Wednesday, August 28, 2013

More Objects of Evil

Once again the party aboard the HMS Apollyon has taken a job on behalf of the Baatezu rail baron Malchris. The Devil is oddly happy about the partially failed mission (the characters revealed they were attacking an undead outpost on Malchris' behalf) but the selection of "boons" he offers the party members a choice from is sparse compared to his prior rewards.

Ring of the Broken Feather - A glowing gold band, hot to the touch, with its exterior worked into
the shape of a feather.  The ring imperfectly protects the wearer from the attacks and powers of celestial creatures.  Outsider Entities of the Lawful Good variety will suffer a -2 on all rolls to physically attack the wearer, and the wearer will gain a +2 to any saves against them.

Scroll of Tormented Form - Written on crackling parchment from some unknown beast, this scroll is heavily wrapped in thick braided black cord and sealed in wax marked with a sigil of Orcus. Within is the 2nd Level Magic User Spell "Tormented Form"

Tormented Form - Level 2 - Magic User Spell - Transformation/Curse
Range: Self  Casting Time: 1 Turn Duration: 3D6 Turns

By this horrid ritual the caster may transform his form into that of a sludge-like puddle of flesh temporarily.  The process is terribly painful, and the ritual involved requires an uninterrupted turn of disconcerting whispered chanting as well as the incineration of a small piece of the caster's dried skin.  After the ritual the caster will liquify, puddling with a series of vile wet sounds.

The disgusting form can crawl and ooze at a rate of 10' per round, climb almost any vertical surface, slide under most doors and through small cracks (of 1/2" or greater size) providing access to or escape from many hard to reach areas.  While in liquid form the caster can see and hear as normal, but has no mouth and cannot speak and so cannot cast spells.  The blob has sufficient manual dexterity to unlatch doors and work machinery, but lacks the strength to wield weapons, instead attacking by pummeling for 1D4 points of damage.

The transformation lasts exactly 3D6 turns, and cannot be cancelled by the caster prior to it's full duration.  When rolling duration, if three sixes are rolled the transformation will be permanent, and is irreversible without diabolic intervention or a wish spell.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


This mornings post at Tenkar's Tavern mentions the original helmet rules from early D&D. Specifically intelligent creatures supposedly swing for the head 50% of the time.  This of course begs certain questions beginning with are all metal helmets AC 3 (without shield), who can wear helmets, do humanoid monsters wear helmets and do thieves need leather (AC 7) helmets?

Really helmets must do something, they are 25 GP on the OD&D equipment list and given that price must have some utility.  Historical fact and even the slightest bit of verisimilitude calls for helmets to be important as well.  Helmets are pretty much the first piece of protective equipment people use, and the last to go as armor faded from the modern battlefield.  This last point may be why many people seem to consider helmets to be part of every suit of armor, a helmet is symbolic as armor and really the most important piece to functional protection.

Still, helmets are on the original equipment list as separate expensive items and it seems like helmets should have an important mechanical effect.  Something along the lines of a lack of helmet providing a 50% of armed attackers bypassing armor, combined with an initiative penalty due to the vision obstruction of a helmet might work.  However, system complications are always the easiest thing to add when thinking about games, and rarely worth the trouble when it comes time to play.  Additionally, given the importance in fantasy art and literature of bare header heroes and heroines with glamorous hair, it hardly seems right to seriously penalize characters who want to be dashing and not wear a helmet. Below are a few simple possibilities that might both make helmets useful but not necessary. Long ago Brendan at Untimely cataloged various approaches to helmets as well, so I've tried to hit on only the simple mechanical fixes that might be useful.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Walls and Doors - Mega Dungeon Detail on the Cheap.

Back when I was running ASE I discovered that while the room descriptions and details are very functional and describe the rooms sufficiently for the mechanical aspects of play they often lacked the sorts of details my players wanted to know.  Specifically, one of my players kept wanting to know about the walls and doors: material, age, markings, dust.  While a decent GM can usually provide this sort of thing quickly - and if it's unavailable, one must wonder how well the GM is visualizing the fantasy spaces he is creating, it becomes tricky at times, especially in a megadungeon setting where there are plenty of corridors and empty rooms.  

This could be a dungeon hallway

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tomb of the Rocketmen - AREA XIII (SAMPLE AREA)

XIII – Satellite Zeta Mu
Dim light from various instrument panels and searing unfiltered sunlight from portholes.
Sterility and ozone
Uplift of party member to Orbital God Hood or die of starvation and thirst.
Grave Goods worth 5,200 GP

When the shimmering, nausea inducing matter transportation effect wears off the party will find themselves on an extremely cold grated metal floor.  The room is a small round cornered rectangle, with a high roof that vanishes above in a mass of fluted conduits.  At the center each wall is a 7’ diameter dome made of different materials.  The Northern dome is especially notable as it is made of cut crystal, while the others are metal.  Small screens, dials, buttons and other instrumentation cover the walls between domes.  Searing natural light pours through randomly spaced porthole like windows of thick smoked and unbreakable endura glass. Looking out the windows the viewer will quickly realize that they are at the peak of a large ovoid metallic structure that appears to float amongst an ocean of stars.  A scientist or the more intelligent sort of cleric will be able to identify their location as “in orbit” likely on a “god’s star”.  Looking out all the portholes will eventually spot the world floating in the distance, its dry continents and the still glowing death wastes clearly visible.   The only other item of note in the chamber is a small pile of human bones, brittle with age and wrapped in scraps of orange cloth, that rest near the crystal dome.  The domes are as follows:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Monsters of the Boiling Depression

The Boiling Depression is an example of what happens when wizards get to warring, or maybe just when they get too powerful and start cutting corners.  Over twenty miles long, and several miles wide the region is a blasted waste of ever shifting magical pollution. Portals wink open and closed releasing all manner of things onto the sorcery ripped ground to rummage amongst the distorted and abnormal plants.  Terrestrial creatures that live within or stray too close to the depression become twisted in incomprehensible ways and even the most peaceful become things out of nightmare.  Foolhardy types who dare pass or enter the Concavity in search of otherworldly minerals, fragments of mythical beasts or lost magical trinkets often meet horrors.  Below is a list of beasts, entities and encounters that live withing this scar of wild magic.

Table of encounters below...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Death Frost Doom Review

Note this is a review of the first version of Death Frost Doom, the new rewrite makes some changes for the good, adds some stuff, includes a new map and better art. Still the same adventure though.

Having just played through Death Frost Doom in the Pahvelorn Campaign, and survived rather well - of all things considered.  I went and purchased the module for the sole purpose of reviewing it (okay also wanted to see if I could steal anything for my own games).  This post thus contains a fair amount of Death Frost Doom Spoilers. 

Death Frost Doom has assumed a sort of iconic status in “OSR” gaming, and I can see why this is.  It has both a very classic old school dungeon crawl feel, with some lovely set pieces (especially early in the module), and is completely willing to main and kill characters with relatively little warning.  On the other hand there is something new in the module, representing a 'renaissance' perhaps. Death Frost Doom is clearly not a product of the traditional D&D mentality, found in most early TSR works, that sees the game as having war-game like goals: kill/foil monsters, collect treasure and advance characters.  A great deal of Death Frost Doom is spent with lavish attention on atmosphere and its structure is less a series of challenges and more an unfolding horror story.  It’s this second part, the focus on atmospherics and novel sorts of adventure beyond the now trite dungeon-crawl experience that make Death Frost Doom noteworthy.  Despite Death Frost Doom mostly involving a delve into an ancient tomb, many traditional D&D experiences are lacking – no wandering monsters, no secret traps (all traps telegraph their existence in interesting ways that make the players want to mess with them) and no boss monster to defeat.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Umber Hulks - Five Variations

Umber Hulk Classic
The Umber Hulk has been one of those D&D monsters (like the Bullette and Owlbear) that is the game's own creation and goes back forever (Greyhawk in 1975).  I don't think it's a product of the infamous bag of plastic monsters that produced the Rust Monster, Owlbear and Bullette but it's from the same era and just as weird.

As a game mechanic the Umber Hulk is a fun enough monster, a big brutal armored thing that has plenty of attacks.  In addition, hulks have their confusing gaze that makes entering melee with them more difficult.  As monsters they works something like the Owlbear and Shambling Mound - a large slow thing that tears parties apart if they fail to run or destroy the beast from a distance.  Like Shambling Mounds, Umber Hulks also enjoy attacking from ambush, but they are weaker than Shambling Mounds in terms of HP, AC and especially immunities.

New Umber Hulk
It's the umber hulk's appearance that gets weird, it's changed a bit over the years (fluctuating between beast and beetle), but always remained some kind of huge alien creature with a basically bipedal body plan, too many eyes and mandibles.   The name provides no reason for this appearance other than being big and brown. Thus, while the Hulk is a useful creature, its iconic appearance is strange enough that it doesn't work for many campaign worlds and is instantly recognizable to many players.  A giant underground bug creature that loves tunneling and has a confusing gaze doesn't really depand that much on in game explanation, but it doesn't really offer much of one either.  WOTC/TSR has suggested 1) That Umber Hulks are part of an elaborate deep underground ecosystem including purple worms 2) That Umber Hulks are some kind of slave race to mind flayers (and therefore presumably from whatever weird place those are from) 3) That Umber Hulks are from space (well Spelljammer at least).  All of these work well enough if you want a bug eyed horror from some alien world.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Mountain Comes to Efulziton the Unseen - Pahvelorn Play Report

"So the extraworldy army is destroyed, and we get a reward, well I want you to promise not to attack the other ... uh ... civilized cities.  Well no I can't see why you'd do that, and I trust you'll keep that promise?  I also want to be a knight, I mean Duke of Trolmun.  Wait, there aren't any nobles in Trolmun, but I can still have a scroll that says I'm a Duke - a patent of nobility - make it written real fancy, on good paper, with ribbons, and seals, and some illuminated letters.  On a big heavy scroll, with carved knobs, yes bone is fine.  It's not worth anything though, you're sure?  Well then I also want my weight in gold - all 136 lbs." - Beni Profane, when offered his heart's desire by the Necromancer King Efulziton the Unseen

Pron - fighter, and huge, heavily made-up, hairy child
With the last notes of the magical flute echoing in their minds, and the earth around them buckling as uncounted legions of undead clawed towards the surface from their cursed graves the adventurers of the sometimes "Order of Gavin" rushed to the surface up the deep well that had led them to the heart of the doomed mountain.  Uri the Hook, a sadistic brute of a deserter from the Zorptah town guard who possessed an inexplicably sweet singing voice had fled previously and by the time the first of the party emerged from the stone well his armored form was fleeing across the writhing graveyard in exaggerated leaps that flung snow in every direction.  Lau Taxan, Beni Profane's dour shamanistic 'spiritual advisor' was the first to emerge from the ground, his ascent aided by the power of his fecund goddess to transform his hands and feet into the clinging claws of a rat.  As Lau forced his now human feet back into his armored boots, Beni also emerged from the hole, having scurried up the side of the shaft with no rope to slow his natural agility.  The two waited, and soon Eariyara the sorceress also climbed from the hole, her childish pinched face red with exhaustion from the rapid 50' climb.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Death Saves

Of late I have adopted the Save vs. Death system for reaching zero HP, a method introduced to me Brendan in his Pahvelorn game. I've explained my reasons for elsewhere, but have been doing some further thought about it as I play higher and higher level games.

Generally the "Death Save" used is the poison save, which benefits certain classes more than others, but the poison save in Labyrinth Lord is often very easy, and becomes almost farcical when a PC levels up.  Add bonuses to this from items and potentially Constitution, and survival chances are very high.

A persistent problem in my HMS Apollyon game has been lack of lethality - and death saves as opposed to negative HP systems seem a good way to handle it.  However, at higher levels this still amounts to a game with very little risk of death - which is fine, but not in keeping with the world I am trying to create.  Below is a revised death saving throw system that adjusts things to a place that I think is more like the one I want.