Monday, December 17, 2018

Holiday Monster Monday - Lurker Above

Mord Mar is done for the year due to holiday commitments. That means I have time to sneak in another Monster Monday! Recently, my son Hanson was reading the Monster Manual and came across the Lurker Above. As many of you know, I am a big fan of trap monsters.

The trap monsters share a common trait: they look like something natural or wanted in the environment. Mimics shape-change to doors, chests, desks or anything else that would attract adventurers' attention. Piercers look like stalactites. Shriekers look like a larger fungus in an ecosystem where fungi is king. The Lurker Above looks like the ceiling in any underground room.

The Lurker Above predates modules, and even AD&D. Its first published appearance was in Strategic Review #3 (Autumn, 1975). Three other "trap monsters" made their appearance with the Lurker Above: Shambling Mound, Piercer and Shrieker. The other monsters included were: Yeti, Leprechaun, Ghost, Naga, and the Wind Walker (Expect a Monster Monday on this obscure thing!)

By this point, D&D was an underground sensation. And the clamor for more was readily apparent in the Strategic Review. Gygax was in full DM mode. He was scouring everywhere for more creatures (why else would the Leprechaun be statted?!) But, the trap monsters were a big hit. They make for interesting encounters.

D&D, in its earliest days, boiled down to characters versus environment. Monsters weren't antagonists, they were challenges. Lurkers Above and the other trap monsters cranked the environment's ruthlessness up. But, because each one is so specialized, it would be redundant to give you my typical "how I use this" section. Instead, I will leave you with a partial list of the trap monsters that show up in my campaign.

Lurker Above
Executioner's Hood
Gelatinous Cube
Shambling Mound
Living Statues (and golems)

I also use disease creatures (green slime, rot grubs, cerebral parasites and others.) But, that's a different topic.

When you get ready to use a trap creature, always make sure you are describing whatever they are mimicking several rooms before the party reaches the surprise. You hope their guard is down by the time they reach the room. And they don't get to complain about "no warning."

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Generational Campaigns

Early D&D was dotted by long campaigns. Both Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson had sprawling campaigns with many moving parts. Ernie Gygax later had the Hobby Shop Dungeon. My own Mord Mar campaign has run for many years, in many iterations. But, each builds off the previous. Others too have run campaigns for years.
Found on SocietalMarketing.Org
This is one of the true joys of Dungeons and Dragons, and is often lacking in games today. In the beginning, the multi-generational campaign was hard-wired into the rules. As an example, I quote Blackmoor: "The Order is structured in such a way that there is only one man at each level above the 6th (Grand Master). At such time as a 6th-level character gains sufficient experience points to rank as 7th level he temporarily gains the appropriate attributes. He must then seek out the Grand Master of Dragons, and defeat him in a fair fight. There will always be a higher level to fight, even if there is no player character in the role." (Page 4, referring to monks).
Arneson's rule allowed the return to the spotlight for long retired characters. It created adventures. It made previous adventures seem important. These things are not possible in a series of disparate campaigns. 
Even Wizards of the Coast jumped on the verisimilitude bandwagon. They released products like Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. The Expedition series followed in much the same vein. WotC counted on these products to draw in older gamers. They did.
5th Edition is using the nostalgia in a completely different way. Curse of Strahd, and Tales of the Yawning Portal are almost the original modules re-written for 5th edition. They do not pull history of players into the books. Instead, they push the books' histories into the players.
This has been an important strategy to bring new players into the game. And it has worked. D&D and the RPG industry is as strong as it has ever been. But, its been built on the history that came before today. Even the rules set is primarily built from the previous rules iterations. 
With this in mind, how does a modern DM incorporate the past into the future? That's the crux of this blog. Here's some strategies to help with both published adventures and home-brew campaigns.
1. Tie-in early. Add a Tarroka reader into the Rise of Tiamat. Use words like "lineage" and "bloodline." Don't give information on the current adventure. Let the players wonder which adventure is actually being run. 
2. Use the "Masters' Rule" from Arneson where appropriate. Druids and Monks both have a tradition of seeking out their betters. Both can have supernaturally long lives. Even paladins and warlocks may have a similar system. Return the PCs to the game if you can. 
3. Start and end your games in the same world and region. In your epilogue session, mention who has settled down, and who had kids. Try to tie these into previous characters. If Bill played a Dragonborn last adventure and is playing a human this adventure, maybe Karen is playing Bill's Dragonborn's daughter.
4. Cross-contaminate artifacts. If the players have the Sunsword after Strahd's defeat, have Acererak send his undead minions to claim it at the beginning of the Tomb of Annihilation campaign. If a character sees that weapon as their birthright, they will be in high gear to track it down.
5. If old PCs are still alive, have them show up. Maybe a chance meeting at a marketplace. "I knew your mother, she saved my life many times. I hope your group is as tight as we were." "You're adventuring with a Bucklebeer? Watch that one. His father once stabbed me for a magic ring." Let the old stories seep into the new game.
6. Have re-occurring villains. Not in just one adventure, but many campaigns. Strahd, Tiamat, Acererak and others are basically immortal. They have powerful minions that can show back up too. "Your grandparents thwarted our destruction of this realm. I only have vengeance for you now!"
7. Keep the retired adventurers who became queens or emperors on their thrones. Give the PCs some latitude when dealing with them. "Your uncle helped me gain this throne, and I shall repay the favor." Just make sure not to give too much.
8. Have a location that shows up in every campaign. One that is affected by the adventurers. Maybe they broke a hole in a wall. Let them know they've been there before. 
9. Have a construct that shows up again and again. Maybe it was a stone golem that the fighter removed the head of. The next generation runs across the same golem, now with a bronze head, and a club that has its previous head at the top. A subsequent generation finds the same golem, now with a mithril arm too.
10. Keep notes of the changes your players force upon the world. There are several websites available for this, and I use Obsidian Portal. Find one you like and keep extra notes. Review them before the next story, and re-use interesting elements.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Deciphering Alignment Part 2

Part 1 can be found here. Part 1 covered OD&D - 2E (including Holmes, Mentzer and Moldvay). I started this way back in August. Things got busy with the kids going back to school. I finally have the time to wrap it up, so here it goes.

Third Edition gives us an interesting tidbit (PHB, pg 87), 3.5E has identical wording (PHB 102): "Standard characters are good or neutral, but not evil. Evil alignments are for villains and monsters." This is a new statement, not seen in previous editions. 3E also gives us some great baseline ideas for good and evil. (PHB, pg 88): "Good characters and creatures protect innocent life. Evil characters and creatures debase or destroy innocent life, whether for fun or profit."
Third Edition also tags an ideal onto each of the nine alignments: LG "Crusader," NG "Benefactor," CG "Rebel," LN "Judge," N "Undecided," CN "Free Spirit," LE "Dominator," NE "Malefactor," and CE "Destroyer." These tags seem misleading to me. For the first time, it feels as if an alignment is an absolute. LG's tag carries a religious overtone. N's tag makes them seem wishy-washy. Instead of describing the characters, these tags seem to limit the imagination.
Why does my N druid carry a tag of Undecided? Instead, I will take the CN tag of Free Spirit. That's more interesting for sure. My dwarven fighter isn't a "Crusader." I guess I will make him LN so he can "Judge" the evil of my enemies.
Third Edition does do some things very right with the alignment system too. At the end of each description, it gives a "best alignment" statement. Well, for good and neutral anyway. Evil alignments have a "most dangerous alignment" statement.
Overall, Third Edition does a good job of explaining how alignments behave in the world around them. The rules mention that people will not always follow their alignment to perfection, and that is to be expected.

Fourth Edition splits from the 9-point (and even the 3-point) alignment systems drastically. Instead we get a 5-point system: Good, Evil, Lawful Good, Chaotic Evil, and Unaligned. Alignment gets barely 3 columns in the 4E PHB (19-20). In this edition, the alignment system is not a guide for playing the characters, but instead seems to be a tool for the rules. "For the purpose of determining whether an effect functions on a character, someone of lawful good alignment is considered good . . . a lawful good character can use a magic item that is only usable by good aligned characters."
Fourth Edition may have done some things right with the alignments. I have never played the system. Regardless, the alignment system is not build off the previous versions of the game.

Fifth Edition returns to the 9-point alignment system. Again, alignment scores only a little over one-half of a page in the book (PHB, 122). But, even with the truncated text, there are a couple of important points that can be applied over all editions.  "For many thinking creatures, alignment is a moral choice. . . According to myth the good aligned gods who created these races gave them free will to choose their moral paths . . ."
"The evil deities who created other races though, made those races to serve them. Those races have strong inborn tendencies that match the nature of their gods."
In addition, 5E keeps the unaligned tag. It is reserved for creatures incapable of making ethical or moral choices. Sharks are given as an example. An apex predator that lives to hunt, but cannot choose not to do so.

Each of the editions changed the way we look at alignments. Some do it better, some worse. But, alignment is a fundamental core of D&D and is a necessary part, regardless of era or rules set. Without alignment, moral decisions become boring. Demons and devils just become a different type of dragon. Kings become more two-dimensional. Alignment, like every other piece of the rules, is a tool. To often, it is disregarded in favor of simplicity. This is a detriment to players, the game and stories everywhere.
To be a great player or DM, the alignment system needs to be understood, if only so one can know when to disregard its interaction with the game.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Rocky's Game Hole Wrap Up

4 Amigos, taken by Kim George
Hi everyone,

Rocky here. I want to tell you about my experience at Gamehole Con. This was my fourth trip into the Gamehole, and it doesn't disappoint. My buddy Jake and I left the West Michigan area on Wednesday morning, and made the 5-6 hour drive to Madison. We had clear skies and good traffic. We picked up Ian at the Madison airport around 5. From there, we met up with the Frogs and a few other friends at a Brazillian restaurant. Many meats were consumed. Not much else other than settling into our hotel room happened. We popped into the GHC "Welcome Party" for a bit, but not long.

Thursday we were cajoled into putting together the Rapppan Athuk 3-D map (goddamn it, Zach.) With the help of Johnny Webb, Skeeter Green, Jacob McEwen, Edwin Nagy (and a few others?) we actually assembled it in record time. Mostly. We couldn't find some key pieces, so we edited the map. Here's an image, taken from Frog God's Facebook page.
I love the 3-D terrain, and hope everyone who had a chance to play on it had a blast!

My only events on Thursday were seminars. The first was "Designing Adventures and Player Choices" with Matt Finch and Bill Webb. It was a fun seminar, but mostly information that I know now. Reading the room, a lot of 5E players were there. Bill is a 100% Old School guy, which created a generational gap between speakers and audience. But, I think they all will take something back to their home games and be better for it.

Next was the Gygax documentary footage seminar. I wasn't sure how long I would be in the room, so I sat in the back. It got really interesting when Ernie Gygax sat across the aisle from me. I didn't learn anything new, but I did see a couple of snippets from the early days, including about a minute from an early GenCon (at Horticultural Hall.) Ernie made some color commentary, telling us which monsters were represented by minis in the film, and putting names to faces in the footage.

Friday was Call of Cthulhu, with Skeeter Green (of Skeeter Green Productions.) It was a fun game, full of inside jokes and some very creepy ambiance. A bit more combat than I am used to in CoC, but a blast to play. I wish Skeeter didn't have to fly in, so he could bring more than just paper props.

After dinner, Matt Finch decided to run an off-the-books Jordoba game. We did a bit of dungeon crawling and ran into an inter-dimensional plant-god-creature. Splat, my character in the FGG con games happened to have a potion of plant control, which netted us 100k in diamonds from the thing. Then I told it to go to the bottom level of Mythrus Tower.

We found a Portable Hole and a gem that granted a wish. Ian's character X+1 made the mistake of using the words "I wish" where the gem could here. So, he was betrothed to be married. To an ugly minor noble of the Jordoba area. (This set the tone for the rest of the games run by Matt.) The rest of us were knighted.

Saturday, we had Matt's game (on the books) at 1. We were hired to stop an attempt to halt the wedding. As Splat was helping with the wedding, his brother Sludge (a m-u) had to adventure instead. We did the investigation, found some vampire frogs and tracked down a splinter cult of Set.
Jake's character turned the stone around a grate into flesh to get us access (gross, right?) From there we fought our way around the compound, setting up an attack pattern. Archers in the high rooms, looking on the courtyard. Then we hear "This is the bottom level of Mythrus Tower."
Well, shit...
The plant guy shows up and all hell breaks loose. We all escape, and thwarted the attack on the wedding. But, the plant guy is still around.

Saturday night was Bill's game. He always has some excellent puzzles. I tried to steal a lich-king's crown as a wedding present for X+1, but the GM had other plans... We survived and got a bunch of loot. I don't want to give anything away, because I know that Bill plays the scenarios over again. X+1 did get away with an evil sword, though.

Sunday was another off-the-books Matt game. The plant-thing showed up again, and we deliberated for about an hour on how to kill it. It was decided that taking it to the positive energy plane would sate it, so we headed to a "moderately sunny spot on the elemental plane of earth."
We found a broken Aqueaus rune which we fixed, and that triggered an attack by demons. No Ian McGarty One Round Plan (tm) this time. We set to hacking apart demons. Splat helped kill the leader demon, but lost X's sword in the process. A bunch of loot was given out in this game. Splat took a Helm of Telepathy.
The plant-thing is still alive, btw. It's name is Gphillip (the G is silent.) I'm sure that it will show up again.

That's my gaming at GHC 2018. I hope everyone there had as much fun as I did!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Monster Monday - Guest Post - Su-monster

Hey everybody! Skeeter Green from SGP Productions here to once again fill the giant space-bunny slippers of Jayson Gardner this week for Monster Monday! They didn’t get sick of me as I took you all to the gutters (literally), so this week I’m going to get weird and mental, so without further preamble, I bring you the su-monster!!!

The su-monster made its first appearance in original D&D, in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry, by Gary Gygax and Brian Blume. Additional Special Thanks are given to perennial personal heroes of mine Steve Marsh, Dr. Dennis Sustare, Jim Ward, and my Icon, Tim Kask. Eldritch Wizardry is probably my fondest memory of the original books, not just for the nude on the cover (about as tame as you can get, too), but mostly because I have always been a sucker for “new magic” books and weird stuff. And this book is full of new rules, new magic, and new monsters that eventually would become pillars of more modern systems. Demons? Mind flayers (not trying to step on IP here, please don’t come for me Mr. Hasbro lawyer)? DEMOGORGON? Craziness! Plus, our friend, and reason fo this article, the su-monster.

Initially, the su-monster was described as a wasp-waisted, great chested hound. Their heads appear much like gorillas'. All four feet are prehensile and armed with long and extremely sharp nails as well.” (Gygax & Blume) It gives alittle more information about familial makeup, and then gets into “Su-monsters have a latent psionic ability which enables them to deliver some form of psionic attack once (per day) if psionic activity is being used near (within 12" of them) … Psionic defense is not necessary as the Su-monster is not itself subject to psionic attack.” Now I have always liked psionics, but this is a little overpowering for my taste. Somebody can hit me with some cool new power, but I can’t use it back? WTF? Anyway, the su-monster got a bit of a makeover in 1E.

In the Monster Manual (Gygax) The su makes another appearance (as it will throughout several more iterations of the game) but has changed its look dramatically (probably for copyright reasons; pesky lawyers!) Now, they have lost their wasp-dog look, and seem like regular monkeys. They kept their powerful mental powers, but psionics was a little better defined in 1E (depending on who you ask), and as one of the few psionicly endowed creatures, they were in many campaigns that allowed supplemental psionic rules (along with mind flayers, intellect devourers, and titans. A real mix.)

Psionics themselves eventually dropped out of favor, first only appearing in 2nd edition in the Complete Psionics Handbook, missing 3.X almost completely, makes a brief emergence in 4th edition (I bet no one knows that), and then came back with a vengeance in 5E in the Tomb of Annihilation, deep in the jungles of Chult. In 5E, the creature’s psionic power is relegated to a single attack but can injure and/or stun its target. Not bad for a 40+ year old monster!

Anyway, thanks for reading, and I’m sure Jayson really wants his blog back!!! Come by and visit me on Twitter @SkeeterMFGreen, and the Goddammit, Zach! Youtube series, courtesy of Uncle Matt’s RPG Studio See ya in the dungeons!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Monster Monday - Guest Post - Otyugh
Hey everybody! Skeeter Green from SGP Productions here to fill the giant space-bunny slippers of Jayson Gardner this week for Monster Monday! In keeping with my normal level of class and social standing, I’m going to go deep (heh,heh) and hit the sewers for one of my favorite dungeon denizens of all time… the Otyugh!

This little (FALSE! Otyughs are approx. 8 ft in diameter on average) garbage critter has been around since the 1E Monster Manual. Its original description says something along the lines of a weird “omnivorous scavenger… diet of dung, offal, and carrion... hate bright light… found underground.” (Gygax) Now, these are pretty generic descriptors, giving GMs plenty of room for interpretation. And use. And misuse! Starting with the name. How exactly does one pronounce otyugh?


Who cares? A classic piece of the old-school puzzle is that very similar monsters can have wildly different powers and abilities. Maybe all those pronunciations are valid, and the monsters themselves are merely local variants?

In any case, a “standard” otyugh in 1E had a few specific attacks and abilities. Low AC (AC3), 6-8 HD, 3 attacks (not detailed – assumed to be a tentacle/tentacle/bite series), typically carried a disease of some flavor (they get around) and are never surprised. They are described as having a “sensory organ stalk” and 2 tentacles sprouting from the main body, which also houses the grotesque mouth.

Jacob Blackmon, used under license from
Rogue Genius Games
That leaves a lot to the imagination. Right off, I’m thinking “If it lives in garbage, eats dung and other refuse, what does it leave behind?” Probably nothing good. I’m thinking its inner body is so acidic, whatever it eats essentially disappears. Very efficient, reduce/recycle mindset!

The bigger problem, literally, is the neo-otyugh. These are bigger, smarter, tougher and more damaging versions of their smaller kin. Still 3 attacks, but almost double the HD, and could be up to “very intelligent”. Scary. Essentially, its your home garbage disposal getting pissed and coming after you with tentacles and a weird eye-stalk tentacle. The stuff of nightmares!

Anyway, the otyugh has gone through several artistic transformations in the 40-ish years its been part of the game, but most of the time it is still very recognizable. Three tentacles atop a spherical body, a big mouth full of sharp teeth in the center, 2-4 stumpy legs to carry it around. Or, does it have legs? Couldn’t it just as easily swim through garbage, like in a famous movie about wars out in the stars, where the heroes are trapped after sliding down a garbage chute during a rescue? Certainly, that could be an otyugh, and good for it to be getting high-profile work!

Anyway, thanks for reading, and I’m sure Jayson wants his blog back!!! Come by and visit me on Twitter @SkeeterMFGreen, and the Goddammit, Zach! Youtube series, courtesy of Uncle Matt’s RPG Studio. See ya in the dungeons!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Monster Monday: Hydras

Monica C. Webster
"Hercules and the Hydra"
Last week, in my Mord Mar FLGS game, the party decided to take on a hydra. This led me to seriously look at them in the past week. There are so many hydra, it made the session a guessing game.

Everybody knows of the Lernaean hydra. There are 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 headed hydras. There are pyrohydras and cryohydras. And they can have any number of heads above. All of this led the players to speculate about what type of hydra would be hiding in the Forge District. It turned out to be a pyro-hydra, and slightly different from the AD&D version. Namely, each head could breathe fire 1/day for 5d6 damage.

This just further illustrates my point. Hydra are hard to quantify in a PCs mind. They can be a hundred different mutations "by the book." And even more when you let your mind wander.
Moreover, the hydra is a fairly rare creature in modules. According to Adventure Lookup they have appeared in 34 adventures. TSR had 14 modules, WotC has 4. They are severely underused.

How best to use a hydra, though?

In the Palneal Swamp, it is reputed that a 5-headed hydra hunts the southern edge. Local fisherman have been seeing it closer and closer to the river. The fishermen are panicked and refuse to get near that stretch of river. The local lord asks heroes to deal with the imminent set.

Deep on the trade route between Redstone and Chattin a hydra has buried itself within the sands. It only attacks with its heads, and keeps its body below ground (giving it boosted AC.)

A sect of kobolds within Mord Mar worships a hydra near an underground lake. They often lure adventurers near its lair, and let it feast.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Monster Monday - Tome of Horrors 5E - Quickie

From Tome of Horrors 5E, by Frog God Games
New bulettes showed up in the Tome of Horrors 5E. I'm excited about this for obvious reasons. Here's a screenshot from the book. The colors within are black, blue, gold, green and red.

I haven't run any of the new bulettes yet, but they are really cool. I'm surprised this hadn't been done before. I think we will see a rash of "colored" monsters after this.

I don't want to give away too much from this new product, but as you can see, they infused a classic monster with some very cool ideas. The devil tied inside the bulette is an awesome take, and the others all have something similar.

Overall, there are 325 monsters in this book, statted to 5th Edition. I'm not sure how many are new, but there are the 5 bulettes, Silver Bulette did 4 more (Fungus Man Alchemist, Hsagrath, Lost Limb, and Tainted Servant of Tsathogga.) If you're a DM for 5E this is a must get book. For me, it ranks higher than the Monster Manual. Tome of Horrors and Tome of Beasts, from Kobold Press are my top 2 5E books for monsters. I even recommend this book to older version players. There is some great art, and FGG knocked the production out of the park!

Print books for this aren't out yet, but be watching in your FLGS and on the website linked above. I'm sorry if today sounds a bit like an advertisement. I'm very excited for this book. It's my first "official" writer's credits.

Monster Monday will be disappearing. With the return of school days, my FLGS game has switched to Mondays. I intend to replace it with a grab bag on Wednesdays moving forward. Expect that next week.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Deciphering Alignment - Part 1

Yesterday I posted a fairly lengthy list of alignment appearing in D&D over the years. Today, I am going to break it down. I may jump around a bit, as this will be a stream-of-consciousness blog.

Starting at the beginning, OD&D had very little in exposition of alignment. In Men & Magic, the book almost literally states "pick an alignment." Now, elves and dwarves could only be Lawful or Neutral. Halflings could only be Lawful. Humans were open to all three alignments. It's interesting to me that Gary Gygax doesn't expound on the way that alignments behave.
He somewhat rectifies this in Greyhawk (Supplement I.) Specifically, he outlines how to adjudicate chaotic characters. They are likely to stab friends in the back for something they want. Gary suggests that lawful characters should move against chaotic characters as needed. This is also the first instance of a required specific alignment (paladins and thieves.)

Holmes and Gygax introduced the 9-point alignment in 1978. This is the first alignment system that looks like the modern system. Let's take a look at the similarities and differences between the two.
First, Holmes mentions that thieves are neutral. Meanwhile Gygax states a "thief can be neutral or evil." Even early on, we see divisions on how the alignments to be adjudicated.
In the AD&D PHB Gygax suggests that the DM keep an alignment chart for PCs. This is an interesting idea for me. What would this chart look like? The chart to the right seems like a good start. How would you keep track? Choose a color for each character? Would the player get a say or be able to explain thoughts?
Did anyone actually do this? How did it work?
Gygax makes a two paragraph statement on changing alignments. He talks of requiring quests and sacrifices to change alignments voluntarily. Meanwhile, Holmes says the DM can decide that a player is not using an alignment properly and force a change (possibly with a penalty.)

Moldvay/Cook and Mentzer move Basic D&D back to the three-point alignment. I'm sure this is as much to differentiate the Basic and Advanced lines as it is to keep it "basic." As they were effectively the same product*, there are few differences. Both compare the Lawful alignment to "good," and Chaos to "evil."
I feel that this is where one of the greatest misconstructions of the alignment system comes from. While in AD&D at this time we have LE and CG, these alignments are pointed at (indirectly) as impossible from a sister product. This has skewed the alignment system moving forward (and probably directly gave rise to the 4E aberrant alignment system.)

2E is where the alignment system gained the most understanding, because an entire chapter was devoted to it. David "Zeb" Cook (the same one who wrote the Expert set of the Moldvay/Cook era) treated alignment to a necessary exploration. He looks carefully at the alignments individually (Law, Chaos, Good, Evil, and Neutrality) and completely (LG, LN, LE, NG, N, NE, CG, CN, CE.) If someone is struggling to understand the alignment system in the context of role-playing games, this is where I point them (start on pg 46 of the 2E PHB.) Zeb gives us so much information, it could be a blog to itself (and is a chapter for the only time in the history of D&D.)

So far, we see the alignment systems building on each other (mostly.) Next blog I will take a look at 3-5E.

*Mentzer revised the Moldvay/Cook rules and edited it into the Red Box. He didn't really change the rules, just presentation.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Alignment Through the Ages

I am a member of several D&D groups on Facebook and G+ (imagine that!) Lately on the 5E groups, in particular, debate has raged on about alignment and its usefulness. Today, I present the basics for alignments in different editions of D&D. Soon I will create a follow-up post explaining the changes and how I interpret them.
The OD&D alignment basics is in the image to the right.
Men and Magic, Pg 9

In Supplement I: Greyhawk, a small revision was made: "Chaotic Alignment by a player generally betokens chaotic action on the player’s part without any rule to stress this aspect, i.e. a chaotic player is usually more prone to stab even his lawless buddy in the back for some desired gain. However, chaos is just that — chaotic. Evil monsters are as likely to turn on their supposed confederates in order to have all the loot as they are to attack a lawful party in the first place.
While there is no rule to apply to groups of chaotic players operating in concert, referees are urged to formulate some rules against continuing cooperation as fits their particular situation, but consideration for concerted actions against chaotic players by lawful ones should be given." (Greyhawk pp 6,7)
Even after this revision, alignment is still a murky idea.

Moving on to Holmes, we find this in his Basic book: "Characters may be lawful (good or evil), neutral or chaotic (good or evil). Lawful characters always act according to a highly regulated code of behavior, whether for good or evil. Chaotic characters are quite unpredictable and can not be depended upon to do anything except the unexpected -- they are often, but not always, evil. Neutral characters, such as all thieves, are motivated by self interest and may steal from their companions or betray them if it is in their own best interest. Players may choose any alignment they want and need not reveal it to others. Note that the code of lawful good characters insures that they would tell everyone that they are lawful. There are some magical items that can be used only by one alignment of characters. If the Dungeon Master feels that a character has begun to behave in a manner inconsistent with his declared alignment he may rule that he or she has changed alignment and penalize the character with a loss of experience points. An example of such behavior would be a "good" character who kills or tortures a prisoner." (Dungeons & Dragons [1978], Holmes, pp 8)

Moving forward, we hit AD&D 1E.
After generating the abilities of your character, selecting his or her race, and deciding upon a class, it is necessary to determine the alignment of the character. It is possible that the selection of the class your character will profess has predetermined alignment: a druid is neutral, a paladin is lawful good, a thief can be neutral or evil, an assassin is always evil. Yet, except for druids and paladins, such restrictions still leave latitude — the thief can be lawful neutral, lawful evil, neutral evil, chaotic evil, chaotic neutral, neutral, or even neutral good; and the assassin has nearly as many choices. The alignments possible for characters are described below.
Chaotic Evil: The major precepts of this alignment are freedom, randomness, and woe. Laws and order, kindness, and good deeds are disdained. Life has no value. By promoting chaos and evil, those of this alignment hope to bring themselves to positions of power, glory, and prestige in a system ruled by individual caprice and their own whims.
Chaotic Good: While creatures of this alignment view freedom and the randomness of action as ultimate truths, they likewise place value on life and the welfare of each individual. Respect for individualism is also great. By promoting the gods of chaotic good, characters of this alignment seek to spread their values throughout the world.
Chaotic Neutral: Above respect for life and good, or disregard for life and promotion of evil, the chaotic neutral places randomness and disorder. Good and evil are complementary balance arms. Neither are preferred, nor must either prevail, for ultimate chaos would then suffer.
Lawful Evil: Creatures of this alignment are great respecters of laws and strict order, but life, beauty, truth, freedom and the like are held as valueless, or at least scorned. By adhering to stringent discipline, those of lawful evil alignment hope to impose their yoke upon the world.
Lawful Good: While as strict in their prosecution of law and order, characters of lawful good alignment follow these precepts to improve the common weal. Certain freedoms must, of course, be sacrificed in order to bring order; but truth is of highest value, and life and beauty of great importance. The benefits of this society are to be brought to all.
Lawful Neutral: Those of this alignment view regulation as all-important, taking a middle road betwixt evil and good. This is because the ultimate harmony of the world — and the whole of the universe — is considered by lawful neutral creatures to have its sole hope rest upon law and order. Evil or good are immaterial beside the determined purpose of bringing all to predictability and regulation.
Neutral Evil: The neutral evil creature views law and chaos as unnecessary considerations, for pure evil is all-in-all. Either might be used, but both are disdained as foolish clutter useless in eventually bringing maximum evilness to the world.
Neutral Good: Unlike those directly opposite them (neutral evil) in alignment, creatures of neutral good believe that there must be some regulation in combination with freedoms if the best is to be brought to the world — the most beneficial conditions for living things in general and intelligent creatures in particular.
True Neutral: The “true” neutral looks upon all other alignments as facets of the system of things. Thus, each aspect — evil and good, chaos and law — of things must be retained in balance to maintain the status quo; for things as they are cannot be improved upon except temporarily, and even then but superficially. Nature will prevail and keep things as they were meant to be, provided the “wheel” surrounding the hub of nature does not become unbalanced due to the work of unnatural forces — such as human and other intelligent creatures interfering with what is meant to be.
Naturally, there are all variations and shades of tendencies within each alignment.The descriptions are generalizations only. A character can be basically good in its “true” neutrality, or tend towards evil. It is probable that your campaign referee will keep a graph of the drift of your character on the alignment chart. This is affected by the actions (and desires) of your character during the course of each adventure, and will be reflected on the graph. You may find that these actions are such as to
cause the declared alignment to be shifted towards, or actually to, some other.
Changing Alignment
While involuntary change of alignment is quite possible, it is very difficult for a character to voluntarily switch from one to another, except within limited areas. Evil alignment can be varied along the like axis. The neutral character can opt for some more specific alignment. Your referee will probably require certain stringent sacrifices and appropriate acts — possibly a quest, as well — for any other voluntary alignment change. In fact, even axial change within evil or good, or
radial movement from neutrality may require strong proofs of various sorts. Further voluntary change will be even more difficult. Changing back to a forsaken alignment is next to impossible on a voluntary basis. Even involuntary drift will bring the necessity of great penance. (Player's Handbook, Gygax, 1978, pp 33-34)

Moldvay/Cook steps back to the three-point alignment system, separating Basic from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
Three basic ways of life guide the acts of both player characters and monsters. Each way of life is called an alignment. The three alignments are named Law, Chaos, and Neutrality. Each alignment has a language that includes hand signals and other body motions. Player characters always know how to speak their alignment language in addition to any others they may know. If a monster is able to speak, it will also be able to use its alignment language.
Players may choose the alignments they feel will best fit their characters. A player does not have to tell other players what alignment he or she has picked, but must tell the DM. Most Lawful characters
will reveal their alignment if asked. When picking alignments, the characters should know that Chaotics cannot be trusted, even by other Chaotics. A Chaotic character does not work well with
other player characters.
The alignments give guidelines for characters to live by. The characters will try to follow these guidelines, but may not always be successful. If a DM feels that a player is not keeping to a character's chosen alignment, the DM may suggest a change of alignment or give the character a punishment or penalty. 
Law (or Lawful) is the belief that everything should follow an order, and that obeying rules is the natural way of life. Lawful creatures will try to tell the truth, obey laws, and care about all living
things. Lawful characters always try to keep their promises. They will try to obey laws as long as such laws are fair and just. If a choice must be made between the benefit of a group or an individual,
a Lawful character will usually choose the group. Sometimes individual freedoms must be given up for the good of the group. Lawful characters and monsters often act in predictable
ways. Lawful behavior is usually the same as behavior that could be called "good".
Chaos (or Chaotic) is the opposite of Law. It is the belief that life is random, and that chance and luck rule the world. Everything happens by accident, and nothing can be predicted. Laws are
made to be broken, as long as a person can get away with it. It is not important to keep promises, and lying and telling the truth are both useful. To a Chaotic creature, the individual is the most important of all things. Selfishness is the normal way of life, and the group is not
important. Chaotics often act on sudden desires and whims. They cannot be trusted, and their behavior is hard to predict. They have a strong belief in the power of luck. Chaotic behavior is usually the same as behavior that could be called "evil".
Neutrality (or Neutral) is the belief that the world is a balance between Law and Chaos. It is important that neither side get too much power and upset this balance. The individual is important,
but so is the group; the two sides must work together. A Neutral character is most interested in personal survival. Such characters believe in their own wits and abilities rather than luck.
They tend to return the treatment they receive from others. Neutral characters will join a party if they think it is in their own best interest, but will not be overly helpful unless there is some sort
of profit in it. Neutral behavior may be considered "good" or "evil" (or neither!), depending on the situation. (Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Adventure Game Basic Rulebook, Holmes, 1981, pp B11)

The next release was Menzter's Red Box Basic. He keeps the three-point alignment system.
Three basic ways of life guide the acts of both player characters and monsters. Each way of life is called an alignment. The three alignments are named Law, Chaos, and Neutrality. Each alignment
has a language that includes hand signals and other body motions. Player characters always know how to speak their alignment language in addition to any others they may know. If a monster is able to speak, it will also be able to use its alignment language.
Players may choose the alignments they feel will best fit their characters. A player does not have to tell other players what alignment he or she has picked, but must tell the DM. Most Lawful characters will reveal their alignment if asked. When picking alignments, the characters should know that Chaotics cannot be trusted, even by other Chaotics. A Chaotic character does not work well with other player characters.
The alignments give guidelines for characters to live by. The characters will try to follow these guidelines, but may not always be successful. If a DM feels that a player is not keeping to a character's chosen alignment, the DM may suggest a change of alignment or give
the character a punishment or penalty.
Law (or Lawful) is the belief that everything should follow an order, and that obeying rules is the natural way of life. Lawful creatures will try to tell the truth, obey laws, and care about all living
things. Lawful characters always try to keep their promises. They will try to obey laws as long as such laws are fair and just.
If a choice must be made between the benefit of a group or an individual, a Lawful character will usually choose the group. Sometimes individual freedoms must be given up for the good of the group. Lawful characters and monsters often act in predictable ways. Lawful behavior is usually the same as behavior that could be called "good."
Chaos (or Chaotic) is the opposite of Law. It is the belief that life is random, and that chance and luck rule the world. Everything happens by accident and nothing can be predicted. Laws are
made to be broken, as long as a person can get away with it. It is not important to keep promises, and lying and telling the truth are both useful.
To a Chaotic creature, the individual is the most important of all things. Selfishness is the normal way of life, and the group is not important. Chaotics often act on sudden desires and whims. They
cannot be trusted, their behavior is hard to predict. They have strong belief in the power of luck. Chaotic behavior is usu- ally the same as behavior that could be called "evil."
Neutrality (or Neutral) is the belief that the world is a balance between Law and Chaos. It is important that neither side get too much power and upset this balance. The individual is important, but so is the group; the two sides must work together.
A Neutral character is most interested in personal survival. Such characters believe in their own wits and abilities rather than luck. They tend to return the treatment they receive from others. Neutral
characters will join a party if they think it is in their own best interest, but will not
be overly helpful unless there is some sort of profit in it. Neutral behavior may be considered "good" or "evil" (or neither), depending on the situation.
THE SITUATION: A group of player characters is attacked by a large number of monsters. Escape is not possible unless the monsters are slowed down.
A Lawful character will fight to protect the group, whatever the danger. The character will not run away unless the whole group does.
A Neutral character will fight to protect the group as long as it is reasonably safe to do
so. If the danger gets too great, the character will try to save himself (or herself), even
at the expense of the party.
A Chaotic character might fight the monsters or might run away. The character will not care what happens to the rest of the party. (Dungeons & Dragons Player's Manual, Frank Mentzer, 1983)

Moving into AD&D 2E, we find the alignment system receives an entire chapter! I'm not going to quote the whole thing. Instead I will only present the bare essentials.
The character's alignment is a guide to his basic moral and ethical attitudes toward others, society, good, evil and the forces of the universe in general. Use the chosen alignment as a guide to provide a clearer idea of how the character will handle moral dilemmas. Always consider alignment as a tool, not a straitjacket that restricts the character. Although alignment defines general attitudes, it certainly doesn't prevent the character from changing his beliefs, acting irrationally, or behaving out of character.

D&D 3E
A character’s or creature’s general moral and personal attitudes are represented by its alignment: lawful good, neutral good, chaotic good, lawful neutral, neutral, chaotic neutral, lawful evil, neutral evil, and chaotic evil. (See Table 6–1: Creature, Race, and Class Alignments to see which creatures, races, and classes favor which alignments.)
Choose an alignment for your character, using the character’s race and class as a guide. Standard characters are good or neutral but not evil. Evil alignments are for villains and monsters.
Alignment is a tool for developing your character’s identity. It is not a straitjacket for restricting your character. Each alignment represents a broad range of personality types or personal philosophies, so two lawful good characters can be quite different from each other. In addition, few people are
completely consistent. A lawful good character may have a greedy streak, occasionally tempting him to take something or hoard something he has even if that’s not the lawful or good thing to do. People are also not consistent from day to day. Good characters can lose their tempers, neutral characters can be inspired to perform noble acts, and so on.
Choosing an alignment for your character means stating your intent to play that character a certain way. If your character acts in a way more appropriate to another alignment, the DM may decide that your character’s alignment has changed to match her actions. 

Being good or evil can be a conscious choice, as with the paladin who attempts to live up to her ideals or the evil cleric who causes pain and terror to emulate his god. For most people, though, being
good or evil is an attitude that one recognizes but does not choose.
Being neutral between good and evil usually represents a lack of commitment one way or the other, but for some it represents a positive commitment to a balanced view. While acknowledging that good and evil are objective states, not just opinions, these folk maintain that a balance between the two is the proper place for people, or at least for them.
Animals and other creatures incapable of moral action are neutral
rather than good or evil. Even deadly vipers and tigers that eat
people are neutral because they lack the capacity for morally right or

wrong behavior. (Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook, WotC, 2000, pp 87-88)

Dungeons and Dragons 4E takes a stern departure. It devotes about a page and a half to the subject, but here's the quick rundown:
ALIGNMENT A character’s alignment (or lack thereof) describes his or her moral stance: ✦ Good: Freedom and kindness. ✦ Lawful Good: Civilization and order. ✦ Evil: Tyranny and hatred. ✦ Chaotic Evil: Entropy and destruction. ✦ Unaligned: Having no alignment; not taking a stand. For the purpose of determining whether an effect functions on a character, someone of lawful good alignment is considered good and someone of chaotic evil alignment is considered evil. For instance, a lawful good character can use a magic item that is usable only by good-aligned characters.  (Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook Arcane, Divine and Martial Heroes, 2008)
It is a different system. Lawful Good, Good, Evil, Chaotic Evil and Unaligned seems a distilled version of the nine-point system.

D&D 5E takes a bare bones approach:
A typical creature in the game world has an alignment, which broadly describes its moral and personal attitudes. Alignment is a combination of two factors: one identifies morality (good, evil, or neutral), and the other describes attitudes toward society and order (lawful, chaotic, or neutral). Thus, nine distinct alignments define the possible combinations.

These brief summaries of the nine alignments describe the typical behavior of a creature with that alignment. Individuals might vary significantly from that typical behavior, and few people are perfectly and consistently faithful to the precepts of their alignment.

Lawful good (LG) creatures can be counted on to do the right thing as expected by society. Gold dragons, paladins, and most dwarves are lawful good.

Neutral good (NG) folk do the best they can to help others according to their needs. Many celestials, some cloud giants, and most gnomes are neutral good.

Chaotic good (CG) creatures act as their conscience directs, with little regard for what others expect. Copper dragons, many elves, and unicorns are chaotic good.

Lawful neutral (LN) individuals act in accordance with law, tradition, or personal codes. Many monks and some wizards are lawful neutral.

Neutral (N) is the alignment of those who prefer to steer clear of moral questions and don’t take sides, doing what seems best at the time. Lizardfolk, most druids, and many humans are neutral.

Chaotic neutral (CN) creatures follow their whims, holding their personal freedom above all else. Many barbarians and rogues, and some bards, are chaotic neutral.

Lawful evil (LE) creatures methodically take what they want, within the limits of a code of tradition, loyalty, or order. Devils, blue dragons, and hobgoblins are lawful evil.

Neutral evil (NE) is the alignment of those who do whatever they can get away with, without compassion or qualms. Many drow, some cloud giants, and goblins are neutral evil.

Chaotic evil (CE) creatures act with arbitrary violence, spurred by their greed, hatred, or bloodlust. Demons, red dragons, and orcs are chaotic evil.

Alignment in the Multiverse
For many thinking creatures, alignment is a moral choice. Humans, dwarves, elves, and other humanoid races can choose whether to follow the paths of good or evil, law or chaos. According to myth, the good-aligned gods who created these races gave them free will to choose their moral paths, knowing that good without free will is slavery.

The evil deities who created other races, though, made those races to serve them. Those races have strong inborn tendencies that match the nature of their gods. Most orcs share the violent, savage nature of the orc gods, and are thus inclined toward evil. Even if an orc chooses a good alignment, it struggles against its innate tendencies for its entire life. (Even half-orcs feel the lingering pull of the orc god’s influence.)

Alignment is an essential part of the nature of celestials and fiends. A devil does not choose to be lawful evil, and it doesn’t tend toward lawful evil, but rather it is lawful evil in its essence. If it somehow ceased to be lawful evil, it would cease to be a devil.

Most creatures that lack the capacity for rational thought do not have alignments—they are unaligned. Such a creature is incapable of making a moral or ethical choice and acts according to its bestial nature. Sharks are savage predators, for example, but they are not evil; they have no alignment. (D&D Beyond, WotC)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Monster Monday - Orcs

Today I want to delve deep into orcs. They are a creature that has changed greatly over time, and I want to explore 1974-2018. (Art to the right used under license from Fat Goblin Games.)

Orcs are some of the oldest monsters in D&D. In Monsters & Treasure, only men and goblins (and kobolds, using the stats of goblins) are listed before orcs. Orcs have a negative to hit in sunlight, as goblins. Some people speculate that orcs are a goblinoid race because of this. Note: orcs and goblins both appear on the "giant" tables in M&M. They lair in villages and caves, create defenses and use catapults. They also, apparently, transport large amounts of gold frequently. These caravans are led by Fighting Men and Magic-Users. From playing in Castle Greyhawk (run by Paul Stromburg from Gary's notes,) I know that Gary often used orcs as rank-and-file in the early level of dungeons.
Rob Kuntz was known to use forces of orcs under the control of Robilar. Notably, he killed a whole tribe while working his way through the Tomb of Horrors.

In 1E orcs get a bit more descriptive. Paraphrasing the Monster Manual, orcs are fiercely competitive, bullies, cruel and hateful. They harbor a deep hatred for elves in particular, slaying them when others would be taken as slaves or food. In 1E, they speak several languages (orc, goblin, hobgoblin and ogre.)

In 2E, orcs get a publicist, apparently. Their description changes from the total evil of 1e to (again, paraphrasing):
aggressive mammalian carnivores that hunt and raid to survive. They need to expand territory to survive and constantly war with PC races. Orc language now becomes defined (using archaic human words) and only some orcs speak other languages (notably common, goblin, hobgoblin and ogre.)
Orcs are aggressive in 2E, often breaking alliances. They still take slaves in 2E and believe that bullying is the right of the strong.

In 3.5 we see the first alignment shift. The MM entry states "often chaotic evil." Dwarves are now mentioned as racial enemies, alongside elves. They still take slaves and war continuously. Otherwise, little changes between 2 and 3.X.

4E has little other than mechanics in the MM. "Orcs worship gruumsh, the one-eyed god of slaughter and are savage, bloodthirsty marauders. They plague the civilized races of the world and also fight among themselves for scraps of food and treasure." Orcs have lost the negative to hit in sunlight in 4E.

5E orcs have a much better background write-up than in 4E. A full page of text is dedicated to how orcs behave. Again, they have racial hatred of elves (but not dwarves.) They are given some much better motivation. In 5E orcs respect power, especially physical power. They allow any creature of strength to join their tribes and often work for evil giants.

Over time, orcs have changed in public perception as well. Two examples that move the scales from orcs being an embodiment of chaos are the Elder Scrolls series and the Warcraft series. In these video games, orcs are often portrayed as victims of attacks on their homes and not the attackers. This can be used to create unexpected encounters with a staple baddy.

Amalgamating the knowledge from above, I want to build an orc stronghold, like I did with the troglodyte last week.

First, let's build the encounter list. Orcs (duh), ogres (because of common language,) and we'll have them led by a hill giant as a nod to 5E. Because I use S&W (a 0E clone) I will make their home a series of caves. They also need slaves and non-combatants to lend verisimilitude.

Encounter #1: The orcs have set up a ballista and palisade around the entrance to their lair. 6 orcs typically guard the entrance. However, they are lazy and will not take the duties seriously. The PCs can sneak by or eliminate these creatures if they are stealthy.

Encounter #2: The training room usually holds 4-6 orcs and an ogre. They are alert and ready to fight, but sounds of battle from this chamber are common, so no reinforcements from other areas will be immediate.

Encounter #3: The cooking area houses mostly non-combatant females and young. For added spice, you can add a young ogre who fights like an orc. Reinforcements will show up if combat happens here.

Encounter #4: Slave quarters has a few badly injured/beaten/malnourished humans or halflings. Two to four orcs guard them. Reinforcements do not come for combat in this area.

Encounter #5: The remaining ogres quarter here. Two ogres and four orcs are playing a variant of dominoes when the PCs enter the cave. These creatures are the ones first to reinforce any combats.

Encounter #6: This area is the orcs sleeping and privacy area. Several males and non-combatant females will be here, albeit not ready to fight. The males will reinforce other areas several rounds later.

Encounter #7: The hill giant, Grakan, resides over this small outpost from here. He has a throne and several elite orcs as guards.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Monster Monday - Troglodyte

Troglodytes show up in some of the most iconic modules. First up: S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. 18 of the buggers hang out in the Greater Caverns. They use great tactics (with a leader that creates an illusionary army. The troglodytes are instrumental in the module to give the Caverns a "living dungeon" feel.
B9: Castle Caldwell and Beyond has 4 of them hanging out near the gardens. I've never played the module, so I don't know the chances of running into them.
X1: Isle of Dread has a lair of 17 troglodytes. However, they are stuffed into a corner of the island, with instructions to use a generic map. They don't even appear on the random encounter table!
N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God: In this module, the troglodytes drive the story. A few of the locations in town have cult members working with troglodytes. The author uses their scent as a plot device (a way to track them.) The troglodytes are active in the cult, and show up as wandering monsters. This is probably the best module featuring troglodytes.
In all, troglodytes have shown up in 29 different adventures.

Troglodytes fill the same roll as a lot of more common monsters. Orcs, hobgoblins, zombies, and gnolls are used similarly. Trogs have a wonderful flavor if you're looking for something same-but-different.

Today, I'm going to try something new. I want to thematically build an adventure starting with the troglodyte. So, according to Monstrosities, they are "subterranean reptile-people. In battle they emit a horrible smell..." From the MM we add "They loathe humans." This gives us a start of what might hang out with them.
My first thought is what loves smelly things? Otyugh. They love trash, offal and carrion. Sounds like they can hang out stinky troglodytes. And, I am often a fan of using them as a trash removal service.
Next, let's find a reptilian connection. The naga is an obvious choice, but that was the Cult of the Reptile God's boss. So, something different. Hydra are underused, imho, so that's what they worship and feed.
I feel that trogs probably live in a swampy area, so we can add giant leeches, and snakes (constrictor and viper.)

So, the adventure looks like this:
Hook: bad things happening in the swamp. (The DM can even use "lizardman" to keep the PCs in the dark about what's up.)
Travel to the lair: use giant leeches and snakes to wear down party.
The lair is probably branching paths, with several trogs in different areas. Add females/children as appropriate. The otyugh probably hangs out fairly deep. Maybe a branching side-path that doesn't directly connect to the main quest.
Eventually, the PCs find their way to the hydra's lair, but the troglodyte witch-doctor has set up a puzzle-lock to make sure his dumb flock doesn't accidentally get eaten by the hydra. Maybe a pentagram or another puzzle involving the number 5 (to give a final hint of what's behind.)
Then they come to the hydra, down in a pit. It can maneuver around to avoid arrows, possibly making a game of cat-and-mouse within a labyrinth below. Depending on levels and abilities 1-4 trogs could be present.

The image above was by Christopher Burdett. It is owned by WotC and used in the Dungeons of Dread.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Monster Monday - Flail Snail

Let's talk about a weird one today. Flail snail first appeared in the Fiend Folio in 1981. They didn't see any use in the 1e system after that, at least not in official modules. In fact, it only shows up in 12 total adventures from TSR. Two of them were in Dungeon Magazine.
The flail snail has always been one of my "guilty pleasure" monsters. Let's go through the checklist:
Easily recognizable - yes
Unique abilities - yes
Multiple attacks - yes
Dungeon dweller - yes
Messes with magic - yup

They are in the "sweet spot" for adventuring too. 4-6 HD is perfect for the E/X (levels 3-9) play. And they circumvent standard party tactics. Immune to fire and poison, it also can rebound spells. Fighting types don't want to get close because they have a high number of attacks. AND . . . When they die, they wail for 1-3 turns, adding a 50% penalty to wandering monster checks.
That's a pretty fun package, when all rolled together. But, they are WEIRD. How do you use such a creature?

Egg, the great wizard of Mord Mar loved having flail snails in and around his tower. Their scintillating shells and relative obscurity thwarted several theft attempts in his tower.

The hobgoblin, Mucksnort, recently led an expedition to capture a flail snail. Much to his delight, they captured two, and a clutch of eggs. Now he leads his hobgoblin military from the back of his new mount, and his lieutenant keeps the female with her eggs at their swamp abode.

The great zoo in Redstone recently got in two specimens of flail snail. However, the staff had no idea how to contain or control them, and now they are leaving slime trails throughout the city. They batter down walls at dawn, so they are easy to track down, but they need to be reclaimed alive.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Monster Monday - Iron Cobra

I have become a fan of this little machination in recent weeks. The iron cobra fills a design need for me. They are constructs (and therefore can be inert for centuries, even in airtight spaces.) They challenge low-level PC's.
The iron cobra first appeared in the Fiend Folio. The entry and stats are a mess, though. Let's take a look (These images were found on the web. I'm sure they are property of WotC, and only used here for comparative purposes):

As you can see, the description is all over the place. Why do they list who invented it (but, not actually?) Why are there only a dozen in existence? It can be a guard? Or assassin? So glad I had a book to tell me that. And how in the F*%$ do these things track by "psychic vibrations" when they a) don't have psionic abilitiy and b) aren't even alive?
The image above is from the awesome Tome of Horrors by Frog God Games, S&W version. As you can see, modern design has cleaned up the Iron Cobra a lot. All of the good information is there, without phantom psionics.

The iron cobra has an appearance in 1,2,3 and 4e D&D versions. In 5e it shows up in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes. The only encounter I remember of an iron cobra was in The Sentinal (UK2.) There it was used to guard a library. Although, it looks like there are more. I just found Adventure Lookup.

I modify iron cobras slightly in my game. Their raw materials are 2000 gp worth of gems. Rubies need to be used for the eyes (to give the evil look.) 10 additional gems (all of the same type) must be implanted down the "spine" to conduct the magical energy for locomotion. 

(From my playtest of Mord Mar a couple of weeks ago:) In a secret room on a lord's manor, an evil temple hums with power. Its guardian, an iron cobra, stays inert until a living creature touches the altar, at which time it snaps to life and attacks.

The party recently defeated Lareth, the beautiful, the evil cleric of Lloth! With his dying breath he states the command word of his iron cobra. It follows the party back to the tavern, waits for them to be comfortably asleep, and attacks the armorless cleric!

Jackal, an evil fighter fell to ghouls. As his unliving eyes flickered open, his two thoughts were flesh and his beloved cobra treasure. Now, he and his iron cobra hunt the town in the darkness, retreating to the sewers before the sun rises. The town is baffled why some family members disappear, and others are found dead with apparent snake bites. The mayor is sure the snake-men from the swamp are responsible. 

A rogue iron cobra wanders the sewers of Redstone, its venom sacs long empty. It attacks any living thing within its eyesight. The leadership of the town knows of it, and leave it alone because it kills so many rats.

At the bottom of a wishing well an iron cobra lies inert. It was placed there a century ago by an evil wizard (now lich.) He promised revenge on the group who thwarted his first attempt at immortality, and now he moves toward the city, ready to awaken his pet, and kill the heroes' kin.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Monster Monday - Owlbear!

Tony DiTerlizzi covers the origins of the Chinasaurs very well here. I don't think I need to rehash his words, so I will get straight into the game talk!

The reason why I have chosen the owlbear this week is because I recently placed one in Mord Mar. And it is a problem. The party refused to go near it! They trudged off in another direction. And, really I don't blame them. Here's the Bounty Board Wanted Poster. The bad photoshop was intentional.

The owlbear is a tank. With three attacks, 5+ Hit Dice and a hug attack, these creatures are quite dangerous to low level parties. Most grognards remember the owlbear in B2 quite well. Usually that owlbear killed 1-2 party members on my expeditions.
This owlbear is a prime example of why older editions didn't use challenge ratings. This monster would kill everything it could. But, it had a weakness that could be exploited. And that weakness doesn't play well into a CR. That weakness: it is dumb. Did the party run into a pit trap on the way to the owlbear? Have it chase you back to the pit trap, and stab it from above. Did you just slaughter a few goblins? Give the corpses to the owlbear, and he may let you go on your way.

In the courtyard of the citadel, an owlbear has made a nest. As this is the main transition from one level to another, she has a steady supply of food. Even more appetizing for her are the goblins that keep coming out of the citadel to see if she is gone.

A dryad in the Bitterbark Forest has charmed an owlbear. She often has it attack the woodsmen from Redstone. The merchant's guild offers a 500 gp reward for dealing with the creature. But, if the adventurers kill the owlbear, the dryad will never forgive them.

Although unintelligent, an owlbear has figured out that rust monsters make things easier to eat. She has made a lair across the hallway in an abandoned castle from a rust monster clutch. They often ambush the 2-legged creatures together that enter their combined territory.

The goblins of the Palneal Swamp captured a live owlbear. Their leader had delusions of riding the beast, but it ate him. Now, the goblins believe the owlbear to be their leader, per tradition. It walks among them, occasionally eating a goblin. The clan fell into disarray without leadership, and sent their bravest warriors to the Oracle of Stone and Flame to ask for guidance. They returned with only the advice "bring the humans in to kill it." So a group of goblins has shown up at Redstone's gates pleading for "strong human warriors." They offer the tribe's greatest possession "The Stick of Boom" (a wand of lightning bolts, with 6 charges left.)

The good picture of the owlbear is by Dave Allsop, bought on RPGNow. Ironhead Arts is the publisher.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Old and New School - differences highlighted.

Critical Role recently permanently killed a character (gasp!) and this has caused me to think about character mortality in the OSR, vs character mortality in post circa 2000 games. Although D&D has a long, storied and significant lineage, it has drastically changed the way character deaths are handled.

In 0E, 1E, 2E and BECMI, character death was a foregone conclusion. It was expected that party members would die. The rules encouraged this. Save or die was a common theme. Poison, petrification, spells and traps all had the ability to kill a character at any time, usually without warning. Even falling from a moderate distance could end a character's life. Combat was fast, brutal and final. 

In 3E that all changed. Insta-kill poisons were rare (or downright unheard of in some places.) Negative hit points became a thing. This alone took a lot of danger out of spells, traps and falling. Character deaths became more and more rare as the editions evolved. With 5E, you have to fail 3 death saves after hitting 0 hp, before making 3 in order to die.

Its obvious that these are vastly different schools of thought. But, why? I have a few theories on this. First, generating a character eats more time in later editions. With more abilities, classes, races, and spells than the earlier editions, this is a fact of life. Poring through the books to make that perfect character changes how the character is viewed. They become more than just a fun diversion. They are work. And nobody likes to see their work wasted or destroyed.
Second, death feels like failure. Failure to keep that paper person alive. In video games, that failure is okay. You just re-load a save, and try again. But, in RPGs, that failure is possibly permanent. In OSR style games, it is even likely.

The likelihood of death is to the detriment of current games. If players don't feel like their characters can die, there is no true risk. Sure, there can be setbacks, like being captured or robbed. But, the players know they can hunt down whoever hurt them or captured them. They can take revenge. And all will be well again.

Earlier editions would punish characters for not playing intelligently. Open a door without searching for traps? Save or die. Learn from a success or failure. Know that your paper person was 2 numbers away from death. Or did die.
In post-2000 games, this is not as true. Players usually suffer a temporary setback for not playing smart. They take some damage, and may need to use a short rest to recover. There is no learning curve.

Story Trumps Rules
This statement is true in new editions, but not in the OSR. Again, this is because of deaths. If a central character to a story dies, that story unravels. In early editions, the over-arching stories were familiar archetypes that could plug-and-play the heroes. The Temple of Elemental Evil doesn't care which heroes came in. Only if they could be stopped. Llolth, the drow and the Giants had a plan that had nothing to do with the heroes. But, heroes came anyway. Because of the stakes to the world around them. 
Largely, WotC does the same heroic story archetypes. And they are a lot of fun. But, the villains machinations continue on regardless of the heroes who attempt to intervene. The heroic tale is generic. It has to be to mass market.
Video RPGs like Critical Role or Jordoba can delve deeply into the characters' desires,goals and motivations. Because they are highly specific campaigns that deal only with the characters in question. But, do they need to? Would the DMs of these videos be worse DMs if they used a generic script like Temple of Elemental Evil?
Why then, does story trump rules? If story does trump rules, why play a game at all? There are games available that writing the story is the rules, like Dungeon World. If story is the goal, the rules should facilitate it fully. Vampire, The Masquerade did this in the nineties and it has evolved over the intervening years.

There is enough room in the design space of RPGs for both schools of thought to co-exist. They are both great ways to play, although vastly different. If you have tried one style but not the other, I would recommend playing the untried type. You may be surprised by the results! To paraphrase Matt Finch, "whatever version you play, imagine the hell out of it!"