Sunday, February 12, 2017

Dragon by Dragon - October 1981 (54)

Has it been that long since the last Dragon by Dragon? Time flies and time is tight, but there should always be time to travel down through that great gaming oak to the roots and ferment in the brew of our elders.

What the hell am I talking about? The bourbon is doing its job. Let's get started on issue 54 of the venerable Dragon and see what inspiration we can pull from this issue. Yeah, this will be less review and more "what's cool that we can use today".

Cool Cover

How about those angry trees on the cover by Jack Crane. How about a high level druid illusion spell:

Maddening Wood
Level: Druid 7
Area of Effect: One 6-mile hex of woodland per druid level
Duration: One season

The druid enchants a woodland with terrible phantasms. When one approaches the woods proper, the trees loom over them and seem to animate, with grotesque faces and bony claws. Creatures with fewer than 3 HD must pass a saving throw vs. fear or be frightened away. Those who are not afraid initially may plunge into the woods, but things grow worse before they get better. With each step, a save is required for creatures one additional HD higher (i.e. one step in and creatures with 4 HD must save, the next requires creatures with 5 HD to save, and so on). If a creature becomes frightened, all creatures with fewer HD must save again. As one moves deeper into the woods, the wind whips up, the owls hoot, the foliage closes in and becomes more noisome ... until one has gone 10 paces in, when the illusory magic ceases and the woods become normal once again.


Eternal Complaint Dept.

"My “lack of realism” argument is very well supported in all of the AD&D entries. By taking a close look you will find an incredibly large amount of monsters in a relatively small area, which, in most cases, has not the means to support even a few of the creatures presented."


Ruins: Rotted and Risky - but Rewarding by Arn Ashleigh Parker (R.I.P.)

Here's the first article I dug in this issue, covering ruins - the much neglected cousin to dungeons in D&D. The article contains ideas on designing ruined cities (and thus non-ruined cities), and I love the asumptions made in the article. These are fantasy cities from the mind of Mr. Parker, and they're awesome. Here's a few thoughts I enjoyed:

1. Give the players a map showing the perimeter of the ruins, with credit going to the party thief. This saves time, and doesn't give too much away.

2. Go through the map and decide which buildings are monster lairs; don't determine what the building actually is until the players investigate.

3. The table of buildings that might be in a ruin (and thus also useful for randomly determining building use in a city)


4. Random bank vault contents! (also useful in modern games, I would think)


5. "The chance for a given thief to open the lock on a bank vault is computed by multiplying the height of the vault (in stories) by 20, and subtracting that number from the thief’s normal percentage chance to open a lock. Thus, a 17th level dwarven thief with a dextereity of 17, who would have an adjusted open-locks chance of 119% for normal locks, has only a 49% chance of cracking a third-story vault, and no chance to open a vault on the sixth story, because the adjustment for the vault’s height (6x20=120) is greater than 119."

This is what made AD&D great.

6. Private residences are 1d4 stories high. 10% are unusual and were owned by ...


7. How long does it take to find a particular building:



The Righteous Robbers of Liang Shan P'o by Joseph Ravitts

Cool article with NPC stats for some bad boys of the Water Margin. They include Kung Sun Sheng ("Dragon in the Clouds"), Tai Chung ("The Magic Messenger"), Chang Shun ("White Stripe in the Waves"), Li K'uei ("The Black Whirlwind") and Shih Hsiu ("The One Who Heeds Not His Life").

This is followed up by a Giants in the Earth covering E. R. Eddison's Four Lords of Demonland.


I Want One of These


Would also be a great game - Wizard Dragon Dwarf Assassin


Beware the Jabberwock by Mark Nuiver

This one presents stats for the Jabberwock, along with a stunning piece of art. The B&T stats are:

Jabberwock

Type: Monster
Size: Huge
Hit Dice: 10 to 12
Armor Class:
Attack: 2 claws (4d4), bite (3d12 + swallow) and tail (2d12)
Movement: 20 ft.
Save: 12
Intelligence: Average
Alignment: Chaotic (NE) or Neutral (N)
No. Appearing: 1
XP/CL:

SQ-Surprised (1 in 6), darkvision 90 feet, detect vorpal blade (1 mile range)

Notes: Jabberwocks mature as do dragons. They have a fearsome gaze (creatures less than 4+1 HD; frightens; frightened creatures must pass a second save or be paralyzed with fear for 2d4 rounds). Tail attacks anyone behind the creature, with a -2 penalty to attack.



Cavern Quest by Bill Fawcett

Worth mentioning this module for AD&D, which is also a sort of quiz with a system for scoring. It's strange, but probably worth checking out, especially if you want to prove you're better at AD&D than a friend ... or foe! Each room gives you a number of options, usually preparations and actions. Based on your choices, you score points and prove your superiority over other dungeoneers. Cavern Quest could be a fun thing to run on G+ using the polling function, but it is probably too long to make it work.



Cash and Carry for Cowboys by Glenn Rahman

If you need some price lists for an Old West game, this is worth checking out. I wish I'd seen it before writing GRIT & VIGOR.



Bottle of Undead by Bruce Sears

A magic item in the Bazaar of the Bizarre. It is basically an efreet bottle that spews [01-20] a ghost, [21-35] banshee, [36-55] 1d3 spectres, [56-70] 1d2 vampires or [71-00] 1d6 wraiths.



This Makes Me Happy ...




As always, I leave you with Tramp ...


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

New Spells and a Way to Use Them

New magic-user spells - fun to create, but hard to get into a game. After all, a magic-user only has so many spells he can cram into a spellbook, and when it comes time to choose, the average magic-user is going to go for the most useful, and thus usually the most standard, spells in the game. Detect evil might be boring, but it sure is useful.

Since I was inventing a bunch of new spells yesterday, I also went to the trouble of inventing a way magic-users can actually use them. It's a highly complex set of rules ...

FIRST, A MESSAGE FROM OUR SPONSOR

NOD magazine begins its fabulous eighth year with a full hex crawl covering the crumbling empire of Nomo, a Romanesque city that has lost its emperor. As the empire slowly falls, opportunity for adventures abound. The hex crawl includes three mini-dungeons and hundreds of places to visit.

Other features include:

Two old school classes, the Centurion and Dervish, as well as ideas for anti-classes designed to foil fighters, magic-users and thieves.

Rules for playing poker in GRIT & VIGOR, as well as a gambler sub-class

A host of new "eye monsters" for Blood & Treasure and other OSR games

Plus some ideas on votive orders and on introducing the most horrific concept into fantasy gaming ever conceived ... Taxes!

AND NOW, BACK TO OUR STORIES

... that are actually not complex at all, and very simple. I call it Quasi-Spell Research

With an hour's meditation, a magic-user can prepare any magic-user spell permitted by the Referee. The magic-user must have an open "spell slot" for the spell to do this. Once a spell has been prepared in this way, it can never be prepared with quasi-spell research again. It can, at some point, be learned and added to the magic-user's spell book in the normal way, but not using this method. The magic-user also cannot use quasi-spell research to acquire a spell for making a magic item - she cannot use it to scribe a scroll, brew a potion, etc.

Since we have a rules lite way of accessing all sorts of new spells, how about a few new spells?

Black Sun (Necromancy)
Level: Anti-Cleric 3, Magic-User 3
Area of Effect: 120′ radius
Duration: 1 minute per level

Sunlight in the area of effect becomes gray and wan. It does not harm creatures normally harmed by sunlight, such as vampires.

Fantastic Transformation (Transmutation)
Level: Magic-User 9
Range: Touch
Duration: 10 minutes

This spell requires three subjects plus the caster. All four participants must be holding hands. Upon casting the spell, a bolt of cosmic energy erupts from the spell caster’s hands and travels through the subjects. When it ceases, all four participants in the spell are transformed. The subject with the highest strength score gains the benefit of the stoneskin spell. The subject with the highest dexterity score gains the benefit of the fire shield spell. The subject with the highest wisdom gains the benefits of the improved invisibility spell. The subject with the highest intelligence score takes in the properties of an ooze. If one subject qualifies for more than one of these transformations, they choose which one they want, and the runner-up then takes on one of the other transformations. All transformations last for 10 minutes and then cease.

Freak Out (Illusion)
Level: Magic-User 5
Range: 30′
Duration: See text

You may target all creatures within 30 feet of you with waves of psychedelic weirdness. Creature with 0 to 4 HD are confused for 1 minute. Creatures with 5 to 9 HD begin dancing around like crazy beatniks for 4 rounds and are fatigued for 10 minutes. Creatures with 10 or more HD are stunned for 1 round while they ponder the cosmos, man (and engines that run on water, man - water!), and then fatigued for 10 minutes from the heavy thinking.

Light Fantastic (Evocation)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: See text
Duration: 1 hour

A beam of light departs the magic-user’s fingertip and proceeds in a direction chosen, bouncing off of solid objects as it goes generally in the direction determined by the caster. The light beam extends for a maximum of 90′ and lasts for one hour, suspended in the area cast. Any creature stepping through this beam of light must pass a saving throw or fall prone on the floor, having tripped (over) the light fantastic.

Melt (Transmutation)
Level: Magic-User 8
Range: 90′
Duration: 10 minutes

For ten minutes, the landscape and all inanimate objects around you seem to melt and bend. They become porous and strange. Walls can be walked through with a d20 roll under a character’s Wisdom score, and creatures can walk on walls and ceilings as though they were the floor. Weapons deal only 1 point of damage (plus strength modifier), and rigid objects become flexible. Everything in the landscape changes color into a brilliant, psychedelic pallet, including living creatures. After the spell ends, all sentient creatures must pass a saving throw or be sickened for 1d6 rounds. Creatures who are sickened must also pass a save or suffer 1d6 points of Wisdom damage.

Mystic Fire of Phango (Evocation)
Level: Magic-User 4
Range: 30′
Duration: Instantaneous

The mystic fire reaches out from the spell caster’s fingertips, like hands of liquid white flame, to caress the skull of the target. The spell attempts to erase from the mind of the target their three highest level spells that are also of a level the spell caster can cast. Thus, a 7th level magic-user could erase spells no higher than 4th from a target’s mind.

If the target’s highest vulnerable spells number more than three, then each spell is nominated by the target in turn and the spell caster decides if they wish to target that spell.

For each of the three to be erased, the target can choose to release the spell from their mind, or suffer 1d6 + spell level points of damage to their synapses and retain the spell. Thus, retaining an 8th level spell would inflict 1d6+8 points of damage to the target.

Recharge (Evocation)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: Touch
Duration: Instantaneous

The magician uses their own body as a battery to recharge a wand or staff. For every point of Constitution damage or every 1d6 points of hit point damage they are willing to accept, they add 1 charge to a wand or staff.

Silky Smooth (Necromancy)
Level: Magic-User 1
Range: Touch
Duration: See below

At the magician’s touch, the victim loses all of their hair or fur, being left with silky smooth skin. Creatures without hair are unaffected.

Sinister Suspicion (Illusion)
Level: Magic-User 2
Range: 120′
Duration: 24 hours

The target of this spell scans as evil (Chaotic) to detect evil spells for 24 hours.

Sun Shower (Evocation)
Level: Cleric 3
Range: 240′
Duration: 1 round

Particles of light shower down on an area 40′ x 40′ x 40′. Creatures harmed by sunlight suffer 3d10 points of damage (no saving throw) in the affected area.

Supercharge (Evocation)
Level: Magic-User 4
Range: Touch
Duration: Instantaneous

The magician supercharges a wand. On its next use (and only its next use), the wand can expend two charges to cast its spell at either double the range, double the duration or increased damage. Damage is increased by +1 point of damage per dice of damage it normally inflicts. Thus, a three dice lightning bolt would do 3d6+3 points of damage if cast from a supercharged wand.

Transmute Skin to Tongue (Necromancy)
Level: Magic-User 7
Range: 30′
Duration: 1 hour

This bizarre curse changes a creature’s skin to the texture and color of a tongue. Their skin now tastes whatever it touches, a highly disconcerting sensation that requires a saving throw each turn to avoid becoming sickened (for sentient creatures) or frightened (for non-sentient creatures). Creatures without a skin (oozes, energy creatures) are unaffected. The affected creature’s appearance is likewise disconcerting to others, who must pass a save to avoid reacting with revulsion.

Transmute Sound to Light (Illusion)
Level: Magic-User 4
Area of Effect: 30′ radius
Duration: 1 minute

This spell converts all sound in the area of effect into light. The form of the light depends on the sound; singing, for example, might produce a lovely light show, while arguing would cast a harsh reddish light on the area.

Battles, in particular, create a vivid, violent strobe effect, with each clash of arms producing a flash of light. The effect is disorienting, and each creature in the area must pass a saving throw to avoid becoming dizzy (-1 to AC, -1 to hit, each miss in combat by 4 or more points resulting in the attacker falling prone). The dizziness ends when one leaves the area, for outside the area one hears the sounds and does not see the lights.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Shadowlord! - A Timely Review

Once upon a time, a young me and my best friend Josh played a wondrous game of universal conquest. I have no idea where Josh got the game - maybe a gift, maybe stole it from his brother's room. No idea. But it was awesome. There was this board with all these circles on it, and cards with cool pictures of people, including this one really hot chick that Josh and I both wanted on our team, and you did stuff in it and ... stuff.

That was around about 1985, and years later I had no freaking idea what game I had played and enjoyed so much, and a few searches based on my scanty memories yielded nothing.

And then, one day in 2017, I was searching games on Etsy for some inspiration and found it. Shadowlord!! There are two exclamation points there because the game has a name ending with an exclamation point. I bought the game on Etsy, it was delivered a couple weeks ago, and last night, I finally played it again, this time with wife and daughter.

So how did it go?

Still awesome. Shadowlord! is a cool strategy game, with some nice random events and a requirement to think things through. This, of course, is why I was out on my second turn after going all in on a silly gambit. I was stupid, and the rules rightfully destroyed me.

The game involves playing one of four factions led by the Fire Lord (actually a lady), Air Lord, Water Lord and Earth Lord. The board is divided into numerous "galaxies", including the "Lost Fortress" at the center of the board where resides the Shadowlord. The Shadowlord has many minions, who pop up in the galaxies and who can be used to mess with the other players. On your turn, you roll a random event (usually good for you), build spaceships, move around the board finding new allies in the galaxies to add to your faction and maneuvering to fight. I won't go deep into the mechanics - the rules take a little while to learn, but they seem sound to me and after a few goes the game is pretty easy to play. The art is cool - the game was published in 1983, and the graphics show it in a good way. The game also has a time tracker - eventually, the Shadowlord takes control of the whole universe and beats everyone if the players take too long to win the game.

The game we played ultimately came down to wife vs. daughter, and really to my daughter's quest to rescue one of her captured merchants, Svein, from one of my wife's warriors. Svein, you see, is an anthropomorphic pig, and my daughter loves pigs. Yes, it all boiled down to a galactic Pig War, which my daughter ultimately lost. It was getting late, so we didn't play things out completely to have my wife take on the Shadow Lord for control of the universe, but we had a good time.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Dig Deep

You never know what will inspire an idea, and this one came from watching an episode of Father Knows Best before driving to work. In this particular episode, good old dad tells Bud to use his charm when trying to apologize/ask out a girl. Now, Bud was already in the position of apologizing to the girl because of his so-called "charm", so the interchange got me thinking about the value of putting extra effort behind a task.

In games, we often have characters making skill or ability checks of some kind, assuming they are putting forth their best effort to accomplish the task at hand. Maybe they are ... but I suppose we've all been in the situation of "coasting" by on things we're good at, or even of not trying all that hard to do something we know we're bad at. There are times, though, when something must be done, and so we focus just a bit harder on success. In terms of Charles Schultz's Peanuts strips, it looks something like this:


That tongue sticking out means Charlie Brown is digging deep and putting all his effort into it. So, how do you do this in a game?

The simplest way is to give the players a once a session or even "once per day" chance to really focus on a task or saving throw or maybe even an attack. For attacks and saving throws, you might give a +1 bonus, while for skill and ability checks, a +2 or +10% bonus. You could also just allow a single re-roll on a failed try at something.

So - what does this extra effort cost?

Maybe nothing. I've heard some supposed experts speak on the subject of will power, forwarding the idea that we all have it, but in limited supply. This "extra effort" bonus could just be a free gift to the players.

You could also make it a trade off. Maybe putting forth extra effort involves becoming fatigued for a period of time - say an hour. You could even split mental fatigue from physical fatigue.

If the group is touchy-feely, perhaps the player has to share an episode in his or her past in which they had to dig deep to do something, or in which they goofed off and really screwed up.

If you want to get really nasty, make players spend a few XP for that extra effort - not a huge amount of XP, of course, but maybe 10 or 25.

Oh - and make the player stick their tongue out of the side of their mouth while they're rolling the dice. That I insist upon!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What are Powerful Friends For?

Answer: To get you in trouble!

Quick post today on a trope not uncommon in fantasy fiction, but which doesn't see much use in gaming (at least, not that I've seen). Allow me to paint a picture for you ...

A powerful wizard appears before a startled group of people and declares that seven of them must at once come with him on an errand of terrible importance. Seven step forward, and once they have grabbed what gear they can, they set off from their safe home and into the wilderness. With the wizard's help, they overcome their first challenge, a small army sent by the Adversary to stop them, but must then part ways with the powerful wizard and sally forth alone.

High and mid levels in the back, low levels in the front, please
You've certainly seen something like this if you've read your Tolkien, and I'm sure in other places as well. In game terms, a high level character partners with several low level characters, gets them started on an adventure, and then leaves them to their own devices.

In games, the adventurers are usually the same level (or close to it), and the accompaniment of a much more powerful NPC under the Referee's control would appear to be a colossal mistake. In fact, it would be if that powerful NPC was to follow along for an entire adventure, getting everyone out of scrapes and leaving little for them to do. As the adventure-starter, though, there are possibilities.

For one thing, the instigator, as we'll call them, can fill the players in on the background of the adventure - the whos and wheres and wherefores.

For another, their presence for the first big challenge of the game permits the Referee to make it a whopper - something epic and un-survivable without the instigator. For a long term campaign, this can be an early shot in the arm of XP for the low level adventurers, to help them on their way. More importantly, it is a way to immerse the players into the setting and the quest in a dramatic way.

Finally, when the instigator leaves, the players will find themselves in a position similar to the conquistadors of Cortes. The adventurers might not be able to turn back, and so they must go forward. The challenges they face from this point on are a bit more keyed to their abilities (though some will be deadly if they are not handled properly), but they will always remember the instigator and their first taste of dangerous adventure.
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