Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Dungeon Where Apes Evolved from Men?

If one were to draw a Venn diagram of people into fantasy RPG's and people into Planet of the Apes, I think there would be a pretty good overlap. Likewise, I think there is a pretty good overlap between the Planet of the Apes concept and fantasy gaming - i.e. the ape campaign.

First, let's get our stuff straight here. Planet of the Apes, the movie franchise, and Planet of the Apes, the book, are two very different animals. There are similarities to be sure, but the differences are pretty major.

The movies were part of the bleak sci-fi period that included such gems as Omega Man, Logan's Run, Soylent Green and Herbie Goes Bananas (a controversial stand on the last one, but I'm standing behind it). Here, we have mankind destroying itself with nuclear weapons, creating what one might call a "Gamma World" to coin a phrase, this being preceded by presumably genetically-modified apes staging race riots.

The book, written by Pierre Boulle, is quite different. First - it's fairly boring. One can think of it as a book in the style of Gulliver's Travels, as it's mostly a matter of social critique. In this scenario, man grew decadent, using trained apes to do his work. As the apes learned more and more, they grew dissatisfied and eventually threw man out of his own home. Apes didn't need us anymore. And humans ... they didn't fight back. They wandered into the woods, seemingly content to live as animals. Apes just took up where we left off, the difference being that while they understood our technology, they weren't very creative.

Applying either scenario to a fantasy world - some magical apocalypse or the flow fall of man into decadence and the rise of a new order - works. You have ancient ruins (a place to adventure), some semblance of civilization (a place to rest between adventures) and, most importantly for fantasy gaming, you have multiple "races" to adventure with. Imagine porting into the world of Greyhawk to discover that Ape Law has been imposed there. Sounds pretty fun.

A few notes before I begin. I'm writing these ape "races" as though they are still physically indistinguishable from normal apes - i.e. I'm not making them people in masks as in the movie franchise. Second - apes are strong. Really strong. I'm not shying away from this, so expect high strength bonuses. If you were running nothing but apes in a game, you can adjust for this higher damage output and let them advance as far as they want in various classes. If you're running these apes with other races, you'll need to limit their class advancement to some extent. I've included these class level limits below in italics.

Gorillas are the warriors of the apes; burly and brash and easily annoyed. Gorillas add +6 to their starting strength (max. 24). They modify their starting constitution by +1 and reduce their starting intelligence by 1 (max. 18, min. 3). When not using a weapon, a gorilla can make a claw or bite attack each round, scoring 1d4 points of damage. They are capable of launching into a menacing display of power that forces creatures with 0 HD or less than half the gorilla's hit dice to pass a Will saving throw or be frightened for 1d4 rounds. Gorillas are limited to 7th level, except as fighters, at which they can advance to 9th level.

The chimps are the scholars of the ape people, always curious and often chattering. Chimps add +2 to their starting strength (max. 20). They modify their starting intelligence by +1 and reduce their starting wisdom by 1 (max. 18, min. 3). Chimps have a knack for climbing sheer surfaces. In place of a weapon attack, a chimp can make a claw or bite attack that deals 1d3 points of damage. Chimps are limited to 9th level, except as magic-users, at which they can advance to 11th level.

Orangutans are the "wise old men" of the ape community, bureaucrats, clergy and leaders. Orangutans add +4 to their starting strength (max. 22). They modify their starting wisdom by +1 and reduce their starting charisma by 1 (max. 18, min. 3) due their stodginess and superior attitudes. Orangutans have a knack for climbing sheer surfaces. In place of a weapon attack, an orangutan can make a claw or bite attack that deals 1d4 points of damage. Orangutans are limited to 8th level, except as clerics, at which they can advance to 10th level.


  1. those look pretty good. curious to see how this develops.

  2. I do that, but goblins = chimps, bugbears = orangatangs, and gorillas = hobgoblins. (And orcs = neanderthals, which is why they can mate with humans. And elves are homo erectus. And ogres are this weird short lived but big species that ate people called homo antecesso). I mean, Tolkien was set like 13,000 years ago, when some of those things were perhaps still alive. Elves don't really look like homo erectus, but they are often as described as the first race created, and those were the first on Earth.

    I think the idea that apes are superstrong is somewhat incorrect, because it's simply hard to measure how strong they are, since it's not like you can ask them to benchpress stuff. The only thing that seems to get cited is a test done in the 1920s by a rather questionable fellow. Not saying that they aren't strong, just it's overstated.

  3. As the 3-18 spread (and the outliers) are based on human-centric campaign, campaigns that have no humans as "base-race" it might be better to shift the 3-18 curve to fit the base race, maybe making chimps +1 STR, Urang Utang +2 (or +1) and gorillas +4 (or +2), those (rare) human could get a -2 or -1 penalty on strength.

  4. Your average silverback gorilla is capable of breaking a 3-4 inch diameter bamboo pole with either his hands or his jaws. IIRC their jaws are capable of several hundred PSI bites. Snapping the bamboo with little effort rates as pretty strong in my book. As for the chimps look at what one chimp did to that woman. I don't know where to find the data but there is scientific data measuring the strength of primates.

    Hey John how about the Lemurs and the Baboons? No love for them?

  5. Awesome! I messed around with this idea once, too, referring to it as Dungeon of the Apes. I used B/X race=class, which to me implied a caste system, somewhat in line with India's history, with Gorillas as the noble/warrior caste, Chimps as mystics/wizards, oragutans as the spiritual leaders, and baboons as the "untouchables" (hunters, thieves, assassins, etc.)

    In this case, since apes were normative, I didn't fuss too much with strength, only giving a +1 or 2 bonus to each caste's main stat. Humans were on par with goblins/orcs.

  6. I fully endorse this post! Please continue developing this!

  7. Ooh what if you used these races with Heretic Werks Sci-Fi Sorcery spells!

  8. Excellent stuff. You may have given a world to test with B&T.

    Great minds or something like that as I wrote Ape as Class almost exactly 2 years ago. It was the same idea but on top of B/X.

  9. Very cool. You might want to look into the Eden Studios game Terra Primate. It does a lot of this.

  10. Replies
    1. Snazzy is now, and has always been, my ultimate goal. Thank you sir!

  11. I'm going ape for dungeons of the apes!


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