Fantasy Safari: Creature Catalogue (BECMI), Part 2

Gator Man
Gator Man

A Gator Man is basically just a beefed up lizard man with the head of an aligator instead of a lzard. In actual combat, they are a lot meaner, though. Gator men stand well over 2 meters tall and at 7 Hit Dice really have a lot of hit points and good chances to hit which are well beyond what you usually get from humanoid monsters. They also swim 50% faster than human characters run, which can make them very mean ambushers. They attack with normal weapons, but these completely pale compared to their bite, which deals a massive 3d6 damage. Groups of them are usually lead by a chief, who is even bigger and meaner and has a bite that deals 4d6 damage. When encountered by low level characters, they probably simply bite their head off!

Haphaeston
Haphaeston

A Hephaeston is a giant for high level adventures. It’s 8 meters tall and has intimidating 25 Hit Dice, which should be well over 100 hit points. The skin of a hephaeston is like iron and gives him a very high armor class and can only be injured by magical weapons. It is completely immune to mind affecting magic, all spells of 1st and 2nd level, and fire. Though I think by the time a group of player characters has any chance to fight this guy, they probably wouldn’t attempt to hurt him with nonmagical weapons and low-level spells anyway. The amount of damage it can dish out is staggering. When attacking with a weapon, it deals 4d10 points of damage and it also has the option to attack with a free hand as well, which also deals impressive 3d10 points of damage. If that bitch slap from hell hits with an 18 or higher, the hephaeston grabs the character and smashes him into the ground for another 5d6 damage. This is so funny I wonder if anyone would ever make make a hephaeston fight with a shield. In addition, it also has the ability to levitate iron objects (to throw on people, I assume), make an iron object get red hot, or magically create a wall of solid iron. Fighting one of these guys really doesn’t sound fun. Or very fun, depending on how you look at it. Fortunately, hephaestons live alone.

Hutaakans
Hutaakans

The Hutaakans are probably one of the most iconic creatures of the Known World. Which means that most of you have probably never heard of them. Hutaakans are humanoids with jackal-like heads but are otherwise very similar to humans or elves. In the ancient past, they ruled over a small empire but have almost disappeard by now, with only a few groups remaining in remote mountain cities. They are not particulary strong and have no real special abilities other than being able to see in the dark and being quite sneaky. They are highly civilized and ruled by a caste of priests. Overall, they are really very similar to stereotypical elves with dog heads and priests instead of wizards. It’s mostly their place in the Known World setting that makes them popular, but as generic monster for games in other worlds there really isn’t anything remarkable about them. Continue reading “Fantasy Safari: Creature Catalogue (BECMI), Part 2”

Why clerics in D&D can use heavy armor

This is something that I always thought to be somewhat odd, and I think many of the people I played with did too. Why are clerics in D&D the third best frontline fighters? (Excluding self-buffing shananigans from 3rd edition which simply make them the very best.) Heavy armor is not something one would usually expect from a priest. Shouldn’t he be dressed in robes like a wizard? In 3rd edition, only three of the standard classes get proficiency with heavy armor, the other two being fighters and paldins. Why do clerics get it?

clericarmorI’ve been reading and dabbling in the old Basic Rules these past days, and considering the whole design paradigm of the game, I think it makes perfect sense. Clerics can fight in heavy armor not because it’s their speciality, but because there is no reason for them not to wear it. The way armor proficiency works in 3rd edition is the opposite of how it originally was. The older editions worked by a logic that all characters can do everything unless there is a reason why they could not. Wizards don’t wear any armor because it interferes with their spells, and thieves don’t wear heavy armor because it limits the mobility they need for sneaking and climbing. Cleric spells are not restriced by armor and they usually don’t try to be extra stealthy or do any fancy acrobatics. So why shouldn’t they be wearing the best protection they can get?

When later wearing armor became something that needs a speical ability to use, clerics got that ability simply because they always had been wearing heavy armor. Even though under the new logic of the game it didn’t really make any sense anymore.

Fantasy Safari: Creature Collection (BECMI), Part 1

The Creature Catalogue seems a rather strange monster book for Dungeons & Dragons at the first look. When I first saw it, it seemed even weirder than the Fiend Folio. During the 80s, there were to similar but also different games being published; one being called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the other just Dungeons & Dragons. The smaller, and less known line had no Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual, but instead came in five Box Sets named Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortal, and is now most usually called BECMI for that reason. (There is also an earlier edition called B/X, because it only had the Basic and Expert rules.) AD&D became much more popular and famous, because who would want to play a light version of a game if you can also have the hardcore rules version? Also, AD&D got Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, and later Planescape, Dark Sun, and Ravenloft. The design teams for both product lines were almost completely separated and worked independent from each other, and their games developed in quite different directions. And the split happened very early back in 1978, only four years after the very first, and very bare bones edition of D&D had been released. When D&D 3rd edition came around (which really was the 8th edition of a game called D&D and we’re now at the 12th), it was based pretty much entirely on AD&D and went on where the 2nd Edition had left off.

The monsters that were created for BECMI went almost entirely ignored when there was once again only a single line of D&D books. The aranea made a few appearances, but never got a really big presence. While the nightwalker got a really cool picture in the 3rd ed. Monster Manual, it was just so incredibly powerful that I imagine it saw only very limited use. The atach and belker were put into the MM but to my knowledge never again, and the korpu made it into the MM2 with similar popularity. When you read the Fiend Folio, there are lots of weird monsters, but also a lot of well known and familiar monsters. The Creature Catalogue is a collection of most BECMI monsters that appeared in adventure modules and other supplements up to that date and I think none of them would be recognized by anyone who never played this particular line of D&D.

Dungeons & Dragons - Creature Catalogue
Dungeons & Dragons – Creature Catalogue

Creature Catalogue for Dungeons & Dragons (BECMI) by TSR, 1986; 63 pages of monsters.

Remember the Juggernaut from the 3rd ed. MM2? Some kind of massive tank/siege-tower golem on wheels? That one is in this book too. However, old fans of the game have told me that it really only appeared in a single adventure and was never used or mentioned anywhere else. Not sure what is the greater mystery: Why they put it into the CC in the first place, or why they later thought it was one of the best things in the book that needs to go into the MM2?

Magen
Magen

The Magen (majen?) looks like an ordinary human, but is indeed a magical and alchemical creation. As magical constructs they need no sleep, food, water, or even air to survive and they do not age either. While not great thinkers, they are amazingly intelligent for constructs and can function among humans without supervision by their master without any problems. Though they are not particularly powerful creatures, at least compared to golems, this makes them extremely useful and valuable. There are four different types of magen, which each have their own unique powers. The hypnos is using a permanent charm effect which should make them absolutely perfect for spying or kidnapping. All they have to do is ask and most guards and officials will be perfectly fine with doing anything asked of them. The demos is made for combat and can use use all weapons and armor. It usually is encountered in groups up to a dozen. A caldron can stretch its limbs to lengths of 6 meters and uses them to hold victims and kill them with acid that comes from their skin. The galvan is the strongest type and can use weapons and shot three lightning bolts per day. Magen are very expensive and difficult to make, so they are quite rare. When they are killed, the magic that animates them ends and they crumble into ash with a flash of flame, which might be the first indication that the PCs are not dealing with ordinary humans at all. The first idea I got was to use them as guards in some wizards castle that the PCs are supposed to quietly sneak into and then see how far they will have made it into the catacombs before they realize that none of the guards and servants they’ve sneaked past are humans but something entirely else and unnatural. I am sure there’s a lot of other cool things that could be done with them.

Also, remember the Belker? It’s in the 3rd ed. Monster Manual. That evil cloud of smole that attacks with two clawed hands. Another really lame thing that also comes from the Creature Catalogue. Should have stayed there. Continue reading “Fantasy Safari: Creature Collection (BECMI), Part 1”

Why I love published adventures. And why I don’t use them.

I’ve recently found an old piece on Hill Cantons about an exchange with Rob Kuntz, who was among the people who working on Dungeons & Dragons in the early years. In it, Kuntz is quite outspoken against published modules, which he regards as clearly a step into the completely wrong direction which turned the game into something very different from what they had thought to be the spirit of D&D.

I have always thought that the DM’s route to any fantastic achievement in such literature was through a very personal course, most certainly inspired by reading and study or other such related matter, but not actually “implanted” or done for them.

I first thought of this as a highly negative and overly criticizing view bordering on being elitist and snobbery, even though I am not really a fan of published adventures myself. But that had me wondering how I actually have been using modules over the 15 years that I’ve been running games. I am one of those rare and elusive people who actually got into RPGs without anyone to introduce me to it and teach me how it works, and worked myself through the rules the hard way. There was an introductory scenario which I used for the first shaky steps and then tried to start a real campaign with The Sword of the Dales using the 3rd edition rules which had just been released a few weeks before. Some years later I did run City of the Spider Queen, which we thought was very cool (because we were young and stupid), and was the only time I’ve ever seen characters of 11th level or higher. But as far as I can remember, that really was it as far as running published adventures went.

However, I did use a lot of other adventures. The last game that I ran was based on Flight of the Red Raven by Paizo, using a different rulesset, being set in a homebrew setting, there was no winter and ice, I made my own dungeon, created my own encounters, the jinn was an oni, and the Red Raven was a completely different guy. But the idea why the party went to that dungeon and what situation they were encountering there, that was pretty straight up taken from Flight of the Red Raven. I started that campaign with an adaptation of The Automatic Hound and Depths of Rage from Dungeon magazine. A blend of The Disappearance of Harold the Hedge Mage and Raiders of the Black Ice was plannes for later. I also did Escape from Meenlock Prison with an earlier group, which I think that was the best game I’ve ever ran. So yeah, I do love them and get a lot of use from them.

But I think this approach actually matches very well with what Kuntz said. “Inspired by reading and study or other such related matter, but not actually “implanted” or done for them.” That the related matter was a published RPG adventure and not a novel or book doesn’t really change anything in my view. There are plenty of other published adventures I very much love. Master of the Desert Nomads, Rahasia, Night’s Dark Terror, and Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, and The Styes, to name a few. And Savage Tide has just full awesome all over it. But I never use the floorplans. I don’t use the NPC stats and I rebuild all the encounters from scratch using creatures that fit my setting and are of a difficulty that works well for the particular group of PCs I am currently playing with. Most of the time I actually use a different game edition or even an entirely different game.

So yeah, I think I am kind of in agreement with Kuntz here. Published adventures, as they are, are pretty much unusable for the kind of games that I run and I wouldn’t advice any new GM to run them out of the book. What I am getting out of them is really the description of adventuring sites, the motivation and goal of the antagonists, and the outline of their plans to achieve their goal. Everything else I can do myself, and even though I don’t consider myself a great GM, I can do it better myself. Not because the writers of published adventures are all total hacks who don’t know anything, but because only I know the level and composition of the party and the setting in which the campaign takes place. Publish adventures cannot account for this. And what I really would love to see is adventures that don’t even try. Just give me the setup, the location, and the antagonists plan. That is really the most difficult part of creating a good adventure for a group. Leave all that number stuff to me, that part is easy once you know what you’re trying to do.

Speak no Evil, see no Evil, hear no Evil, do no Evil

640px-Four_wise_monkeysReading a recent post from Bat in the Attic on the never ending topic of alignment in Dungeons & Dragons, one part did get me thinking:

What is good and evil? That is something each referee has to define. There is no right answer, my only firm recommendation is that there is answer and that it is consistent.

I had taken numerous classes on Asian philosophy and religion at university and one of the most interesting observations was that the concepts of Good, Evil, and Sin, as we are using them in European thinking and languages, don’t really apply in other parts of the world. They are frequently used in translations of Indian, Chinese, and Japanese texts, but such translations are both incorrect and misleading.

So why, instead of simply using mechanics as a rule in an RPG, not even taking the additional step and having a world in which not even the very concept of Evil exist at all? The concepts of Good and Evil assumes that there are universal rules, which can be followed or broken, and which have been put into place by some higher authority that is universally aknowledged to have the legitimacy to do so. This makes sense within Western and Islamic thought, where such a legitimized higher authority is assumed by default, even subconsciously by most people who rationally reject the notion. But in most fantasy worlds this is not the case and all you have is multipe higher powers that propose different views of morality and whose existance is universally accepted, even if most people chose to follow only the ideals of a specific deity. But without a single universal authority, you can’t have universal rules. Trying to enforce some kind of objective notion of Good and Evil seems arbitrary at best, and entirely inconsistent at worst.

Which is not to say that the majority of humans throughout human history did not have any notions of right and wrong. In Asian models of thinking you often find a related, but different concept of Beneficial and Harmful. In particular, beneficial and harmful for the pursuit of peace and harmony. Something that is harmful might not be considered evil, and some things that are good might not be beneficial. The concepts behind the monkes are of course not “see no Evil” and “hear no Evil”. The actual meaning is “do not watch harmfully, do nor listen harmfully, do not think harmfully, and do not act harmfully”. Yes, you can watch and listen harmfully. Being a spectator to bloodsports and public torture may not be Evil, as you’re not performing any evil deeds, but you still darken and corrupt your mind.

So why not have a fantasy setting in which Good and Evil do not exist. Not only not as forces, but also not even as concepts? In a roleplaying game, especially when you are running one in a homebrew setting, this is probably very hard to communicate to the players. But I think it might be a really interesting thing to attempt in my fiction writing. Most people would probably not notice it, especially in a Sword & Sorcery setting where things tend to get quite dark by default. But completely avoiding the use of the word “evil” really shouldn’t be difficult at all.

Fantasy Safari: The Theragraphica (Atlantis), Part 2

Chapter 3: Atlantis

The Apata Ori appear like the heads of giant stone statues but are in fact some kind of spirits. Usually they slumber in places near natural concentrations of magical energy but awaken when someone disturbes these magical fields. Then they fly into the air with the glow of lava coming from their angry eyes and screaming mouths. They shout in voices that sound like grating stones, but their speech is usually intelligible to almost anyone. When an Apata Ori attacks, it surrounds itself with a spinning cloud of sharp shards of bronze, which it can throw at targets up to 50 meters away and shred anything that gets too close to it. They also cast spells like a sorcerer.

A Diomekses is an atlantean horse of the finest breeding and stature, but has been corrupted by the evil god Ba’al. It often stands near roads for wanderers to come by and approach to capture it. Then ir reveals it’s maw full of sharp teeth and attempts to swallow the person in one pice. Which is obviously way too big for an ordinary horse to swallow so there has some massive jaw stretching to go on that defies ordinary physics.

The Loving Dead is one of the weirdest ideas for an undead I’ve come across. And not necessarily in a good way. It’s the corpse of a dead person that rises from its grave to seek company among the living. When it finds a target it hypnotizes it with its gaze, takes the person back to its resting place, and then suffocates it with its embrace over several hours.

The Ubuze is a tiny insect that is believed to feed on magic minerals used by the Atlanteans in their magic creations. They produce a soft blue light similar to fireflies and also small amounts of heat. Ubuze are attracked to shiny surfaces like polished metal or gems and have some means to attract more of their kind when they find any such object. Sometimes miners breed swarms of these tiny animals and release them in the night to be lead to any valuable metal deposites in the area. In the wilderness, a swarm of ubuze can be seen from miles away and is usually the sign of some valuables being exposed to the air, which of course does attract a lot of attentions from other people in the area. A swarm of ubuze might get quite annoying when adventurers try to secretly carry treasures through the wilds and make the job a lot more difficult. There once was a sorcerer who created a magc crystal that could attract any ubuze within a vast area. The swarm it attracted was so massive that their combined heat burned down an entire city before the gem got stolen and safely stored away.

Continue reading “Fantasy Safari: The Theragraphica (Atlantis), Part 2”

B/XoL: First draft (mostly) done!

My first draft for the Barbarians and Explorers of Lemuria hack for Barbarians of Lemuria is (mostly) done. You can take a look at it here.

The one part that is still missing is the section on how to deal with doors, light, thirst and hunger, and so on but I’ll be doing that in the following days. If you have any thoughts or suggestions for this hack, please share them in the comments.

It’s D&D, Jim, but not as we know it.

So these past days I’ve been looking at the old Basic and Expert rules for Dungeons & Dragons to get some clues how I can incorporate dungeon exploration and wilderness travel in a Barbarians of Lemuria game. There are rules for that in D&D 3rd edition and Pathfinder, but they seem incredibly fiddly, tedious, and just plain unfun. So I started to look further out and oldschool D&D really seems to have had a quite strong emphasis on it.

It might simply be because of the kind of stuff that personally interests me, but it always seems to me that most people who write about RPGs on their websites are people in their mid-40s to mid 50s who started with really ancient versions of D&D when they were 10 and stuck with it, while I am one generation later and only got into RPGs when I was 16 and D&D 3rd editon was released. What I have seen of dungeon crawling always seemed pretty dull and pointless, because I always demand for strong stories and roleplaying. But reading other people talking about their really oldschool adventures of dungeon crawlings, it all sounds much more exciting and fascinating. It made me want to learn more.

I had been looking at Advanced Dungeons & Dragons before, but never really got much useful out of it. I am very familiar with the AD&D 2nd edition and the D&D 3rd edition and also reasonably familiar with AD&D 1st ed. and D&D 4th ed. Now I started actually taking a lok at the Basic and Expert sets, and it all just feels very different. Familiar, but definitly different. So I went ahead to learn more about this other version of D&D, and there seems to be quite a lot more about it than I ever expected. Now obviously I don’t know even a bit about the larger history, how it was perceived at the time, who played it and how, or even how the game really feels when you actually play it. A lot of what I am going to write here will be inaccurate, misunderstood, and perhaps even flat out wrong. But I think there are probably quite a lot of people out there who don’t know anything more about Basic D&D than I did and I just feel like sharing some of those interesting things I discovered and learned over the past days. From one noob to other noobs.

Continue reading “It’s D&D, Jim, but not as we know it.”