Saturday, February 27, 2010

Four Shrunken Heads

Last night was the third session of the 4e game I just started running.  A good portion of the session was spent getting acquainted with, cursed by and learning from the four shrunken heads the party removed from an ancient frog temple.

The first head to make its presence felt was Ghanan, who turned out to be a greedy little thing.  Vomar was examining the heads because he had felt a magical aura emanating from them.  The mouths and eyes of the heads were stitched shut and a braided coil hung from their sewn lips.  As Vomar tried to understand the heads one of them opened its eyes and looked at the frightened bugbear cleric.  Despite the twine sewing its lips shut, the shrunken head started a furious rant that no one in the party could understand.  While this was going on the head levitated up into the air so that it was face to face with Vomar.

Vomar introduced himself and asked who the shrunken head was.  A shimmering green field of force, vaguely recognizable as a humanoid body, came into being underneath the shrunken head.  "Ghanan" it replied

Ghanan then proceeded to demonstrate a remarkable ability to communicate through the gestures of his green energy body.  Ghanan was able to convey that he demanded a sacrifice of fresh fruit be burned in his honor.  Luckily, the party was able to find some banana-like fruit to appease the head.  In return, Ghanan flashed a green beam of light from his eyes which imprinted the knowledge of how to perform two rituals into Vomar's head.  One of these rituals was comprehend languages, which Vomar performed so that he could understand the heads.

Vomar then began asking the other heads questions; two of the heads remained motionless and apparently inanimate, but one floated up and revealed its name to be Hunapa.   Hunapa started freely answering Vomar's questions, revealing that the four had been powerful sorcerers opposed to the people who worshiped the Elder Frog.  Hunapa was just beginning to relate how the four heads had been created by their enemies to form a combined focus that could communicate with the Elder Tadpole when Ghanan interjected, telling Hunapa ,

"Be quiet!  Don't tell these idiots anything!  We can get them provide sacrifices to us in return for our knowledge."

Vomar didn't like the sound of that, so he made a vaguely threatening comment that might have had something to do with tying the heads to a rock and tossing them into the river.

Hunapa angrily demanded,

"Do you know who we are, Mortal?  Do not threaten us."

Vomar really didn't like the sound of that, so he summoned his floating disc to him.  The ceramic basket that the four heads had been discovered in sat on his disc, traveling a ways behind the two rafts because it currently held a strange gem that radiated a 60' long 20' x 20' rectangle of completely impenetrable darkness. The party had found the gem in a submerged temple they had explored, but it seemed to be completely unmovable when they discovered it.  Putting the ceramic basket around it instantly broke that spell, however, because the gem clattered down into the basket.  It still emitted the column of darkness straight through the basket, but the party could move it.  When they took the gem out of the basket it instantly froze in mid-air and became unmovable again.  The party reasoned that the basket must have some kind of magic dampening effects.

As Vomar turned to grab the basket, Hunapa spat out a curse that took the form of a green spirit jaguar as it left his mouth and leaped through Vomar, leaving him stunned and incapable of actions.  The rest of the party had been watching in astonishment, completely unable to understand the heads.  When it became apparent that some sort of disagreement had led to Hunapa incapacitating Vomar, Tilia the minotaur warden and Hammer the warforged berserker ran across the boat toward the scene.  Unnoticed by the party, one of the silent heads cracked a slight grin and two invisible magical nooses caught Tilia and Hammer and yanked them up into the air, upside down, hanging by one leg.

All four heads were now angrily buzzing around over Vomar's motionless body.  Tilia desperately began talking to the heads, hoping that they could understand her.

"We won't put you in the basket!  Lets work out a mutually beneficial arrangement here.  We just rescued you from centuries of captivity in the basket!"

The heads began to calm down and Tilia and Hammer managed to free themselves from the invisible nooses.  Subsequent conversations with the heads revealed more about each head's unique personality.

Ghanan turned out to be purely motivated by greed.  He demanded, among other things, burnt offerings of honey and fatty meat.  He not only refused to answer questions without receiving some form of payment first, he loudly and rudely prevented Hunapu from answering questions that the party posed as well.

Hunapu, from what the party was able to glean over time, seemed to be a genuinely nice guy.  All the other heads seemed to be unanimous in their dislike for the unfortunate Hunapu, constantly deriding him for being soft and friendly.  The party did finally discover that Hunapu loves music, dance and art, and doing a performance in his honor would make him very happy.  Tilia sang a traditional minotaur tune and Vomar sang sections of the catechism of Kord.  Hunapu loved this and taught Vomar how to purify water and brew potions.

The third head to talk was Tlacolotl.  He demanded blood sacrifices.  He never spoke directly, but sent animal messengers to whisper in Vomar's ear. The first messenger was a flying squirrel that glided out over the river and landed on his shoulder.  Vomar caught it and sacrificed it to Tlacolotl, holding up its tiny heart.  Tlacolotl was pleased and taught Vomar how to summon an Unseen Servant and call an Animal Messenger.

The last head to talk was Xbalanque (Shi BA Lan KAY).  The other heads referred to him as the keeper of knowledge and seemed to hold him in high esteem.  He demanded that the party reveal secret knowledge to him before he would help in any way.

By the end of the session, the party had defeated a four-armed white demon ape that was turning dead miners into animated statues.  When it finally fell, Vomar ripped its heart out and discovered that its heart was a great, beating emerald of unusual clarity.  Torn between his desire for the emerald heart and his desire to help his fallen comrade Hammer, Vomar finally plunged a dagger through the emerald heart and offered it as a sacrifice to Tlacolotl.  Tlacolotl was ecstatic, and he pressured Xbalanque to restore the fallen warforged.  Xbalanque agreed, after getting Tlacolotl to say that he owed Xbalanque a favor now.  Xbalanque returned Hammer to life.

As the party gets to know the personalities and desires of the heads better, there is much they can learn from them.  The heads have their own agenda, of course, and the players have not come close to figuring it out.  While the heads are a powerful force, I rarely had them intervene in the game.  For one thing, they can only animate themselves and move around through force of will for 20 rounds a day.  They are always aware of what is going on around them, but they can only exert their force on the outside world if those 20 rounds have not been used up.

I didn't go all softie DM on Hammer, either.  I had written down Raise Dead as one of the secret rituals that Xbalanque had knowledge of.  When the party chose to sacrifice what would have turned out to be an incredibly valuable magical gemstone to Tlacolotl, this pleased him so much that he was willing to go out on a limb and really push Xbalanque to raise Hammer.  Having Tlacolotl owe Xbalanque a favor may still turn out to be a big deal down the road as well...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stonehell Dungeon Review and Interview

My review of Stonehell Dungeon just came out at the Eye of the Vortex.  Not only do I review the megadungeon, I scored an interview with author Michael Curtis in which he hints at a very interesting location in the upcoming publication that will detail the deep levels of Stonehell.  

This is just the first in what will be an ongoing series of reviews and interviews with some of the luminaries of the old school movement.  An interview with the always interesting James Raggi and review of his module Death Frost Doom will be next up in the series.

As a related side note, if any of you out there in the blogosphere reading this have a RPG product you would like me to review on the Eye of the Vortex, shoot me an email (carlgnash  AT gmail DOT com) because I would love to hear from you.  This is your chance to get reviewed in a forum that reaches beyond the dedicated folks reading and writing all the great old school blogs and taps into a much broader audience of gamers of all sorts.  

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Upcoming "Underdark" and "Martial Power 2" reviews

Today I received my review copies of new D&D 4e releases "Martial Power 2" and "Underdark".  I will be reading these and writing reviews shortly.  In particular, "Underdark" looks like an interesting take on one of D&D's staple adventure environments.  It looks like there would be a lot to use in the 4e version of the underdark even for groups using an older iteration of the rules.

Martial Power 2, on the other hand, is probably exhibit A in the hands of those who argue that D&D 4e has far too many books already.  As I have stated before (in this post and its comments), it only costs $10 for a player to download the character builder and have all the information pertaining to character advancement ever published in handbooks, power books, Dragon magazine, adventures...  That really isn't an exorbitant buy in, certainly not compared to the $20 - $30 most games require (at the cheap end) of a player who wants her own set of the rules she will be using.

I see the D&D 4e hardbacks that Wizards is producing as being aimed at the collector types who want to own every book.  Old school collector types amass collections of expensive D&D books at least as much as 4e collector types.  The casual player will really not ever need more than the $10 D&D Insider subscription fee to play and have a wealth of data at her fingertips.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Old School Rant

I spend a good portion of my week reading the many wonderful blogs produced by members of the old school renaissance.  I just discovered an amazing blog that links to the topics of almost every blog I already read.  This may be my new favorite site!  Plus the blog author has a wicked sense of humor.  Check it out:

Making Magic Items Unique in 4e

Let me say first that my least favorite thing about D&D 4e is its treatment of magic items.  That should probably be the subject of its own post - suffice it to say that I miss the unique flavor of magical items in previous editions.  I have been creating a number of low powered unique items for the 4e campaign I am running in the New World setting.  This has worked out great so far, as the items help to make the setting come to life and have also enabled some pretty cool gameplay.  Without further ado, a selection of magical items for 4e (Menga Leaves and Sinda Berries converted from the 2e supplement "The Jungles of Chult"):

Menga Leaves - These broad evergreen leaves can be identified by their yellow veins, palmate structure and sap that smells of licorice.  The dried leaf can be powdered to form a snuff, 1 ounce of which may be taken as a minor action to restore 3d8 HP (costs 1 healing surge).  Taking more than 1 ounce between extended rests  will likely result in unconsciousness - the drug makes an attack at +15 vs. Fortitude for each full ounce taken in excess of one ounce.  If this attack hits, it results in a deep, comatose slumber that lasts for 4d6 hours.  

Sinda Berries - Dark brown berries that cluster on a low-growing creeping vine that is only found along the edges of jungle clearings.  1 dozen berries may be eaten as a minor action to restore 1 healing surge.

Green Jewel Beetle - The beautiful preserved shell of this beetle may be crushed to form a powder that can be ingested as a minor action.  This grants a fly speed of 6 until the end of the encounter (or for 3d6 minutes if ingested outside of combat).

Vanilla Bean Pod:  These long, dark bean pods have a heavenly smell and subtle flavor.  As a minor action, one pod may be broken open and sniffed.  This restores the use of one expended encounter power.

Anointing Oil:  When this oil is rubbed over a naked body, it grants a +6 bonus to AC and resist fire 5, resist cold 5.  These benefits last for two encounters, and the character has to remain completely naked the entire time.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Otherworldly Fencing

This mechanic arose naturally in game the other day in my Mutant Future campaign.  The group has wandered into an alternate reality/different dimension.  They are staying in an elven castle and managed to get on the wrong side of the prince at the banquet that was thrown in the party's honor the night they arrived.  The subject of swordplay came up and the prince challenged party ladies  man James Bomb to a friendly fencing match after dinner.  Several other characters leapt  to Mr. Bombs defense, offering to take his place in the practice chamber.  Fencing with the prince after dinner proved educational indeed, as he was a dazzling swordsman.  Still, the second character to face him did manage to score a hit and win honor for the party!

These are the simple rules I use to simulate a master fencers ability to attack in flurries while parrying an opponent's strikes.


A parry is simply the forfeiture of your normal attack - this gains you the right to attack your opponent's blade if you are attacked in the following round.  The parry attempt is a normal attack roll thrown against the attacker's AC, modified by dexterity and not strength.  A success indicates that the attack was parried away harmlessly.  You have to state which opponent is going to be the recipient of your parry when you forfeit your attack roll.

Weapon Mastery

This rule is intended to replace any other weapon specialization proficiencies or feats used.  Choosing a weapon as your focus and pursuing the road toward mastering it requires dedicated practice with the weapon.
Weapon Focus:  After gaining a level of experience, if a character dedicates her training to a single weapon, weapon mastery can be attained.  The character gains one extra attack per round with the chosen weapon.  The character receives a -2 penalty to attack rolls with all other weapons.

Some follow the pursuit of perfection with a single weapon to its utmost, almost completely neglecting all other forms of combat.

Weapon Mastery:  After gaining a level of experience, a character that already has a weapon focus may seek to devote herself completely to the craft of fighting with her chosen weapon.  The character gains one extra attack per round with her chosen weapon (two extra attacks total for focus and mastery).  The character may choose to use her dexterity modifier rather than her strength modifier if the chosen weapon is light (shortsword or lighter, in general) or her constitution modifier instead of her strength modifier if the chosen weapon is heavy.  The character now receives a cumulative total of a -6 penalty to attack rolls with all other weapons.

The Master Fencer - lunge, parry, riposte!

Combining the Weapon Mastery and Parry rules, it is easy to make an effective and deadly fencer.  Three attacks a round, modified by dexterity (an otherworldly 20 in the case of the hot blooded elven prince), with the ability to sacrifice one or two attacks to parry the futile attempts of my brave Mutant Future players...  That prince was a bad-ass.  The practice duels were to "first blood", which is really a fancy name for the first person to land a damaging hit wins the duel!  The first character to face him went down in a flurry of rapier strikes, his only attempted attack beaten away effortlessly.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Collaborative World Building

A term that gets bandied around a lot while discussing RPGs is "collaborative world building".  D&D has a reputation as a game where the DM has created a world and the players get to run around in this world - in this model, the players may change the world through their actions, but they do not create the world; creation is the sole province of the DM.

One simple way to upend this model is to change how you as a DM react when the players ask questions about the world.  If a player is asking if there is a clockmaker in the town, instead of referring to your notes and saying, "no", take this as an opportunity to allow the player to share in the creation of your world.  Unless there is a damn good reason not to have a clockmaker in the town, why not say, "Why yes there is.  The old man you are asking points you in the direction of Treston the Tinkerer, who makes clocks among other strange devices."  The world just got that much richer, a new plot hook was born (maybe Treston makes clockwork automatons as well as grandfather clocks) and the player is that much more involved in the world because the things that he wants to find in the world are there.

Remember that no matter how creative and detailed your vision of the campaign world is, there is always room to open it up to include what the players want as well.

 A small example from the 4e game I DMed last Friday:  After catching a giant halibut and cleaning it on the beach, a player asked, "Is there anything in the belly of the Halibut that I just gutted?  Like a ruby?".  Rather than simply saying no outright, I gave a small (5%) chance that there would be something of value in the huge bottomfeeder.  I threw the percentile dice out where everyone could see and got a two!  Just like that, the player was rewarded for his creativity and a new plot element was born - I told him he found an uncut emerald, so now it has been established that there are emeralds in the area.  The halibut was caught in a bay that a huge river washes out into, so in all likelihood the emerald probably was washed down from the mountains in the river.  Several plot elements could be born from this moment of collaborative world building, from a prospector discovering more emeralds in the mountains, triggering a mad scramble to collect the valuable gems and possibly drawing the ire of the reclusive inhabitants of the mountain valley being dug up, to a thief attempting to steal the d30 sized uncut gem from the players.

This example also shows another trick that I like to use that makes the players feel less like the DM is minutely controlling every part of the world - the use of the dice in situations that could easily be simply decided by DM fiat.  I normally try to resolve random things in my game world by quickly stating the possible outcomes and throwing dice where the players can see.  Did someone get knocked unconscious while standing in shallow water?  Grab the d6, 1-3 she lands on her face, 4-6 she lands on her back.  Little things like this really help to shift the game away from a "the DM controls everything that happens and the players are little more than passive spectators while the DM's plot unfolds" to a "lets play this game together and have fun" model.

And that's my two copper for the day!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

First Time DMing 4e

Last night I took over the DMing reins of my weekly 4e group - our previous DM wanted to "take a vacation" so I volunteered at the 11th hour.  So there I was, 7 o'clock PM the night before the game, suddenly faced with running a game that I have only played before with less than a day to prepare.  I turned to my large RPG collection and pulled down the Jungles of Chult, a 2e adventure/supplement detailing a dinosaur filled jungle.  This made me think of a setting I had created but never got to run back in high school, so I pulled down my old D&D binders and found the relic from 1995.

The setting is basically a rip-off of the age of discovery; a "new world" has been found, ships laden with gold have been coming back from it, there is a vast amazon-like rainforest with a huge river running through it.  This makes for a great set-up for beginning a campaign because the players meet on the boat on the way over, and would have had a month or two at sea to bond and form a connection before they set foot in the new world.

In my setting, the boat the players were on was mostly filled with convict slave-laborers destined for the gold mines in the mountains.  When they arrived, the mayor of the small town of New Hope greeted them and expressed gratitude that they had arrived, as "few have been brave enough to come across the waters now that word of the White Death had spread."  This got the players attention, and they soon learned that a deadly and highly contagious fever had recently decimated the population of the settlers.  The contagion seemed to have abated, but in its aftermath there were plenty of empty houses, unused fishing boats, abandoned farmsteads, and jobs available in all sectors (guards for the gold shipments from the mines, hunters, swamp trappers, fishermen, etc.) as there were simply not enough people that had survived.

Beginning a campaign in an environment recently ravaged by disease makes it extremely easy on the PCs to do whatever they want to do - in short order, the group had secured a large abandoned townhouse, a farmstead and a fishing boat.  They bought three convict-laborers at the slave auction, including one who they had noticed on board the ship because he seemed to have established himself as the leader of the slaves.  This charismatic hob-goblin was obviously one of the better physical specimens among the lot, so the party tried to discourage the representatives of the three mines from bidding on him by subtly revealing that he was an instigator and troublemaker who was likely to lead a slave revolt.  This tactic worked, and the party was able to buy him on the cheap.  The party next freed the three grateful slaves and employed them as paid laborers on their farm, making the erstwhile leader of the slaves the foreman of the farm, a position which seemed to suit him to a tee.

I sprinkled too many plot hooks to go into detail on all of them, but here is an overview:  A city of gold in the center of the swamp, nestled in a crater with glossy black sides and guarded by snakemen; some problem in one of the mines that led to no shipments of gold for several months and the mine buying nearly all of the slaves at the auction; a crazed doctor who had disappeared into the jungle when his family died of the White Death only to appear later, claiming to have crossed the mountains and bearing strange herbs that cured the fever, stopping the epidemic (for now - he is out of the herbs...); fragments of pottery and copper disks bearing strange glyphs that turn up in the sand and in the swamp; a ring of large stone heads around the swamp, facing into its center; a rumored curse on the farmlands that has led to increasingly poor harvests; jungle demons that snatch people from the river; and rumors that as you approach the mountains, the plants in the jungle take on a life of their own and attempt to strangle intruders.

The party talked to the crazed doctor and one member joined him in drinking a mashed up brew of vines and roots that induced instantaneous vomiting followed by intense hallucinations.  While under its influence, the party member, a minotaur Warden (sort of a druid/ranger cross if you don't know 4e), examined the stone heads and realized that she could see through all of the heads and that they were arranged in a protective circle to keep something evil from leaving the swamp.  She also saw flashes of the past and incoherent glimpses of rituals being conducted in front of the stone heads.  A vision of a great serpent also visited her, entering her body through her mouth and filling her with a sense of being at one with the land.  The party then agreed to help the doctor on an expedition in a week to cross the mountains and gather more of the herbs in case another outbreak of white death happened.

The party also spent quite a bit of time taking measures designed to prevent infection from disease - they procured netting and covered the doors and windows of their town and farm house with the netting, and bought hammocks to sleep up off the ground in case the disease was spread by insects.  They also discussed the drinking water situation, deciding to boil all of their water.

One thing that really cracked me up was how ready the group was to dive into a "the Sims" type of gameplay - hours had passed, and they were setting up their farm, teaching their new hirelings the basics of crop rotation and fertilization, bartering for seed, setting up a deal to buy waste from the fish market to use as compost, patching up a boat, going fishing, and generally doing an awful lot of stuff not generally associated with D&D as a genre.  In fact, when the wife of our host called during the game, she asked him what was happening.  "Playing D&D," he said.  She told him that she meant what was happening in the game - he paused and sheepishly said, "We are farming.  And fishing."  I could hear her laughing over the phone.  One player is playing a Warforged Barbarian - more or less a robot animated by magic for those unfamiliar with 4e.  He walked along the bottom of the bay, attached by a rope to the boat above, and held a light which attracted fish, making it easy work to net a decent haul.  He also stumbled upon (literally stepped on) a giant halibut, and while it was not easy to bring down the 300 pound beast in its environment, he eventually killed it, leaving the group with hundreds of pounds of delicious white bottomfish meat.  Searching through the sand on the bottom of the bay, he also came upon two intact ceramic jugs sealed with beeswax - these turned out to be full of Agave nectar, so the group started working on recipes for smoked halibut cured with agave.  They dream of putting this delicacy on a stick and selling it at the market!  What an industrious group of adventurers!

Of course, they had also done a lot of talking with the locals and getting information in the tavern (the Engorged Serpent, with a sign in the shape of a constrictor in the aftermath of a very large meal), some of the most interesting of which was a first hand account from the two swamp trappers who had survived when they and a third, less lucky, companion had discovered the crater that contained the City of Gold.  No one else put much credence in their tale of a city with walls made of solid gold, but the party was VERY interested.  Of course, the snake-men that killed the third trapper sounded terrifying, but a city made of gold?  Very tempting...

The party also managed to get on the good side of Sayra, the beautiful red-haired representative of the Steam Pit, the mine that had been undergoing some kind of mysterious difficulty of late.  Rumor around town, which the PCs had already heard, was that an outbreak of the White Death had occurred in the mine, explaining the lapse in shipments and the need to buy over a hundred convict laborers.  Sayra vehemently denied this but was strangely reticent to reveal what was actually going on.  She eventually hired the PCs as extra guards for the boat trip back to the mines with the slaves - she reluctantly revealed that she would normally just have hired soldiers from the town but none would agree to accompany her this time, probably as a result of the rumored White Death outbreak.

During the boat ride upriver, two huge green apes began following the boats in the treetops alongside the river.  When the boats entered an area of deep, calm water, the apes began throwing large fruit pods into the water, and several enormous crocodiles erupted up, snapping at the pods.  The slaves began straining against their manacles and Clay Guido, the captain of the first boat, was hard put to keep the boat afloat.  While the party was attempting to distract the crocodiles, which were now angrily swimming at the boat after realizing that the fruit pods contained no meat, the two green apes leaped onto the boat and attempted to abduct Sayra.  A furious fight followed, and the apes revealed a propensity for biting the faces of their opponents.  They also seemed to speak some kind of foreign language and were wearing silver armbands over their biceps.  Eventually the party managed to kill the apes and hacked off their legs to throw to the crocodiles, which succeed in distracting them enough to allow the boats safe passage.

When the silver armbands were removed from the apes, they transformed before the astonished onlookers into regular human bodies.  The armbands seemed to be magical, but the party was unable to figure out all of their properties.  They did discover that the armbands would extend the lifespan of anyone who wore them, so the barbarian and the warden decided (foolishly?) to put them on.

So ended a (in my opinion) very successful session of D&D.  I think I proved to myself that despite the criticisms sometimes rained down on 4e that it is little more than a glorified board game, marching from one tactical combat to another, the right DM and group of players can make 4e every bit as much of a roleplaying heavy, discovery and exploration oriented RPG as any previous edition.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Orcish Lowlands - Sword or Blood Grass

Circular patches of strong, tall grass pop up like unexpected tufts of hair from a mole, dotting the landscape here and there with a bright green that stands in vivid contrast to the muted grays and oranges of the thornbushes and lichen.

Known as Sword or Blood Grass, this plant is endemic to the lowlands and only grows in nutrient rich areas that were fertilized by a massacre in the past.  The roots of this grass grow into the decaying bodies, converting them into soil patches in rapid order.  The roots then grow inside the bones that are left behind, secreting resins which bond with the surface of the bone to effectively petrify it.  For all intents and purposes, the skeletons upon which the newly colonized bunch of blood grass alighted will last forever.  Protected inside the bones, special bulbous water storing rhizomes form.  Air trapped between the resin coated outer and inner layers of the bones acts as an effective insulator, keeping the roots safe from the coldest winter weather.

These plants are of note to adventurers for two reasons:

First, if the petrified bones can be cracked open the rhizomes are an excellent source of fresh drinking water.

Secondly, the grass always marks the site of an ancient battlefield, and there is sometimes treasure to be found scattered among the preserved skeletons.

Roll once per turn spent searching (1d12):
1-4: 1d6 rusty spear points and 2d4 rusty arrowheads - still serviceable if fitted to hafts, but until they are sharpened, they do 1 less damage than normal.  At the DM's option, they may also have a small chance of inflicting tetanus (or a similar fantasy disease if such real life diseases do not exist)
5-6: 1d4 badly pitted and rusted longswords (the leather wrapping around the handles has long since disappeared, causing a -1 to hit until replaced due to the poor grip - the blades also do 1 less damage than normal until sanded down and sharpened)
7: 1d4 damaged suits of chainmail (1 less AC protection than normal)
8:  and 1 suit of rusty platemail (unusable until sanded down and re-oiled because the plates and joints are stuck)
9: 2d10 gold coins with a hammer embossed on the front and an anvil on the back (these coins are larger than modern gold coins and worth 2 GP each due to their weight, but may be worth more to a collector of ancient coins)
10: An emerald set into a jade ring sparkles on the finger of a skeletal arm that pokes out from underneath a tuft of grass.  The emerald is worth 65 GP, and the entire ring (which is carved in the form of a serpent with a head instead of tail; both heads have gaping jaws which the emerald rests in) is worth 200 GP for its fine craftsmanship.
11: The blade of a great battle-axe is firmly stuck inside the skull that it cleaved in two (plant resin has since glued it in place).  It is in remarkably good condition, displaying no rust or any other sign of the centuries which rotted away its haft.  The axe head has no decorations but is obviously of superior craftsmanship (it is actually the head of a battle-axe +2)
12:  A horse skeleton with a dainty boned, tall rider protrudes partway out of the ground.  The rider's boots have somehow survived in miraculous condition; the leather is still soft and supple, and the green dye has not faded one whit (these elven boots grant their wearer the ability to move completely silently across any terrain, and they will alter their shape to fit the feet of any wearer up between 3' and 12' tall).

Encounters in the Grass (a 1 on a d6 results in an encounter, check once per turn):  Animated skeletons and ghouls are common denizens of Blood Grass patches.  Ghouls hide in the clumps of grass, leaping out at unsuspecting victims that draw too close.  Skeletons are often animated by the intense magical energies that linger in the aftermath of a large battle, and if the skeleton was first coated in the resinous secretions of the grass, it gains one extra HD and an AC that is two classes better than normal.  More rarely, ghosts, specters and wraiths can be found haunting the sight of their death.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Orcish Lowlands - Giant Horned Lizard

The Giant Horned Lizard, despite its impressive appearance, is mostly insectivorous and uses its long sticky tongue to pull the large beetles and flies that swarm around the hot sulfur pools in the lowlands into its small mouth.  It is roughly the same body mass as an American Bison (buffalo) but stands taller on its long legs.

If threatened, it will aggressively respond by charging and head butting its opponent with its vicious spikes, then bludgeon with its spiked tail and attempt to finish off the unfortunate victim with a trample attack.

The Giant Horned Lizard is the favored mount of the Grey Orcs.  Only the elite soldiers of the Grey Orc hordes receive the necessary training to control the spiky mount, but those that have mastered the art can ride across the lowlands without fearing the everpresent Ochoka bushes (which bounce harmlessly off the spiky hide of the lizards).

Speed: 40' (movement: 160')
AC:17 (2)
Head Butt or Tail Swipe= 1d10+6 damage (if charging, the head butt does triple damage on an attack roll of a natural 19 or 20)
Trample= 1d12+6 damage
All at +6 to hit (or using the 7 HD monster attack chart)

It has a powerful bite but its small mouth only allows it to use this form of attack on creatures that are small (Hobbit sized, say, or smaller) - Bite: 2d8+6, and tongue has a 15' reach and can pull victims in for an automatic bite if the tongue hits (tongue attacks at +8, or an additional +2 to hit on top of the 7 HD monster chart)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Double Dice - what to do with my new Dice inside of Dice?

I recently picked up a bunch of Double Dice (dice inside of dice made by Koplow Games).  The d10 inside a d10 is great for generating a 1-100 spread with a single roll (and it works much better than those wonky d100's with the clear outer layer and a ball inside with 100 printed numbers).  But what to do with a d20 inside a d20?  Or a d12 inside a d12?

Two thoughts:

Fatility!  Stealing a cue from Mortal Kombat and EPT, if you a roll a natural 20 and the inside die is also a 20, you instantly slay whatever you are attacking.  Conversely, rolling the dreaded double 1's must have EXTREMELY dire consequences.  At bare minimum, we are talking a broken weapon.  This is your chance to get creative with the critical fumbles - with only a 1 in 400 chance of occurring, the double 1 should be epically bad.  Variant - For an even deadlier game (this is the rule from EPT), the inside die only needs to be a 19 or 20 to achieve the same result.

Exploding Damage Dice:  If you roll the maximum value on a die while throwing for damage, you also add the inside die.  This seems like a nice way to add an exploding dice rule without necessitating extra dice rolling!  This could really speed up play by increasing damage done in combat without increasing dice rolling time.  This might be really good for games like D&D 3e and 4e in which combat can take a LONG time.

Okay, I'm going to throw the die in your court now.  Can you come up with any cool uses for dice inside of dice? I have a d20, d12, d10 and d6 in this format.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Awesome Hill Orc Illustration - thanks Eli!

A great illustration of blogging synergy:  I recently posted a snippet of my old 3.5 campaign as part of my ongoing Orcish Lowlands series - the Hill Orc. This post has since inspired my friend (and Labyrinth Lord of the kick-ass Labyrinth Lord game that I am a player in) Carter (of "Carter's Cartopia") to stat up Hill Orcs for Labyrinth Lord.  His post, in turn, led Eli Arndt (of "I See Lead People", back to my original post.  He was inspired by the Hill Orcs and drew a kick ass illustration of one!  As anyone who has run into a Hill Orc would know, they wear floppy wide-brimmed hats and striped kilts and fight with wicked polearms.  Eli has captured this perfectly:

As my original illustration was of the "for the DM's eyes only" variety that I often whip out in a few seconds to remind myself of key points at a glance, I am very glad to have this much more detailed illustration of my concept.

Thanks Eli!

And thanks to Carter as well, for the Labyrinth Lord stats and the link back to my original post!

Ain't this blogging thing grand?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Thoughts on OD&D and EPT

I have been doing a little bit of prep work for my upcoming Empire of the Petal Throne campaign.  This has mostly consisted of re-familiarizing myself with the rules and setting (as presented in the boxed set, not the mountains of material that have come out since...) and assembling a vast collage of dungeon maps to use as my Jakalla underworld.  I have also been re-reading the three Little Brown Books of OD&D, and I have been waffling back and forth between using mostly OD&D rules and classes or using the rules as presented in EPT.

Those of you familiar with EPT know that it is pretty close to OD&D anyway, with an interesting skill and magic system bolted on.  My players will not be part of Tsolyani society, so I have no problem with them (as barbarians) playing the traditional OD&D classes instead of the EPT variants.  Really, I have been wrestling with the desire to write my own magic system (or just use my TruE magic system, a sort of free-form casting system that I have been working on for a while now).  This is especially true when it comes to Clerics, as I have always disliked divine magic as presented in D&D.

I have a newfound respect for the mechanical balance of OD&D after my readings of the last few days.  I really like the way that the magic user is balanced against the fighter, especially compared with B/X D&D/Labyrinth Lord/AD&D.  I particularly like that a first level magic user can have 6 (or more, with a high CON) HP, and that a fighting man is still a more effective combatant due to the easy availability of plate mail.  In Labyrinth Lord, platemail costs a LOT of money.  The average fighter probably couldn't afford platemail until at least 2d level in Labyrinth Lord (I will be comparing OD&D with Labyrinth Lord because I am playing in a Labyrinth Lord campaign).  While this may be more historically accurate, I think the assumption in OD&D is that a fighting man is a professional fighter, and should have access to the tools of his trade.  At 50 GP, platemail is within the reach of all but the poorest of fighters (3d6 x 10 starting GP in OD&D).  This makes the 1st level OD&D fighter, with his d6+1 HP and AC of 2, quite a bit more durable than all but the most dexterous of his Labyrinth Lord equivalents.  Likewise, the OD&D magic user is less likely to die from an errant scratch delivered by a mangy alley cat!

I will post more about my thoughts on the EPT ruleset and what I will do for a magic system soon.
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