Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas, all

This one is for commentor Dwight Divine, who was looking for the Christmas message on the back cover of The Dragon #11.  Here it is!  A hearty 'merry Christmas' from the crew at TSR circa 1978, and a hearty BAH HUMBUG from me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

AD&D Monster Manual part 18

Giants: There are six types of giants detailed in the Monster Manual: Cloud Giants, Fire Giants, Frost Giants, Hill Giants, Stone Giants and Storm Giants. The first five debuted in OD&D, while Storm Giants were first seen in Supplement I.

The first thing that leaps to my attention is that giants are said to have Strength scores ranging from 19 to 25. This is the first time we have seen mention of ability scores greater than 18. I don’t think these scores get detailed until the Player’s Handbook, but they're factored into the giants' stats in a vague sort of fashion.

There’s a method given here for determining the stats of young giants. You simply roll percentile dice, and the percentage rolled is how close to fully grown the giant is. Their hit points and damage are adjusted by the percentage rolled. This seems like a good enough solution to work for just about any monster, and I’m going to use it for monsters where this stuff is not already detailed (i.e. dragons have the whole age category thing going on, so I wouldn’t do it for them).

Giants have gotten poorer on average, it seems. In OD&D, a giant always carried with it a sack containing 1000 to 6000 gold pieces. Now they carry 1000 to 6000 coins, which could be anything from copper to silver to gold to platinum.

Cloud Giant: Cloud Giants are now encountered in smaller groups than they were in OD&D, have a better Armor Class, move faster, and have just a few more hit points on average. In OD&D they were either Neutral or Chaotic, but now they are Neutral with either good or evil tendencies.

Giants were pretty sparsely detailed in OD&D, so we get a lot of new info here. Firstly, we learn that some Cloud Giants actually live on clouds, which cements them as being inspired by Jack and the Beanstalk. In OD&D all giants had a chance to have pets, those being hydras, bears and wolves. These pets have now been individualised for each type of giant, and Cloud Giants get spotted lions. A specific range and damage are provided for the giant’s stone throwing ability, and they can now catch any large stones hurled at them (this applies to all the other giants as well). While previously Cloud Giants had been said to have a keen sense of smell, that has now been translated into a mechanical bonus, as they are very hard to surprise. And logically, given that 10% of Cloud Giants live in the sky, they can now levitate themselves. We also get a physical description for Cloud Giants; they have blue skin and silver hair.

Fire Giant: Fire Giants have a slightly better Armor Class, but are otherwise statistically similar. Neutral or Chaotic in OD&D, they are now Lawful Evil. They are still immune to fire (and this includes red dragon breath, so I’d extend it to pretty much any fire there is). Their pets of choice are hell hounds. They have black skin and red beards.

Frost Giant: Frost Giants have a very small amount of extra hit points, and their alignment has changed from Neutral or Chaotic to Chaotic Evil. They are also a little shorter on average (15’ instead of 18’). They keep winter wolves as pets. They’re immune to all cold attacks, including dragon breath, just like they were in OD&D. They have dead white skin and blue or yellow beards.

Hill Giant: Hill Giants now appear in greater numbers, and get a couple of extra hit points. They’re also a little shorter on average than they were (10½ feet instead of 12). As guards they keep dire wolves, giant lizards, or ogres. These guys are coloured pretty much like humans, and that’s basically what they are – very big dumb humans with clubs.

Stone Giant: Stone Giants have gotten a major boost to Armor Class – from 4 to 0. It looks like the ‘Stone’ part is starting to apply literally. They could be Neutral or Chaotic in OD&D, but now their alignment is listed as Neutral. Like most of the other giants, they’ve shrunk on average, from 15 feet tom 12 feet tall. They keep cave bears as pets. In OD&D Stone Giants used the heavy catapult rules for stone throwing, as opposed to the regular catapult that all the other giants used. Here they’ve retained their rock-throwing proficiency, getting a better range and damage than everyone else. They’re also better at catching rocks than the others as well. And I like how they are described as playful, like they throw rocks at people just for kicks (it reminds me of the Stone Giant scene from The Hobbit, actually). They have gray-brown skin that helps them blend into rocky surroundings, but aren’t given a surprise bonus or anything for it.

Storm Giant: Storm Giants are now encountered in smaller groups, but they have a better Armor Class and a few more hit points. Their alignment has changed from Lawful to Chaotic Good. They’re shorter on average than they were, going from 24 feet to 21 feet. They keep rocs and griffons as pets, and may even use a roc as a mount. Some storm giants live underwater, and they may have sea lions. Surprisingly, storm giants couldn’t cast lightning bolts in OD&D – but here they can summon an 8d6 bolt once per day. They also get some other new abilities: levitate, predict weather, call lightning, control winds and weather summoning (some of these replace the giant’s old Control Weather ability, which I guess is a spell that doesn’t have that name or doesn't exist in AD&D). They’re now immune to electrical attacks. Physically, they have green or purple skin, with green, blue or purple hair.

Monday, December 06, 2010

AD&D Monster Manual part 17

Giant Gar: Gar were first mentioned in OD&D as companions for Nixies.  And I tell you, the stats here make any encounter with Nixies a darn sight deadlier.  Giant Gars can also swallow opponents whole on an attack roll of 20, with a 5% chance per round that the swallowed character will die.
Gargoyles: Gargoyles first appeared in OD&D.  Statistically, there are a few minor changes, but nothing noteworthy.  They're still super-aggressive, even more so than before - instead of a 75% chance, they now have a 90% chance to attack anything they meet.  And now they like to torture their prey to death, so gargoyles aren't getting any more pleasant as the game progresses.

Kapaocinths get a mention. They were introduced in Supplement II, along with a whole host of other superfluous aquatic variations of already existing monsters.  We learn that they dwell in caves in shallow waters.

Gas Spores: It's another 'gotcha' monster designed by Gary to trick his players.  A gas spore is a mindless floating sphere that resembles a beholder.  If struck, it explodes and deals 6d6 damage to anyone within 20 feet.  That's the part I remember.  What I never knew is that if one touches you, it injects you with tiny 'rhizomes' that grow throughout your body and kill you unless you get a cure disease within 24 hours.  If you die, your body sprouts a lot of baby gas spores.  Awesome - I love monsters that turn the PCs into more monsters.

Gas spores are very cool, but their effectiveness has waned over the years, because every player's first instict upon seeing a beholder now is to think that it's a gas spore.  That's probably their best use now - to lull players into a false sense of security before you unleash the real beholders on them.

Gelatinous Cube: Gelatinous Cubes were first mentioned in OD&D, but they didn't get stats until Supplement I.  They now get a greater chance to surprise opponents, and their 'anesthetizing' power now gets a duration.  Cubes used to be immune to cold, but now if they fail a save vs. a cold attack they take 1d4 damage and are slowed.  They also get explicit immunity to sleep and hold spells now.  Oh, and the aquatic Gelatinous Cubes mentioned in Supplement II are not to be seen here.

Ghast: I'm kind of shocked that Ghasts are making their first appearance here.  A ghast is like a ghoul, but tougher.  It has more hit dice, and the same paralysing touch (that even works on elves).  Their main ability is their stench, which causes anyone who fails a save vs. poison to attack at -2.  They have the standard undead immunities, but cold iron weapons deal double damage to them.  They are also said to be often used as slaves by demons, so I wonder if they have some sort of demonic pedigree.  Demons are the only other monsters I can think of that are affected by cold iron.

Ghost: Ghosts first appeared in The Strategic Review #3.  They are basically the same monster, with a few minor tweaks.  Characters of over 9th level are no longer immune to their aging attack, though those of over 8th get a +2 to their saving throw.  And whereas before 5th level clerics were immune, now it is 6th level clerics.  They can also now be struck by silver weapons when semi-materialised, though they only deal half damage.  And they can only be hit by spells from an ethereal caster.

Ghoul: Ghouls first appeared in OD&D, and they are so rad that all Gary had to change was their bite damage (from 1d4 to 1d6).  The more I read, though, the more I become convinced that ghouls are not 'dead' in the way that other undead are.  They feel more to me like humans warped and twisted by their corpse-feeding tendencies.

Lacedons, the aquatic ghouls mentioned in Supplement II, are also present.

Friday, December 03, 2010

AD&D Monster Manual part 16

Flightless Bird: Honestly, I’m disappointed. Gary went to the trouble to differentiate Asian and African Elephants, but he’s lumped emus and ostriches together. Anyway, flightless birds first appeared in Supplement III on the wilderness encounter tables, but this is the first time they get stats. Actually, I was wrong about Gary above, because ostriches get 3 hit dice, emus get 2, and rheas get 1. They’re non-aggressive and will run away, but might peck you if cornered.

You know, I’m not so sure about that non-aggressive bit. I’ve been around emus that have become acclimatised to tourists, and they’re pushy bastards. Especially so if you’ve got a handful of chips.

Giant Frog: There are three types of giant frogs detailed here: the regular sort, killer frogs, and poisonous frogs. The regular sort first appeared in Supplement II. Statistically they have changed very little – just their bite damage, which has gone from a flat 1-10 to a different range based on how many hit dice it has. A lot of space is devoted to their average sizes and weights, because they’re used to determine whether the frog can drag its prey with its tongue and swallow it whole. The tongue works much the same as it did in OD&D, drawing its prey in for a bite attack. But now the bite deals maximum damage. And to top it off, they can swallow their prey whole on a roll of 20, and any victim so caught has 3 rounds to get out before dying. Their leap ability has been decreased in distance, but they now get a bonus to surprise. All in all, these guys have gotten a pretty serious upgrade in deadliness.

Killer frogs are smaller, but they have teeth and talons, and love to eat people. And each other apparently, as they’re cannibals. These guys are said to be specially bred mutants, which fits very well with the Temple of the Frog scenario from Supplement II. I guess the killer frogs there flourish even after the temple gets put out of business.

Poisonous frogs are exactly that – smaller frogs that secrete a weak poison from the skin. Not too weak, because the poison is fatal – you just get a bonus to the saving throw.

Violet Fungi: It’s another new monster. They’re purple mushrooms that hide in with shriekers (the mushrooms that make a loud noise when you approach). If you get too close they flail about with tentacles. If these tentacles hit they supposedly rot flesh in a single melee round, but nothing is said about what effect this has. Instant death? Or is it the same as mummy rot? I’d be inclined to support the latter, less deadly version.

I'm not really sure what the purpose of hiding them with shriekers is.  Once players have figured out what shriekers are, they tend to stay away, and if they don't go near the big mushrooms the violet fungi can't do much of anything.