Friday, May 29, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 66: The Dragon #9

Cover art by Bill Hannan

This issue of The Dragon is cover dated September 1977.  Tim Kask's editorial reflects on the recent Origins convention, held in late July (so the cover date for The Dragon is fairly accurate as to when it was released).  It was apparently down on attendance due to a heatwave, but there was enough new product for Kask to be confident in the growth of the industry.  He ends it by mentioning that the magazine is expanding to 40 pages next month, and including Tom Wham's board game, Snit Smashing.

In other news, Harry Fischer's "The Finzer Family" concludes, taking up the majority of the page count.  "Floating in Timeless Space" is a Tom Wham comic promoting his board game, "Finieous Fingers continues to do its thing, and "Wormy" by Dave Trampier makes its debut.

There's also an ad for the D&D Basic Set, which was recently released.

The ad for the first Basic Set

"Varied Player Character and Non-Player Character Alignment in the Dungeons & Dragons Campaign" by Gary Gygax: In this article Gary talks about alignment, specifically focusing on the kinds of conflicts that can arise from having characters of varied alignment within the game.  It's interesting from a historical perspective, because I'd say it's pretty likely that the things Gary is writing about here are scenarios he had to deal with in his own games.  He says that the most common problem in long-running campaigns is with cooperating blocks of players, who coerce new players into taking a certain alignment, and dispatching those who refuse.  It reminds me a bit of the early days of MMOs, where stronger characters would frequently prey on newbies.  Gary's recommendation here is that new players simply lie about their alignment, and play along until they are high enough level to stand up to the established guys.  He even says that it's fine for the players to keep their true alignment secret from the DM, which isn't something I thought I'd ever see from Gary's pen.

It's mentioned that, in the Greyhawk campaign, "good" is the desired end sought by the majority of humanity and its allied races.  Most planned actions are based on a threat to the overall good by the forces of evil, but there's still room for lawful good to go to war with chaotic good, with either aligned with evil beings of lawful or chaotic alignment respectively.

The article also has a very vivid description of the City of Greyhawk that I'll reproduce here in full: "This walled town was the area trade center and seat of feudal power, then began to decline when the overlordship transferred from a suzerain to the city itself, but is now undergoing a boom due to the activities of adventurers and the particular world system events (a new struggle between lawful good and chaotic evil, with the latter on the upswing). The oligarchs of the city are neutral in outlook, if not in alignment, viewing anything which benefits their city as desirable. Therefore, all sorts of creatures inhabit the city, commerce is free, persons of lawful alignment rub elbows with chaotics, evil and good co-exist on equitable terms. Any preeminence of alignment is thwarted by the rulers of the place, for it would tend to be detrimental to the city trade."  That mention of a suzerain is intriguing.  TSR products have the mad wizard Zagyg as a former ruler of Greyhawk, so I could make that a reference to him.  It's also interesting to note that "chaotics" are said to frequent the city.  Does that just mean chaotic humans, or are there orcs, goblins, gnolls, etc. walking around and doing business there?  Something to think about.

The article finishes up with the example of a cleric who opens a small shrine and starts selling holy water.  This doesn't attract much attention, but once he builds a church and starts seeking mass conversions, this attracts the enmity of other leading clerics of the city, as well as the government.  Assassination attempts are possible, and hefty taxes and bribes will be required for the cleric to navigate the paths of power.  It paints a picture of a city where the rulers are desperate to maintain some sort of an alignment balance, so as not to disrupt trade and commerce, or otherwise upset things.

"Seal of the Imperium" by M.A.R. Barker: Professor Barker answers some questions and provides rules clarifications regarding Empire of the Petal Throne.  Some interesting stuff here, but it's relation to D&D is tangential at best.  I'll keep it in mind for when I need to compile info on Tekumel.

"The Fastest Guns That Never Lived - Part II" by Brian Blume: Blume provides stats for the following fictional cowboys and actors:
  • Don "Red" Barry
  • William "Wild Bill" Elliot
  • "Hoot" Gibson
  • William S. Hart
  • Tim Holt
  • Allan "Rocky" Lane
  • Colonel Tim McCoy
  • Joel McCrea
  • Tom Mix
  • The Durango Kid
  • Bob Steele
  • Lee Van Cleef
  • The Cisco Kid and Poncho
Hardly household names these days, except for perhaps Lee Van Cleef, but I'll have to find a place for them should my campaign ever take a turn into the Old West.

"Tombs & Crypts" by James M. Ward: This is a set of charts for randomly determining the contents of a tomb. Always handy to have, and quite reminiscent of the kind of thing found in Judges Guild products.  I rolled on the charts and came up with the following:
  • A roll of 11 on 1d12 means that it's a wizard's tomb
  • The tomb is one room, cave or mound of dirt
  • It contains 2,000 gold pieces, 20 base 10,000gp gems, 2 base 500gp gems, a map, 4 pieces of base 500 gp jewelry, and a misc. magic weapon (10 arrows +1)
  • Guarded by vampires 
That was rolled up pretty quickly.  The system is perhaps a little too generous where gems and jewelry are concerned, but Jim Ward's defense that anyone special enough to be placed in a tomb probably had a lot of treasure to be buried with is hard to argue against.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Building the Sandbox: Castle Greyhawk and Surrounding Areas

In part 1 of this series, I defined the D&D cosmology and its many settings.  In part 2, I talked a bit about the core D&D world - the World of Greyhawk.  Now it's time to get into the meat of this thing, and define the elements that I need to fit together for what will be the initial campaign area.  The core  elements of the first D&D campaign were the City and Castle of Greyhawk, and that's where I intend the Ultimate Sandbox to begin if and when I get around to running it in earnest.

(I should note that I'm currently running the Ultimate Sandbox now, with my weekend games in the Tower of Zenopus dungeon from the Holmes Basic Set.  Ideally I'd have preferred to kick it off with a megadungeon campaign, but instead I'm planning to run a bunch of classic stand-alone modules and adventures, mostly because the whole thing was put together at very short notice.  Regardless, everything that happens in those games will count towards my Ultimate Sandbox Greyhawk continuity, and changes to the adventure sites will be carried forward in the future. Anyway, back to Greyhawk City and Castle.)

To set up the initial campaign area, I have to define the elements that I need to put together.  Unfortunately, the Greyhawk campaign, as it was run by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz, has never been put into print in any sort of playable fashion.  Bits and pieces of it are out there, but it's all very scattershot.  On top of that, part of what I want to do involves stitching everything together in terms of official D&D canon.  Much of what Gary and Rob did was later contradicted by TSR and Wizards of the Coast, so even if I had everything in front of me I'd have quite the job reconciling it all.

Difficulties aside, it seems to me that I need to define three major things to get the campaign in a playable state: the City of Greyhawk, Castle Greyhawk and the dungeons beneath, and the wilderness that encompasses them both.  I'll tackle each one by one.

The City of Greyhawk

This one is probably the easiest to deal with.  As I understand it, the city as designed by Gary started as a one-page affair, and was expanded to four pages later in the campaign, which was explained in-game as a result of the influx of gold coming from the dungeons beneath Castle Greyhawk.  This is pretty, handy as I can use it to explain any discrepancies between things from the original campaign and TSR's official publications.

Speaking of which, TSR released The City of Greyhawk in 1989 as a boxed set, and given the parameters of my project I'm pretty much locked into using it.  That's not necessarily a knock on the product, as I've never read it.  Maybe it's great, and captures exactly the pulp fantasy spirit that I'm looking for.  I like what I've seen just from skimming it, particularly this poster map.

An aerial view of TSR's City of Greyhawk

The temptation is there to use Yggsburgh, the city designed by Gary Gygax for his Castle Zagyg project, which would probably have a more authentic flavour. But to be honest I don't know how much of that product was actually Gary's work.  Besides, using Yggsburgh in place of the official TSR city would no doubt cause all sorts of continuity headaches that I don't need.  I suppose I could place it elsewhere in the map, but I've made enough work for myself already.

The only other source I can think of for lore about the city is Gary's Gord the Rogue series of novels.  I already have Night Arrant and Sea of Death, but I'd need to acquire the other five, which looks somewhat pricey.  I've been meaning to get them for a while though, as I've been wanting to revisit the series with a greater knowledge of their place in D&D history.

The Wilderness

The area around the city of Greyhawk is pretty well defined in the aforementioned City of Greyhawk boxed set, and as with the city it would be difficult to change it without doing a number to D&D continuity.  The map is shown below.

Map art by David S. LaForce (I think)

The only change I would make to the above would be to add a section that resembles the map from Outdoor Survival, which is referenced in the original D&D booklets.  I recently read this great PDF about what those booklets imply about the D&D setting, and that's how I want the Outdoor Survival region to play.  I'm imagining it as a region of land slightly east of Castle Greyhawk, that's been warped by the magical and dimensional forces leaking out of that place.  At the moment, I'm thinking of putting it somewhere in the lands between the Mistmarsh and the Cairn Hills on the map above, but I need to check the scales of both maps to see if that works.

Castle Greyhawk

Well, this is where things get really tricky.

The dungeons below Castle Greyhawk began as a solo effort designed by Gary Gygax, before being greatly expanded with help from Rob Kuntz.  Neither version of the castle has ever seen the light of day, although more than one attempt has been made to get it out there.  Castle Zagyg by Gary Gygax is one such abortive attempt, and there are also the dungeon levels included in Rob Kuntz's El Raja Key Archive.

In 1988, TSR took its own stab at releasing a version of the castle, with module WG7 Castle Greyhawk.  The results were... regrettable.  A few years later, in 1990, they had another stab at it, with WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins.  I've only skimmed this one, but it looks like a big improvement on WG7, and it's become the offical TSR version of the castle up to the present day.

The question is, how do I reconcile all of these elements?  It would certainly be difficult to make all of it work together as a single dungeon.  My initial idea, posted long, long ago, was to feature a sort of "time-travel chamber" in the dungeon, which would allow the PCs to switch back and forth between different versions of the castle.  I still think it's not a bad idea, but I'm not as enamoured with it as a solution as I was back then.  My current thinking is to just have two separate castles, and two distinct dungeons.

As I understand it, the official TSR version of the castle sits somewhat north and east of the city, across the Selintan River.  Reports about the original castle place it east of the city, which isn't entirely contradictory to the above.  Regardless, if I'm going to use Castle Zagyg and also include WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins, there would be a lot of trouble in integrating the two into a single location.  So I'm going to leave TSR's castle where they placed it, and give it a rename: Zagyg's Palace.  In TSR continuity Zagyg ruled over the City of Greyhawk for a time, and this is where he did it from.

As for Castle Greyhawk, I'm going to place that further east, next to the Ery River.  I'm thinking that perhaps Zagyg used it as his home base when he was still consolidating his power base, before he became the ruler of the city.  This might necessitate changing the maps in Castle Zagyg, in which the castle is up against the False Urt River, although I might just use Gary's name instead of the Ery.  We'll see.

That leaves WG7 Castle Greyhawk, which by the rules of my project I must include even though I'd really rather not.  Currently, my plan is to make the levels accessible via Zagyg's Palace, and to make them very, very difficult for players to discover.  Just because I have to include them doesn't mean I have to include them in a way that's easy to access.

The Dungeons of Castle Greyhawk

The above is all well and good, but eventually if I run this campaign I'll need to get down to the hard work of designing the dungeons.  I plan to use the following elements:

  • Castle Zagyg Vol. 1: The Upper Works.  I forked out for this bad boy, so I'm definitely going to use it.  And it is the only published version of the castle that Gygax ever put his mark of approval on, even if a good chunk of the work was done by Jeff Talanian.  This will cover the ruined castle and the first dungeon level.
  • The image of level 1 of the dungeon from Gygax's folder that's been floating around for quite some time.  I might keep this as an "alternate" level 1, perhaps accessible by means such as Rob Kuntz's Dark Chateau module and the Greyhawk city sewers.  I believe Gary's key for this map has been deciphered as well.

  • The image of Gary's dungeon level 3 that also out there.

  • This dungeon level, another of Gary's, which is labelled as the "Museum of the Gods".

  • The many dungeon levels included in Rob Kuntz's El Raja Key Archive.  Unfortunately I still need to acquire this one, and with the Aussie dollarydoo at its current value that won't be happening soon.
  • Joseph Bloch's Castle of the Mad Archmage.  Not long after the Castle Zagyg product line was discontinued after Gary passed away, Joseph Bloch took it upon himself to write a megadungeon that connected seamlessly with the levels already released.  This will probably form the spine of my version of the dungeon, with some heavy revisions.  My main concern with Bloch's dungeon (what I've read of it) is that it uses quite a bunch of monsters that go beyond the scope of early D&D.  I'd like to keep it confined to things from the AD&D Monster Manual, plus some monsters of my own devising.
  • The modules that connect to the dungeons via portal: EX1 Dungeonland, EX2 The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror and WG6 Isle of the Ape.
  • Later Rob Kuntz products that connect to the castle, such as The Living Room and The Bottle City.
  • Some levels of my own design.
  • On top of all that, Rob Kuntz has recently started posting about something he calls Castle Greyfalkun, which looks to be another release of levels from the castle, or possibly some newly designed material, I'm not entirely sure.  I'll keep an eye on it though.

Putting all of these together in any sort of coherent fashion is going to be a hell of a job.  I've got time though.  Hopefully my current classic modules campaign will run for a couple of years, and there's also my long-running-but-infrequent 3rd edition campaign, which I'd like to actually wrap up at some point.  It'll be a while before I'll need to use Castle Greyhawk.

All of the above gives me a pretty extensive reading list:
  • The City of Greyhawk boxed set
  • The Gord the Rogue novels (or perhaps just those relevant to Greyhawk and surroundings)
  • WG7 Castle Greyhawk (ugh)
  • WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins and maybe the 3rd edition adventure Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk
  • Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works
  • Castle of the Mad Archmage
  • The Up on a Soapbox articles by Gary and Rob Kuntz that reminisce about the original campaign
  • Various blogs and discussion threads from the original players that will help to fill in some of the details.
That's plenty to keep me occupied for the time being, but if I've forgotten any other possible sources I'd appreciate any Greyhawk experts out there letting me know.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Non-Play Report: Upkeep and Carousing

Well, I didn't get to play D&D this weekend.  I was on Zoom, and raring to go, but none of my crew showed up.  I guess that's the trouble with trying to keep things casual for this campaign: I've said that I'm willing to be there every Saturday, but it doesn't mean I'm always going to draw a crowd.  It's depressing, but on the scale of problems I have going on right now, a week without D&D is small potatoes.  I'll just show up again next week, and hopefully some of the guys feel like playing too.  If there's a silver lining to missing a week, it's that I'll be even more prepped when the next game comes around.

As to what I did have prepped, part of that involved some new house rules I came up with for PC upkeep.  One of the bigger problems old-school D&D has is with its economy.  Giving experience points for treasure is all well and good, but it means that by the time players hit 2nd or 3rd level they're already basically rich.  They can buy pretty much anything they want from the equipment list, especially in the various forms of Basic (which is what I'm currently running in modified form).  I sometimes wonder why adventurers bother advancing to higher levels, especially thieves and fighters.  They could retire in comfort well before reaching name level.

So I'm thinking up means of divesting the PCs of their cash.  Training costs are an obvious money sink, but I feel like they go against the free-wheeling vibe of Basic D&D.  Besides, when thinking of training, the way I'd like to implement it is as a benefit rather than a necessity.  Players would still be able to level up without training, but those that did train would be at a potential advantage: better Hit Die rolls, more access to spells, that sort of thing.  To work this out I'd need to sit down and figure out the advantages for each class, and I haven't done that just yet.  And anyway, as I said, it's not something I want to do when running Basic D&D.

Another option I've seen floating around is to only award the PCs XP for gold spent.  This has potential, and would be good for encouraging that pulp-fantasy scenario where the hero strikes it rich but manages to lose everything before the next adventure.  One thing I've always wondered with this system, though, is whether this only counts for gold found through adventuring.  Could PCs work a day job and earn XP buying their daily meals?  Could a Lord just sit back after setting up his barony, and collect XP along with his taxes?  I'm inclined to say no, but then eventually you get into a situation where every PC needs to keep track of two separate treasure totals, and I'm not a huge fan of that.

Similar to the way I want to incentivise training by offering benefits, I want to do the same thing with my upkeep and carousing rules.  So I came up with the following house rules, which I was hoping to spring on my players on Saturday.  Alas, it'll have to wait until next week (hopefully).


For every in-game week between game sessions, each player must decide what lifestyle their PC has been leading.  The lifestyles are as follows:

  • Destitute - Costs nothing
  • Poor - Costs 1 gold piece per character level per week
  • Moderate - Costs 10 gold pieces per character level per week
  • Wealthy - Costs 100 gold pieces per character level per week
  • Extravagant - Costs 1,000 gold pieces per character level per week

I figure that a PC's expenses go up as they gain in level, as they have more equipment to maintain, and their tastes get more exotic.

Depending on what the PC choose (or are forced into due to low funds), their hit points may be affected by their lifestyle.  Each character rolls 1d20, adds their Constitution modifier, and consults the relevant table below.

  • Roll 1-10 - Hit points unknown*
  • Roll 11-20 - Hit points as normal
  • Roll 1-5 - Hit points unknown*
  • Roll 6-20 - Hit points as normal
  • No roll required.
  • Roll 1-2 - Hit points unknown*
  • Roll 3-15 - Hit points as normal
  • Roll 16-19 - Hit points as normal, plus one bonus Hit Die**
  • Roll 20+ - Hit points as normal, plus one "exploding" bonus Hit Die***
  • Roll 1-5 - Unknown hit points*
  • Roll 6-15 - Hit points as normal
  • Roll 16-17 - Hit points as normal, plus one bonus Hit Die**
  • Roll 18-19 - Hit points as normal, plus one "exploding" bonus Hit Die***
  • Roll 20+ - Maximum possible hit points****

* Hit Points Unknown: This result means that, for whatever reason, the PC isn't feeling good.  Perhaps they're sick or undernourished (for those living poor or destitute lifestyles), or perhaps they've overindulged (for those living wealthy or extravagant lifestyles).  Whatever the reason may be, the PC is under the weather, and they begin the game not knowing how many hit points they have.  Only upon taking damage will they roll their hit point total (using their regular number of Hit Dice and Constitution modifier).  The damage they just sustained will come off the total rolled.  If the PC rolls higher than their regular hit points, they start with their regular hit point total.  (A player might try to get healing before the adventure starts, and this should be allowed, but they still don't get to roll their hit point total until they first take damage in a dangerous situation.  The healing is then added on top of that.  Also, a character can't learn their hit point total by cutting themselves with a knife or running into a wall or whatever other dumb way they come up with to circumvent the rule.)

** Bonus Hit Die: Indulging in the good life has agreed with the PC, and they're feeling great.  They begin the game with their regular hit point total, plus an extra hit die and Constitution modifier's worth of hit points.  Once those bonus hit points have been lost, the PC can only be healed back up to their regular total.

*** "Exploding" Bonus Hit Die: The PC gets their regular hit points and a bonus Hit Die as above, but if they roll the maximum on that die they get to roll another bonus Hit Die.  If that roll is the maximum, they get to roll again, and so on as long as they keep rolling the maximum.  In any event, they can't end up with more hit points than the maximum possible for their class and level, plus one extra Hit Die.  For example, a 7th level fighter with no Constitution modifier would have a maximum possible hit point total of 8 x 10, or 80.

**** Maximum Possible Hit Points: The character has had some wild nights, and is feeling invincible.  They begin with the maximum possible hit points for their class and level (as shown above).

I'm hoping this system encourages the players to spend some of their hard-earned gold.  It does a few things that I like.  First, the Moderate option allows players to completely opt out of it.  I've seen games ruined because the DM came up with some crazy house rule that they loved, and forced it on the PCs.  I don't want to do that, and I always like to give the players the choice of just not engaging with it.

Second, it gives the players a reason to go out looking for gold, and punishes unsuccessful adventures.  If you head into the dungeon and come back with nothing, there's a good chance you won't be feeling so hot after a week or two on the skids.  Obviously, this is likely to affect low-level PCs moreso than high-level ones.

Third, there's always a risk factor to living the high life.  Sure, you could come out the other side feeling fantastic, but the chance is there that you might not.  My only misgiving is with the numbers under Wealthy: as written, a high-Constitution character is in no danger of suffering drawbacks.  I might institute a rule whereby a natural 1 always results in "Hit Points Unknown", regardless of the character's Con modifier.

I have two worries about the system.  The first is that it might make the PCs a little too powerful.  I'm not all that stressed about this one; old-school D&D characters are fragile enough, and some extra hit points now and then aren't going to make a huge difference to that.  My second and larger worry is that the potential penalties outweigh the benefits, to the point that the players will opt out of the system entirely.  I mean, there's always someone who's going to be willing to take the risk, but if in the first few games the rolls come up badly, most players will avoid it from then on.  That's what play-testing is for, I guess.  If it sucks I'll get rid of it, or try to come up with something better.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 65: Judges Guild Installment N - Barbarian Altanis/Glow Worm Steppes

This package was sent out to Judges Guild subscribers in August/September of 1977.  It contained the following products:

  • JG43 Booklet N - Barbarian Altanis/Glow Worm Steppes
  • JG44 Barbarian Altanis/Glow Worm Steppes Campaign Maps
  • JG45 Journal N
  • An additional notes sheet, that just has some stuff about subscriptions on it.  I don't need to cover it here.

I'm not sure if the cover above was used for Booklet N or not.  It's the first printing of Wilderlands of High Fantasy, into which Booklet N will be incorporated.  The price tag and the line at the bottom mentioning five maps makes me think it's not the proper cover, but I couldn't find an image of the legit one anywhere.  In lieu of any other evidence, I'm going with it.

JG45 Journal N

I don't have a copy of this, just an image of page one.  I'll quickly run through what articles I can.

  • "Jocular Judgments": This column kicks off with some refutation of recent NASA revelations regarding Mars, as it doesn't mesh with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom stories.  Of more interest is the section praising the recently released Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set.  I have that product being released in September.  Installment N came out in August/September, so I'm thinking that perhaps I should shift all of the Judges Guild installments to late in their second cover date month.
  • "Shrewd Slants from the Sagacious Sage" by Bob Bledsaw: This article mentions one Terry Tout, who wants to get a con running in western Canada, where there haven't been any before. .It then asks whether JG subscribers prefer dungeons or campaign setting materials, and ends with some advice to limit the powers of gods when the PCs call upon them (or draft the PC in question into service).  I'm not really sure what the point of this column is other than letting Bob Bledsaw write about whatever takes his fancy.
  • "Scrolls from the Archives": This begins what looks to be a write-up of a D&D game session. It only gets as far as showing the stats of the PCs before it gets cut off, but I can use those PCs somewhere: Vadi Mackvallen, a 7th level fighter/magic-user; Shartra, a 3rd level cleric; Nori, a 5th level dwarven fighter; Old Drussus, a 6th level druid; and Captain Angriff, a 4th level fighter.
  • "Tips from the Tower": This talks a bit about Judges Guild answering fan requests by providing two maps with this installment.  It also talks about some correspondence they had with with Gary Gygax, which they use to defend the number of high level NPCs in JG products.  Of note is the tidbit that there is a blacksmith in the City of Greyhawk who is 7th level; I'll have to remember to include him or her when the time comes.  Also mentioned is the arrangement that TSR has with Judges Guild for their products to be officially licensed.  I guess this arrangement starts around the time of this installment.  Finally, it's mentioned that JG37 First Fantasy Campaign - which details Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign - is available.  I have that as being released in September, which is more evidence that I need to push back the JG installments in my chronology.

JG44 Barbarian Altanis/Glow Worm Steppes Campaign Maps

These two maps were printed on both sides of a single sheet of paper.

Barbarian Altanis

Glow Worm Steppes (although it's actually labelled on the
map as Valley of the Ancients)

No indication of how these maps relate to each other, or to Campaign Map 1 that was in Installment K.  Based on a map that came with JG10 Guide to the City State, the Barbarian Altanis region is south of Campaign Map 1, and the Glow Worm Steppes/Valley of the Ancients map is to the northeast of Map 1.  Probably my biggest complaint about the JG product line is that the content is so scattered.  There's loads of it, but good luck finding anything quickly.

JG 43 Booklet N

This booklet provides details of the regions shown on the maps above.  It will later be combined with Booklet O, and sold as JG48 The Wilderlands of High Fantasy.  The information presented here is incredibly terse, and presented in the same style as it was in the booklet that accompanied Campaign Map 1.

Villages on the map are detailed, with a name, population, the race that lives there, leader, alignment, level of civilisation, and major resources.  Most of them are good springboards for a DM to riff on.

"Ruins and relics" are a list of odd items guarded by monsters, generated by tables which I'll talk about below.  A lot of them are nonsensical, as can happen when using random charts, but there are some gems.  "Crystallized titan's skeleton fully covered with vines - 3 TROLLS" is a personal favourite.

There's a list of citadels & castles, which has little more than bare stats for the ruler and the number of troops.  That's followed by a list of monster lairs, which simply have the name and number of monsters.  The real gem of this section is the list of islands, which provide a one-sentence description of what can be found.  Pretty much all of these are great, and could easily be expanded into a whole adventure.  "Isle of Ekur - 2 giant lizards attack all who land".  "Isles of Jynoquil - haunted by ghosts of dead sea men".  "Isle of Zueringi - Numerous zombies protect a magic-user attempting to strengthen their kind".  None of it's too out of the ordinary, but these short descriptions can be just what you need sometimes, especially when you're winging it as a DM.

All of this content is well and good, but they give little indication as to what these regions are actually like.  Culture?  Climate?  Perhaps the details given do cohere into something when used in  a game, but if there's sense to be found here I can't see it.  So far, what I'm seeing is a patchwork of mostly random elements held together with some really cool maps.  For me, the Judges Guild materials come alive when focusing in on smaller areas, not the big picture stuff.

As usual with JG products, the booklet is also packed with charts and new rules, which I'll go through below.

  • There are extensive tables for generating random ruins and abandoned relics.  On first glance I thought the results here were fairly mundane, but looking further down the list I saw things like rat chariots, space craft, and even a nuclear submarine!  I rolled on the charts to generate some results, and came up with the following comparatively boring results:
    • A ruined, eroded citadel keep with four towers and a moat, partially covered in slime and inhabited by a catoblepas.
    • Crystallized or petrified scraps of papyrus, hidden in a crevice and guarded by werewolves.
    • A pair of greaves, half sunken and unguarded.
  • There's a chart for determining the type of lair a monster has, based on its type: burrower, migratory, underwater, airborne, animal, and troglobite (which means something that lives underground).
  • Extensive charts are given for randomly generating cave systems, based on the terrain you're currently in.  I started making one, and got as far as creating a limestone cave that's entered through a 400' diameter sinkhole that's 110' deep.  After that, you generate tunnels - including height and width - and it all got a bit too much.  For my tastes, it looks a touch too complicated to use during a game.
  • A quick method is given for generating dungeons on the fly.  It's perhaps a little too simple, and the random dungeon generation tables from The Strategic Review are suggested as an alternative.
  • A quick chart of random burrows is included, featuring things like a giant anthill, worm tunnels, weasel burrows, and hobbit smials.  Also mentioned are "glow worm caves", though no indication is given of what a glow worm is in D&D terms.  I guess it could just be a reference to real-world glow worms.
  • Charts are given for dwellings and camps, but they're so cursory in comparison to the caves above that they needn't have bothered.
  • A system is given for what players might find when searching a 10'x10' area.  There's some good inspiration here, although results like "cabinet" are somewhat ludicrous.
  • A "keen sighting" chart is given, which shows a PC's likelihood of spotting something based on terrain, height, weather, etc.  This is a case of Judges Guild getting lost in the weeds a bit, I feel.  Rules are all well and good, but there's a limit to what can be implemented effectively at the table.  I guess it might be necessary for when the party is exploring that big campaign map though, to see if they actually find the encounters in the hex they're exploring.
  • A chart for "hydrographic terrain" is given, that details the smaller waterways (not shown on the map) that PCs might discover.  None of the results on the tables are of particular interest.
  • Rules are given for prospecting, which is somewhat more useful.  The charts provide the type of deposit, yield, and all manner of other data that gets a bit mathematical for me.  I suppose it's a way for characters to get rich, but it doesn't sound like as much fun as heading into a dungeon and skewering some orcs for their gold.
  • Finally, the booklet ends with an example of how the larger map hexes break down into smaller hexes.  The example given is the hex containing the City State of the Invincible Overlord, which is obviously the most useful place to start.  Rules are given for movement on that smaller scale, complete with rules for fatigue.  As with most of JG's rules material, I find it a little unwieldy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Building the Sandbox: The World of Greyhawk

Having established the framework of the D&D cosmology last week, it's time to look at the first campaign setting that I'll be making extensive use of.  The first official Dungeons & Dragons campaign was set in and around Castle Greyhawk, and that's how I'd like to begin the Ultimate Sandbox when I start running it in earnest.

I have to admit that I've never quite grasped what the deal is with the World of Greyhawk, aside from being the core D&D world.  Most of my D&D setting knowledge came from reading the novels, and the Greyhawk novels that I read were even worse than the usual TSR standard.  (I did read a couple of Gord the Rogue books, and I remember liking those, but at the time I had no inkling that they were connected to D&D aside from being written by Gary.)   Every time I've tried to read up on the history of the World of Greyhawk, I've gotten a lot of stuff about the migrations of ancient peoples, and my eyes have glazed over.  This time I guess I need to knuckle down and actually pay attention.

The World of Greyhawk is known as Oerth, and sits at the centre of "Greyspace" as far as the Spelljammer setting is concerned.  And when I say it "sits at the centre" that's not a mistake: the sun and all the other planets in Greyspace revolve around Oerth.  It has two moons, Celene and Luna, which are actually other planets in the system.  Here is the world map of Oerth, as first shown in Dragon Annual #1 from 1996.

The world of Oerth

The region of this world that's most focused on in D&D products is in the far north-east, on the continent of Oerik, and is known as the Flanaess.  Here's the map from the 1983 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set.

The Flanaess

As I understand it, the days are the same length on Oerth as on Earth, and the year is roughly the same length of time as well.  The seasons are very different, though, at least in Oerik: there are only two months each of winter, spring and autumn, while summer lasts for six months.  The days and months are as follows:

The days and months in the Flanaess

A brief history of the Flanaess, at least as I understand it, is as follows:

  • The Flanaess was originally populated mostly by tribesmen known as the Flan, who were not particularly warlike.
  • A little over a thousand years ago, the Suel people and Oeridian tribes migrated into the Flanaess, fleeing from the Baklunish-Suloise Wars.  These two clashed, and the Flan were caught up in the conflict.
  • Suloise mages call down the "Invoked Devastation" on the Baklunish Empire, and in retaliation Baklunish mages call down the "Rain of Colorless Fire".  Suel is destroyed, and becomes the Sea of Dust.  The Baklunish lands are also devastated and the people migrate north.
  • After about two hundred years of war, the Oeridians drive the Suel out of central Flanaess. The Kingdom of Aerdy, later known as the Great Kingdom, is established east of the Lake of Unknown Depths (also known as the Nyr Dyv).  The current calendar is established.
  • Circa 320 CY (common year), a wizard named Zagig Yragerne is elected mayor of the Free City of Greyhawk, and begins construction of Castle Greyhawk and the dungeons beneath.
  • Circa 437 CY, the last heir of the House of Rax is assassinated, and the demon-serving House of Naelax ascends to the throne of the Great Kingdom.
  • Circa 560-570 CY: This is roughly where Gary's original Greyhawk campaign takes place, as I understand it.
  • 576 CY: This is the year around the release of the first wave of AD&D modules, and where I'll be setting my campaign to begin with.
  • 582-584 CY: The Greyhawk Wars.  Any future events are dependent upon the actions of the PCs in my campaign; if they do something that would prevent it, things will happen differently.
  • 586 CY: The events of From the Ashes and Return of the Eight.
  • 591 CY: The events of Die Vecna Die!, marking the transition from AD&D 2nd edition to D&D 3rd edition.
  • 591-598 CY: The events of the Living Greyhawk modules (assuming they actually count as canon).

It's been established in early issues of The Dragon that Oerth is an alternate Earth.  In Gary's other writings there are apparently three other such alternates: Uerth, Yarth and Aerth.  Each of these five would also be split off into myriad timelines, I suppose - particularly Oerth - to incorporate the various D&D campaigns that have taken place on them.  Magic is much stronger on Oerth than on Earth, but on Oerth there is no functioning gunpowder.

I suppose that Earth history and Oerth history ran along similar lines up to a point.  Some time before our recorded history there must have been a cataclysm that reshaped the continents into their Oerth configuration (although I suppose the opposite could be true).  Given the large number of Tolkien references in early issues of The Dragon, I've posited that Middle-Earth could have existed in the far distant past of Oerth.  It's meant to be in our past, and if the worlds share a history it would only make sense for it to be in the past of both.  As for Conan's Hyborian Age, I had thought to incorporate that into the past or present of Oerth, maybe on a different continent, but the world map shown above doesn't really allow for it.  It will have to exist solely in the past of Earth, as Robert E. Howard intended.

As mentioned above, I'll be starting my campaign circa 576 CY, and focusing it around the Castle Greyhawk dungeons.  For that I'm going to need to define the City of Greyhawk (which lies near the centre of the Flanaess map above, south of the Nyr Dyv), the surrounding wilderness, and the Castle Greyhawk dungeons themselves.  There's a lot to unpack with all of those, which I might tackle next week (although it's possible I might sidestep to do a post on how I'm incorporating Portown and the Tower of Zenopus into the World of Greyhawk).

Monday, May 18, 2020

Play Report: The Tower of Zenopus, Session 2

I ran D&D over Zoom again this weekend, with much more success this time.  I've cast my net pretty wide among my D&D-playing acquaintances, and managed to rope in some guys that I haven't gamed with in over 20 years.  Last week we had a bunch of connection issues, but this time around everyone who wanted to play was able to get on.  It was only three people, just one more than last week, but the game went much longer and saw the party experiencing far greater success.

The novel thing for me is that none of the players who showed up carried over from the last game.  This is the first time I've ever experienced running multiple groups through the same dungeon setting, and I'm looking forward to doing more of it.  This week's group took an entirely different path than the previous adventurers, so it didn't make much of a difference.  Plus the dungeons beneath the Tower of Zenopus are small, and I don't think I'll get more than one more session out of them.  But with my current set-up, where I run for whoever shows up on a Saturday night, the possibility is there for some proper old-school multi-party campaigning, especially when I start running some more expansive modules.  I can tell already that it's going to be a lot of fun.

This week's group consisted of a halfling, a cleric and a thief.  They played things smart by hiring a man-at-arms, which they were clued into by one of the rumours from Zach Howard's excellent Ruined Tower of Zenopus.  I called the man-at-arms Hew off the cuff, and had a lot of fun investing him with the persona of a simple everyman slightly overwhelmed by the situations he was finding himself in.  The players took to him pretty quickly.

The party headed east from the entry stairs, and fought a fairly easy battle against the five goblins in room A.  I used the morale rules from Basic D&D, and the goblins rolled well and ended up fighting to the death.  This went somewhat against the module text, which states that they surrender once half of their number is dead.  Ah well, you can't remember everything.  Unfortunately, what I also forgot was some of the loot: the goblins are meant to have two bags with 500 silver pieces, but I only gave the PCs one.  I think I'll move the second bag somewhere else in the dungeon, so that they can still find it.  I don't want to cheat them out of the treasure completely.

From there they went south, and it didn't take them long to figure out the trick with the doors and the statue.  Continuing south to the base of the thaumaturgist's tower, they fought and killed a giant snake.  The cleric got constricted a bit, but a single monster like this rarely fares well against a full party, and the snake didn't last long.

From there they headed west, to the room with the sundial and the bronze mask.  The mask will answer any question asked of it, but only if the party figures out its clue: "I will not speak til it be four".  The cleric player figured this out with suspicious quickness; I'd suspect him of having read the module beforehand, but he's always been a sharp dude.  I'll have to keep on my toes, it's going to be hard having a player who is obviously more intelligent than I am.

They kept their eyes on the prize, and asked the mask where they could find the most valuable treasure.  I didn't have this info readily at hand, so I had the mask direct them to the sea cave and the smugglers.  In retrospect I should have directed them north to the catacombs, but I didn't want to bog the game down while I scoured my notes.

They followed the directions south, west, and then north, having a fight with a giant crab along the way.  It lasted a few rounds due to a tough AC, but my rolling for the crab was abysmal, and it didn't score a single hit.  My rolls for Hew, on the other hand, were on fire, and he was undoubtedly the MVP of the session.  He might have made things a little too easy, but then again it could all have gone very differently if the dice had swung the other way.  One bad roll and Hew would have been dead.  Still, an easy game for the players isn't such a bad thing now and then.

From there they headed north, where they fought four smugglers.  This was the final encounter of the session, and it ended in a real anti-climax.  The smugglers failed their morale check after the first of them fell, and two more of them were cut down as they fled.  One of them escaped, fleeing north into the dungeon tunnels.  I suppose he'll still be there next session, if he's still alive.

The party found the treasure chests in the smugglers' boats, as well as a kidnapped Lemunda the Lovely, daughter of the local lord.  There was serious discussion about them taking one of the boats and rowing out of the sea tunnel, but that would almost certainly have resulted in disaster at the hands of the giant octopus lurking at the bottom.  I figured that Lemunda would have heard the pirates talking about the octopus, so I had her warn the party against it.  Sometimes the DM must be kind.

The rest of the session was spent lugging the two treasure chests out of the dungeon.  I probably should have made more of a big deal about them carrying them across a 3-foot-deep river, but it was getting late so I fudged it.  What I didn't fudge were the half-dozen or so wandering monster checks I made while they were struggling to get the chests out of the dungeon.  Not a single one came up.  I probably made about 20 wandering monster checks for the whole game, and none of those came up either.  Sometimes all the luck just runs the way of the PCs I guess.

All told, a fun and quite successful game.  The PCs played well (lots of sharp decisions, listening at doors, not lingering too much), the dice rolls went their way, and they managed to win a few fights and make off with some decent loot at little cost to themselves.  They also had some luck with the paths they chose, and avoided the most difficult encounters, any one of which could have resulted in a TPK.  Those encounters are still down there, of course, and it just makes it more likely that the party will encounter them next time.


I'm still using my encumbrance house rules, and this time I actually got to put them into practice.  They worked about as well as I was hoping, and we were able to easily keep track of what the PCs were carrying and how it would affect their movement.  They even had to leave some treasure behind: 2,000 copper pieces in a chest that they found after defeating the goblins.  Copper pieces are a proper encumbrance trap for dumb PCs, being of such low value, and I was pretty pleased to see this party making the smart decision to leave them behind.  The system I've come up with isn't precise, but it's close enough that it made the PCs question whether to take that chest with them, and that's exactly the sort of thing I was looking for.

One thing I need to come up with is a rule for  characters carrying things between them.  As it is, nobody in my current rules is capable of carrying a chest with 2,000 coins in it.  I allowed them to carry the chests with one character lifting each side, and dropped all of their movement rates to 30'/turn as they struggled their way out of the dungeon.  It would be nice to have concrete rules to fall back on for this kind of thing though.

I also need to know how much weight a character can carry over the amount that drops their movement rate to 1.  I'll look into how the various editions have handled this and work something out.


I was tracking light sources pretty rigorously, which I've never really done before.  The party were using torches, which burn for one hour.  Combined with ten minute turns, and D&D's frightfully slow dungeon movement rates, those torches run out really quickly.  A little too quickly, I felt, but then again I have no practical experience with burning torches.  The players didn't complain, and they were smart enough to take and use the torches that I mentioned the goblins had burning on the wall.  So I had some misgivings, but I'll stick with the rules as written for now.


I've been using a combat sequence with group initiative and phases: spell phase, missile phase, movement phase and melee phase.  Last week I toyed with the idea of adding a second melee phase that would happen right at the start of the round, but I decided against it on the grounds of over-complication.

I'm not entirely thrilled with what I've come up with.  The main problem I'm having is that it's a bit arbitrary as to which players go first during their turn in melee.  It doesn't really matter, and didn't cause any issues during this game, but I know that there are players that are territorial about  getting their "kills".  I think I'll start using Dexterity scores, and just running down the characters in order based on that.


I mentioned last week that I was using screen-sharing and Excel to show the players the room dimensions, and to track things during battle.  So far, all of this has worked surprisingly well.  My main concern was that it's only good for square and rectangular rooms, but I've solved that problem as well, as you can see below.

Rooms K and S2 of the Tower of Zenopus adventure.

You can set background images in an Excel worksheet, and doing that I was able to mock up the sea caves and the round rooms in the thaumaturgist's tower.  It's a little time-consuming - especially getting the grids lines up correctly, but it does the job if you're not into using things like Roll20.

I expect to get one more session out of the Tower of Zenopus, possibly one more in Portown if the players decide that they really want to go hunting for smugglers.  After that, I think I'll send them to a certain Keep on the Borderlands, and the Caverns of Quasqueton nearby.  Beyond those, I'm not sure, although I'm leaning towards Caverns of Thracia and Jeff Sparks' version of the Holmes' Skull Mountain dungeon as a bridge to get them strong enough for some of the mid-level TSR modules.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 64: White Dwarf #2

Cover art by Christopher Baker

The second issue of White Dwarf is cover dated August/September of 1977.

"Editorial" by Ian Livingstone: The issue kicks off with Ian Livingstone's editorial, in which he wonders why so many old-school wargamers are hostile to the new trend of sci-fi and fantasy gaming.  His conclusion that they're perhaps worried that this trend will completely take over the hobby is astute and prescient.

"Competitive D&D" by Fred Hemmings: This series continues, with Hemmings describing the set-up for a game run over "D&D Day", whatever that was.  The game sounds like an interesting one: the surviving descendants of the Underhill family - a family that has been made up of nothing but adventurers for four generations - has been summoned at the behest of their recently deceased uncle Ragnarock "Digger" Underhill to compete for the treasure in the dungeons beneath his mansion.  The surviving Underhills are described as follows:

  • Cassia, a 5th-level, neutral, right-handed Fighter, with 16 strength, 21 hit points and a potion of invulnerability. Partnered with Carl.
  • Carl, a 2nd level, neutral, right-handed Monk, with a constitution of only 6, 4 minus 2 hit points and a +1 sword (IQ 1). Partnered with Cassia.
  • Brutus, a 5th level, neutral, either-handed Fighter, with 25 hit points and a rod of cancellation. Partnered with Lotus.
  • Lotus, a 2nd level, neutral, left-handed Illusionist, with 4 hit points and a scroll of non-detection. Partnered with Brutus.
  • Flash, a 2nd-level, lawful, right-handed Ranger of 17 Strength and 15 Constitution, had 12+2 hit points and +1 armour. Partnered with Milo.
  • Milo, a 2nd-level, lawful, left-handed Cleric. He had 6 hit points, a +1 shield, and a staff of striking with 80 charges. Partnered with Flash.
  • Jose, a 2nd-level, chaotic, left-handed Magic-User of 6 Strength, 4 hit points, and no magic items.  Partnered with Will.
  • Will, a 3rd level, chaotic, right-handed Bard, with 7 hit points and a +1 protection cloak. Partnered with Jose.
  • Zadok, a 3rd level, chaotic, left-handed Thief, with 6 hit points and a sword which would break the first time it was used.  Partnered with Prudence.
  • Prudence, a 3rd level, chaotic, ambidextrous Fighter with a constitution of 16, 10+3 hit points, a potion of levitation and a +1 sword which was also +3 vs. clerics (IQ 4). Partnered with Zadok.
  • Pierre, a 2nd level, lawful, right-handed Cleric with a strength of 5 and 10 hit points, but also the handicap of a shield that would break at the first blow. Partnered with Joan.
  • Joan, a 2nd level, lawful, right-handed Fighter with a strength of 14. She had 8 hit points and a potion of bronze dragon control. Partnered with Pierre.
  • Tonto, a 5th level, neutral, right-handed Magic-User who had 14 hit points and a bowl of watery death. Partnered with Avon.
  • Avon, a 2nd level, neutral, right-handed Thief. This unfortunate person had a strength of 3, a constitution of 5, 6 minus 2 hit points and a +1 sword with the ability to locate objects (and an IQ Ego that would take her over in stress situations). Partnered with Tonto.
  • Burke, Uncle Digger's hulking moronic grandson, a 2nd level, neutral, left-handed Fighter with a strength of 18 (+3/+5), while both intelligence and charisma were 3. His special equipment consisted of a scroll vs. elementals and a sword of draining (which transferred all hit point damage to the wielder for 24 hours).

The family is summoned to the Brass Monkey inn, run by "Greasy Pete", where they receive their inheritances (the magic items given in their descriptions) and a map to their uncle's former home and the dungeons beneath.  The dungeon is only vaguely described, and will apparently be shown in more detail next issue, so I'll save it until then.

To me, the above scenario has a real Judges Guild vibe, so I think it would fit pretty well into the Wilderlands setting.  As for getting the PCs involved, I could perhaps reveal one of them to be a distant Underhill relative, or have one of the unscrupulous NPCs above bring them in as ringers.

A lot of the article focuses on how this was run as a competitive game, with point values for various tasks, and the rules of the competition.  None of that's really relevant to my project, but it's an interesting look into the way competitive D&D was run in that time and place.

"Asgard Miniatures" reviewed by Ian Livingstone: Ian reviews a range of figures from a company co-founded by Brian Ansell, who will go on to co-design Warhammer Fantasy Battle and buy Games Workshop from Steve and Ian.  It's interesting to note certain things, like Ian being pleased that there are finally some good cleric figures on the market, and that the size of figures representing giant animals varies greatly.  It's easy to forget when reading this stuff just what a nascent hobby fantasy gaming was at the time.

"The Green Planet Trilogy of Games" reviewed by Lewis Pulsipher: Pulsipher reviews three games - Mind War, War of the Sky Galleons, and Warriors of the Green Planet - which can all be combined for a single campaign.  It's set on a future Earth that's devastated by an axial shift, where civilisation rises again in Africa with lasers, airships and mutated psychics.  Sky Galleons focuses on air combat, Warriors on ground combat, and Mind War on psychic combat. Pulsipher displays his usual no-fun-allowed nitpickery, but his reviews are nothing if not rigorous.

"Before the Flood" by Hartley Patterson: Gives a history of the game Midgard, which I gather was a sort of play-by-mail game with a newsletter, where the players were the rulers of various areas of a fantasy world.  It started in the UK and spread to the US and Australia, apparently.

"Open Box": This issue there are reviews of Steve Jackson's OGRE (that's the other Steve Jackson, not the GW co-founder), the Lankhmar boardgame from TSR, a sci-fi game called War of the Star Slavers, and the seminal fantasy game Tunnels & Trolls (which was tellingly not reviewed in any TSR publication).  Predictably, Lewis Pulsipher does not approve of T&T's silly spell names.

"The Monstermark System" by Don Turnbull: Turnbull continues to rank the deadliness of D&D monsters using his mathematical system.  This time around he tackles fire-breathing monsters (including dragons, naturally), weird miscellanea, golems, elementals, demons, and the monsters from Empire of the Petal Throne.  Most of the monsters match up relatively about where you'd expect, but there are some oddities.  Dragons are much weaker than I would have thought, and demons rate very highly.  I'd have expected the numbered demons to advance progressively, but in terms of power on this scale they go (from lowest to highest) V, I, IV, II, VI, III, with the Succubus trailing way, way behind.  Turnbull chalks the odd power scale up to differences in Armor Class.

Ropers receive a huge score, comparable to demons, and with scores in the tens of thousands iron and stone golems are way off the chart.  These are all tough monsters, but I'm not sure they're as tough as Turnbull's system makes them out to be.

The article wraps up with revised wandering monster tables by dungeon level, which I'll recreate here. They include the EPT monsters and some other oddities, and could make for some interesting dungeons very much rooted in 70s D&D.

The Monstermark Wandering Monster Chart

"Treasure Chest": This is the regular segment where contributors present new additions to D&D: classes, monsters, magic items, etc.

  • "New Magic Item: Needle of Incalculable Power" by Julian Cable: This needle has whatever power the player who picks it up thinks it will have, which has all sorts of potential for fun but also for breaking the game.  It's offset by a reduction to the user's prime requisite, and by the restriction that it can't have the same power for two different players, but I still think that players could create all sorts of havoc with this once they figure out what it does.
  • "New Class: The Scientist" by Dave Langford: A parody class in much better taste than last issue's Pervert.  Langford becomes a staple reviewer in British gaming mags, and this article has some solid gags.  Upon reaching name level, the scientist becomes "out of touch", and must restart from level 1, for example.  I won't be using this class, but it did get a chuckle or two out of me, which is more than can be said for most of the humour in The Dragon at this time.
  • "New Monster: Spinescale" by Ian Livingstone: I'm a Fighting Fantasy nut, so any D&D content from Ian is right up my alley. Spinescales are frogs mutated by chemicals from the lab of a master alchemist named Vollan.  They have a poisonous bite and a tough hide that provides protection, but their eyes and underbelly are soft.  It's notable that it says that normal weapons will bounce off the hide; is it completely immune to all attacks that strike it there?  It only has AC 7, and I've always been iffy on how to rule monsters with different protection on different body parts.

Art by Polly Wilson

  • "New Monster: Dune Stalker" by Ian Livingstone: Similar to Invisible Stalkers, Dune Stalkers are extra-dimensional trackers that are usually summoned/created by evil magic-users that have been exiled to desert lands.  They're immune to normal weapons, attack via sonic vibration, and also have a "kiss of death" which is fatal. This monster will later be included in the Fiend Folio.

Art by Polly Wilson

  • "New Monster: The Ning" by Ian Livingstone: A creature created by evil priests, which is kept imprisoned in a flask. They are often placed in treasure hoards as protection. When the flask is opened the Ning materialises and attacks, hypnotising with its gaze and crushing those affected with its powerful lower arms.  It's immune to all attacks, and can only be defeated by severing the two arm-like antennae on its head.  It's more of a puzzle encounter than anything, and would best be used sparingly.

Art by Alan Hunter

  • "New Monster: Giant Caterpillar" by Ian Livingstone: Another giant creepy-crawly, of which D&D can never have too many. This one has a poisonous bite, and a skin that can be sold for hundreds of gold pieces.  The skin is especially prized by "hill people" who wear it as a ceremonial dancing costume.

Art by Alan Hunter

  • "New Monster: Blood Hawk" by Ian Livingstone: Tougher and more aggressive hawks, basically, that like to line their nests with gems.  Somehow this one made the cut for the Fiend Folio.

Art by Polly Wilson

"The Loremaster of Avallon" by Andy Holt: Last issue Andrew Holt made many complaints about D&D, and proposed some ways to fix it.  This month he goes into more detail about his various solutions.  There's an alternate system for devising ability scores, which is far too removed from D&D to be of use, but his magic system is intriguing, as it uses a spell point system and has unique chants for each spell that must be recited by the player from memory.  I could see that being fun at the table, although perhaps favouring certain types of players.  Some new spells are given: Bow Break (causes a strung bow or crossbow to break); Mammal Empathy, and Stun.

"Letters": Graham Reynolds writes to complain about the gravity chart in last issue's Metamorphosis Alpha article, Graham Buckell quibbles over the review of Starship Troopers, and Adrian Bolt lets the editors know what he thought of every article.