B/XoL: Hacking Barbarians of Lemuria for treasure hunting

Here’s an interesting idea I’ve been pondering all day. Using Barbarians of Lemuria to run an oldschool campaign in the spirit of the old Basic and Expert rules of Dungeons & Dragons. I really quite love the style of adventures that is presented by this version of D&D, but I am just really not a fan of the game at the most basic level. The entire combat system and magic system just isn’t to my liking. BoL on the other hand is pretty close to ideal to what I want out of a rules system.

However, it could be argued that even Basic D&D and BoL are build on fundamentally different assumptions that make them highly incompatible with each other. The main difference is that D&D is build entirely around the assumption that the players want to get Experience Points and treasure, which make them more powerful and better equipped. On the other hand, BoL does not have any XP or treasure, and equipment is extremely limited.

But I think I’ve found a neat and very effective solution to this problem. By default, characters in BoL advance by finding some treasure of indeterminate value during the adventure, and at the end the players describe how they drink and gamble it all away in true Sword & Sorcery fashion. Depending on how creative and “heroic” the players describe it, their characters get between 1 to 3 Advancement Points, which they can use to improve their characters abilities. Instead of doing this, it’s trivially simple to not give the players AP based on the story they tell, but at the rate of 1 AP for every 10 treasures they spend. A treasure could be anything; a sack of coins, a golden idol, a big gem, some fine silverware, or whatever you want to think of. In practice it doesn’t matter. When the heroes search a vault or a fallen enemy, the GM can either describe what they find or simply say that they stuff 2 treasures into their pockets. They still don’t get Advancement Points for beating an enemy like in D&D, but I think it’s really the XP for treasures that makes the old editions of D&D so fascinating.

Another important element of the Basic and Expert rules is that players need to ration their supplies and have to judge how much food and treasure they can carry at the same time and how much it will slow them down between destinations in the wild. (Don’t want to find out in the middle of the dessert that you should have better taken one more skin of water instead of another bag of gold.) That will take some more thought, but I might get back to this somewhere the next days.

Fantasy Safari: The Theragraphica (Atlantis), Part 1

As the third book of the Fantasy Safari, my choice has been the Theragraphica for Atlantis: The Second Age. Having been released as pdf only last November, the printed book has just been shipped to backers of the kickstarter campaign. It’s simply an astonishing book and in my opinion even beats the Fiend Folio. It was actually the main reason I did pick up the Fantasy Safari series after such a long break, simply because I want more people to know how amazing this book is. (And the game it’s for is really great, too.)

Since this is a very new book by a small publisher, and they haven’t put the art for it online, I am not going to copy all the pictures here. But I think for this book this also won’t hurt much, as these creatures are really much more about their strange behaviors and weird abilities, and simply going by physical appearance might even create the false impression that they are rather mundane. But believe me, they are not. Or don’t believe and see for yourself what I am going to tell you about them. There are over 170 creatures in this book and I am only going to talk about my personal favorites in detail. Otherwise I’d never get through all of them.

Atlantis: The Second Age - Theragraphica

Atlantis: The Second Age – Theragraphica

Theragraphica for Atlantis: The Second Age by Khepera Publishing, 2014; 131 pages of monsters.

Atlantis is a relatively simple system, compared to D&D and d20 games, so the stat block for each creature is quite short. They have 14 stats plus two lines for damage and armor, and a short list of any special abilities and weaknesses. As a rules-medium game, the explanations for all special abilities are explained once in the back of the book and not elaborated on in each individual creature entry. Which at first was a bit confusing, because the creature descriptions often don’t really say what these abilities do either. But in truth, this works all really well and effectively. Aura of Fear always works the same for all creatures (with the specific strength depending on attribute scores) and is really pretty self-explanatory. The creature is scary. Those who see it close up get scared. Poison also always works the same way and a creature that attacks with its teeth obviously has poisonous bite, and one that attacks with a stinger obviously with a poisonous sting. This is information that does not need to be spelled out again every time and every GM can figure out how to describe it with a little bit of imagination. Because of that, the descriptions for each creature are really very short. Often just three or four sentences. But the free space that is left on each page is used well with a big picture of the creature, which are mostly very well done. All this combined, I feel like I am getting a lot more flavor from these monsters than from most other monsters books. My descriptions of each creature I’ll present will most likely be longer than the actual descriptions that are in the book, putting into words and talking about all the thoughts that come to my mind from these very dense entries.

I actually have not read the entire thing myself yet, but just having read a quarter of it in detail and seeing all the pictures has gotten my really exited about this. So, here we go:

Continue reading

Fantasy Safari: Fiend Folio (D&D 1st Edition), Part 5

Did I say the enveloper is The Thing? That was apparently a mistake on my side. The Protein Polymorph is The Thing! (Even though the most famous adaptation with the best looking monster came out a year after this book.) It’s an extremely effective and versatile shapeshifter than can assume the form of pretty much everything. It can blend completely with its surroundings, but usually takes the form of creatures that might attract prey. Being of human-like intelligence, their disguises can be highly devious. It’s only limitation is that it’s very bad at creating facial expressions and can’t really mimic voices, so any kind of interaction with a polymorph in humanoid form quickly reveals that something isn’t right about it. When it imitates inanimate objects, touching it immediately reveals it being some kind of creature. They are pretty tough beasts and also extremely strong, dealing 6d6 damage with their normal attack.

Quaggoth

Quaggoth

The Quaggoth probably counts as another point on the evil ape counter, but it’s actually a kind of humanoid bear. They are an underground dwelling race that is very primitive and aggressive and attack pretty much anything on sight. Some use stone maces and hammers, while most simply attack with their claws. They are immune to all poisons, which is actually very useful for a race of the underworld. For some reason they have a burning hatred of elves and even willingly serve drow for opportunities to fight them. The creature here is not really that exciting, but I quite like how they got a bit more refined in later editions, so I am showing them here anyway. Some adventure even had crossbreeds of quaggoths and orcs, which I thought were really cool.

Retriever

Retriever

Retrievers are actually a kind of constructs like golems, but they have been created by the demon lord Demogorgon so they are often seen as demons as well. They are used by their demonic master to be send to other planes and kidnap or slay his enemies. A retriever appears like a huge spider with four legs for running and four arms to attack. Its head has six eyes of which only two are for sight and the other four actually to shot magic lasers. Not only do they deal a lot of damage with their four regular attack each round (3d6), the magic rays are outright terrifying. They can shot two of them in the same round, after which they need to recharge for six round. The damage of the fire, lightning, and cold ray is equal to the retrievers hit points, which is on average 45 when uninjured, but could be as high as 80. The fourth ray just turns people to stone instantly. Unsurprisingly, all characters of 5th level or lower have to make a saving throw or flee in panic at the sight of a retriever. I don’t quite now how XP in 1st edition are assigned, but 5,000 is a lot. Oh yeah, and sometimes demons use them to ride into battle. Continue reading

Some of the worst design choices in RPG history

I’ve been talking with some people on the Giant in the Playground Forum for the last week about design choices in RPGs that ended up causing a lot of trouble in the long run. Simply making and adding a bad rule to a game is one thing, that happens all the time, even to the best game designers that are out there. But sometimes there are ideas that turn out to be not simply bad or not working, but have actually been sources of lots of problems for years to come.

Obviously, a lot of it is personal oppinion, especially when it comes to ranking them in order. But I think with these examples here, few people would dispute that they did end up causing a lot of trouble, regardless of whether the original idea was actually terrible or not:

11: Magic solves everything (Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder): Ranked very low because it only affects one game and it’s spin-offs, but it’s a pretty big problem in those. the magic system of the 3rd edition of D&D is quite similar to the one in earlier editions, but with several important differences. The time it takes to cast a spell is generally lower, spellcasters have a very easy time in getting out of reach of any enemies (see grid combat), and even when they get hit, they have a good chance to successfully cast their spell anyway. Then you got spells that can instantly kill if the target fails a single saving throw, but in 3rd edition the chance to fail a saving throw is much higher than it was in earlier editions. Oh yes, and generally, spellcasters get a lot more spells they can cast every day. That already makes magic extremely powerful, but perhaps even worse is that there are really no limitations for what a magic spell can do. Given that the game has over 700 prestige classes and 1000 feats (and that’s just the official ones published by WotC), there are most likely thousands of spells out there, and they can do absolutely everything. And sometimes, some genius thinks it would be a great idea to make a spell that does something that normally requires a special ability from another class. Like opening a lock, detecting a trap, and so on. In the older editions of D&D that was less of a problem because spellcasters had really few spells and were expected to go a long time without recharging them. But 3rd edition not only has more spells per day, it also has the option to buy or make scrolls and wands for a pretty cheap price. Do you really want to have “knock” (opens locks) prepared two times each day even though you have so few slots to prepare spells and you might not even get to use them? Probably not, so why not buy a magic wand that allows you to cast knock 50 times, any time you need it. All this combined just completely broke the whole game. Continue reading

Fantasy Safari: Fiend Folio (AD&D 1st Edition), Part 4

Githyanki

Githyanki

Githzerai

Githzerai

Let’s start this one with the best creatures in the whole book. The Githyanki and Githzerai. Like the Dark Creeper and Dark Stalker, they are really two variants of the same species, but instead of sharing a single culture, these two are mortal enemies. Gith have always been one of my favorite races in Dungeons & Dragons, though to be more precise, they really became the minor stars that they are in Planescape. One interesting piece of trivia about the Gith is that they were created by Charles Stross, who later got pretty famous as a writer of science-fiction. And he did it when he was 12. Lots of people have created countless of cool monsters when they were 12, but almost all of them are total garbage. This one isn’t just good, it’s actually great! Thousands of years ago, the Mind Flayers (probably the most iconic creature of D&D next to beholders) enslaved a race of humans and bred them to be perfect slaves and food. This not only changed their bodies but also their minds, and generations of living under telepathic control by the mind flayers caused them to develop a natural talent for psionc powers. Eventually a slave named Gith started a rebellion against the mind flayers and led her follwers to the astral plane, where they became known as the githyanki. To no surprise, githyanki absolutely hate mind flayers and will try to kill them at any possible opportunity. In the astral plane they live in huge castle cities floating in the void, which in the Planescape setting are build on and inside the gargantuan petrified bodies of dead gods. They are evil and warlike and lead by an extremely powerful lich queen. Any githyanki who get too powerful (around 11th level) get killed by the queen to ensure nobody will be able to compete and stand against her. To make things worse, the githyanki also made a pact with red dragons. When githyanki come to the material plane, they use red dragons as mounts that can carry whole war bands. Yeah, a huge red dragon comes into town and as it lands a gang of space pirates with psionic powers jump from it’s back. Have fun. The githzerai resemble the githyanki in many ways, but have made their home in Limbo, the plane of pure Chaos. The two races have been at war with each other for a very long time, but as presented here, no reason is given for their hatred. They are not fond of mind flayers, but do not have the same unlimited hatred for them as the githyanki. This was later changed in Planescape, where the one thing that can stop githyanki and githzerai from fighting is the appearance of mind flayers, which they will both attack instantly. And then go back to fighting each other if any survived. Even though they are chaotic neutral, the githzerai have monks instead of death knights, as the githyanki do. I just love these guys. They are very much out of place in more “generic” D&D settings, but in Planescape they are just wonderful. Congratulations, Little Charlie. You did very good.

Gorbel

Gorbel

Next up is the Gorbel, which is another case of classic D&D weirdness. It’s a globe of rubbery material with six eye stalks and two claws. The gorbel uses the claws to grab a persons back and then deals damage each round by digging them deeper in the body. A gorbel can only be removed by killing it, which causes it to explode, dealing 1d4 points of damage. Their armor is quite decent, but becomes extremely low once they got hold of someone. I mostly like the art of this one. The gorbel looks more freaked out than the guy he’s attacking.

Now we have the Gorilla Bear. Which is exactly like any other gorilla, but it has claws. Take a shot?

Grell

Grell

The Grell is another floating head with tentacles. Early D&D got a lot of these. The main body looks like a giant brain with no eyes but a beaked mouth like a squid, and it has several tentacles on its underside which it uses as arms. The tentacles do only very little damage but are poisonous and cause creatures to become paralyzed. They are just as smart as humans and like to hide in the shadows under the ceiling to attack from above. I recently learned that these are not in fact a truly original creature of D&D, but a blantant rippoff from a 1934 novel called Legions of Space. Later editions of D&D expanded on the background and behavior of the grell, giving them powerful wizards as leaders. Continue reading

Fantasy Safari: Fiend Folio (AD&D 1st Edition), Part 3

Enveloper

Enveloper

The Enveloper is some kind of gooey creature that has the ability to absorb people it killed and gain its abilities and knowledge. Which each new victim it simply adds its abilities to those it already has and gets tougher and stronger. It may look like the Michelin Man, but otherwise has more similarities with The Thing. It doesn’t seem to be able to change its appearance to that of a person it absorbed, though.

Ettercap

Ettercap

Ettercaps are primitive humanoids with a poisonous bite and the ability to create webs like spiders. They use the substance as building material for all kinds of traps. Their nature also makes them go along well with spiders. Ettercaps did show up in all following editions of D&D, as far as I am aware, later on becoming quite spider-like themselves, but there isn’t anything of that in this original version. The bug eyes started in AD&D 2nd edition and this aspect was build up increasingly ever since.

Eye of Fear and Flame

Eye of Fear and Flame

The Eye of Fear and Flame is another skeleton wrapped in a robe and stalks the underworld to do evil deeds to lawful characters. No real reason why, but it just does. In it’s natural state, the face is hidden inside the hood by supernatural darkness, but if anyone tries to resist its commands, it will remove its hood, revealing its bare skull with two gems as eyes. One red and one black. The red eye can cast a fireball spell every three rounds. And the black eye, you guessed it, casts a fear spell. Trying to cast spells to blind it at the creature will simply reflect them at the person who cast them. It can’t really fight in other ways and when it’s starting to lose it will try to escape to the ethereal plane, though that takes it two rounds to do so, which can be quite plenty of time to destroy it. At 12 hit dice and armor class 2, it’s pretty tough, though. This is another creature that sounds like it was really cool when it was originally used by the person who created it, but without knowing that story, it seems a bit random. And I guess the name is pretty cool, too. Continue reading

Fantasy Safari: Fiend Folio (AD&D 1st Edition), Part 2

Yes, it’s been a while. Quite a while.

But I recently got a couple of monster books I want to share with people, and instead of going straight to those, I first want to complet this run of the Fiend Folio.

So, here we go, picking up where we last left:

ff_cifal

Cifal

The Cifal is a form of “colonial insect-formed artificial life”. Yeah, this one pretty certainly is one of the submissions to White Dwarf magazine. It’s a swarm of insects that has combined into a single humanoid form. When damaged, the creature will burst apart and transform into a swarm of flying insects which do not attack, but reassemble into a new form after a short time. By hitting it quickly it can immediately be dispersed again, but with every round it regenerates 2 hit points. Repeating that process long enough will eventually kill it, as it can’t regenerate indefinitly, but it seems a much better idea to try to kill the swarm with fireballs or something like that.

ff_coffercorpse

Coffer Corpse

The Coffer Corpse looks like a zombie and is always found in some kind of coffin. If the coffin is opened, it will immediately wake up and try to strange the person who opened the lid and will not let go until destroyed. If it takes 6 points of damage in a single round, it collapses as if dead, but will get back up on its feet the next round (which I believe is 1 minute in this game), which causes anyone nearby to make a saving throw or flee in terror. The coffer corpse does not actually regenerate any damage, though.

ff_crabpeople

Crab People

Crab People, Crab people! Tastes like crab, talk like people! Continue reading

Historians suck at naming things

“Historians/Archeologists suck at naming things” is kind of an old joke, but when it comes to Star Wars it’s even worse. Much, much more worse. Things are certainly not helped by the fact that it’s always the same four groups fighting the same conflict over and over. But seriously, how much more terrible could writers possibly be at naming these wars?

  • Great Hyperspace War: 5,000 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith
  • Great Sith War: (also known as First Sith War) 3,996 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith and Mandalorians
  • Mandalorian Wars: 3,964 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Mandalorians
  • Jedi Civil War: (also known as Second Sith War) 3,958 BBY; Jedi vs. Sith
  • Sith Civil War: 3,956 BBY; Jedi vs. Sith vs. Sith
  • Great Galactic War: (also known as Republic-Sith War or Great War) 3,681 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith
  • Cold War: 3,653 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith
  • Galactic War: 3,642 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith and Mandalorians
  • New Sith War: (also known as Jedi-Sith War) 2,000 BBY; Jedi and Republic and Mandalorians vs. Sith
  • Mandalorian Civil War: 60 BBY; Mandalorians vs. Mandalorians
  • Clone Wars: (could be called Galactic Civil War) 22 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith and Republic
  • First Galactic Civil War: 2 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith/Empire
  • First Imperial Civil War: 4 ABY; Empire vs. Empire
  • Yuuzhan Vong War: (also known as Great War) 25 ABY; Jedi and Republic and Empire and Mandalorians vs. Yuuzhan Vong
  • Second Galactic Civil War: (also known as New Galactic Civil War) 41 ABY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith
  • Sith-Imperial War: 127 ABY; Sith vs. Empire
  • Second Imperial Civil War: 130 ABY; Sith vs. Empire vs. Jedi and Republic

Seriously! The fuck?!

Well, I guess that means we should get ready for the New Mandalorian War, the Jedi-Empire War, and the Great Republic War.

Worldbuilding for dummies. First lesson: Don’t do this!

Ancient Lands: Magic

m4s0n501

In the world of the Ancient Lands, there is only a single supernatural force at work. Life force, magic, spirits, souls; it’s all the same basic energy that is found inside and between everything. This energy is what gives living creatures their strength and make them grow and heal injuries and disease. It is also what creates the souls of mortal creatures and in places where the energies of the landscape are strong, they manifest in sentient spirits of great power.

The arts of magic are the mastery of the ability to not just call on the life energy within oneself, but to extend ones mental control to the energies around one and even inside other objects and beings. When casting a spell, a mage is sending a ripple through the energies surrounding him to manipulate the energies within creatures and objects to his desire, just as normal people control the energies within their arms and legs. Magic spells can make plants grow or move, split or shove away rocks, create lightning and set things on fire, and even take some control over other creatures thoughts. To be able to manipulate the life force and magical energies at a distance, mages needs to build up a reserve of energy separate from their own life force, which they accomplish by many years of training and meditation. Once this reserve is spend, they can no longer cast any spells until the energies are restored. People who have mastered magic, and creatures that are naturally magical, require almost no effort to regain their spend magical energy. Their energy reserve has become a natural part of their own being and during rest energies from the surrounding environment automatically move in to fill the void and restore the natural balance of energies. Compared to the amounts of energy in the natural world, even the most powerful spellcasters can store only such a small amount that there is no noticable drain of life force in the creatures and plants arround them.

Blood Magic

In the earliest days of the mortal races, the magical abilities of spirits and other magical creatures was not yet entirely understood and the earliest mages did not yet have the ability to create reserves of magical energies to power their spells. But they realized that magical energy and life force is essentially the same and in no other part of a mortal creature is its life force as strong and concentrated as in the blood. Not only could these early mages use the energy in their own blood to cast their spells, they could also use the life force of other living creatures.

When the more common forms of magic were discovered, this blood magic was soon abandoned. The storing of magical energies from the environment is not only much more effective, but also much less painful and gruesome. However, unlike many shamans and witches would like to believe, the traditions of blood mages never entirely disappeared and continued to exist in some small remote places for all the thousands of years. Pure, traditional blood mages are almost unheard of in the present age. The advantages of using the magical energies of the surrounding natural world are just too great for any mage to ignore. But there are still some advantages to blood magic, which allowed the ancient traditions to survive. By drawing the life force from their own blood, blood mages can significally extend their reserves of magical energy and even make their spells stronger and more powerful than they would usually be able to. And by using the life force of other living creatures, blood mages can have access to vast amounts of magical energy for prolonged rituals and large scale magical effects, that would take ordinary mages days or week. Because of the violent and gruesome nature of blood magic, most people regard it as savage and horrific, but contrary to common believes, blood magic itself does not have a corrupting effect on those who use it or are affected by it.

Demonic Energy and Corruption

Outside the natural world that consists of the material world and the Spiritworld exists a realm of infinite time and space that is simply called the Void. Just as there are spirits in the natural energies of the spiritworld there are also beings born from concentrations of the energies of the Void, called demons. When mages learn a way to create a connection to the Void, it allows them to draw some of its energies to their own world and use it as an additional source of magical power in addition to their own. With these energies they can create spells that can not be cast with magical energies of the natural world and it also greatly increases the number of spells they can cast before their reserves are exhausted.
However, the natural world and the Void are realms of completely different laws that are conflicting with each other and bringing energies from the Void into the natural world causes it to become warped and twisted, an effect known as corruption. The demonic energies are toxic to any living things that are affected by it. Mages who have mastered their use can learn to resist its effects and may show only very little signs of the massive exposure they recieve from many years of casting demonic spells. However the land around their homes and lairs becomes significantly affected, making these places hostile to all living things, turning them weak and sick and eventually killing them.

But corruption is not simply a drain of life force, but a warping and twisting of it, and corrupted life force is still able to support life, at least in a manner of speaking. When creatures becomes entirely corrupted but do not simply fall dead, they turn into the undead. Zombies and skeletons are corpses that have become powered by corrupted energy after their death, while those who have never really died become ghouls or wights. In rare cases, a person dies but the corrupted energies that have been part of him continues to exist as a faint afterimage of a creature known as a shadow. When the corruption has been so complete that the soul itself has become corrupted, it continues to exist even after the body has died as a wraith.