting that the PCs can get to. Pervaded by a palpable air of dread, they will be less able to control their fears while in this world – sort of like a prototype Ravenloft, a Demi-Plane of Dread. Some sample NPCs from this world are Klabath Durhn (a 6th level Fighter with a 14 Bravery), and Maygreth the Fierce (a 7th level Fighter with a 15 Charisma). The rest of their party consists of another 6th level Fighter, three 4th level Fighters, a 5th level Magic-User, his three 2nd level assistants, three village priests from the local temple, a half-elf guide and two elf hirelings.

So I'll use these rules, but only if the PCs happen to make their way into Fantorgn. It's my way of marginalising a rule-system that I really dislike, while foreshadowing some future developments like the Ravenloft setting.

Featured Creature – The Death Angel: Death Angels appear as winged men with scythes and awesome helmets. They have two purposes – the first is to warn someone of impending death, and the second is to kill someone as a representative of Death itself.

This is something they are really, really good at. They can teleport and fly, so there's little chance of escape. And every time they hit with a scythe attack, it's save or die, and even on a successful save you still lose a point of Constitution. They cant be dispelled, and turning only works on them temporarily. All that and 95% magic resistance makes for a pretty formidable foe.

Anyone killed by a Death Angel returns as one in three days. They can be bought back with a Raise Dead Fully spell, but even then the chance for resurrection is rolled as if the character had a Constitution score of 3. Any character killed by a Death Angel three times can't ever be brought back, even by a Wish.

Death Angels single-mindedly attack their target, and will return again and again until they are successful. The only way to kill one permanently is to cast Remove Curse after it is killed by its intended victim.

Death Angels are said to be 'Fingers of Fate', used only by Gods, Demi-Gods, and very powerful Liches and Evil High Priests.

I doubt I'll use these guys much at all, given that they are a one-off monster that was never brought forward into AD&D. Given the power of the beings that command them, I suppose that they are used sparingly, so I don't need a lot of justification for their rarity.

Next: The Dragon #7.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Dragon #6 part 1

I return from my holiday feeling somewhat rested but no more enthusiastic than I was beforehand. I did not game that whole time, and D&D was really not on my mind at any point. Oh, 4th Edition, see what horrors thou hast wrought!

So here's the plan. I only have a few more products to cover before I reach the end of the OD&D era for TSR, and the beginning of the AD&D era. (For reasons I will get to at a later point, I have decided that the D&D Basic Set authored by J. Eric Holmes is the beginning of the AD&D era.) I plan to tackle those products, namely issues #6 through 9 of The Dragon, and all three sets of the Monster & Treasure Assortment, before changing things up a little.

Once that change comes, I'll be consolidating some of the data I've gleaned so far. Take Castle Blackstar, for instance, the home dungeon of D&D contributor Joe Fischer. There is very little that Fischer wrote for D&D after this, so I feel confident in working up the bare bones of a large dungeon for this location. I also plan to delve into what can be gleaned from the internet and other articles about the original Greyhawk and Blackmoor campaigns, in order to work up a basic timeline of events from before the beginning of my campaign. It's a way to continue the project while changing gears a little bit, which will hopefully refresh my batteries.

But for now, we have The Dragon #6. As always, I'll begin with a quick recap of the articles that I'm not using for the project. The Dragon Rumbles editorial talks about expanding the magazine's coverage of games other than D&D and Empire of the Petal Throne; The Forest of Flame is a short story by early TSR artist Morno that feels the need to spell wizard as wysard; and holy crap, that's it! So much for The Dragon's resolution to cover different games, eh?

An Alternate Beginning Sequence for Metamorphosis Alpha: Like it says in the title, this is a different way to begin a Metamorphosis Alpha campaign. Instead of playing as tribesmen on the Starship Warden, the players begin as clones of the original crew created by the ship to fix the current disaster and get things running the way they should be.

These clones have much greater technical knowledge than the average MA character, though I gather that their potential for mutation is smaller. Even so they have a chance to start with some, and exposure to radiation increases that chance. Some of the special skills that can be generated here are pretty nifty, from immortality to resurrection to the ability to power technology with your mind.

I doubt that I will use this article as intended, given that the majority of PCs in my campaign will be created as D&D characters. But I will certainly include clones like those shown here should the PCs ever venture into the Starship Warden. I also wouldn't rule out introducing a PC who is a clone should a player need to be introduced to the game while the party is stuck in the Starship.

Sea Trade in D&D Campaigns: This article provides a means for the DM to determine the success of any trading ventures the PCs might decide to invest in. Not that this system will be used should the PCs go along for the ride – if that is the case the usual wilderness adventure rules apply. This is for when some wise-ass PC decides he wants to run a sea trade business in absentia while still adventuring.

It's a really nice set of rules, I think – not too complex, and with an element of risk. The PC writes out a set of orders detailing how much cargo the ship will carry, how many ports it will visit, how much to buy, etc. As is the way of things in OD&D, success is determined by a big ol' chart. The number of ports bypassed increases the chance for a big profit, but it also increases the chance that the ship will be lost. Risk vs. reward, and all it takes for the DM is one roll on a chart.

Something tells me I won't ever need these rules, but you never know. They're easily adapted for use with land trade, as well.

Legions of the Petal Throne Painting Guide: Wow, this Empire of the Petal Throne thing is detailed, man. This article has M.A.R. Barker going through all of the EPT miniatures and giving the actual colours that they would be in his world. Not just the soldiers get this treatment, but all of the very strange beasties as well. This is full-on stuff, and I very much doubt that there are many other worlds out there that get into this level of minutiae. As for applicability to my campaign, I will be keeping this on hand for when I need to write descriptions and flavour text and the like. And hopefully I will remember the details should I need to come up with this info off the cuff!

That's it for me tonight, as it is stinkingly, wretchedly hot here for we Southrons. I'll be back in a couple of days with more stuff from The Dragon #6.