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 3”

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

Sandbox campaign logs?

While I get the general idea of dungeon crawl sandbox campaigs and use some elements of sandbox settings for my own campaign, I’ve been puzzled about how such campaigns actually look in practice. I occasionally see advice that GMs should not direct the players to anything and that any story that evolves comes entirely from the players descisions. I have a hard time imagining that, but so far never had any luck in finding actual gameplay reports of such campaigns.

This post is a kind of open call to everyone to pointers where one could maybe find campaign logs and play reports of this type of campaign. Any replies will be highly appreciated.

XP for treasure

One oddity of AD&D 1st edition that had always seemed nonsensical to me, is to give characters XP not only for defeated monsters, but also for the value of treasures they bring back with them into town. Why do that? Picking up stuff that is lying around does not make you better at fighting or casting spells. And in those games I’ve been playing the most, treasure is there to be sold so you can buy better equipment and magic items. But in campaigns of a more oldschool leaning, there frequently are no more things for sale, which you don’t already have by 2nd level. So why bother with treasure at all?

Very often, and probably most of the cases, defeating an enemy also gets you treasure. But you can also defeat an enemy and not getting any treasure (because he doesn’t have any). And you can get treasure without defeating an enemy!

That’s what makes XP for treasure relevant. Sometimes an enemy can’t be fought, or the risk is regarded as just way too high. But if you can find a way to get his treasure while avoiding him entirely, you still created a clever solution to a problem. Which is rewarded with XP. Even in a game where money has no practical use, treasure still serves as a measure of your accomplishments. When you return to town, the treasure you bring back with you is your proof for your deeds.

You can’t make the player feel the comforts the money of the PC can buy him. And it’s extremely difficult to really play out the benefits of good clothing and a fancy house. To the character, being rich has great value and benefits. And when the chracter sees a golden idol, it is luring him with expensive wine and crocodile skin boots. But since comfort does not carry over to the player, XP can serve as a substitute lure. Instead of dollar signs in the players eyes, it’s saying “XP”. What matters is the emotional response.

When the GM describes a golden idol with ruby eyes on a pedestal, the player should think “I really, really want this. I hope there’s a way to get it without getting killed.” In other games like D&D 3rd edition and later ones, the player will want to have it because it can be traded in for magic boots or enchanted armor. So there is no need to add the additional lure of XP.

Ancient Lands: Cleaning out the Bestiary

The bestiary for the Ancient Lands is taking shape nicely. Selecting the wildlife and monsters for a setting is a part of worldbuilding I find particularly interesting, but doesn’t seem to be given much attention most of the time. There seems to be a common tendency to throw in pretty much every beast and critter the creators find interesting, but personally I think that’s something that doesn’t really work well. I’ve been reading through the old AD&D monster manuals again some time ago, and those who always surprise me the most are the Forgotten Realms appendices. Those are meant to cover creatures specifc to the setting that are not covered by the regular monster books. However most of them ended up completely forgotten and never mentioned again in other books, box sets, and 3rd edition. It’s not enough to simply write up a creature, it also needs to be woven into the rest of the setting and become part of it.

Take for example Dark Sun, which has the kang, mekillot, and inix, which barely resemble any animals found on earth and have no special abilities. But they are memorable because they have a very important role. They are the horses and camels of the setting, which are used by everyone who is sane enough to not try crossing the desert on foot. Eberron has such unique creatures as the quori and the warforged, which could easily be dismissed as silly ideas, but are among the best known features of the setting because they play an important role in the world. Dinosaurs are implied to be existing in some remote regions in almost all D&D settings, but only in Eberron is their presence really acknowledged. By having a race of deinonychus riding halfling barbarians!

Quality goes over quantity, and I vastly prefer the approach of not adding anything to a setting unless it is relevant in some way.

Continue reading “Ancient Lands: Cleaning out the Bestiary”

How about not saving the world?

End of the World plots are popular because they are easy. Characters don’t need any personalty or background to save the world. Everyone wants to live and the end of the world is the one situation from which nobody can simply walk away. It’s the absolutely lowest common denominator, there isn’t anything more basic in storytelling than that.

If you want a different kind of threat, then the characters need to have something they want to protect. Bob the chaotic neutral human thief does not value anything but his life. Why should he care and not just run away?

Continue reading “How about not saving the world?”

An alternative way to track character wealth

Coins in RPGs have always been something that seemed more like an annoyance to me than something that makes playing the game more fun. Sure, finding treasure and buying better equipment is often one of the most enjoyable parts of an adventure, but all the accounting that goes into keeping track of all your coins is right at the opposite end of the entertainment-scale. In many games, most mundane pieces of equipment have prieces that are completely negible, being counted in silver or even copper coins. When you’re carrying around thousands of gold coins, buying such objects isn’t even felt in your purse. And if you’re playing in a fantasy campaign in which there are no magic items for sale in stores, you can easily have the best weapons and armor that money can buy by third level. You have more money than you could ever spend on most mundane expenses like food, lodgings, and clothing. It is very tempting to simply tell the player not to bother with substracting the 2 silver pieces and 7 copper pieces they just spend. I’m also no fan of pure dungeon crawling, and the hunting for treasure isn’t a priority in my games. It’s something that happens more by accident at the side while the PCs are fighting their way through a place to find a person of item of special significance.

However, I am also a fan of the Sword & Sorcery genre and a big part of it is heroes being completely broke at regular intervals, being forced to get by with barely anything more but the shirts on their backs and having to climb back up towards fame and especially fortune. Especially in some OSR games, you also have some focus on hiring mercenaries and raising small armies of followers, who all need to be equiped, fed, and paid. And I don’t like to just handwave such things and let the players have whatever they want.

Encumbrance is a similar annoyance with all the fiddly accounting involved, and I’ve adopted the simplified Encumbrance system from Pencils and Papers, which has been working out really well for us so far. So I’ve come up with a similiar idea to simplify the tracking of character wealth:

Under this system, players do ignore any costs that are negible, but what constitutes a negible amount of money depends on the amount of money the character currently has in his coinpurse.

  • Platinum Class: A character who has more than 100 pp worth of coins (1,000 gp) tracks his money in platinum pieces. Any item or service that costs less than 1 pp (10 gp) is not substracted from the characters wealth.
  • Gold Class: A character who has more than 100 gp worth of coins tracks his money in gold pieces. Any item or service that costs less than 1 gp is not substracted from the characters wealth.
  • Silver Class: A character who has more than 100 sp worth of coins (10 gp) tracks his money in silver pieces. Any item or service that costs less than 1 sp is not substracted from the characters wealth.
  • Copper Class: A character who has less than 100 sp worth of coins (10 gp) tracks his money in copper pieces. Any prices the character pays is substracted from his wealth.

It’s up to the GM to judge when a purchase is considered to be a single item or the character bought something in bulk. While a character in the platinum class might buy a shield worth 5 gp and not substract the amount from his wealth, buying 100 such shields (500 gp/50 pp) to equip his guards would be a single purchase that does get substracted. Similarly, a single roll of linen cloth wouldn’t count as treasure for the same character, but a whole wagon load of linen could still be sold and add to his wealth. If something is bought or paid for on a regular basis, I think a smart way to handle it would be to check how much it costs the character per month. In Pathfinder, the daily wage for an untrained hireling is 1 sp. So a character of the platinum class could have three such servants in his home, and since their wages total up to only 90 sp (9 gp), it would still be negible and not be included in his expenses. Another important thing to note is, that there can be a difference between the wealth a character has stashed in a vault at his home or is carrying in a coinpurse while on adventure. A character could easily have piles of gold stored in his home, but when his coinpurse gets stolen, he may have to pawn some trinkets just to get back to silver class until he returns home. And when you’re really low on money, finding cheap ways to get a place for the night is getting interesting again. Being a high ranking officer and having to sleep in a barn would be an indignity that greatly enhances the game. (Really, indignities are the best driving force behind great roleplaying. There’s only two ways to hurt a player: Stealing their money and hurting their pride.)

The Dead and the Dying

I was playing God of War again, which has lots of great bosses and ridiculous amounts of violence. And it got me an idea:

In many RPGs, player characters go unconscious when they lose their last hit point, but are actually dead only once they reach -10 hp. For the sake of simplicity, this is often ignored for enemies, and once they are out of hit points, they are simply dead for all intents and purposes. However, to add a little more gritt to my campaign, I plan to adopt a rule that any enemy brought to exactly 0 hp is not outright dead, but severely enough wounded to go down and lose the ability to fight, move, or even make any loud shouts. So at the end of a fight, there’s a certain chance that two or three of the defeated enemies are still not quite dead and semi-conscious. It’s then up to the players to finish off the dying, ask them a few last questions, use magic healing or treat their wounds so they will survive, or just leave them behind to die.

In Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea and probably most OSR games, a Trauma Survival check might be appropriate for enemies who are left to die, but the chace for that (default 75%) seems much too high. I probably go with an Extraordinary Feat of Constitution in AS&SH, which would only be 4% for most enemies, and maybe 8 or 16% for the tougher ones. Of course, if an enemy should survive, the GM would be pretty much obliged to have that NPC appear again later on in the campaign.

I can very much see why such a rule doesn’t appear in most RPGs, though I would kind of expect to see it in Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I’m usually not a fan of gore, but I think in this case some additional appaling consequences of violence can go quite a long way to reinforce the feeling of Sword & Sorcery, and also is a great opportunity for players to flesh out the peculiar personalties of their characters.

Hey, look at this: Making a character in every editon of D&D

I recently found this video series in the creators thread at the EN World forums, and I think it’s something that should really be shared around more.

Despite the title, it’s not just about creating a 1st level human fighter (as the lengths might indicate), but he also goes into detail about a good deal of other parts of the game and how they change over time. As someone who started with D&D in 1999, a lot of things on the older editions have always struck me as really weird or nonsensiscal, but they are not actually that silly when you hear them explained in context. And some are actually quite cool, once you understand what the creators had in mind. (As I frequently mention, TSR D&D was just horribly bad at explaining things to new readers.)

Magic Item: Shaman Mask

Shaman’s Masks
These masks are made from wood or bone, but sometimes more exotic materials as well. Most cover only the upper half of the wearers face or leave an open space for the mouth. They are usually painted in stark colors or decrated with feathers or leaves. These masks are used by shamans to help them communicate with spirits, as it makes them appear not quite human and separates them from the mortal world, and allows them to peer into the spiritworld and see things normally hidden from human eyes. Each mask is different in both appearance and specific abilities and the more powerful ones have often been handed down from masters to apprentices for many generations. Common abilities are:

  • Infrared Vision (as the spell).
  • Detect Magic (a limited number of uses per day or permanent).
  • Surprised by spirits only on a 1 in 6 chance.
  • +2 or +4 Willpower bonus on saving throws (replaces and does not add to the modifier from Wisdom).
  • Immunity against fear.
  • Immunity against mind reading and mind control.
  • +2 or +4 bonus on reaction rolls against spirits.
  • Observers are unable to identify the wearer of the mask and can only remember his clothing (including the appearance of the mask).
  • Wraithshape one or three times per day.
  • Permanent charm person.
  • Suggestion three times per day.