Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Dismal Depths, another look

A huge Thank You goes out to Chgowiz for his efforts in designing a suitable template for my little project here. I've been playing with this all day, and I have finally completed Level 1A, Tunnels of the Mole-Men.

I scanned it at 720 dpi, but I'm having issues converting the scan to a legible document. The map, which I inked, looks fine, but the text is blurry even at that resolution.

Any suggestions? I could finish all twelve maps of the Upper Levels (1-3), and head down to Staples to make nice legible copies of the maps on cardstock, along with a four or five page guide, and call it done, BUT I had hoped to convert the scans into a usable document available for readers via PDF.

Anyway, here's the scanned image:

Input and criticism welcome before I continue in this method. It's a bit more intensive than my normal design approach, but I kinda like the end result; and having dozens of these single page dungeon adventures might make for a staggering and unique megadungeon.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Dismal Depths

If you're looking to enjoy a long read on dungeon design, sit back and take in the following.

My current project, which has detracted a bit from my blogging, is the culmination of many of the ideas I have been collecting and forming recently as Ulin-Uthor, The Dim Expanse has become somewhat bogged down by its layers of detail. These ideas and sentiments are due in no small part to my ongoing Cover to Cover reading of the original D&D, Volumes I-III.

The Dismal Depths was originally envisioned as an answer to my dissatisfaction with the involved design approach I had set forth for myself with The Dim Expanse. Fear not, The Dim Expanse is still going to be completed, but it has certainly given me an understanding of why there are so few actual honest-to-goodness megadungeons in print.

Perhaps the end result for The Dim Expanse will fall somewhere between its current state, and this new approach used for The Dismal Depths.

The notion of a no-frills megadungeon was the kindling for this project, but what truly pushed it over the edge into actual design process was a comment by one of my favorite odd74 posters, Dwayanu in this thread. For ease of clicking and scrolling, here's the blurb:

I'm trying out an approach of mapping by sectors of 30 x 30 squares. That leaves room on the same page for a succinct "key."
Now, in hindsight I don't think Dwayanu meant for his design process to result in anything more than a handy key on the map, but his words helped me form the approach for The Dismal Depths, a megadungeon with dungeon level maps, tables and room descriptions entirely on a single page.

It sounded like a brilliant idea. We've all seen plenty of similar maps online or in print, but I hope to offer a megadungeon that requires no more than a few handwritten notes on the part of the referee to dive in and enjoy a full-blown dungeon crawl campaign.

The Dismal Depths will hopefully embody the Empty Room Principle; giving referees more than ample creative opportunity, either beforehand, during a session, or afterwards when restocking or altering the dungeon.

My first steps were creating a list of unique, bare-bones monsters, thus I started everything off with The Dismal Depths Bestiary:

The Dismal Depths Beastiary

Amazons(C): AC 4 Move 9 HD 3+1 Women warriors from an all-female ruled nation. Wield silver headed spears and arrows. Amazons pay Dingo-Men for abducted male babies, all other men are slain or captured for ritual castration. Leader has 4+1 HD.

Boglings(C): AC 6 Move 6 HD 1-1 Small, randomly colored chaos-spawned humanoids. Flesh-eating, utterly evil (aside from the deviant Misfits). Wield crude weapons such as spears, clubs and tomahawks. Mortal enemies of the Wee Ones. Leaders have 3 HD.

Brainy Apes(N): AC 5 Move 9 HD 4+1 Smart, gigantic apes with rust orange fur. Prefer to attack with weapons, dealing +2 damage, but can never find armor that fits. Excellent negotiators but limited in languages. Gold is their greatest motivator.

Broodlings(N): AC 7 Move 6 HD ½ Misshapen, three-foot tall insect-men with ant-like strength. Low intellect, very acute senses. Travel in large packs hunting flesh for the nest. Never surprised, excellent ambushers. Scourge of the depths.

Cadavers(N): AC 8 Move 6 HD 1 Undead. Battle-axe wielding zombies immune to all magic.

Corrupted(C): AC 2 Move 15/30 HD 6 Undead. Vengeful spectres. Howl once per encounter, all in 30 feet save or flee in terror for 2d6 rounds. The character landing the killing blow must save or wither from unnatural aging.

Creepy-Crawlies(N): AC 8 Move 6 HD 2 Clean-up crew. Blanket of massed flesh-eating insects. Targets are treated as AC 9, deals 1 die of damage (1 in 6 chance to be poisonous) to all targets in 20’x20’. Attacks deal but 1 damage to it, but fire deals maximum damage and may deter it.

Desiccated(N): AC 7 Move 6 HD ½ Undead. Sword and shield wielding skeletons which take but 1 damage from most physical blows, blunt weapons deal full damage, and missiles do no damage.

Dingo-Men(C): AC 6 Move 12 HD 3 Cunning lycanthropes given to greed and deception. They are the only males able to interact with Amazons, and often lead unsuspecting men into ambushes. Only struck by silver weapons (not even magic ones, unless silver, effect them).

Fallen(C): AC 2 Move 6 HD 3 Outcast and dishonored, heavily armed and armored former Knights of the Order living in recluse in the Dismal Depths. Plotting to overthrow the Order and take control. Leader has 5+1 HD, his Guards have 4 HD.

Lab Rats(N): AC 7 Move 9 HD 1-1 Giant rabid albino rats with pink eyes, escaped from nefarious laboratories, now breeding throughout the depths. Bites accumulate and cause increasing itching unless save is made. One dozen together form a rudimentary hive mind capable of primitive speech.

Mantis-Men(N): AC 5 Move 9 HD 2+1 Giant, intelligent bipedal Mantises. Mortal enemy of the Spider-Folk. Excellent vision and senses, never surprised. Able to make a lightning-quick long-range lunge for surprise attack with their massive barbed forearms.

Mastiffs(N): AC 5 Move 9 HD 3 Enormous, armored trained war dogs employed as ferocious guards by many inhabitants of the Dismal Depths, often found prowling the halls looking for intruders. Cannot be surprised, able to track and find hidden foes.

Misfits(L): AC 4 Move 6 HD 1+1 Lawful Bogling Knights who protect the sacred Tomb of the Truth. Their kind often roams the depths, seeking to induct other possibly like-minded Boglings into their Misfit Order. Leader has 3 HD, Guards have 2 HD, Trainees are equal to Boglings.

Mole-Men(N-C): AC 6 Move 9 HD 1 Small, darkly furry, bald-headed humanoids. Those hit by Mole-Men glow with a pale phosphorescence for 1 hour, add 1 to hit for attacks upon the glowing character. Wield pick-axes and javelins. Mortal enemies of the Morlocks.

Morlocks(N-C): AC 5 Move 9 HD 1+1 Once tech-advanced time-travelers, now lost devolved species of cannibalistic subterranean men. Covered with pale fur, they are extremely sensitive to bright light. Able to slink silently and track foes. Wield clubs and spears. Favorite dish is pickled Mole-Man.

Pirates(C): AC 5 Move 9 HD 2 Really bad guys; buccaneers, corsairs, cut-throats, salty dogs. Leader has 3 HD.

Rotted(C): AC 6 Move 9 HD 2 Undead. Crazed, drooling man-hunting ghouls which, instead of paralyzing, cause targets to save or become wracked with pain, losing all actions for the rest of that round.

Seeping Ooze(N): AC 8 Move 6 HD 3 Clean-up crew. Mass of oozing purplish gunk which leaves a disgusting trail of goop and is notable for its fetid reek. It erodes metal in one round, and devours flesh thereafter at a rate of 1 die per round. Physical attacks and fire deal but 1 damage.

Skellington(C): AC 3 Move 9 HD 7 Tall, gaunt, brooding King of the Undead in the Dismal Depths. Skellington can never be truly slain by normal means, reforming in 2d6 days once defeated. Skellington’s hits cause soul wrack, save vs. death ray or die.

Sleestaks(C): AC 5 Move 9 HD 2 Tall, green reptilian aliens with bulbous unblinking eyes, pincer hands, and a blunt horn atop head. Wield crossbows, nets and ropes. Fearful of fire. Seek to capture men for alien rituals.

Spider-Folk(C): AC 6 Move 9 HD 2 Highly-intelligent, tall but stooped, long-limbed, gaunt race of arachnid men. Create flame-retardant web-homes, eat nothing but blood and body-fluids, have huge, poisoned fang-filled maws. Sworn enemies of the Mantis-Men.

Tainted(C): AC 3 Move 12/24 HD 4 Undead. Silvery-black wraiths with a chilling attack which treats all targets as AC 9, and causes 2 dice of damage.

Thugs(C): AC 7 Move 12 HD 1 Bad guys; bandits, brigands, rogues, robbers. Leader has 2 HD.

Twisted(C): AC 5 Move 9 HD 3 Undead. Withered wights with a berserk inducing touch. Save or attack random targets for 1d3 rounds.

Warped(C): AC 5 Move 12 HD 3+1 Strange, destructive mutated elf-like fey-kind. Random mutation: super-fast, super-strong, super-tough, super-smart, super-pretty, super-accurate, etc. Seek to collect brains for devious plots to overthrow mankind.

Wee Warriors(N): AC 5 Move 9 HD 2 The fighting Wee One. Diminutive winged fey-kind, greedy, devious, uncaring and opportunistic toward mortals. Heavily armed and armored to the point of non-flight. They wield daggers like swords. Despise Boglings above all others.

Wee Warlord(N): AC 4 Move 9 HD 3 The Wee One Leader. As above. All Warlords wield a Wee Sword (treat as a Dagger, +1 vs. Men, +2 vs. Boglings and Broodlings) which is enchanted with a duration of 1 game session.

Wee Wizards(N): AC 7 Move 12/24 HD 2 The spell-casting Wee One. As above. Typical spells include Sleep, Charm, Invisibility, ESP and Knock. Wee Wizards will have 1d4-1 spells at their disposal when encountered. Will use flight to avoid melee if possible.

Whisper-Wind(N): AC - Move -/6 HD 2 Clean-up crew. Large misty, damp mass of shimmering mystical air, up to 30’x10’ in size. It dissolves all flesh, bone and metal which it envelops at a rate of 1 die per round. Immune to physical attacks, spells or flaming oil will damage it.
You will notice that many of the new monsters simply replicate the statistics of standard D&D fare. For example, Broodlings = Kobolds, Boglings = Goblins, Mole-Men = Orcs, Morlocks = Hobgoblins, Sleestaks = Gnolls, Brainy Apes = Ogres, etc. The undead, which orignally had names such as Twisdead and Taindead, are simple homebrew alterations of the standard D&D undead. Toss in a few completely new creations, such as the Warped, Wee Ones and Spider-Folk, and a solid collection of new monsters is detailed in but two pages.

Next, I designed Level 1A, The Tunnels of the Mole-Men. A 30 square x 30 square map which encompasses the north-west corner of Level 1:

This was then scanned and cropped after filling the map in greater detail:

The rest of my time has been spent working with scanning, Photo-shop, and Word. I cropped, pasted, and played with all the various Word settings to produce this first draft version of Level 1A:

While I haven't typed in the Room Key just yet, the end result will be something limited to what I can type on a single line, maybe like so:

3-The Laughing Idol. Four shafts with ladders leading down. Mole-Men (7), Silver (300), Gold (50).
With just simple text, a referee could invent details on the fly, and still have the basic text for future use in order to jog his memory on how he handled the room in the past.

My immediate plan is to complete four maps for Levels 1-3, resulting in a dozen such maps. If I am happy with the finished product, I will expand the Bestiary, and continue with Levels 4-6, 6-9 and 10.

So, in case you're wondering, posting continues at a slow pace as I learn the ins and outs of making a dungeon in this manner. I'm still not entirely satisfied with the scan results, perhaps I need a better scanner, but considering the draft version is a scan of a scan that was emailed (the scanner is on my Wife's computer), it's not half bad.

I'll come up for air after I finish Level 1. The really cool thing about this type of dungeon is how I can share it here in its entirety. Hopefully The Dismal Depths will provide some entertainment for my readers who are willing to take on a referee style which begs for on the spot creativity.

Lastly, I want to add "Zulgyan's Hit Point Method", found here, somewhere in the Bestiary. If you're not familiar with it, go read that tidbit of genius.

Oh, and Happy Holidays! I Wish everyone a safe and entertaining New Year's Eve.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

When all our dreams come true

Not quite a Friday Flashback, but here's a Christmas Eve video for you. Flashback to 1988, The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl, performing their now classic Fairytale of New York on St. Patrick's Day, 1988. I'll reserve comments on The Pogues, Shane MacGowan, and Kirsty MacColl (RIP) for another post next year.

Here is the near perfection embodied by the studio version, complete with fairly accurate lyrics.


I hope everyone and thier families has a safe and joyous Christmas, and it can't be nearly as bad as this song's alcoholic in the drunk tank, his drug addicted girl, and thier dreams lost upon immigrating to New York.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 31

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Monsters & Treasure

SWORDS: Among magic weaponry swords alone possess certain human (and superhuman) attributes, Swords have an alignment (Lawful, Neutral or Chaotic), an Intelligence factor, and an egoism rating (as well as an optional determination of their origin/purpose).”
First, I’d like to comment that the explanation of Swords here in Monsters & Treasure encompasses nearly four full pages. Swords are the Dragons of Magic Items, and are clearly meant to be an important part of the game. I believe that this is loosely based on the swords of myth, legend and literature; those weapons which dominate stories, tales and novels, and in many cases, our own history. On the other hand, I also believe this to be an intentional feature of the game which benefits the Fighting-Man class. Until Greyhawk was published, only Fighting-Men could actually use swords, which are potentially the most powerful magic weapons in the game.

As most readers of this series already know, magic swords in the original game are indeed unique, being the only weapons that might possess alignment, intelligence, communicative ability and special magical powers. You will note, however, that the passage does not say that ALL magic swords possess human attributes. Instead, it states that of all magical weaponry, swords alone possess human attributes. In other words, only swords have a chance to be enchanted or ensorcelled with humanlike qualities. How you interpret the above passage is your decision, as referee. Either all magic swords have those attributes, or only some of them do.

Since there is no actual chance provided to determine which swords are indeed possessive of human attributes, I think that most referees assume that all magic swords in the game are to be created using the tables which follow. I cannot argue with this approach, but I will share my own solution to the topic at the end of this section.

If a character picks up a sword which is not of the same alignment as he, damage will be taken as follows:

Law - Chaos: 2 Dice (2-12 points)
Neutrality - Law/Chaos: 1 Die (1-6 points)”
The above table is a guide which shows the penalty for claiming a magic sword of opposing alignment; one which does not preclude a character from wielding it after the damage roll.

“…if the Intelligence/Egoism of the sword (see below) is 6 or more points above that of the character who picks it up the sword will control the person, even causing him to become aligned as the sword is, and he will immediately act accordingly…a hireling of a Lawful player-character ordered to pick up a Neutral sword and taken over by it would deliberately lie about its powers, while if the sword were Chaotic he would attack.”
This details the chance of immediate influence exerted by magic swords, upon both characters and hirelings. I’d allow this to effect monsters, as well. A particularly powerful magic sword could create many enjoyable sessions, or form the basis for more than a few interesting adventures by taking over characters, hirelings, townsfolk or monsters. Also of note here is a tidbit in regard to the interaction of Law-Neutral and Law-Chaos. Neutral seems to include the traits of selfishness, dishonesty and greed. Chaos is apparently opposed to Law at all times, or simply given to violent and treacherous acts.

Intelligence: There are two factors considered under Intelligence, mental power and communicative ability.”
One-half of the magic swords randomly created by the referee using this table have less than 7 Intelligence, and are therefore, according to this section, not possessive of any mental power nor communicative ability. For all intents and purposes, these swords with 6 or less Intelligence might as well have no intellect.

Also, this is the first time I actually noticed that the Primary and Extraordinary Powers which follow this section are described as Mental Powers. It later goes on to state that these powers are passed on to the sword user, so the fact that these are Mental Powers may or may not have any bearing on a referee’s campaign. I’m left to wonder why the distinction was made; perhaps it’s because these magic swords are the only intelligent items in the game, or perhaps Mental Powers are different in some way than standard magical ones. Apparently these powers differ in name only, and function just like their magical counterparts.

Primary Powers:

31-40 Locate Secret Doors
41-50 Detect Traps
71-80 Detect Meal & What Kind
Above are a few of the interesting Primary Powers of magic swords. The first two are potentially game-breakers for dungeon crawl campaigns without some referee house ruling involved. No referee should hand an item over to a player-character which automatically points out all secret doors or traps. Instead, a limited number of daily uses, a chance of failure, a long activation time, or even all three together would create a suitable scenario and not deter referees from including such items in their campaign.

Readers of my favorite D&D forum, Finarvyn’s OD&D Discussion, are probably already familiar with that last power included above. My guess is that this is a typo that was simply never corrected by TSR, and is supposed to read “Detect Metal…”. This may seem obvious to everyone but me. Believe it or not, due to the “& What Kind” wording, I didn’t realize that this was a typo until I read a thread on the above linked form! I actually thought this was just some awkward old power from the original game. I can confidently share this fact with my readers, because they already know I’m a bit off my rocker to begin with. Besides, in all honesty, I like the idea of a sword that is able to detect meals. If anyone were to ever find a sword with the 71-80 Primary Power, I would rule that it does indeed find food for them. I wouldn’t advocate this ruling, so referees feel free to correct this typo and allow the power to detect metal. I can only imagine the inquiries mailed into the TSR office in Lake Geneva back in the 70’s, and the jokes that evolved from this typo. It’s no wonder it was never corrected.

Extraordinary Powers:

88-92 Healing (1 point/6 turns or 6 points/day)
93-97 1 - 4 Times Normal Strength for 1 - 10 Turns Employable Once/Day

Rolling the same Ability twice indicates it is twice normal strength, range, accuracy, etc
As with certain Primary Powers, I would advocate limitations placed on the abilities listed in the Extraordinary Powers table, even though no such guide is provided except in the case of the two results listed above. The 93-97 result is interesting. There are no actual rules covering the extreme numbers which might be resultant from this power. The increased damage inflicted by what could be assumed to be super strong monsters is actually attributed to their size, or mass, and not simply Strength. Referees will be left to determine the advantages of increased Strength. Increases in melee damage, carry capacity, chance for opening doors and even lifting heavy objects are a few of the possible considerations. It is possible that the result would be a character with 72 Strength, assuming the power actually increases Strength. Perhaps the wording “Normal Strength” means 1 to 4 times the Strength of a normal man; perhaps it applies to the sword and not the wielder. A sword of 1 to 4 times Normal Strength might have its to hit bonus increased from say +2 to +8 for 1 to 10 Turns. While your game might never have to handle this power, it does leave me thinking of its possibilities, especially if the extremely rare scenario arises wherein this power is in fact of double strength by being rolled twice.

Egoism: Only those swords Intelligence of 7 or more will have an Egoism rating.”
As I mentioned earlier, swords with 6 or less Intelligence might as well have no intellect. As we can see, they also have no Egoism rating at all.

Origin/Purpose: …To determine if the sword has such a purpose roll percentile dice, and a score of 91 or higher indicates the sword has a special mission. Swords with special purposes automatically have intelligence and ego categories moved to the maximum score and they will gain an additional ability:

Law: The ability to paralize Chaotic opponents
Neutrality: Adds +1 to all saving throws
Chaos: The ability to disintegrate Lawful opponents

The special ability will only apply to those whom the sword has been endowed to destroy, or those serving such a creature…Special purpose swords will always be at their task, and any attempts by their users to go counter to them will cause an immediate influence check to be made
Noted in the first passage on Swords is the fact that Origin/Purpose is an optional determination. I take this to mean that not every sword has even a 1 in 10 (91-00) chance of possessing an Origin/Purpose. Referees will be inspired by this section on Swords, and I would use the relative power on those special purpose swords of Neutrality as a guide when I house rule the Law and Chaos ones. For example, house ruling that the ability is used by the sword only on a roll of 20 to hit might balance what at first blush appears to be an imbalanced item. A Lawful sword, with the special purpose of Defeat Chaos, would simply be too powerful if it paralyzed every chaotic target which it struck in the campaign.

SWORDS, DAMAGE BONUSES: The swords all receive bonuses as far as the probability of hitting an opponent is concerned, but some also gain a damage bonus when they do hit. These swords are those with a +2 or +3 against specific creatures, but not those with a general bonus of +2 or +3.”
This is a roundabout way of saying that unlike most magic weapons, swords do not deal extra damage upon hitting. Their bonus is “to hit” only, unless otherwise specified. This is an important difference of the original rules and later editions.

Lastly, on the topic of whether all swords are intelligent and possessive of an alignment, I house rule the following method. Given that one-half (result of 1-6 on a d12 from the Intelligence roll) of all magic swords have an Intelligence of 6 or lower, and that swords with 6 or less Intelligence have no Egoism rating, no special Mental Powers, and no Communicative Ability, I simply rule that those swords are all standard, non-aligned, non-intelligent magic swords.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Monday, December 22, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 30

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Monsters & Treasure


51-60: 1 Curse*
* The referee must take extreme care in handling all Scrolls with an eye towards duping the players when a Curse Scroll is found…having non-Curse Scrolls disappear on occasion if not identified will help to force the reading of Curse Scrolls
I like the footnote for Curse Scrolls. It does give one the feeling that referees were charged with presenting thoughtful challenges and ways to outsmart the players in an attempt to always keep them on their toes. There is no suggestion for unfair play, but I think at the time of this writing, that the authors had witnessed the gamesmanship of their players, and were always cooking up ways to throw a curve ball at them in order to keep things interesting.

What follows is a table which details the effects of reading such scrolls by rolling 1d8, and having the curse effect all in a 3” diameter.

1 or 2: Any monster of the referee’s choice
3 or 4: Disease, fatal in 3 turns unless healed
5 or 6: Polymorph to insect of referee’s choice
7: Transportation 1,000 miles, random direction
8: Transportation to another planet
The effect of being duped by a Curse Scroll can be downright nasty.

Three tables follow detailing the types of maps which might be found in a treasure hoard. Maps constitute 25% of all randomized items from the ’any’ category. We already know that maps such as these are worthless without a Magic User capable of casting a Read Languages spell. In the past, in my older campaigns, I never used maps in this manner. Maps were always hand-drawn handouts for the players, detailing actual features within the game world. These D&D maps seem to be encoded, encrypted or magically enciphered, so there is nothing to hand-out until a Read Languages spell has cracked the riddle of the map. At this point a hand-drawn handout could be employed, a simple list of directions could be given, or the referee might allow the characters to ask “North, South, East or West?” at each intersection until they locate the treasure. On the other hand, the maps might give directions that send the characters out of their current locale altogether, or so far deep into the underworld that the map is currently of no use. The rules aren’t very specific, but I come away from the whole system feeling as though it is to be handled with no handouts at all. Maps seem to be a simple system of rolling the dice and allowing the group to find some invisible or secret location, guarded by something appropriate, often just hand-drawn onto the game or dungeon map after a treasure map has been used properly. It’s as if the deciphering of a treasure map generates the treasure listed, along with its guardian.

Up next on Tuesday: SWORDS, which deserves one large article.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

PS: Added a link to an example of a well-played Curse Scroll for your reading pleasure.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Slow Blogging Days are here

Again, just a reminder that Ye Auld Grog 'n Blog will have slower than usual updates over the holidays. I'm officially about one-half way through Cover to Cover, but finding time to continue the series on a daily basis is difficult as we approach Christmas Day. Thanks to all of my readers who have been keeping up with the series, and commenting as I forge ahead with my rambling treatment of the three volumes. I'll have some more posts in the very near future, never fear.

On the topic of Christmas, here's a copy of the very first Wish List I have actually compiled in years and years:

Sham's Selfish 2008 Christmas Wish List

1. Boxed version of Original D&D
2. Boxed version of Holmes Basic D&D
3. Boxed version of Moldvay Basic D&D
4. Boxed version of Moldvay/Cook Expert D&D
5. D&D Supplement I, Greyhawk
6. D&D Supplement II, Blackmoor
7. D&D Supplement III, Eldritch Wizardry
8. D&D Supplement IV, Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes
9. TSR's Swords & Spells
10. TSR's Chainmail
11. TSR's original Metamorphosis Alpha
12. Judge's Guild First Fantasy Campaign
13. Judge's Guild Wilderlands of High Fantasy
14. Judge's Guild Caverns of Thracia
15. TSR's Dungeon! Boardgame

Here's hoping everyone has a joyous, blessed Christmas this year.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Sunday, December 14, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 29

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Monsters & Treasure

The second half of this volume details Treasure. The section is launched with a table and guide on randomly determining the types and amount of treasure typically found in a monster’s lair. Nothing profound, but the footnotes concerning number of prisoners held by Men in their lair breaks down the areas in which those earlier monster entries are holed-up.

Land - Brigands, Bandits, Berserkers, Cavemen.
Desert - Nomads, Dervishes.
Water - Pirates, Buccaneers, Mermen.

The section continues with tables for determining the types of items discovered in treasure caches. Of note is that one-quarter of all items found, those listed as ‘any’ in the TREASURE TYPES table, are in fact maps. The nine tables that follow help determine the individual items within the various categories of treasure. Many of the items on these nine tables are not described or mentioned again in the subsequent EXPLANATIONS OF MAGIC ITEMS section which follows, leaving the referee to simply use the entry on these tables and go from there.

Of the 75% of magic items found, those which are not maps, fully 20% are Swords, thus, 15% of all items are Swords. This observation of course discounts the many specific entries denoted as Potion or Scroll, which indeed make those two consumable magic items more common when using these guides. Armor and Weapons are possible results, but clearly Swords hold an important place in the hierarchy of Magic Items in this original version of D&D, as I shall explore further in the upcoming explanation of Swords.

While 15% of such items are Swords, the categories of Rings, Wands/Staves and Miscellaneous Magic combined only account for a mere 11.25% of all items, or 3.75% each. Swords, Armor and Miscellaneous Weapons account for 30% of all items, and we already know that one-half of those are Swords. OK, moving on to the individual tables.


01-35: Sword, +1
84-00: Sword -2 (Cursed Sword)”
Did you know that 7% of all items found are a Sword, +1, or that 3.4% are a Sword -2? Neither did I, but I do now.

None of the Swords found upon this table are individually described in the later section of explanations. The referee is left to his own devices when judging exactly how some of these unique Swords work. For example, Locating Objects Ability, Charm Person Ability, and Life Energy Draining Ability are not defined. The implementation of these powers is left to the discretion of the referee.

Armor entries are simply that, not defined as either Leather, Chain or Plate. Shields may be found singly, or paired with Armor.

All magic Daggers are enchanted in such a way that their bonuses only apply to specific targets, there is, for example, no good old Dagger, +1. There is also no Mace, +1. All magical Maces are +2. Magic Arrows and Magic Bows are described thusly, without the plusses they posses. I like this fact, and wish there were more such examples, the Axe +1 and the Mace +2 could also simply be Magic Axe or Magic Mace, for example. Lastly, we find the Dwarf-only War Hammer +3, 6” Throwing Range with Return. This item is of nearly epic, artifact proportions in the original D&D, with but a 1% chance on this table, based on the previously established numbers, that equates to but a .0375% chance of this item resulting from a roll on the magic items table. 1 in 2,667 rolls, in other words. This chance is shared by 15 other items in this volume, so in fact these 15 entries are the rarest of rare.

The Rarest of Rare in Monsters & Treasure:

War Hammer +3, 6” Throwing Range with Return
Spear +3
Ring of Spell Storing
Ring of Many Wishes
Staff of Wizardry
Crystal Ball with ESP
Censor Controlling Air Elementals
Stone Controlling Earth Elementals
Brazier Commanding Fire Elementals
Bowl Commanding Water Elementals
Helm of Teleportation
Flying Carpet
Drums of Panic
Horn of Blasting
Mirror of Life Trapping

The above could form a decent collection of unique, singular artifacts for a D&D campaign.

There are nine entries upon the Potions table not defined in the subsequent descriptions which follow. Most are self-explanatory, but the omitted Poison Potion is of interest to me. A footnote tells the referee that he should mislead or disguise when this item is discovered, but its effects are not detailed. I rule that this deadly item is a Save vs. Poison or die effect, but one could just as easily assign it dice of damage instead, with a Save vs. Poison for one-half damage result. Sipping a Poison Potion might further mislead a character, as Potions must be consumed wholly to take effect.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Saturday, December 13, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 28

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Monsters & Treasure

LARGE INSECTS OR ANIMALS: This category includes giant ants and prehistoric monsters…Hit Dice should range from 2 to anywhere near 20, let us say, for a Tyrannasaurus Rex. Also included in this group are the optionally usable “Martian” animals such as Apts, Banths, Thoats, etc. If the referee is not personally familiar with the various monsters included in this category the participants of the campaign can be polled to decide all characteristics. Damage caused by hits should range between 2-4 dice.”
A catch-all category for mundane, non-fantastical monsters. One might argue that Apts, Banths and Thoats are not mundane, but I think the gist here is that this category encompasses natural and native animal life forms. Included are of course giant versions of animals and creatures, dinosaurs, and Burroughs’ Martian creatures. I find it interesting that the suggestion is to poll the players/participants in the campaign if the referee is not familiar with the John Carter books. This is likely the only example I can think of that recommends player interaction in regard to game mechanics or details.

OTHER MONSTERS: There is no practical limitation to the variety of monsters possible. In the campaigns associated with the play-testing of these rules there have either appeared or been postulated such creatures as:

Cyclopeses: Super-strength Giants with poor depth perception.

Juggernauts: Huge stone statues on wheels which crush anything in their path. They are motivated by some unearthly force
This entry basically tells the referee that any monster not detailed in the rules can be quite easily dreamt up and fleshed out, and then goes on to detail some possibilities. Cyclopeses are super-strong Giants ‘with poor depth perception’. Presumably they are even larger than Giants, and we get a smattering of Gary’s corny humor. Juggernauts are near and dear to this author, as detailed in an older post. Crush anything indeed.

Living Statues: Various stone and metal monsters which come to life if trespass into a certain area is made. One of these monsters was iron, impervious to all weapons save two special ones he guarded, had a fiery breath, poison sword, and a whip of Cockatrice feathers which turned the thing struck by it to stone.”
Somewhere, in the deep down underneath of my own campaign, there is indeed a fire-breathing Living Statue of Iron wielding a Poison Sword and Cockatrice Feather Whip. Possibly one of the coolest monster descriptions ever.

Geletinous Cubes: Underground creatures of near complete transparency which fit exactly the typical corridor of a dungeon…These monsters would be difficult to harm and have a large number of Hit Dice.”
It didn’t take long for this penultimate member of the Clean-Up Crew to be spelled correctly and published, as it appeared in 1976’s Supplement I, Greyhawk. While this monster became an iconic D&D fixture, it didn’t actually end up with a ‘large number of Hit Dice’, having but 4 HD! If I brew up another Solstice version based on this, it will most certainly have LARGE Hit Dice!

Robots, Golems, Androids: Self-explanatory monsters which are totally subjective as far as characteristics are concerned.”
I can’t help but feel that this was the Arneson influence here. As Gygax ended up taking over creative direction for D&D, there was less and less of this kind of off-the-wall stuff. In fact, many fans of D&D in the years to come, as soon as I myself began playing, felt that rockets, lasers, aliens and flying saucers had no place in D&D. I disagree and enjoy seeing the stuff dreamt up by creative gamers, including things like Robots and Androids.

Next up, I move forward into the Treasure portion of Monsters & Treasure.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, December 12, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 27

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Monsters & Treasure

OCHRE JELLY: The clean-up crew includes Ochre Jelly and similar weird monsters…hits by weaponry or lightening bolts will merely make them into several smaller Ochre Jellies…causes one die of damage per turn it is in contact with exposed flesh.”
The name Clean-Up Crew gives us an idea about the Icky-Stuff category of which Ochre Jelly is the first entry. An Ochre Jelly’s move is but 3”, and presumably it roams dungeon halls and corridors devouring flesh and bone along the way. It also destroys wood, so there might be tell-tale signs of their presence on dungeon levels. Weapons and lightning ‘make them into several smaller’ ones. Ochre Jellies have 5 Hit Dice, so I’d rule that each weapon or lightning attack causes 1 HD of the larger monster to split off. Thus after four such hits on the original monster, the Jelly would consist of five 1 HD monsters, each with 5 HD Fighting Capability, its own attack each round, and 1d6 worth of HP. Whether the small 1 HD versions can be further segmented is up to the referee…perhaps there is no real limit to the number of single HD Jellies! A referee could also simply divide by two the Jelly’s HP, and continue dividing the individual ‘segments’ as they are so struck. Perhaps the baby amoebas that survive such encounters will grow into adult 5 HD versions with time, or perhaps through osmosis the segments all join again to reform the single Jelly. Of particular note with these Clean-Up Crew monsters is the way in which its damage is described. Ochre Jelly causes one die of damage per turn to exposed flesh. This method of detailing damage leads me to believe that the Clean-Up Crew does not simply ‘attack’ characters as do other monsters.

BLACK (or GRAY) PUDDING: Another member of the clean-up crew and nuisance monster…It is spread into smaller ones by chops or lightening bolts…cause three dice of damage to exposed flesh.”
A 10 Hit Dice ‘nuisance’ monster? Also segments into smaller versions when hit by attacks to which it is immune. Causes a whopping three dice damage to exposed flesh. Black Pudding moves at 6”.

GREEN SLIME: A non-mobile hazard…Green Slime sticks to flesh and penetrates it in one turn, thereafter turning the flesh into Green Slime.”
Green Slime has always been one of those somewhat difficult to adjudicate encounters for me. The fact that it is non-mobile means characters must slip or fall into the stuff, or run afoul of some devious trap designed to sling, fling, drip or dump the gooey stuff in a deadly manner. Once it has contacted flesh, the victim has a single turn (round) to receive a Cure Disease spell, or he will be turned into Green Slime himself. Nasty stuff indeed! The rate at which the victim turns into slime is open to interpretation; it could be in one turn, or at a rate per round determined by the referee based on the type of exposure the victim is subjected to. Cure Disease will kill the Green Slime even after it has started devouring its host, but it does not say that it restores lost Hit Points or body parts. Also, Green Slime destroys wood and metal items which it comes into contact with. Falling into a pool of this menacing muck is any delver’s nightmare.

GRAY OOZE: A seeping horror which closely resembles wet stone…It does two dice of damage to exposed flesh for every turn it is in contact with it.”
The slowest (1” move) and smallest (3 HD) member of the Clean-Up Crew. While it is susceptible to weaponry, based on my interpretation of the Black Pudding it corrodes metal in such a way that it will cause weapons that strike it to be destroyed the following round. This monster is difficult to detect, and could easily be walked into or over, destroying foot and leg armor, then doing two dice of damage.

YELLOW MOLD: It attacks wood and flesh - doing one die of damage if it contacts exposed skin - but does no harm to metal or stone…its worst threat is its spores…send forth clouds of asphyxiating spores in a 1” x 1” cloud…Any creature within the spore cloud must make a saving throw as if they had been exposed to poison, and failure to make saving throws results in death for the parties concerned.”
Another non-mobile threat, the Yellow Mold is more or less a hazard and not truly a monster as it has no listed statistics whatsoever. Passing, crossing or getting through this hazard can be interesting, and it could be caked over treasure or hiding a secret door in the dungeon. The spores it releases are not actually poison, but rather a cloud of microscopic spores which have a chance to choke those exposed to death. At first I thought I had found an actual example of a monster with save or die poison, but it clearly states that the saving throw is rolled ‘as if they had been exposed to poison’, in other words, the saving throw is made using the Poison column.

In regard to the method in which damage is described for most of the Clean-Up Crew entries, I feel that these monsters do not create a pseudo-pod or actually reach out with a melee attack (Ochre Jelly perhaps being the exception). Rather, these slimes, molds, jellies and oozes deal damage when in contact with flesh. Exactly how this transpires is determined by the referee. Those mobile threats might be able to corner and envelop a target, but for the most part I think they have to be fallen into or walked over. The fact that Black Pudding is described as a nuisance monster, even though it has 10 HD, leads me to think that these monsters are unique in the way they actually deal their damage. It’s as though the Clean-Up Crew is more a less a collection of living traps roaming about the dungeon, devouring corpses and presenting obstacles that crop up from time to time to confound and waylay adventurers.

All of the above are new, unique creations not based on myth or literature, at least not that I am personally aware of. The slimes of D&D, like the later Beholders, Mind Flayers and Umber Hulks, are products of the imagination. There was certainly much, much more of this inventive material down the road from TSR, but the Clean-Up Crew was the first such example.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Superior Scribbler, Me?

Thanks to Matt Conway and Mike Curtis for presenting Ye Auld Grog 'n Blog with a pair of Superior Scribbler Awards. I can now proudly display the image below in my humble virtual abode here in the grand old blogosphere. What began on a whim, essentially as a meeting place for my D&D players to reminisce, has grown into my own personal corner of the constantly growing gaming niche exemplified by the many links in my Blogroll to the right hand side of this page.

It's interesting seeing how this award is growing like a mushroom cloud through our tiny section of the internet. I am flattered and wish to extend my thanks to both Matt and Mike for thinking of this web log when the time came for them to choose five fellow bloggers whom they felt worthy of such recognition, so Thank You!

From Matthew Conway at The Dwarf and the Basilisk had this to say:

"Sham’s Grog ‘n Blog - If he doesn’t already have one or three. In between posting videos of old Ramones tunes, telling his life story, and rigging Blog-O-Bet polls so that D4’s come out dead last, Sham very occasionally talks about the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. A splendid time is guaranteed for all."

From Mike Curtis at The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope had this to say:

"Sham’s Grog ‘n Blog: I know for sure that Sham a.k.a. Dave Bowman has been chosen this round, but I can’t emphasize enough how much I enjoy his blog. His various treatises on OD&D are enough to make even the staunchest 3.5 or 4th edition player rethink his choice of edition, and almost completely swayed me to drop AD&D for OD&D."

Acceptance of the Superior Scribbler leaves me in a bit of a quandary, though. Many of the exemplary web logs I visit have already received the award. Furthermore, by selecting five candidates, I will invariably leave someone else deserving of said award off of my list. I feel that each blog I have linked in my Blogroll is worth reading and following, and this award is a nice way to recognize them in a style that transcends a plain old Blogroll, so I'll play along and add to the expanding reach of The Superior Scribbler!

So, using my far from perfect selection method, I shall nominate the following five web logs which, to the best of my knowledge have not yet been chosen. At the rate this thing is growing, they may have been selected before I finish typing this. If you aren't already following the blogs linked, you certainly should be.

James Mishler of Adventures in Gaming: James is a Grognard’s Grognard. An old hand at RPG publishing, and a window back into the headier days of our hobby. As the man behind Adventure Games Publishing, James is a vital part of the old school genre many of us seek to promote and enjoy. Hats Off to Mr. Mishler and his blog.

Badelaire of Tankards & Broadswords: Badelaire is an accomplished web log author, and Tankards & Broadswords is one of my favorites to visit on a regular basis. To quote his own blog: “…it's not about the "Old School", and it's not about the "New School" - it's all about having Fun Adventures…” And Badelaire certainly follows his own advice. I’ve taken his advice to heart, and if it’s not fun, why bother? Go have some fun and check out T&B.

Ben Robbins of Ars Ludi/Lame Mage: Ben has been posting to his excellent web log for years, and it is chock full of insightful ideas and musings. Clearly Mr. Robbins is an accomplished GM, and it shows in the knowledge he shares at his Lame Mage blog. Of particular note is the ‘Posts by Category’ tool. There’s useful stuff for fans of any RPG.

Dan Collins of Delta’s D&D Hotspot: I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Dan’s web log, aka D&D Hotspot. Mr. Collins is just brimming with novel game ideas, methods and unique approaches to D&D mechanics. In fact, this is one of the two blogs that inspired me to begin my own. Although it’s not updated as often as I’d like (simply because I enjoy reading all of Dan’s posts there), I consider this one of the most deserving blogs on my list of regular stops.

Bret Smith of The Grumblin’ Grognard: A relative new-comer to the blogosphere, Bret is laying the foundation of what I believe is a very promising addition to the old school web log circle. From what I’ve read and enjoyed thus far, this guy gets it. Keep up the great work, Bret!

I'd like to add more, but these are my five selections for the Superior Scribbler Award. Congratulations to winners past, present and future!

And now for the small print:

Acceptance of the award entails listing the following rules in order to promote the growth of The Superior Scribbler, don't 'Kill the Messenger', winners!:

1. Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.

2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.

3. Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to
this post, which explains The Award.

4. Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit
this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List (scroll down). That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!

5. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Meetings, Parties and Obligations

Regular posting shall resume very soon. As Christmas approaches, my free time is becoming squeezed to nothing, and this weekend promises to be more of the same. Watch this space for more D&D Cover to Cover very shortly, and I hope to return to regular updates next week!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Monday, December 8, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 26

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Monsters & Treasure

INVISIBLE STALKERS: Invisible Stalkers resent missions which entail long periods of continuing service such as guarding a Magic-User for a month, a year, etc. They will then seek to fulfill the letter of their duties by perverting the spirit.”
And thus was begun a theme which is pervasive in D&D. Great power is accessible, but when dealing with otherworldly powers one must exercise respect and wariness. I believe that much of this is owed to combating ‘power gaming’ methods employed by early wargamers in the formative days of the hobby. It has influences rooted in mythology, particularly 1,001 Arabian Nights, but is also a most handy way of keeping Wishes and summoned Monsters from unbalancing the campaign. I’ve always appreciated the aspect in D&D that great power demands great caution.

ELEMENTALS: …Device* Elementals…*Those from medallions, stones, gems or bracelets.”
If we skip ahead to the Treasure section, we see that only the stone is actually described as a magic item for controlling an Elemental. Clearly the device used to summon and control an Elemental is not limited to those described here, and could be virtually any item of value, including medallions, gems and bracelets, as mentioned.

Air Elementals: They can turn into a whirlwind which will sweep all creatures under two hit dice away…”
Sweep away. So what does that entail? Incapacitate? Remove from the encounter? Sweep away to another plane? I like the notion of sweeping away such victims to say the Plane of Wind, but I’d assume it simply means that those under two HD are unable to get close enough to attack a whirlwinding Air Elemental; those that do engage it would be slung around and thrown away, taking 1d6 damage.

Earth Elementals:…when they hit they score damage with three dice (3-18 points) against any opponent which rests upon the earth.”
That’s a boatload of damage. 3d6 being rarely matched in Monsters & Treasure. The short list of other Monsters with 3d6 damage is: Sea Monsters, Cloud Giants, Hydras and Chimeras (due to multiple attacks), and possibly Purple Worms and Rocs (as determined by the referee). I’d assume ‘rests upon the earth’ means stands on or is in contact with the ground, or the stone beneath the ground.

Fire Elementals:…They score two dice of damage against all non-fire using opponents, and one die -1 (2-7 hit points of damage) against fire-using opponents.”
This typo means either 1d6-1 or 1d6+1 against fire-using opponents. I’d assume the former, with Fire Elementals dealing 0-5 damage against fellow fire-using targets.

All elementals must be controlled at all times by the persons who have called them forth. Failure to control any elemental will result in its turning upon the one who called it up and attacking…Control consists merely of the summoner maintaining undivided attention upon the Elemental: and being attacked, moving or any other action will tend to break this concentration.”
Another example of great power demanding great caution. Yes, Elementals are powerful allies, but are truly a double-edged sword for those Magic-Users brave or fool-hardy enough to summon them. If the Magic-User is attacked, moves or takes any other action, the Elemental will turn and immediately move to slay their former master. Fun stuff, indeed.

DJINN: All Djinn are aerial creatures and have not the powers typically credited to them in fairy tales.”
I suppose this means that Djinn are not all-powerful, nigh god-like beings as sometimes portrayed in myth and legend. They do not grant Wishes, per se, but can perform tasks based on the capabilities written in their description. Nevertheless, a powerful servant that will likewise often fulfill the letter of their duties while perverting the spirit.

EFREET: …they tend to be Chaotic. Their fabled home is the City of Brass. They will serve for 1001 days.”
Slightly more powerful, Chaotic fire-based versions of Djinn. Efreet hail from the City of Brass. This is the only description that actually details a specific origin for the monster. Apparently unlike Djinn, who perhaps have an unlimited duration of service, Efreet will only obey a master for 1,001 days.

This post encompasses those monsters I have loosely defined as The Otherworldly. Eventually, this classification would be expanded upon to include such extra-dimensional monsters as Demons and Devils, but in Volume 2 we have just these four: Invisible Stalkers, Elementals, Djinn and Efreet. The Otherworldly are unique in that they are summoned from lands beyond by spell or magical item, and aside from the Djinn, service is limited and dangerous. Skeletons and Zombies are somewhat similar, being animated via spell, but those undead are not summoned from another plane of existence. While it is possible that any of these could be included in a D&D adventure, independent of a Magic-User or controlling magic item, I prefer to think of them as infrequent visitors to this world.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, December 5, 2008

Sham's Hiatus

Just a short break from posting, likely until Monday, at which point Cover to Cover will resume, and I will have time to get caught up on your comments. I hope everyone has a great weekend!

~Sham, Quixtoic Referee

D&D Cover to Cover, part 25

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Monsters & Treasure

PURPLE WORMS: These huge and hungry monsters lurk nearly everywhere just beneath the surface of the land…There is a poisonous sting at its tail, but its mouth is the more fearsome weapon…Any hit which scores over 20% of the minimum total required to hit, or 100% in any case, indicates the Purple Worm has swallowed its victim. In six turns the swallowed creature will be dead. In twelve turns it will be totally digested and irrevocable.”
Purple Worms “lurk everywhere just beneath the surface”. That’s a scary notion. As mentioned earlier, I house rule that the Purple Worm’s sting delivers a 15d6, save for one-half damage poison (others might assume it is instead equal to the Monster’s hits in damage). It could just as easily be judged to be of the save or die variety, even though there is no precedence for such poison in these volumes. Based on sheer mass, one might also rule that the Purple Worm’s bite does more than 1d6 damage; perhaps in the 3d6 range. The whole 20% or 100% over business translates to 4 over or double the number required on a d20 roll to hit. Lastly, the referee will have to determine if the digestion times, given in turns, refer to move/turns or melee turns (rounds). I’d assume melee turns, but again, that’s a judgment call.

CENTAURS: In Melee the Centaur will attack twice, once as a man and once as a medium horse.”
So, Hydras, Chimera and Centaurs are examples of Monsters which attack more than once per round then. Unless the above is simply assumed to be for rolling dice under the CHAINMAIL rules, but at different values. As I use the Alternative Combat System, I’ll let Centaurs attack twice; once with a weapon, and once with its hooves.

DRYADS: Anyone charmed by a Dryad will never return from the forest.”
Never. Potentially worse than a save or die scenario. I’d probably rule that there is a small window of opportunity for a Dispell Magic to prevent the effects if utilized quickly enough by allies of the bewitched character. Future adventures might be undertaken to find and rescue such victims, if the referee allowed it.

DWARVES: …clumsy monsters like Ogres, Giants and the like will have a difficult time hitting Dwarves, so only score one-half the usual hit points when a hit is scored.”
This is an important tidbit for Dwarf characters, but could also be reserved for NPC Dwarves. Personally I have ruled that this applies to all Dwarves. How to determine which Monsters are ‘clumsy’? The examples given are Ogres and Giants. Any Monster akin to one of those two examples might be considered ‘clumsy’, or slow moving. Trolls? I’m not so sure, even though they are virtually synonymous with Ogres in CHAINMAIL, they are ‘thin and rubbery’ in this very volume. Purely a judgment call, but I’d also consider including Trolls and Minotaurs.

ELVES: Elves have the ability of moving silently and are nearly invisible in their gray-green cloaks. Elves armed with magical weapons will add one pip to dice rolled to determine damage…Elves on foot may split-move and fire.”
The first two abilities for the Elf might at first blush seem too potent to be applicable to player characters. If you break down the abilities, I think they are valid character features. Elves ‘have the ability of’ might mean ‘have the ability to’ move silently. But, don’t all characters possess the latter? Thus I assume that Elves are lighter of foot than most. My judgment is that Elves can move silently when they put forth the effort; perhaps moving at one quarter normal speed, or even slower, or perhaps only when unarmored and moving very slowly. The next, ‘nearly invisible’ does not mean totally invisible. First of all, we know the limitations of total invisibility already, and it does not equate to imperceptibility. I’d judge that Elves are very good at hiding, particularly outdoors. All Elves deal +1 damage when wielding a magical weapon; fair enough. Lastly, split-move and fire is more or less a tactical, CHAINMAIL type concern. How it translates to a game in which the Alternative Combat System is used is up to the referee. The abstract nature of the Alternative Combat System does not really take into account the nature of such abilities. Perhaps it means that Elves can always create enough room during a melee turn to effectively fire a missile weapon, rather than being forced to change to a melee weapon. Given the fact that missile weapons fire at +2 to hit at short range, I’d say this is potentially a powerful ability.

ROCS: …the data given for Rocs is understood to be that for the small variety, and that for the largest Rocs should be doubled or even trebled…Young Rocs can be tamed and taught to serve as steeds.”
Aside from the ‘more for show’ Sea Monsters (which can range from 15 to 45 HD), Rocs are the largest Monsters in Monsters & Treasure, ranging from 6 to 18 HD. Although they can be taught to serve as steeds, if captured as young fledglings, Rocs require a substantial amount of food and care. The prospect of such a mount might certainly encourage characters to seek out Roc nests ‘high in the most inaccessible mountains’.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, December 4, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 24

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Monsters & Treasure

MANTICORAS: …a tail full of iron spikes. There are 24 of these spikes in a Manticora’s tail, and they can be fired 6 at a time in any one direction with the range (18”) accuracy and effect of a crossbow.”
Thus, a Manticora can fire these tail spikes four times before depleting its supply. I assume these grow back over time should the Manticora survive an encounter. I would handle this tail attack by selecting one target, and rolling to hit six times. Each hit would cause 1d6 damage. A referee could also handle this attack like a 6d6 breath weapon, or even allow the Manticora’s tail spikes to hit three adjacent targets, rolling to hit twice against each. Lastly, it does state ‘can be fired’ and not ‘are fired’ 6 at a time, so a referee could also allow the Monster to fire from 1 to 6 tail spikes at a time, I suppose. Given their ability to fly, and their unique missile attack, Manticoras are a potentially treacherous foe.

HYDRAS: …large dinosaurs with multiple heads…each head is represented by one hit die of six pips…ten-headed Hydra would fight as a 10th level fighter even when it had but one head left…all of a Hydra’s heads can attack simultaneously.”
Hydras are essentially large Monsters that are slain by cutting off all of their heads. Each head behaves like a separate 6 hit point Monster, using the attack capability of its body. The Hydra is truly unique amongst Monsters in this edition given the number of attacks it is able to employ in a single melee turn. I’ve never liked Hydras in D&D, but after reading this entry and considering the rest of the Monsters, I have earned new respect for this beast.

CHIMERAS: The goat’s head can gore with its long and sharp horns, the lion’s head can tear with its great fangs, and the dragon’s head can either bite or breathe fire.”
I interpret this Monster to attack once per melee turn with each head, like the Hydra. It is not slain by attacking the heads specifically, and I assume that all three heads fight to the death. I think a little home brew might be in order, where whenever the beast is reduced by one-third of its life total, a random head is ‘dead’. I’d also only allow the dragon’s head to breathe fire three times per day, like Dragons.

WYVERNS: …relatives of Dragons, but they are smaller and have but two legs.”
Poison is a funny topic in this version of D&D. I always made the assumption that poison had been of the ‘save or die’ variety from the beginning. I even stated as much in regard to the Death Ray or Poison column on the Saving Throw Matrix in Men & Magic. I assumed that column was for ‘save or die’ threats. Later in that volume it was mentioned that poison was ‘save for one-half damage’, so I took this to mean in regard to Green Dragon breath. Although there is no specific mention of any ‘save or die’ poison threats in Volumes 1-3 (other than perhaps the M-U spell Cloudkill), I personally treat Poison Potion as save or die, and in my games Spiders and Traps are often of the same type. For both Wyverns (and later, Purple Worms) I use the Dragon method, save for one-half damage. Whereas Dragon breath damage is equal to the Monster’s hits, I simply rule that poison stings from Wyverns (or Purple Worms), are equal to their HD. Thus, a Wyvern’s poison sting deals 7d6, save for one-half.

A huge section of details and rules for Dragons in Volume 2. No surprise there, of course. Most of the information is straight-forward, but it is worth reading over. The description here is very close to what ended up being released in the Monster Manual. I suppose the Dragon in Volume 2 is an example of the direction that Gary Gygax would take once he had time to cogitate and play around with all of the Monsters for AD&D. One aspect of this version of Dragons is that there is no guide for detailing how large these beasts actually are. The later rules made Dragons so large that they were difficult to squeeze into a dungeon without properly planning around their lair. Not so in Monsters & Treasure. I’m thinking of the St. George types here. Assuming a small Dragon might be horse sized, a standard one half-again that size, and ‘very large’ ones two or three times that size, Dragons would still be menacing, but could actually fit into and roam around most dungeons, even through ten-foot corridors and tunnels. This is open for interpretation, of course, and it does go on to state under the Subduing Dragons guide that no more than eight man-sized creatures can attempt to subdue any one Dragon. This gives us some clue to the size of the beast. I’d assume that means the ‘very large’ Dragons have a body about 12’ long (and perhaps 24‘ long with tail) in original D&D. Just my take on it, which conveniently allows Dragons to prowl the underworld without me having to worry about how they manage to do so being twice that size (48’ long for a Red Dragon in 1e). Counting tail, that would make my Dragons 12’, 18’ and 24’ long, respectively.

The above example being a very young, small Dragon. Clearly St. George got off lucky as Mama Dragon never showed up (perhaps she is still sleeping upon her pile of gold beneath the earth) and never let anyone forget of his magnificent, heroic feat!

Value of Subdued Dragons: Subdued Dragons can be sold on the open market (going out of existence in the game) for from 500 to 1,000 Gold Pieces per hit point it can take…Of course the characters who subdued the Dragon could keep it in their own service or sell it to other players for whatever they could get.”
I’ve never actually seen a game of D&D where the players pulled this trick off. It seems to me that old school players probably took the name of the game to heart, and entered Dungeons hoping to find some Dragons that they could actually subdue, sell and retire off of. I like the fact that it mentions the Dragon goes ‘out of existence in the game‘, and that they can be sold to other players. It really adds to the magnitude of Dragons in the game, that each is an important aspect of the campaign, and selling or owning one has a lasting impact on the game world.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 23

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Monsters & Treasure

SKELETONS/ZOMBIES: act only under the instructions of their motivator, be it a Magic-User or Cleric (Chaos).”
The absence of these Monsters on the Alignment chart, Volume 1, page 9, and the description here lead me to believe that these Monsters are purely a creation of Man. They have no Alignment, as they are no more than undead servants of their ‘motivator’. Also of note here is the fact that the above quoted sentence supports my theory that evil and Chaos are more of a concern for Clerics than the other character classes. It seems ANY Magic-User (Sorcerer or higher) may create undead via the Animate Dead spell, with no concerns of Alignment or evil.

GHOULS: paralize any normal figure they touch…and are subject to missile fire.”
Ghouls were second level terrors from the earliest days, back when they were synonymous with Wights in CHAINMAIL, due to their ‘paralizing’ touch. No duration is given, but based on the Saving Throw Matrix, Volume 1, page 20, we can assume a saving throw avoids the effect. Unique to this edition of D&D is the fact that missile fire is treated differently than melee attacks for certain Undead (Ghouls, Wights and Wraiths). I like this treatment of damage, as it makes sense that missiles (specifically arrows) will not do as much harm to targets that do not require operating organs to survive.

WIGHTS: are nasty critters
I wish this description of Wights had followed them throughout subsequent versions of the game. Nasty critters just has such a nice ring to it.

VAMPIRES: are properly of the “Undead” class rather than Lycanthropes…(regenerate) at the rate of three hit points per turn…cannot abide the smell of garlic, the face of a mirror, or the sight of cross. They will fall back from these if strongly presented.”
A fairly well-fleshed out description when compared to others here. I assume the authors felt the need to specify that Vampires are not Lycanthropes due to certain magic items, but it seems like a no-brainer to me. Perhaps an example of a rules clarification to derail proto-rules lawyers in the early days. The ‘per turn’ regeneration of Vampires is another example of the term Turn actually referring to the ‘ten rounds of combat per turn’ (Volume 3, page 8); in other words ‘per round’. This logic is applied to Trolls as well, and harkens back to the usage of Turn in the Spell Descriptions; that Turns are differentiated as Move/Turns out of combat (10 minutes) and Melee Turns (or rounds) during combat (1 minute).

The last sentence quoted suggests that any character may turn away, or keep at bay, a Vampire by using garlic, a mirror, or a cross if strongly presented (and not just in a backpack). This sentence disrupts all of the assumptions I had made in Men & Magic in regard to Clerics using a cross to turn, dispell or dissolve Undead. In fact, the inclusion of the crosses on the Basic Equipment list had also led me to some assumptions regarding religion and the Cleric class, when it seems they are simply present there for Vampire hunting; especially given that the cross is listed with a grouping of anti-Vampire and anti-Lycanthrope items. The inclusion of such items on that list is an interesting topic for another day, given the somewhat generic quality of the rest of the table.

As presented, Vampires are one of the deadliest foes available in Volume 2, and with their power to turn slain Men into Vampire minions, these atrocities could easily be the central antagonists in many a campaign.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 22

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Monsters & Treasure

MEN: There are several categories of men
Aside from Dragons, the description of Men here is the largest Monster Description. It includes Bandits, Berserkers, Brigands, Dervishes, Nomads, Buccaneers, Pirates, Cavemen and Mermen. Mermen? Yes…oddly enough Mermen are found here, and can apparently fight on land with but a -1 to hit penalty. Due to the nature of types of Men presented here I assume that Men do indeed fall into the ‘Bad Guys’ category on the MONSTER REFERENCE TABLE, and further are listed first because they are expected to be a fairly common opponent for the Player Characters. The fact is, there are many, many Men out there who stand in the way of the ultimate goal of wealth and power. Whether or not you use Men as the de facto opponents in your campaign is up to you, but in regard to establishing strongholds or claiming a piece of the wilderness as your own, Men might be your largest obstacle.

GNOLLS: A cross between Gnomes and Trolls (…perhaps, Lord Sunsany did not really make it all that clear)”
A typo (should read Dunsany) that was never fixed, or perhaps left in place to avoid the same issues that TSR had with the Tolkien references. Although I assume it was simply an oversight. In my own campaign, I have indeed made Gnolls a cross between Gnomes and Trolls, which led to Gnomes and Gnolls becoming something quite different than their AD&D 1e versions.

This is an example of one of the aspects of the original version of D&D which I have come to appreciate. The descriptions here are bare bones, and often nothing more than a collection of six statistics. The creative space for the referee here is tremendous, and I consider this a feature, not a flaw. Granted, once I get a hold of the Monsters here, I end up writing up paragraphs of Monster details, to the point that a reader might consider my game ‘not’ OD&D. The finished product in my games may not feel like the original version, but this is what makes it so entertaining for me. I take these raw numbers, and build from there, dreaming up versions of these Monsters unique to my world.

TROLLS: Thin and rubbery
Trolls are an iconic Monster in AD&D 1e. One of the first examples of the possibilities of the original version of D&D which I encountered and helped me appreciate the creative opportunities I mentioned above was the excellent old school dungeon crawl made available by Jeff Rients titled Under Xylarthen’s Tower (Mr. Rients’ excellent Gameblog, along with Delta’s D&D Hotspot were the two web logs that inspired me to begin my own humble D&D blog here, back in February). If you have not read Under Xylarthen’s Tower, I encourage you to do so. Jeff home brews details for not only Trolls, but also Gnolls, Hobgoblins and Medusae within that adventure. While I cannot claim to have the creativity and economy of words that Jeff has, I do credit that module with influencing the way I read and consider the first three volumes of D&D, so Hat’s Off to Jeff.

GIANTS: act as mobile light catapults with a 20’ range.”
More wargame and CHAINMAIL carry-over here. I’m not sure whether there are examples of boulder tossing Giants in mythology or not, but it seems that this ‘accepted as the norm’ feature of Giants in all editions of D&D was there even in CHAINMAIL. I also like the passage at the end which details the types of guards Giants have in their castles; Hydras, Wolves and Bears.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Something Unsettling

My list of preferred RPG's, which I absolutely and fully endorse to anyone who will listen, is relatively short. It consists of D&D, Call of Cthulhu, Gamma World and Traveller. In that order (today, anyway).

So I was chatting with a gaming friend recently about my quandary in putting together many of my house rules and home brew ideas in a cohesive campaign setting. A supplemental rendering of tidbits from the past three decades tied together with a particular theme and world. No Future was the original setting plan, but I feel that particular blend of pulp influences simply doesn't have the zing for me that it once did. Perhaps with an interesting twist it still might.

I've often felt the need to start with a core of six character classes, each using one of the six abilities as a prime requisite. This calls, of course, for classes that use Constitution, Dexterity and Charisma for modifiers to experience (a topic I addressed in a recent submission to Fight On!, which may or may not ever see the light of day as it might be a bit off-the-wall as written for an OD&D game). Anyway, I was complaining about Clerics and how they didn't really fit in my envisioned world, and how perhaps I could ditch Wisdom altogether, or instead replace it with Luck.

"Like Tunnels & Trolls?" I was asked. "No, this is not your typical fantasy setting..." I began to respond. "I mean the Luck thing, like Tunnels & Trolls." I was asked…Long pause..."I never played it..." I continued. "Its pretty much exactly what you are doing now with D&D LOL" I was rather rudely informed.

From then on I have become unsettled. I never considered T&T in the past. Sure, I knew it was some crude knock-off of D&D, and that some weirdoes actually liked it better than my favorite game back in the day...but ME? Play T&T? I think not!

Well, I did a wee bit of oracular internet research in order to put my mind at ease. This led to further discomfort.

Pretty much everything I have learned about T&T is exactly what Mr. Smart-Ass was trying to tell me, or so it seems. There really isn't that much information on the game out there, not when you compare it to even say, OD&D. But isn't it really just D&D in a different costume? Maybe it is.

The only thing I can do now is ask my readers to enlighten me. Is Tunnels & Trolls really a rules-light, fast paced, open-ended version of OD&D? And perhaps most importantly, is the solo aspect of the game lame, like every other solo RPG I have ever tried before?

This is all very unsettling. Its akin to telling me that Vampire: The Masquerade would suit me better than Call of Cthulhu; or that Aftermath is more appropriate for me than Gamma World. It means that possibly, I have been playing the wrong game for thirty years.

In all seriousness, I would like to investigate Tunnels & Trolls, and I’m asking for some comments in regard to that venerable game system. I know little about it, other than there are available copies of editions 5, 5.5, 7 and 7.5. If I am going to look into a rules light game that I can potentially use for some fun solo gaming, and even one shots here and there, I’d appreciate some direction. I assume that the older editions are for me, but what I’ve been led to believe is that even T&T 7.5 is somewhat old school in its approach.


~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Edit to add the following:

Thanks to Matthew's link in the comments, I printed off the free quicky rules, and played the solo adventure included with them. Goblin Lake, a mini solo adventure that was ummm...quaint.

The rules are silly easy to pick up (but then again, as quicky rules they should be). I'll do a proper report at a later date. I managed to kill six characters before I completed 'most' of Goblin Lake and decided I was done with it. The final character (all Goblins, by the way) found a ridiculously powerful item and emerged from the adventure looking for new challenges.

I'm not sure yet whether I like the T&T mechanics, but I wanted to post a link with three online solo T&T adventures. You can seriously dl, print and be playing one of these in under 20 minutes.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Purple Worm!

In my very short Google search while looking for a literary or mythological inspiration for the Purple Worm in D&D, I happened upon this pic. Ochre Jelly is a Lego-Maestro. Take a peek, he's got some really funny stuff at this link.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

D&D Cover to Cover, part 21

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Monsters & Treasure

Pages 3 and 4 offer up the comprehensive original D&D Monster Table. One of the things I’ve always liked about this original edition of D&D is the raw statistical presentation of the Monsters. There are but seven columns on this reference table, and one is of course the Monster Type (name). In regard to the columns, I really only make use of three of the six columns for each type of Monster; Armor Class, Move in Inches, and Hit Dice. I give very little consideration to Number Appearing, % in Lair and Type or Amount of Treasure, and I doubt I’m in the minority there as I pick and choose encounters and treasure for the most part. Those times I do use random tables for stocking dungeons, I rely on a version of the Volume 3 guidelines, but more on that in an upcoming post in this series.

The grouping of the Monsters is telling, as it is not alphabetical, nor by power, but by loose categories. Of interest to me is the placement of Men at the top. Men, being one of the two Monsters in D&D that might be Lawful, Neutral or Chaotic are somewhat unique, while the rest of the Bad Guys below them are primarily Chaotic, per Volume 1, p. 9. I’ll classify them with the Bad Guys for now, keeping in mind that many of them are not always Chaotic.

The Monster Categories:
Bad Guys: Men, Kobolds, Goblins, Orcs, Hobgoblins, Gnolls, Ogres, Trolls, Giants.
Dead Guys: Skeletons, Zombies, Ghouls, Wights, Wraiths, Mummies, Spectres, Vampires.
Save or Stoned Guys: Cockatrices, Basilisks, Medusae, Gorgons.
Monsters of Myth: Manticoras, Hydras, Chimeras, Wyverns, Dragons, Gargoyles, Lycanthropes, Purple Worms, Sea Monsters, Minotaurs.
Fairy Tale Miscellany: Centaurs, Unicorns, Nixies, Pixies, Dryads, Gnomes, Dwarves, Elves, Treants, Pegasi, Hippogriffs, Rocs, Griffons.
The Otherworldly: Invisible Stalkers, Elementals, Djinn, Efreet.
Icky-Stuff: Ochre Jelly, Black Pudding, Green Slime, Gray Ooze, Yellow Mold.
Monsters Mundane: Horses, Mules, Small Insects and Animals, Large Insects and Animals.

The Save or Stoned Guys are technically Monsters of Myth, but are in a subcategory based on their special power. I’m not sure whether Purple Worms are truly Monsters of Myth, but with Minotaurs as one of that category’s bookends, I’ll make that assumption.

Clearly, Treants are a Tolkienism, but again they are book ended by various Fairy Tale Miscellany entries, some of which are Monsters of Myth as well, but are differentiated from that category by a certain Lawfulness.

My point? None to be made, other than that there is a method to the seemingly hodge-podge feel of the table. The MONSTER REFERENCE TABLE is presented in the order you see above; all I have done is insert the categories.

Special Ability: “…it is generally true that any monster or man can see in total darkness as far as the dungeons are concerned except for player characters.”
A fine example of the wargamer mentality of early D&D. Realism is not the intent here. Placing obstacles and challenges before the players is the ultimate goal.

Attack/Defense: “…simply a matter of allowing one roll as a man-type for every hit die…a Troll would attack six times…”
Just to point out the obvious, the above only applies to those using the CHAINMAIL combat rules. As noted previously, I use the Alternative Combat System from Men & Magic, so this passage does not apply to my games.

I'll move on to Monster Descriptions next.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee