Friday, June 26, 2015

The Dragon #13

Another week, another issue of The Dragon.  This one doesn't have as much material to discuss as issue #12 did, so this post will probably be a little shorter.  It's an added bonus for the fiction having nothing to do with any D&D setting.

How Heavy is My Giant? by Shlump da Orc: Leaving aside the unlikely pseudonym of this article's author, I must say that this could come in handy.  The main focus is on providing realistic weights for creatures of larger than man-size, and also for creatures made of stone or other nonliving substances.  There's a bit of math involved, and to be honest I'm not all that sure how accurate it is, but it could certainly come in handy.  Of particular note is a table listing various substances (mostly metals, wood and stone), and their weight in cubic feet.  I have to commend the thoroughness of the author, because he even goes so far as to provide math for how deep a giant's footprint would be, depending on the giant's size and the surface it's walking on.  It's not the sort of thing that's going to come up in every game, and to be honest I would wing it if it ever did, but it's still nice to know that I can look it up if I ever need to.

Tolkien in Dungeons & Dragons by Rob Kuntz: In which Rob does his best to downplay the influence of Tolkien on D&D, and boost other authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard.  It seems a fair point to me; the tone of early D&D is much closer to the latter authors, and Tolkien's influence was mainly used to pad out the monsters and playable races.  You can't stop players doing their thing, though, and the Tolkien influence became greater as later generations took control of the game (peaking with 2nd edition, perhaps).  At this stage, though, Rob is correct.

The Bionic Supplement by Brian Blume: A Metamorphosis Alpha article with rules for characters who want to replace their body parts with bionics.  I do plan to have the Starship Warden as a possible adventure locale in my campaign, so I'll file this article away for later reference, but it doesn't really relate to D&D in any way.  I'd have to change the rules completely to use it anyway.

Demon Generation by Jon Pickens: Pickens provides a series of random tables with which the DM can create demons that are unique, and not drawn from Supplement III (note that we're still referencing OD&D products, as the Monster Manual may not have been released when this article was written).  Not only does he give a good range of spell-like abilities, but the look of the demon is determined by rolling twice on the dungeon encounter tables and combining the result.  Not only that, but said demon also gains the abilities of both creatures (though I'm somewhat disheartened that the author dismisses the notion of a vampire with a beholder's head as too powerful).  The article finishes with a sample demon, named Nasthrapur, who is a physical cross between a red dragon and wild cattle (so a winged, scaly humanoid with a bull's head).  I'll add him to my growing list of NPCs.

The Japanese Mythos by Jerome Arkenberg: Adding new mythos to those presented in Supplement IV seems to be all the rage at this point in The Dragon's history, and as usual I will put them into my campaign as the gods worshipped in the region of the world that corresponds to Japan.  There's little chance that the PCs will ever go there, but if they do there will be a religion there for me to use.

The gods themselves are the usual uber-powerful sort, but there are a few monsters at the end that are also very strong.  Why would a Kappa be significantly stronger than most of the monsters in the Monster Manual, especially those that are also of mythological origin?  It's a trend that I've noticed in these articles, and it bugs me a little.  I'm all for the gods and unique beings being presented in this fashion, but the mythological monsters should be in line with the rest of D&D.

Silly Songs for D&Ders by Stone So this is where it starts, is it?  I'll level with my readers here: I'm not amused by this kind of thing.  I generally enjoy the D&D humour strips, but the articles make me want to pound the author's head through a monitor.  These songs are no different.  I had initially thought I might use them as orcish drinking songs or whatever, but they make too many references to the real world, and the game itself.  So, out they go, and no part will they have in my campaign.

Warlord: Correcting a Few Flaws by Tim Kask: In which Kask rewrites the rules of the game Warlord to make it more playable.  I have no experience with the game, so it doesn't mean much to me.

The Stolen Sacrifice by Gardner Fox: This is a competent Conan knock-off, but enjoyable enough.  It's the third story featuring Niall of the Far Travels that's appeared in The Dragon, and probably the least interesting.  Mercifully, it's got nothing to do with D&D, so I don't have to dissect it.

Comics: Finieous Fingers fails to get inside an evil wizard's castle, while in Wormy two trolls discuss the merits of dwarfburgers.

Notes From a Semi-Successful D&D Player by Jim Ward: Ward provides a list of tips to help players survive, the sort of stuff that is old hat now but would have been quite clever at the time.  Casting continual light on a wand, keeping your potions in steel flasks, using poison, buying extra spell books, that sort of thing.  I do like his suggestion of polymorphing a cockatrice into a snail, then later throwing it at your enemies and casting dispell magic.  There's also a mention that the haste spell can't be made permanent, as it can cause heart failure.  Although this is not exactly what will be settled on with regard to nerfing haste, it's the first ever mention that the spell has a drawback.

Next time I'll be looking at The Dragon #14, followed by Outdoor Geomorphs Set 1: Walled City (which I should probably have done already, chronologically speaking).  After that, it's time to strap in for another long series of posts as I tackle the AD&D Player's Handbook.  Hopefully this one won't take me five years to get through, like the Monster Manual did.

Friday, June 05, 2015

The Dragon #12

Having finally dispensed with the Monster Manual, it's time for me to move on to The Dragon #12, cover-dated February 1978.

The issue begins with an editorial from Tim Kask, the main point of which is that The Dragon is now going monthly.  There's a Statement of Ownership later in the issue, and looking at it gives the magazine's average print run over the last year as 6,000.  It doesn't sound like much, but obviously it's enough for TSR to increase the frequency of release.  D&D is still very much a niche product at this point.

The More Humorous Side of D&D by Leon Wheeler: The first article is little more than a series of gaming anecdotes, none of which are particularly funny in the telling. I may incorporate them as things that happened in the past of the campaign, if I'm feeling charitable.  A character named Tallman, who is particularly accident-prone and stupid, could be used as an NPC, and a 14th-level wizard named Elross is mentioned.  Otherwise, there's not much to glean from this article, not even a few chuckles.  As with most gaming stories, you really had to be there.

A New Look at Illusionists by Rafael Ovalle: The Illusionist class was introduced in Strategic Review #4, and here are given a number of suggestions for expansion and modification.  Among the new abilities given to the illusionist is the quite reasonable ability to discern whether an illusion was cast by a magic-user or an illusionist. Their illusions are also said to be effective against Astral and Ethereal beings, and that seems fair; such creatures seem to be able to see into the material plane, so I'll allow it.  A specific list is given of what magic items they can use (it syncs up quite well with the guidelines given in the original article).  Their spell list is altered quite a bit, mostly to fit in the new spells included with this article.  These new spells are as follows: Displacement (makes the caster appear up to 10 feet from his real location), Dispel Illusion, Displacement 10' Radius, Personal Silence (like Silence, but on the caster only), Improved Displacement (has a longer duration), Discord (victim acts as though wearing rings of delusion and contrariness), Multiple Hypnosis (a group version of the Hypnosis spell from the original Illusionist article), Hypnotize Monster, Gaze of Umber Hulk, Basilisk Gaze and Beguilement (as the rod of the same name).  many other spells get minor tweaks and clarifications, particularly the spells that were introduced along with the illusionist from SR #4.  I'm happy to incorporate those as Illusionist-only spells, and I'll compare later to see which make it into the Player's Handbook (which is not far away at all).

The Persian Mythos by Jerome Arkenberg: This article brings in the figures of Persian mythology (or Zoroastrianism), in the same format as Supplement IV: Gods Demigods and Heroes.  I won't go into too much detail, except to say that it's very much a dualist religion, with the forces of good represented by Ahura Mazda and the Archangels, versus the forces of evil led by Ahriman and his demons. I will note that a lot of beings appear as "15-year old boys" when in human form.  Make of that what you will.  There is also a hero named Faridun, who is invoked against "the itch, fevers and incontinency".  As I've mentioned before, most of Earth's mythologies and religions will be present in my campaign as dying religions of the Old Gods.

Some Thoughts on the Speed of a Magic-User by Jim Ward: Most of this article is Jim Ward whinging about how fighters are faster in combat than magic-users, and using the initiative system from Supplement III to redress the balance.  I like how even in his most favourable examples, those that feature the magic-users getting their spells off first, invariably have them running away after the first round.

Ship's Cargo by James Endersby and Jim Carroll: A simple chart for determining the contents of a trading ship's hold. It's basic, but I do love that there is the possibility of looters finding a cargo hold full of exotic monkeys.

The Druids by James Bruner: Bruner spends most of the article debunking the common misconceptions about druids, and stating what we actually know about them in the real world.  It's interesting, but the old "blood and sacrifice under a full moon" version of the druid is a bit more game-worthy in my mind.  Historical misconception is what D&D is all about!

The Lovecraftian Mythos in D&D by Rob Kuntz and J. Eric Holmes: The most well-known of Lovecraft's various horrors, in a format compatible with Supplement IV.  I'm in no position to quibble with the accuracy of the article, having never read Lovecraft (I know, I'm a complete failure), but I do find the ideas and concepts riveting.  Of all the mythos introduced into D&D thus far, these are the ones that seem most compatible, and the ones most likely to see practical use in my game.

Advanced D&D Monster Manual: A quick review, in which the author notes that he had minimal involvement in the MM's development, then goes on to gush about how great it is.  The Dragon often purports to be more than a house organ, but I never see it giving negative reviews to TSR products. Admittedly, the MM shouldn't be getting bad reviews from anybody.

Quag Keep by Andre Norton: An excerpt from Norton's forthcoming novel, which is ostensibly set in the World of Greyhawk. In this little snippet a disparate group of adventurers is gathered by a wizard, who explains to them that they are linked with some folks playing a game in another world, and that disaster will come if their worlds become linked.  The writing is of its time, and the central idea interesting enough (though a little played out in 2015).  I'm not sure how much inside info Nortan had on the world of Greyhawk, but I've compiled everything from this snippet right here:

  • The City of Greyhawk has a Thieves' Quarter, with an inn called Harvel's Axe. The local stone of Greyhawk is said to be a greyish-tan colour. The Sign of the Pea Stalk has perhaps the best value provisions in Greyhawk.
  • The six protagonists of the novel (some of which are depicted on the cover above) are as follows: Milo Fagon (or Jagon, both are used), a swordsman; Naile Fangtooth, a wereboar berserker with a pet psuedodragon; Ingrege, an elven "woods ranger"; Yevele, a young battle-maid with red-brown hair; Deav Dyne, a grey robed follower (of the third rank) of Landron of the Inner Light;  Wymarc, a red-headed bard who plays a bagged skald's field harp (bagpipes?); and Gulth (or Gulph), a lizard man.  All wear magic bracelets with dice hanging from them, and all are linked to gamers from Earth.  These bracelets are magical, and the wearer can will them to affect probabilities.  I may use them as NPCs, depending upon their fates in the rest of the novel.  I suppose I'll have to track down a copy and read the bloody thing.
  • Deav Dyne is permitted only to use "the knife of his calling". Is this, perhaps, the first instance of a cleric being allowed a bladed weapon, so long as his deity permits?
  • The wizard Hystaspes lives in a tower in Greyhawk; the tower is of green stone, carved with repeating patterns and streaked with yellow. He has a pale, red-eyed messenger named Karl. He's at least 12th level, because he can cast Geas. He knows the "Lesser and Larger spells of Ulik and Dom," whatever they may be.
  • Elves are said to disdain the use of the common tongue, and can speak with birds and animals, as well as pseudodragons apparently.  An offhand mention is made of "mindtalk".
  • Baskets of fire wasps are mentioned as a light source, in a way that makes them seem quite common.
  • Hystaspes describes something as "evil as the Nine and Ninety Sins of Salzak, the Spirit-Murderer".
  • A wizard named Han-gra-dan is mentioned. He was "mightiest of the northern adepts", and lived over a thousand years ago.
  • Quite a bit of Greyhawk georgaphy is layed out.  People from Blackmer (Blackmoor?). Urnst and the Holy Lands of Faraz are seen.  The Grand Duchy of Urnst lies west of Greyhawk. To the north of Urnst is the Great Kingdom of Blackmoor. West are mountain ranges scattered in broken chains; the tributaries and rivers flowing down from there provide boundaries for many lesser kingdoms.  South of the mountains are the Dry Steppes, where few ventures besides the Nomad Raiders of Lar, who claim hereditary ownership of the land's water-holes. Farther south is the Sea of Dust, from which no expedition has ever returned; legends speak of lost and buried ships, with cargo holds full of treasure.  In the foothills of the mountains lies the Duchy of Deofp (yes, Deofp); it is only accessible by mountain passes that emerge in the Dry Steppes or the Sea of Dust, and it has been wracked by civil war between lords sworn to serve Chaos for over a year. (I've cheated and taken a look at a map of Oerth, and this just about works if you squint really hard. The only major discrepancy is that Urnst is actually east of Greyhawk. I know that the official Oerth map differs considerably to the one Gary first designed, so it's possible that Norton's description is accurate to the original design.)
  • Some coins mentioned: gold pieces from the Great Kingdom bearing the high-nosed haughty faces of two recent kings, cross-shaped copper trading tokens from the Land of the Holy Lords, silver half-moon circles coined in Faraz, mother-of-pearl discs incised with fierce heads of sea-serpents from the island Duchy of Maritiz, hexagons of gold bearing a flaming torch in high relief (unknown origin).
  • There is a song called the Harrowing of Ironnose. It tells of the ancient battle between Lichis and Ironnose. Lichis was a gold dragon, thousands of years old and the lord of his kind. Ironnose was a Great Demon, called into being by early adepts of Chaos who laboured at the task for half a lifetime.  Ironnose was intended to break Law forever, but Lichis battled him; the battled raged from "Blackmoor, out over the Great Bay, down to the Wild Coast, ending in a steaming, boiling sea from which only Lichis emerged".  After that Lichis destroyed the Chaos adepts and their castle, leaving scorched stones and an evil aura that persists to this day.  After that Lichis disappeared.
Well, that's The Dragon #12, with quite a few interesting little bits and pieces.  Next up is another issue of The Dragon, unless I decide to crack open the issues of White Dwarf that I've missed.  I think, in the interests of progress, I'll ignore them.