Sunday, September 18, 2011

AD&D Monster Manual part 33

Merman: Mermen first appeared in OD&D Vol. 2, and were expanded upon in Supplement II: Blackmoor.  Their Number Appearing has lessened from 30-300 to 20-200.  Their speed on land has decreased from 3” to 1”, but their swimming speed has increased from 15” to 18”.  Their Hit Dice has gone back to 1+1; in OD&D they had similar characteristics to berserkers (including the HD above), but in Supplement II they had been reduced to 1 Hit Dice.  Supplement II had also given them a bite attack and two hand attacks; now they simply use their weapons.

Of course mermen are aquatic, but we learn that they favour the warm and tropical areas.  It’s said that they sometimes leave the water to sun themselves, and this is interesting, because in Supplement II they take damage while out of water.  The damage is higher in daylight, as well.  Obviously this is no longer the case.  Mermen dwellings are described for the first time, with most of them being a reef or cliff riddled with tunnels, and the rest being villages of shells and coral.  We also learn that they have women and young, but that’s generally true for most of Gary’s monsters.  Also, they speak their own language, and some speak locathah, implying either a friendship or an enmity with that race (almost certainly the latter).

Barracuda are introduced as common pets and guards for mermen, but something that has been taken away from them are seahorses.  Supplement II describes them as riding seahorses, but I think it’s pretty clear in the Monster Manual that we’re dealing with the standard fish-tailed mermen that wouldn’t be able to mount anything.

In OD&D mermen used tridents, darts, slings and crossbows.  Here they can have tridents, daggers, crossbows, javelins and nets.  The slings are gone, because they make no damn sense as an aquatic weapon.  Many are also armed with hooks for grappling ships, just as they were in Supplement II.  The rules for that are pretty much the same.

With the great number of differences between the mermen of AD&D and those from Supplement II, I think that I’m going to have to declare that there are two different species.  The ones from Supplement II live in and around the Blackmoor area, and have legs.  The others from OD&D and AD&D live further south, and have fish-tails.  Sorted.

Mimic: The mimic is making its first appearance here.  It’s not really certain what a mimic’s true form is, but they can disguise themselves as anything made out of stone or wood.  As soon as someone touches one, it secretes a glue to hold him fast then slams him with a pseudopod.

I was interested to discover that there are two varieties of mimic.  Regular mimics have less Hit Dice, but are smarter, and will probably be friendly if offered food.  Then there are the “killer mimics”, which are bigger, meaner, and only semi-intelligent.  I’ve only ever seen mimics portrayed in the latter fashion, but the more potentially whimsical nature of the former strikes my fancy.  They even have their own language.  I’m wondering about the distinction between the two.  Are they different types of the same race, or is it perhaps a natural part of the mimic aging process to go insane?

Mind Flayer: Mind flayers made their debut in Supplement I: Greyhawk, and were greatly expanded with the addition of psionics in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry.  Gary must have been super-happy with the stats for these guys, because all he’s changed is the addition of a single hit point.  About the only other thing that has been changed is that their mind blast is now a cone instead of having a blast radius.  The DM doesn’t get to pick their psionic abilities now: they all get levitation, domination, ESP, body equilibrium, astral projection and probability travel.  Otherwise you’re looking at basically the same monster, with the small addition that there are now rumours going around of a mind flayer city beneath the earth.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

AD&D Monster Manual part 32


It’s probably no coincidence that this project went on hiatus when I got to this entry, because it’s probably going to be a little more complicated than usual.  It begins with a general overview of men.  We learn that normal men have 1-6 hit points, something that was pretty well implied in OD&D but not outright stated.  Groups of men encountered always have high level characters leading them, which says to me that high-level types aren’t particularly rare.  There’s a section on randomly determining magical equipment for them, which is an expanded version of the chart used for bandits in OD&D.  Each item category has a 5% chance per character level to be present, and they even get a re-roll for cursed items, so it’s not like magic items are a rare thing either when you’re going by the book.

Bandits: In general these are the same as in OD&D, but with some of the numbers jigged around.  Their number appearing has lessened from 30-300 to 20-200, but the numbers they need to have high-level fighters in their ranks is about the same.  It is, however, far more likely now that a bandit group will have a cleric or magic-user. The number required for this in OD&D was 200 bandits, but now it is down to 50.

Bandit lairs get a brief mention.  Most live in informal camps, but some have caves with a secret entrance, and others live in castles.  They also have important prisoners and camp followers.  The 2-20 prisoners usually found in bandit lairs is much the same is in OD&D; there are still one prisoner per ten bandits, but the number of bandits has decreased.

Bandit weaponry is detailed, with mostly the same results as in OD&D.  Most are light foot with leather armour and swords, and then there are a scattering of light bowmen and crossbowmen, light horse, and medium horse.  The numbers were screwed up in OD&D, as the various categories added up to 110%, but that’s been fixed here.  There also a category added for bandits with pole arms, because Gary is obsessed with pole arms.

Brigands in OD&D were just Chaotic bandits with better morale, and the same is true here; you just need to swap Chaotic alignment for Chaotic Evil.  As in OD&D, they only keep half as many prisoners as bandits.

So it seems that in my campaign the bandit gangs will be getting smaller for some reason, whether that be a concerted effort from the PCs or the local law enforcement.  On the other hand, they’re getting more organised in terms of connections to evil wizards and the Church of Chaos.

Berserkers: Like bandits above, the numbers of berserkers encountered has drastically dropped (from 30-300 to 10-100).  Here it is said that they scorn armour, whereas in OD&D they wore leather.  They still have an Armour Class consistent with wearing leather, so I guess they only scorn metal armour.  Their battle lust was previously modelled in OD&D as a +2 bonus to attack against Normal Men only.  Here they instead get either two attacks per round, or a single attack at +2.  As far as NPC fighters go, they have a lot more with them than they did in OD&D, and they also get a very high level war chief.  In OD&D berserkers could only have fighters with them, but now they have a chance for a “berserk cleric”.  The numbers here are ridiculous – for every ten berserkers, there’s a 50% chance of there being a 7th level cleric present.  That could be a lot of high level clerics, far more than I always thought would be the norm.

The biggest change here is that the berserkers have found religion, and this added zealotry can account for the change in there berserking bonuses.  Their newfound religious nature could also be a result of their dwindling numbers.

Buccaneers: In OD&D these guys were pretty much exactly like bandits, but here they get slightly more individuality.  The first thing I’m struck by is their 80% chance to be found in their lair, but that makes sense when you consider that a buccaneer is most likely to found on a ship.  They don’t get as many high-level fighters as bandits or berserkers.  The number of prisoners they will have has dropped by a lot.  Their NPC clerics can now reach the lofty heights of 15th level, another example of the ridiculous frequency of what I always assumed to be legendary figures.  They can have magic-users as well, but the levels there are a bit more sane.  Their troop types are also broken down a little more precisely than they were in OD&D, though it’s still infantry and crossbowmen.

I can’t think of any likely explanation for why those 15th level clerics are hanging around with buccaneers.  Unless there’s some sort of holy relic rumoured to be buried on an island in the high seas, and all of those clerics are racing each other to find it…  Yes, there’s a definite plot hook there.

Pirates: In OD&D pirates were just Chaotic buccaneers. Now they’re Chaotic Evil.

Cavemen: Compared to OD&D, the number appearing has dropped from 30-300 to 10-100.  Cavemen wear no armour, just as they did in OD&D.  Their exact AC was never stated in OD&D, but I assumed it to be 9, the standard number for an unarmoured man.  In the Monster Manual it’s listed as 8.  Whether that’s a function of high Dexterity or just a tough hide isn’t said, but I favour the latter.  Otherwise Cavemen are greatly expanded upon. They get some high-level NPC fighters and clerics, which they never did before.  Their treasures are more precisely detailed, as they are said to carry gold nuggets, uncut gems and ivory tusks.  They’re still cowardly, and as in OD&D they get a -1 to morale.

It looks as though while caveman numbers are dwindling, their greatest warriors are growing stronger.  I can’t say why that may be, but it’s something to think about.

Tribesmen: Tribesmen are a new category of Men that debuts here.  They are said to live in tropical jungles and islands.  They are similar to cavemen, but their cleric NPCs (or witch doctors) can reach higher level, and are actually druids.  It’s also implied that they’re all cannibals, which isn’t exactly the most PC thing that Gary has ever written, but it does make for better adventuring.

Dervishes: Dervishes are almost exactly as described in OD&D: highly religious Lawful Good nomads that fight with a fanatical fury that gives them +1 to hit and damage, and means they never need to check morale.  In OD&D they only got the +1 to hit and not to damage, but otherwise they’re the same.  They do get more NPC fighters now, and their cleric leaders are higher level.  We also get a description of their usual lair (a walled fortress) and a breakdown of their arms and armour (they’re pretty much all mounted).

Nomads: Statistically nomads are much as they were in OD&D, although they’re now much better at gaining surprise than they were (I assume that this only applies in their native habitat).  Like most of the types of Men detailed here, their NPC leaders are stronger and more numerous than they were in OD&D, although the nomads don’t get anything too outrageous.  We learn that they are 90% likely to lair in tents near an oasis, with the other 10% living in small walled cities.  The composition of their troops have been slightly re-jigged, but it’s still mostly lancers and mounted archers.

Merchants: This is the first time that merchants have been detailed with statistics in D&D.  It’s not the statistics of the merchants themselves that are important, however, but the merchants' caravans.  The entry goes into detail about what guards you can expect to find in a merchant caravan, as well as the treasure available.  Raiding merchant caravans would be a profitable business, as you’re never going to find one worth less than 12,000 gold pieces going by the book.

There must be some explanation for the sudden proliferation of very wealthy merchants encountered on the road.  I could always chalk it up to the influx of treasure coming out of Castle Greyhawk, or maybe tie it in to the growing slave trade and the Slavers modules.

Pilgrims: Pilgrims, detailed here for the first time, are simply groups of people on their way to visit a holy place.  As usual they’re accompanied by high-level NPCs, with a much greater variety than the other types of Men.  Depending in the alignment of the pilgrims, there could be paladins, rangers, druids, or even assassins.  The alignment chart given here only has five possibilities (lawful good, chaotic good, neutral, lawful evil, chaotic evil), evidence that the Monster Manual is still operating within the parameters of OD&D.

There’s a 5% chance that a high-level pilgrim will be carrying a religious artifact.  I wonder how literally I’m supposed to take that.  Are they carrying an actual "capital A" Artifact from the Dungeon Master’s Guide?  Or just a random holy object that may or may not have powers or value?  I lean towards the latter without discounting the possibility of the former.

Again, an explanation for the growth in pilgrim numbers must be explained in my campaign.  I can probably tie this into how I plan to treat religion in the game world, by starting out with churches to Law and Chaos, then shifting into the rise of churches to specific gods.  Once the worship of specific gods comes into fashion there will be a lot more pilgrims wandering around.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

On Conan the Barbarian

I was scheduled to run some D&D on Saturday, but that fell through.  It's annoying, because I just have to get through this one game before I can restructure things into a sandbox style where the absence of a player doesn't matter.  But that's life as an adult, I'm afraid, and we made the best of it by going to the movies to see Conan.

I've been a Conan fan for a long time, starting with the movies from the early 80s.  I still love the first one despite its less than accurate portrayal of the lead character.  That Conan may not be much like the one in the stories, but Schwarzenegger is undeniably charismatic in the role and I feel like the atmosphere of movie Hyboria is very cool.  I'm not so keen on Conan the Destroyer, but it's still a fun movie despite lacking the thoughtfulness of the original.

From there I moved into the comics, around the time that Roy Thomas returned and pretty much disavowed everything that had happened since he left.  (I think he declared that the last decade's worth of comics was a year in Conan's life, and then got back to adapting Robert E. Howard stories.)  I'm a big fan of Conan in comics, particularly the 70s stuff and the current Dark Horse run.  If you haven't read any, the first volume of Savage Sword of Conan is out there, and is fairly cheap.  That's about as good as Conan comics get.

The comics, and most especially the essays Roy Thomas would include in them, got me to read the Howard stories, and those I love.  Red Nails and Black Colossus are probably my two favourites, but I've got time for just about all of them.  Howard's a great writer.

As for the new movie, on the whole I enjoyed it, and this is entirely based on the performance by Jason Momoa.  When he's not on the screen, it's terrible, in the way that all modern swords-and-sorcery movies are.  But Momoa has real presence, and is very much recognisable to me as Howard's Conan.  And the dude knows how to glower.  He's got that look down, where you just know some guy is going to get killed hard.

Of the Conan movies we've had, the modern one has a great Conan, and the old ones has a great Hyboria.  It would be nice to mesh the two together at some point.  And, of course, I'd love to see an actual Howard story get the treatment.  Hour of the Dragon is the one that I think would make the best movie, but Momoa's not old enough to play that Conan.  It doesn't even have to be a Howard story, just a good script would do, because I really want to see Momoa have another crack at the role.