Ghouls

The undead are creatures who were once alive, have died, and then brought back as something else under the influence of sorcerous corruption and demonic possession. While often regarded among them by most people, ghouls are not actually undead, since even though they have become warped by the corrupting influence of sorcerous energies, they never died and in many ways continue to be what they were in life.

Ghouls are people who have been exposed to strong sorcerous energies for long durations of time. Many ghouls are the servants of powerful sorcerers or demon-possessed anathema who assisted their masters in numerous demonic rituals or haved served in their inner sanctums for many years. Others are the survivors of great sorcerous attacks or disasters that permanently poisoned their devastated towns and the surrounding land. But there are also stories of foolish explorers who got lost in the Underworld, turning into ghouls in a matter or weeks or even days as they wandered too close to demonic lairs or the remains of slain demons. But usually the transformation into ghouls is a slow and gradual one. Typically the skin becomer paler and turning grey, hair becoming thin and stringy, and eyes turning all black. Eventually their hands become claws and their teeth fangs, alongside a growing instinct to tear and bite at those who provoke their easily irritated anger. An instinct that eventually grows to start feeding on the flesh of the slain. Another side effect of people who are turning into ghouls is that they stop to age and recover even from the most grievous wounds. It is nearly unheard of for a ghoul to escape from a fight and later die from sustained injury. Often, this is the first hard proof that a person has not just been corrupted by the effects of sorcerey but turned into an actual ghoul.

Unlike what many people believe, the corruption into a ghoul does not turn a person into a mindless beast that hunts the living. This descent into savagery and madness is primarily caused by the continuing exposure to demonic corruption. The transformation into ghouls can not be reversed (though there are legends of magical springs that might have such a power), but ghouls that have managed to escape the dark places that corrupted them are often able to retain their intelligence and most of their sanity if they are able to maintain the discipline to control their bestial urges. Ghouls found in the ruins of destroyed cities or the crumbling towers of long dead sorcerers are rarely much more than wild beast that quickly attack any potential prey they think they can take down. But ghouls who are wandering the lands might be quite difficult to spot as such without taking a close up look at their faces. Traveling ghouls usually wrap themselves in cloaks and hoods, or wear masks to conceal their distorted features.

Ghoul
Armour Class 13
Hit Dice 2* (3-15 hp)
Attacks 3 claws and bites +1 (1d3 + paralysis)
or Weapon +1 (1d6+1)
Movement 40’
Saving Throws D12, W13, P14, B15, S16 (2)
Morale 9
XP 25
Number Appearing 1d6 (2d8)

Infravision: 90′.

Paralysis: For 2d4 turns (save versus paralysis). Creatures larger than giants are unaffected. After paralyzing a target, ghouls will attack others.

Undead: Immune to effects that affect living creatures (e.g. poison). Immune to mind-affecting or mind-reading spells (e.g. charm, hold, sleep).

Source

Monsters and Treasures in the B/X Dungeon

Getting to work on some dungeons for my next campaign, I want to stick as close as possible practical to what the Basic and Expert rules actually advise as guidelines to see how that really plays out in actual play. I have found that most of the moving pieces in this game are set up very deliberately to form a larger system, and not everything does what you first expect them to do coming from later games. I have learned that it’s almost always best to first pinpoint what you don’t like about the results of a mechanic before you start modifying the mechanic. It’s hard to improve something when you don’t know how it actually performs as designed, and you can easily miss out on something cool if you replace it before having it properly tested. So straight up B/X with only the TSR attack roll procedure replaced it will be for the start of the campaign.

The GM guidelines for making a dungeon in the Basic Rules recommend about 1/3 of rooms to have creatures, 1/2 of which possess treasure; 1/6 of rooms to have a trap, 1/3 of which are guarding a treasure; 1/6 of rooms with a special feature like magical effects or weird machines; and 1/3 of rooms being empty, 1/6 of which have a hidden treasure. For simplicity, lets assume here reaction rolls are made with no Charisma modifier, so half of all creatures encountered will be hostile. In practice, it’s can be considerably less.

In an 18 room dungeon, these fractions come out as nice even numbers, and it’s also a good scale for a mid-sized dungeon or level of a larger dungeon. This gives us the following lineup of rooms.

  • 3x monster with treasure
  • 3x monster
  • 1x trap with treasure
  • 2x trap
  • 3x special
  • 1x hidden treasure
  • 5x empty

Assuming the party spends 1 turn in each of the 18 rooms and 6 turns exploring and mapping the corridors, we get a total of 24 turns. After every 5 turns, the party needs to rest for one turn, which is 4 additional turns for a total of 28. There is a 1 in 6 chance for a wandering monster every 2 turns (or just 1 in 12 every turn), so we can expect 2 random encounters over those 28 turns. With the six monster rooms, that’s a total of 8 monster encounters, and rolling their reaction gives us an average of 4 fights.

(Those 4 fights cause additional wandering monster checks, which at a 1 in 6 chance produce an average of 2/3 encounters, or a 1/6 chance for another hostile creature. Small enough to ignore here.)

I think thia is quite an interesting tally for an 18 room dungeon: We can expect about 30 turns spend in the dungeon, with 4 fights, 4 nonhostile encounters, 3 traps, 3 special features, and 5 treasures. This is much less than I expected. And I love it! With a distribution of content like this, I can see how a place can feel like an old abandoned ruin. Very different from the fortified outposts that make up most dungeons I am familiar with.

Something that had never occured to me before is that 2 out of 5 treasures located in a dungeon will be in the possession of creatures that mean the party no harm. That puts the players into an interesting position. They probably won’t try to rob a group of nonhostile elves who are exploring the dungeon themselves, but what about a pair of ogers who can’t be bothered to try beating up the PCs? Players might still want to steal from them, and perhaps even kill them to prevent future attacks on travelers on the nearby road. Very interesting stuff.

The Basic Rules also recommend that about 1/4 of XP players gain in a dungeon should come from monsters, the rest from treasures. You could use the treasure tables to generate treasure hoards, but that’s something I always found too bothersome, as a dungeon full of simple insect monsters would have completely different amounts of treasures than a dungeon that is a big bandit lair. My prefered method is to tally up the XP values of all the room creatures and multiply that by 3 to get the amount of gp for all the treasure in the dungeon. (Nothing for wandering monsters, because those are supposed to be undesireable to enconter.) Then I just put the coins in the treasure hoards on the dungeon map as seems appropriate, with the arbitrarily chosen magic item added here and there. (I actually put another amount of treasure equal to the XP of the room creatures into hidden secret rooms that I don’t expect the players to find most of the time, as an additional challenge.)

Interesting stuff. I can’t wait to see how this will play out in practice.

Goblins

Goblins are one of the many peoples populating the lands of Kaendor but they are barely seen in the cities and towns of Senkand, making their homes well beyond the edges of civilization. A large number of goblin villages exists west of the mountains in the forests of Dainiva, particularly in the caves of the lower mountain slopes and foothills, but they can also be found further west in places where the dense forest blocks out most of the sun, all the way up to the great river cutting the vast woodlands into two halves. Other settlements are located beneath the rocky highlands of the Yao, and they are also said to live in the far northen lands of Venlat.

Goblins are humanoid creatures of short stature, usually standing around four foot tall but occasionally reaching up to five feet in height. They have tough hides ranging from a dusty brown to grey that helps them blending in with rocky environments as they oftn wear nothing more than loose trousers and perhaps a simple shirt in similar natural colors. While goblins have faces similar to other humanoid peoples with small noses and big black eyes, most people regard them as rather expressionless and blank. Goblins that could be considered chatty are rarely encountered, giving them a reputation for being somewhat dull, but they are no less smart than other peoples. Many Yao who have had dealings with goblins describe them as refreshingly composed and unobstrusive.

While goblins frequently come outside to the surface, they mostly do so during the evenings and at night and prefer to stick to densely forested areas as their true home is found underground. Not only are they well adapted to living in caves, they also follow ancient customs of adapting underground spaces to their own needs. As they don’t make any metal tools of their own, and bronze blades and chissels from the surface are limited, their masonry and sculpting looks very primitive to the stonework of asura and naga and even the cities of Senkand, but their constructions are often much more sophisticated than their rough looks seem to imply.

Being fully at home in caves, goblins are incredible rock climbers, and their small and thin statures allow them to move through very tight spaces with relative ease. Many caves in Kaendor, particularly below the great mountain ranges, go incredibly deep, with many of them reaching all the way down into the Underworld. While being an incredibly dangerous environment to most peoples other than goblins, the goblins themselves make frequent journeys into the greatest depths of the Earth and are familiar with many of the main passages. Explorers trying to reach caverns and ruins deep underground without goblin guides face little chance of success, or returning.

In the woodlands of Dainiva, goblins are the only people truly native to the land. The more northern reaches of the forest close to the mountains have become home to a number of Fenhail villages, but these have only appeared in the recent centuries, after the First Sorcerers were already gone. The goblins of the forest have called Dainiva their home for much longer than that, even during the time of the Asura Lords. They still possess much ancient knowledge about parts of the woodlands that no Fenhail has ever set eyes on. While few goblin villages are exactly welcoming of visitors, few are openly hostile or ambush strangers found passing through their territory. They are most likely to stay out of sight amd wait for intruders to be on their way, but some are more open to talk, even if rarely enthusiastic. Many goblin villages are very interested in bronze blades and tool, though they rarely have much to trade other than food and leather. As one is moving deeper into the forests and away from the mountains, things are further complicated by very few goblins speaking any languages other than their own.

Goblin
Armour Class 13
Hit Dice 1-1 (1-7 hp)
Attacks Weapon +0 (1d6)
Movement 30’
Saving Throws D14 W15 P16 B17 S18 (0)
Morale 7
XP 5
Number Appearing 2d4 (6d10)

Infravision: 90′.

Hate the sun: –1 to-hit in full daylight.

Goblin king and bodyguards: A 3HD king and 2d6 2HD bodyguards live in the goblin lair. The king gains a +1 bonus to damage.

Surprise: Goblins surprise characters on a 3 in 6 chance in caves and rocky surroundings.

Source

Handling Random Encounters

I created a new tag for articles named “The Yora Rules” and pinned it to the top of the page. Over the years I developed a number of small mechanics and tweaks to the B/X rules and interpretations of rules that don’t clearly spell out a specific procedure. A big reason behind many of my procedure is to reduce the mental workload on my own brain in regard to how I am personally affected by ADHD. Some of my changes might seem superflous and no more easy or faster than the default rules, but they do work often a lot better with the way my brain works, resulting in a much faster and smoother game. I still think they are more elegant in some ways and could be very useful to anyone.

Some I’ve shared here before and have gotten a quite positive reception, so I thought it might be useful to have them all in one place. Frequently I lay out my entire thought process in excessive detail, which I think might be of interesting to some, but isn’t very useful to just looking up how I do certain things or to share it with other people. A year ago I wrote about how I handle random encounters, but that one’s just a wall of text, so here is the actual mechanics in one simple bit.

Step 1 (Preparation): Roll up groups of Creatures

Consider which areas of wilderness the party will likely travel through, how many random encounters are likely to happen on the way, and which dungeon levels they will be exploring in the next game. Use the respective Wandering Monster tables to roll up the creature type and creature number for as many encounters as you expect you will need and put them in short lists for each area.

Step 2 (Preparation): Roll Surprise for the Creatures

Roll 1d6 for each creature group on the list. On a 1 or 2, mark them as being surprised when the party encounters them.

Step 3: The Players roll for Wandering Monsters

In the Wilderness: Roll a die four times per day spend in the wilderness. One for morning, noon, evening, and night. Roll a d12 for most wilderness, or a d10 or d8 for particularly densely populated areas. If the party is in a dungeon at the time of an indicated random encounter, either ignore it or have the creatures run into the camp outside with the hirelings, mounts, and pack animals.

In a Dungeon: Roll a d12 at the start of every exploration turn. (The total number of encounters will be the same as rolling a d6 every two turns, but you don’t have to remember if you rolled last turn or not.)

Causing Attention: If the party does something to draw attention to them, like causing a big fire in the wilderness or making loud noise in a dungeon (such as fighting), make an extra wandering monster check right then and there. Any creatures allerted that way will arive in the next turn or later, in addition to the regular wandering monster check every turn in a dungeon.

Something always happens on a 1: When the die roll is a 1, a random encounter happens. Tell the players that a 1 means encounter before rolling the die in the open. Or better, let a player roll the die. Show the players plain to see that you didn’t make this encounter happen at a moment in the game that you thought would be fun. You’re not making things hard for them when they are weak, or delay challenges until they are ready for them.

Step 4: Referencing the Prepared Encounter List

I am putting this here as step 4, but actually you don’t need to look at the list at this point. Because you already prepared the list in advanced, you knew the kind of creatures and number of creatures in this encounter and whether they will be surprised or aware since the previous random encounter was completed. This is the reason why I prepare this list in advance. Any time the players are talking among themselves to decide on their next step, I can put some thought on how I would use this group of creature if it is encountered in one of the two or three rooms the players might choose to explore next. I do not have to make something up on the spot right as I roll the die on the wandering monster table, which usually ends up just being “there are X number of Y standing in the middle of the room”, which is boring. Having just a minute or half to think about it without all the players staring at you waiting in anticipation to hear what they just ran into can make a big difference.

Step 5: The Players roll for Surprise

One of the players rolls a d6. On a 1 or 2, the party is surprised. (For some creatures encountered, it’s on a 1 to 3.)

If the players are not surprised but the creatures are, the players have one round to act before the creatures spot them. They can use that round to quickly retreat back around the corner they just passed or move into a nearby suitable hiding spot. If they do, the creatures remain unaware of the party until the players do something to reveal their presence.

Step 6: Roll for Distance

In the Widerness: Creatures that are not surprised spot the other group from 4d6 x 30 feet away. If both groups are surprised, they spot each other at 2d6 x 30 feet.

In a Dungeon: Creatures that are not surprised spot the other group from 2d6 x 10 feet away. If both groups are surprised, they spot each other at 1d6 x 10 feet.

Step 7: The Players make a Raction Roll

If the creatures’ attitude towards the party is not obvious because of circumstances (like mindless undead or guards searching a castle on alert), have the players make a reaction roll.

If the party has been surprised but the creatures are not, roll 2d6 for the reaction roll. (No Charisma modifiers apply.)

If the party is not surprised, one character may greet the creatures. That character rolls 2d6 plus the Charisma bonus to reaction rolls.

2: The creatures start to attack immediately.

3-5: The creatures are hostile. They threaten the party with violence to hand over their treasure, be taken prisoner, or to immediately leave the area, depending on what seems appropriate in that situation.

6-8: The creatures are uncertain and observe what the party does next. After the party has reacted in some way, the character doing the talking makes another reaction roll with a bonus or penalty depending on what was said or done.

9-11: The creatures don’t want trouble. They might ignore the party of leave the area, depending on if they seem to be a threat or not. Intelligent creatures might be cordial but not interested in further interactions beyond common pleasantries.

12+: The creatures are friendly. They might invite the party to their camp or lair, offer useful information, or propose to join forces.

Step 8: Resolve the Encounter

The encounter either ends in a fight or a conversation. (Which might result in a fight later.)

Additional Note: Surprised Parties

There is one kind of encounter situation that the B/X procedure does not enable, and that is creatures spotting the party without being noticed and following them around for a while. When the players make the wandering monster check and it rolls a 1, they know something is there. You can’t tell them “you don’t notice anything”. Also, the players are supposed to roll the reaction roll themselves where they can see it. When that 1 is rolled for wandering monsters, the encounter has to happen now.

This is one of the main reasons I don’t roll up the creatures and their number in the middle of play after a wandering monster check and prepare them in advance instead. Same for rolling their surprise.

If I know I have a creature that would stay hidden if it catches the party by surprise, and that creature will not be surprised itself, then I can spend some thought on what it will do if the party fails their own surprise roll, depending on the reaction roll:

Immediate Attack: The creature has been stalking the party for a while and decides to jump them now, getting a free round to attack before the party can react.

Hostile: The creature decides this is a good moment to confront the party. It’s positioned in a way that is most advantageous to itself and no roll for encounter distance is necessary.

Uncertain: Keep rerolling until you get a different result. The creature has been observing what the players do while it was hiding.

Avoiding Trouble: This is inconvenient since the creature can just escape without the players ever knowing it was there. I guess the best option is to let one player catch a glimpse of it before it disappears, and if the party pursues they won’t find any trail to follow.

Friendly: The creature just comes out in the open to greet the party.

Only the first two really depend on the geometry of the area they are encountered in. If the players end up not being surprised for that encounter, they will run into the creature in the middle of doing whatever it is doing. So there are really just three possible things worth considering in light of the next environment the players decide to enter.

Doppelgangers

I wanted to write this post a long time ago, but somehow I never got around to actually do it. The upload date on the image files is from over one and a half year ago. Such is the life of an AD&HD gamemaster.

I first encountered doppelgangers all the way back in my first introduction to RPGs, and really to fantasy other than The Lord of the Rings and kids TV shows, Baldur’s Gate. They are pretty prominent monsters in the last part of the game and apparently meant to play a big role in the story, but while their appearance looked really cool to me, the way they were presented was rather strange and felt quite disappointing to me even back then. They are these grey naked humanoids that can assume the appearance of other people and have at least some degree of telepathic ability to read your mind, which helps with impersonating the person convincingly. But in the game, you see people you know in the middle of a dark dungeon where they shout incoherent mad ramblings at you and then drop their disguise to charge at you with their claws. What was that all supposed to be about? There is another semi-hidden quest involving doppelgangers infiltrating a merchant company and wasting all its money in bad trades, as an attempt to help a rival merchant company to rise in power. That works better, but they still were really not subtle about it at all. And again, they drop their disguises to attack with their claws as soon as you confront them about something fishy going on.

In the 3rd edition Monster Manual, doppelgangers have one of the coolest illustrations in the book. I love all the Sam Wood illustrations in the book, but I think the Di’Terlizzi interpretation from 2nd edition still looks like a more interesing monster. But this was the first good closeup view of a doppelganger that I’ve encountered and it made me fall in love with them even back then. But even getting proper descriptions of these creatures from the 3rd and 2nd edition monster books, I still found them a bit difficult to make sense of. As described, doppelgangers are a race of humanoid creatures who have the ability to assume the form of humans and other people, and use this ability primarily to replace rich people and enjoy a life of luxury for as long as they can keep up the deception and the money doesn’t run out. Basically just being social parasites. Alternatively, they sometimes offer their services as mercenaries to spy on the enemies of their employers.

That does make some degree of sense, but I also find it really disappointing. Just look at these weird alien things with their featureless faces and blank eyes! They could be anywhere and anyone, with no way to tell how many of them there are and for how long they’ve already been in a place before their presence was discovered. And all they want to do is to eat other people’s porridge, sit on other people’s chairs, and sleep in other people’s beds? That’s so lame. These are some nightmarish horrors from that come to replace your friends and family and you might never even know it.

I always like to approach worldbuilding with the assumption that the world came into being as a product of more or less natural processes rather than the deliberate work of a creator, and that the supernatural forces at work in the world are vastly older than even the primitive ancestors of the civilized peoples inhabiting it today. Monsters existed long before people walked the earth, and any abilities that are directly targeted at humanoid victims would have evolved in these creatures alongside the mortal races. Comfy town houses for doppelgangers to infiltrate are a fairly recent new thing in mortal society, and an ancient creature perfectly adapted to infiltrate cities and palaces wouldn’t make much sense. And that raises the question of what doppelgangers would have been doing all day for the long eons in which mortals inhabited caves and roamed through the wilderness searching for food. There wouldn’t be any space for these creatures as they are commonly described and what would they use their unique ability to replace people use for instead?

There is a really simple and obvious answer to this question: To feed on the flesh of people.

The ability of doppelgangers to perfectly mimic the appearance of people, and to read the minds of people they approach to impersonate a person without acting suspiciously, is a perfect mechanism to get close to their victims and to lure them away from groups where they can kill them without being noticed. And then continue to devour them. When suspicion arises, the doppelganger can simply assume the appearance of a different person. Not only does it make it impossible for searchers to find the real murderer, it also leaves them with a false trail to the person last seen with the victim. A doppelganger that plays things careful and smart can feed on a single community for months before it becomes too dangerous and it disappears silently into the night.

The description of doppelgangers in the Basic Rules say that they assume the form of a PC and attempt to kill it, and if they can do it without being seen, they will use that PCs appearance to get close to others. That just doesn’t make any sense. If you take the appearance of your target it’s really the most straightforward way to tell it that you are some kind of shape stealing monster. This is just stupid. When you can immitate anyone, at least make an attempt at pretending to be someone trapped in a dungeon and in need of rescue. The players might not fall for it, but immitating the person you’re about to attack is literally the worst possible shape to pick.

A doppelganger as a monstrous spy or assassin hired by a villainous antagonist, perhaps even unknowingly, still is can make for really cool adventures. But it all becomes much more interesting and many times more creepier if the doppelgangers are not motivated by laziness but by the taste for human flesh.

Doppelganger
Armour Class 14
Hit Dice 4* (4 – 32 hp)
Attacks Bite +3 (1d12)
Movement 30’
Saving Throws D6 W7 P8 B8 S10 (10)
Morale 10
XP 125
Number Appearing 1d6 (1d6)

Shape stealing: Can adopt the form of any human-like creature (7’ tall or less) observed.

Trickery: Will attempt to kill a PC, retainer, or hireling, take on their role, then lure further victims away from the group.

Reversion: If killed, reverts to its original form.

Spell immunity: Unaffected by sleep and charm spells.

Source

Also, in the fantastic awesome movie The Thing, why are they always talking about “the Thing”. Clearly there are multiple of it running around, as at least two of them are seen to be killed.

Improved Rules for Foraging and Hunting

A while back I wrote about a somewhat more detailed version of the rules for foraging and hunting from the Expert Set. Forget all of that. This is better.

Foraging: When a party is travelling through an area that has a decent amount of plants growing in it that humanoids can eat, there is a 1 in 6 chance that the PCs can collect 1d6 rations of food per day by simply picking up what they spot growing next to the trail they are travelling on. If the party includes characters with special wilderness skills, they have a 2 in 6 chance to find things they can eat.

Hunting: When a party is staying at one campsite for a whole day, they can send out hunters or hunting parties to hunt for food. At the end of the day, each hunting party returns with 1d6 rations of food (1d8 if the party includes a character with special wilderness skills). While the hunters are out hunting, a wandering monsters check is made for each hunting party and for the camp.

Water: Unless otherwise specified by the GM, the party comes across sufficient sources of drinkable water each day they travel through the wilderness. No rations of water have to be consumed at the end of the day. (Assume all characters refilled the water rations they consumed during the day when they had opportunities.) Characters spending most of the day inside dungeons do not have access to sources of water unless the GM specifies otherwise, and must consome a ration of water at the end of the day.

Lack of Food: Characters who do not eat one ration of food in a day, suffer 1 hit point of damage and can not heal damage naturally without magic.

Lack of Water: Characters who do not have one ration of water in a day, suffer 1d4 hit point of damage and can not heal damage naturally without magic. After 3 days + 1 day per CON bonus, the character dies.

The idea here is that in an average wilderness environment, parties will not have much trouble keeping themselves fed by hunting, but replenishing their supply of rations will either take a considerable amount of time or require splitting the hunters up into several smaller groups. Both options mean an increased number of wandering monster encounters before the party makes it back to a town or their base. It’s a very simple mechanic but gives the players a lot of variables they have to pick, like the amount of food supplies they keep, how they pack them among their PCs, hirelings, and pack animals, at what point low supplies might be a reason to turn back, how to split the party, deciding which hirelings to send into the woods to uncertain fates or who to leave behind to guard the camp, and when it might be worth it to keep pushing ahead while starving instead of stopping to hunt. I see a huge potential for amazing unscripted adventures simply because a randomly encountered wyvern made off with the mule carrying half of the party’s food.

Extensive playtesting will be needed to dial in on the best die to roll for the amount of rations provided by hunting so that it severely inconveniences the party without getting it completely stuck and unable to continue towards their destination. But otherwise I’m really excited to give this a test run.