Friday, July 27, 2018

Gygax Day

Today would have been Gary Gygax's 80th birthday. That has led some folks to unofficially declare today "Gygax Day." In honor of that, and inspired by a recent post I saw on the Dragonsfoot forum musing about what people saw as the defining characteristics of AD&D, I got to thinking about what makes an adventure feel to me like it's "in the spirit of Gary Gygax" and came up with this little list. It's not exhaustive and neither is it exclusive - not everything Gary wrote has all of these elements, and many of them are also present in material written by others, but taken in combination, the more of these elements are present in an adventure, the more quintessentially "Gygaxian" it feels to me:

  • The adventure doesn't exist in a self-contained vacuum, but is connected to a larger milieu. Opposed factions and organizations are important, both on the largest cosmic scale (the alignments are not just personality descriptors but cosmic "teams" - the gods (and demons and devils) are not abstract but real and actively, directly concerned in the affairs of mortals) but also on the more mundane scale via guilds (including those of thieves and assassins) and other organizations (the intertwined brotherhood of druids, rangers, and bards, knightly and monastic orders, etc.). The actions of the player characters need to consider and interact with all of these larger-scale factors, and will be influenced by them both positively (pledging loyalty and service in exchange for aid and support) and negatively (making long-term, recurring enemies). 
  • The overall situation of the world is, effectively, a loose strategic stalemate but the forces of cosmic evil have a small but growing advantage and if everything continues on its current trajectory will eventually win and the mortal world will be destroyed. Thus the actions of the player characters are consequential - they are the ones who are tasked with ultimately turning that tide and making a difference, and no one else (no organization of non-player characters) is going to do it in their place. Tied in to this is the fact that as-written the adventures are always hard for the PCs. In terms of pure statistical analysis they are doomed and can't rely on the dice alone to see them through to success, so it becomes incumbent upon the players to do clever things and figure out ways to change the situation in order to overcome or circumvent the inexorable math. This is the key to "good play" in Gary's conception of the game - not just making the right moves, but figuring out new moves. 
  • The characters (at least the significant ones) are cosmopolitan and sophisticated in their attitudes - not only are they comfortable among mixed races and cultures, they're also assumed to have at least some knowledge of how magic works and the nature of the multiverse. Travel to other worlds and planes is commonplace, and so is at least broad familiarity with modern-day earth (including references to "anachronistic" earth culture). The world is in "medieval drag" as far as technology and style of dress, but most attitudes (including patterns of speech) are much closer to contemporary society than to the actual historical medieval period.
  • The adventure locations themselves exist in a "de facto" state that is not limited strictly to the context of the scenario in which it is presented. While most of Gary's adventures (especially those that were run as tournaments at conventions) start with a defined "mission" explaining why the player characters have come to this particular place and what they're trying to accomplish there, the description of the location itself doesn't depend on that and could be used in a totally different context, encountered by a group on a different mission or even no mission at all - it could be stumbled upon completely at random. This makes the adventures less linear and limited, more expandable, more rational (because the contents of the locations generally make sense within their context and don't exist solely for the purpose of being "an encounter" for a group of PCs), and imparts a sense of belonging as parts of a greater whole - these aren't just challenges being placed in front of the players but are "real" locations that exist within the fantasy world and would exist whether or not the players visited them.
I could go on and on, but I think the above is a pretty good encapsulation of what I have in mind when I think of "Gygaxian spirit," apart from the obvious surface-level details (his detailed descriptions of locations and treasures, his particular Thesaurus-driven vocabulary, his focus on present-tense action rather than irrelevant history and backstory, etc.).

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

[D&D] Flanaess Cuisine

Gary Gygax loved to talk about food and drink. As anyone who participated in the online Q&A sessions with him at places like ENWorld and Dragonsfoot can attest, he would frequently veer off on tangents about those topics, which were clearly more interesting to him than the sorts of D&D rules minutia that the fans wanted to discuss. Therefore, its no surprise that he tended to include detailed descriptions of such matters in both the D&D gamebooks and his later novels - most famously in the description of the Inn of the Welcome Wench in The Village of Hommlet and in chapter 14 of his novel Saga of Old City, in which he devotes several pages to an exacting course-by-course itemization of every item shared by Gord and Gellor at the Horn and Haunch tavern in the city of Stoink. However, those are far from the only mentions of food and drink - Gene Weigel uncovered dozens more, large and small. There are so many references to food and drink in Gary's Greyhawk works that it's possible by combining them all to get a pretty detailed picture of what he imagined the typical diet of that imaginary world's inhabitants to be.

One thing that stands out immediately is that it is strictly medieval, with all "New World" foods such as potatoes, corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, chocolate, vanilla, and tobacco conspicuous by their total absence (at least in all of the references I checked). This is a bit surprising, both because Gary generally wasn't hung up on "anachronism" (and in his later years advocated moving the default technological base of D&D forward to approx. 1650 for everything except gunpowder) and furthermore because he posited a class of cosmopolitan inter-planar travelers with knowledge of other worlds, including modern-day earth, and surely could have brought back such items (similarly to how Gord purchases several bottles of 1947 Chateau Margaux Margaux from a wine merchant in Weird Way), but the consistent absence of such items can only have been deliberate. With that in mind, and aided by several Google searches, I've filled in a few blank spots in the culinary landscape based on typical European medieval cuisine.

Does any of this matter or make a difference when playing D&D? Not really - as long as you know that a "merchant's meal" costs 1 s.p. and a week's supply of rations costs 3 g.p. for "standard" or 5 g.p. for "iron" per the Players Handbook it probably doesn't affect the game to know what exactly they consist of. And yet, added detail can also make the game more immersive, and help the players to picture the imaginary world. Going into exhaustive detail on every meal the characters consume is undoubtedly overkill, and yet the bill of fare at the Inn of the Welcome Wench with its list of exotic wines and brandies is still fondly remembered almost 40 years later as the kind of detail and flavor that made Gary Gygax's version of D&D so evocative.

Breakfast: bread (loaves, rolls, muffins), gruel/porridge (semolina, groat clusters), oat cakes, herbs, berries (whortleberries ("European blueberries"), lingonberries, blackberries, black currants), jellies, honey, cream & butter; herbal tea* or small beer (There's no mention of bacon, eggs, breakfast sausages, or ham - presumably in the Flanaess such hearty breakfast fare is consumed solely by hard-laboring farmers and not by city-dwellers or travelers)

Poor fare: gruel, soups, stews ("slumgullion"), hard black bread; small beer or sour wine

Dinner/supper - common inn and tavern fare: loaves of bread, puddings, soups, stews (ragout), steak and kidney pies (hot at dinner, cold at supper), smoked meat and fish, roasted meat (pork, mutton), roasted fowl (capon), sausages, fresh fruit and nuts**, boiled eggs, cheeses, butter, honey; beer (small beer, ale, stout, milk stout), herbal tea, honey mead, wine, mulled wine

Dinner/supper - rich or elaborate fare: fresh fish (poached salmon, stuffed trout), exotic seafood (smoked eel, boiled crayfish in drawn butter, crayfish soup), roasted venison, roasted or stuffed fowl (squab, pheasant, goose), fresh greens and vegetables (mushrooms and truffles, radishes, pickles, scallions, salads), spices (pepper, saffron, ginger), rare and imported cheeses***, butter and cream, fresh fruits and berries, tarts (berry, nut, mincemeat), iced cakes; rare and imported wines and brandies****, whiskey

Travelers' fare (i.e. "standard rations"): hard sausages, dried fruit, dried fish, wheat loaves, cheese, pickled vegetables and eggs (iron rations = jerky, hard tack, hard cheese, dried nuts)

Regional variances: In Gary's works the menus are mostly the same whether the meals are being served in Stoink, Urnst, Hommlet, Veluna, or Greyhawk City. Some of that is presumably due to the characters typically dining in inns and taverns, which are likely to be more similar to each other than if they were dining in local homes (noble or peasant). Also, those locations are all centrally located along the tributaries of the Nyr Dyv, and had Gary gone into more detail on the cuisine of far-flung locales we might have seen more variety. To step outside of this "canonical" baseline, the notion of Cultural Approximations in Greyhawk suggests some fairly obvious regional specialties - waffles from the Duchy of Urnst, raclette from Perrenland, breaded veal cutlets from Veluna, haggis from Geoff and Sterich, etc.

*Tea is mildly anachronistic in comparison to the other mentioned foods (since it wasn't commonly introduced to Europe until the 17th century) but nevertheless Gary mentions it frequently, and even includes a couple of dedicated tea-houses. Characters consume a variety of different herbal teas including alder-root tea, bark tea, blackberry tea, lingonberry tea, and an unspecified "smokey-flavored tea," but never common black or green tea

**based on the list of common trees in the World of Greyhawk Guide pp. 6-7: apple, apricot, cherry, chestnut, fig, galda (Oerth-native), grapefruit, kara (Oerth-native), lemon, lime, mulberry, olive, orange, peach, pear, pine, plum, usk (Oerth-native), walnut, yarpick (Oerth-native)

***Gary describes and named several such cheeses, including smoked Okelard cheese (presumably equivalent to gouda), Kettite goat cheese, Perrenlander cheese (equivalent to Swiss), Wickler from the Yeomanry (a blue cheese), and Djekul - a creamy, smelly cheese from the land of Fruztii (presumably equivalent to something like Pont l'Eveque). Surely there are many more such cheeses in the Flanaess, making this a ripe (ha!) area for further individual development

****A wide variety of wines are named and described, giving us a pretty solid sense of the wine economy of the Flanaess. The Rhennee typically drink a harsh red wine but favor fine wine from Caporna (wherever that may be [EDIT: a town in County Urnst, on the Artonsamay River]). Likewise, the Paynim tribes drink pungent date wine, but value the wine of the Chepnoi people of the Sulhaut mountains. A strange, mildly addictive black wine comes from the Pomarj, but production of it has declined since that land was conquered by humanoids. The major wine-producing areas are Urnst (white wine and special aged brandy) and Keoland (golden wine, amber wine (served chilled), and brandy). Furyondy and Veluna produce comparatively fewer wines, but theirs are among the most celebrated - Furyondian dry white and emerald pale, and Velunan fireamber. However, the rarest and most celebrated wines of the Flanaess are produced by elves - Sunndish elves produce lilac wine, the elves of Celene a ruby wine, emerald wine (served chilled), and nectawine (made from moonberries harvested only when both moons are blue), while the elves of Ulek produce both a heady, sparkling violet wine and their unique "elixir" liqueur. Even the drow produce wine - a black wine with an earthy smell and taste like nothing else that is so strong that consuming a single gill (4 oz.) will make a human tipsy. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

AD&D Languages

Another big info-dump post. Here's a list I compiled of all the languages mentioned in the World of Greyhawk set and the various AD&D monster books (where creatures are mentioned as "having their own language"). The initial idea behind this was to come up with a more comprehensive version of the Random Language Determination table on DMG p. 102 but there ended up being so many languages to render that impractical (at least for the moment). So instead of a table I'm just presenting it as a raw list.

Human Languages:
Baklunish (spoken in Ekbir, Ket (alongside Common), Tiger Nomads, Tusmit, Ull, Wolf Nomads, and Zeif)
Flan (spoken in Geoff (alongside Common), Rovers of the Barrens, and Tenh)
Old Oeridian (spoken in Great Kingdom (including Medegia, North Province, Rel Astra, and South Province) and Ratik, generally alongside Common)
Rhennee (spoken by the Rhennee people, alongside Common)

Human Regional Dialects:
Fruz (Suloise/Flan dialect spoken by the Frost, Ice, and Snow Barbarians and in Stonefist - 40% compatible with Suloise and Flan)
Keolandish (Oeridian dialect spoken in Bissel, Gran March, Keoland, Sea Princes, the Ulek States, and the Yeomanry, often alongside Common - 60% compatible with Oeridian and Common)
Lendorian (Suloise dialect spoken alongside Common in the Spindrift Isles - 60% compatible with Suloise and Common)
Nyrondese (Oeridian dialect spoken by peasants and shopkeepers in Almor and Nyrond (alongside Common for learned people) - 60% compatible with Oeridian and Common)
Velondi (Oeridian dialect spoken by rural folk in Furyondy, Veluna, and Verbobonc - 60% compatible with Oeridian)

Archaic Human Languages:
Ancient Baklunish (ancient version of Baklunish still spoken in Plains of the Paynims (alongside Common for traders and educated folk) - 60% compatible with modern Baklunish)
Suloise (dead language now read only by scholars)

Human Foreign Languages:
High Suhfangese
Low Suhfangese

Common Non-human Languages:
Hill Giant*

Uncommon Non-human Languages:
Black Dragon*
Brass Dragon*
Copper Dragon*
White Dragon*
Fire Giant*
Stone Giant*
Water Naga*
Merrow (dialect of Ogrish)

Rare Non-human Languages:
Carnivorous Ape (rudimentary language)
Atomie (dialect of Sprite)
Blink Dog
Dark Creeper
(Dire Corby)
Blue Dragon*
Bronze Dragon*
Green Dragon*
Red Dragon*
Pan Lung/Shen Lung
Mist Dragon
Giant Eagle
Cloud Giant*
Frost Giant*
Storm Giant*
Giant Lynx
Mind Flayer
Moon Dog
Spirit Naga*
Giant Owl
(Tiger Fly)
Ice Toad
Umber Hulk

Very Rare Non-human Languages:
Gold Dragon*
Silver Dragon*
Lung Wang
T’ien Lung
Cloud Dragon
Faerie Dragon
Dragon Turtle
(Dune Stalker)
Foo Creature
Fog Giant
Mountain Giant
Greenhag (dialect of Annis)
Invisible Stalker
Lava Child
Guardian Naga*
Ogre Magian*
Svirfneblin (dialect of Gnome - 60% compatible)
Winter Wolf

Other-Planar Languages:
Common Tongue of Hades

Secret/Special Languages:
Alignment Languages (nine in total)
Ferral (Oeridian dialect now used as a secret code language among officials of the Iron League - 60% compatible with Oeridian)
Subterranean Trade Language (“Undercommon”)
Thieves Cant

I drew a distinction between Ancient Baklunish (as described in the WOG Guide p. 16) and modern Baklunish (per the table on the WOG Glossography p. 31).

The "Human Foreign Languages" were all made up by me, based on various off-map lands mentioned in Gary Gygax's Gord novels.

The "common" non-human languages are the nine listed on p. 34 of the Players Handbook plus the three additional languages (bugbear, gnome, hill giant) that have a 2% or higher occurrence on the DMG p. 102 table, which seemed like a reasonable standard. The "uncommon," "rare," and "very rare" lists are based on the monsters' Frequency (with common monsters that don't fit the above criteria included on the uncommon list).

Non-human languages with asterisks are those included in the table on DMG p. 102.

Non-human languages in parentheses are not mentioned in the books but I'm assuming based on the nature of the creatures that they probably have their own language (and note that the DMG p. 102 table includes several monster-languages that aren't mentioned in the Monster Manual: ettin, gargoyle, manticore, naga, salamander, and xorn).

The other-planar languages are mentioned in the books and are not specific to one monster; based on these it can probably be extrapolated that each Outer Plane has its own Common language (that presumably, like the modron language as described on MM2 p. 86, is related to that plane's corresponding Alignment Language(s)).

Various monster descriptions mention the ability to speak with types of animals - burrowing mammals, woodland animals, snakes, birds, fish, etc. I chose not include any of these as languages per se.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

[D&D] The World of Greyhawk's Population

In Gary Gygax's Gord the Rogue series of novels depict the city of Greyhawk as a great, teeming metropolis, comparable in scale and atmosphere to both Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar and Victorian London as depicted in the novels of Charles Dickens (combined almost certainly with touches of the real-life Depression-era Chicago of Gary's own childhood). In the novel City of Hawks he even included a schematic map of the city showing its various districts and neighborhoods, with a scale that indicated the city covers an area of about 30 square miles - roughly seven miles north to south by 4-5 miles east to west. As I've mentioned previously, Gary describes the city in a way that makes it feel really alive, from the reeking Slums to the glittering High Quarter, with many other areas in between. The city feels almost impossibly, immeasurably large, truly the center of its own self-contained universe. The depiction of the city is by far the best thing about those novels, and it seems almost impossible to me that a D&D player would come away not wanting to use it as a central location in the game (with the fact that it was never detailed in print - and no, the version TSR released post-Gary emphatically does not count! - isn't really an obstacle, precisely because the city is so bi; it can't really be mapped or fully detailed - just use the large-scale district map and at the local level do whatever you want).

And yet, when you look up the entry for Greyhawk City in the World of Greyhawk, you see it listed with a population just over 50,000 (depending on which version of the set you're looking at - it's 53,000 in the original 1980 folio, increased slightly to 58,000 in the 1983 boxed set). That is, to put it mildly, not a teeming metropolis as described in the novels. And that's not just me applying unrealistic modern standards (like it being about half the size of the mid-sized city I grew up in) - in the medieval period there were many cities in Europe and the Near East with populations of 100,000 or more. Even the random city population size table for the World of Greyhawk that Gary included in Dragon #101 generates populations of up to 96,000, which puts Greyhawk's population as just about the middle of the range. In order to plausibly feel like its portrayal in the novels (and fill up those 30-odd square miles of space) Greyhawk City needs a population of at least several hundred thousand people. That the "official" population figure doesn't actually reflect the entire population - leaving out garrisons, criminals, foreign enclaves, and other such marginal groups - isn't enough to make up the difference.

But, having decided to increase the population of Greyhawk City, that creates another issue - if Greyhawk City has a population of around half a million, then the population figures for almost everyplace else in the World of Greyhawk become too low - Greyhawk City shouldn't have a higher population than the entire Kingdom of Furyondy, or the County and Duchy of Urnst combined. Thinking about this and a couple of Google searches showed me that the anomalously low population values of the World of Greyhawk have been a point of contentious discussion in the fan community for a very long time, and in particular a lot of virtual ink was spilled on this topic a few years ago in the D&D blogosphere. So it's not just my imagination - compared to, for instance, Europe in the middle ages, the published population figures are around 5-10x lower than what would be expected, and when we consider that the Flanaess is actually quite a bit larger than continental Europe, the population density is even lower than that, with even "central" civilized regions having about 5 people per square mile (compared to anywhere from 50-100 in medieval Europe).

Those old blog-conversations (and the message-board thread where I brought this up a few weeks ago) offered some justification for those low values - from the "not everybody is counted in those figures" argument again, to various notions of the need for low populations to allow for "adventure-able" frontiers and manageable/wargame-able state-level conflicts, and the notion that in a world that includes both real magic and real monsters the population might stabilize at a low level, further afield to claims of the World of Greyhawk being a de-facto "post-apocalyptic" setting where hard-pressed pockets of civilization are under constant threat of imminent collapse and even the ostensibly-civilized areas are really little more than howling wilderness. While those arguments are all reasonable enough to allow somebody who wants to stick with the published population values to do so, they don't really do it for me. For one thing, because the World of Greyhawk isn't really depicted as a wasteland on the knife's edge of total collapse, for another because most of those arguments and justifications would still apply with a population 3-5x larger (which would still be very low compared to medieval Europe), and - selfishly - because sticking with the "by-the-book" population values doesn't address my original issue: that I want Greyhawk City to have a much larger population, but also don't want to completely throw off the implied balance of the setting. 

So, after having given all of this way too much thought (and justified - just like my change to the Oerth calendar - by noting that TSR already increased the population of many states between the 1980 folio and 1983 boxed set, thus undercutting any notion that these values should be treated as "sacred text" or that there was some secret justification behind them that we dare not second-guess), I created a big spreadsheet of the population values for the World of Greyhawk and just semi-arbitrarily increased them across the board. Most countries got their population increased by a factor of 5 over the folio value, some by a factor of 3, a few by less. For towns (population under 10,000) I generally increased their population by 20-40% (to better reflect the range given by Gary in Dragon #101), cities (population over 10,000) were mostly doubled (for the same reason), and the four free cities (Dyvers, Irongate, Rel Astra, and of course Greyhawk) were treated like countries (i.e. population increased 3-5x). Demi-human populations (and human woodland populations) were mostly doubled. The end result of all of this was an increase in total population from 12M to 40M, with Greyhawk City having a population of 265,000. That's still small compared to Victorian London (1M+) but about the same as Paris in the 1400s (i.e. as depicted in Victor Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris), which I can live with.

I uploaded the spreadsheet, in case anyone wants to see it:

Since these numbers were all derived semi-arbitrarily based on gut feeling (which I'm fairly certain is the exact same way Gary Gygax created the original numbers) I did some further spot-checking, calculating population densities for a handful of areas (states and forests) to see what the numbers looked like and how that would affect the feel of play - whether I'd inadvertently over-populated the place. The results (which I didn't save in a convenient spreadsheet) came out okay - the ostensibly-densely-populated central states having populations of 10-20,000 per 30-mile hex (i.e. about 26 per square mile), borderland-ish states (Geoff, the Iron League states, etc.) having populations around 5,000 per hex (6/sq. mi.), and woodlands around 1,000 (1.3/sq. mi.). Those latter two figures are totally workable, and even the former one is low compared to historical values for Europe (and is comparable to the present-day population density for some mostly-rural counties in northern California that feel anything but crowded). It does mean that the central states need more cities and towns than are depicted on the map alongside the already-assumed hamlets and villages, and that even in the borderland areas every "open" hex will be assumed to have 7 or 8 villages rather than 1 or 2. 

That might seem to some people like too much, but I think it's worth keeping in mind that the civilized areas, the open hexes on the map, by-and-large only matter as a backdrop. Characters are from those places, and may be in service to their rulers, and are trying to defend them from the forces of evil, and will pass through them, and may spend their between-adventures time in them, but the actual on-stage adventuring activity almost always takes place elsewhere - in the forest and hill and swamp and mountain and desert and jungle and badlands hexes that surround them - the wilderness areas that remain just as vast and sparsely-populated as they ever were. And even those adventures that do take place in the civilized lands almost by definition aren't going to be exploratory wilderness hex-crawls, but rather will center on investigations and negotiations and other such matters where, except for determining travel time from location A to location B, the map isn't even relevant.

So when traveling through open/civilized areas on the way to and from adventures we can assume that there are almost always roads and inns to spend the night in and no reason to camp outdoors except by choice (if they're outlaws, or trying to keep their presence in the area a secret, or broke), which affects the number of random encounter checks. Having sat through many boring sessions where what seemed like a routine overland trip from point A to point B got bogged down in a seemingly-endless procession of random encounter checks and by the time we got the the ostensible starting-point of the adventure we were already exhausted and ready to call it a day, I see that as a feature, not a bug :)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

[D&D] Alternate Monster Names

An often-overlooked section of the AD&D Monster Manual II is its index, which includes not only its own contents but also those of the original Monster Manual and the Fiend Folio, and also lists various alternative names for monsters from all three volumes in addition to the standard names. This is interesting to me, because while some of those names are included in the monster names or descriptions, many of them are not - particularly for the Fiend Folio creatures, which it almost seems as if Gary Gygax or someone else at TSR systemically renamed, perhaps as a memory aid.

Because I think some of these alternate names are fun and in a few cases like them better than the standard ones (and especially like the world-building flavor of different people having different names for the same thing) and because while the index references the standard name for each alternative name but doesn't do the reverse, I decided it was a worthwhile exercise to go through the index to compile all of the alternate names and arrange them by the order of the books for easy reference. So now I can see at a glance that stirges are also called bat birds, ettercaps are sometimes known as spider-beasts, khargra are earth fish, osquips are rock rats, and so on. And, having done that work, I figured other people might also be able to get some use out of it, so I might as well share it.

Ape - Gorilla
Demon, Type I - Vrock
Demon, Type II - Hezrou
Demon, Type III - Glabrezu
Demon, Type IV – Bilwhr, Johud, Nalfeshnee
Demon, Type V – Aishapra, Kevokulli, Marilith, Rehnaremme
Demon, Type VI – Alzoll, Balor, Errtu, Ndulu, Ter-soth, Wendonai
Demon, Demogorgon – Prince of Demons
Demon, Orcus – Prince of the Undead
Demon, Yeenoghu – Demon Lord of Gnolls, Lord of Gnolls
Devil, Horned - Malebranche
Devil, Pit Fiend – Alastor, Baalberith, Baalzephon, Zaebos
Devil, Asmodeus - Overlord
Devil, Baalzebul – Lord of Flies
Devil, Geryon – Wild Beast
Dinosaur, Anatosaurus - Trachodon
Dinosaur, Antrodemus - Allosaurus
Dinosaur, Apatosaurus - Brontosaurus
Dinosaur, Dinichtys – Terrible Fish
Dinosaur, Lambeosaurus – Corythosaurus, Parasaurolophus, Prosaurolophus, Saurolophus
Dinosaur, Stegosaurus – Plated Lizard
Dinosaur, Triceratops - Ceratopsian
Dragon, Black – Acid Dragon
Dragon, Blue – Lightning Dragon
Dragon, Chromatic - Tiamat
Dragon, Green – Gas Dragon
Dragon, Platinum - Bahamut
Dragon, Red – Fire Dragon
Dragon, White – Frost Dragon, Ice Dragon
Dryad – Tree Sprite
Elephant, African - Loxodont
Elf, Aquatic – Sea Elf, Water Elf
Elf, Gray – Faerie Elf
Elf, Wood – Sylvan Elf
Ettin – Two-headed Giant
Eye of the Deep – Water Beholder, Marine Beholder
Flightless Bird – Emu, Ostrich, Rhea
Gargoyle, Kopoacinth – Marine Gargoyle, Water Gargoyle
Gas Spore - Rhizome
Ghoul, Lacedon – Marine Ghoul, Water Ghoul
Gnoll – Hyena Men
Golem, Clay – Clay Man
Golem, Flesh – Frankenstein Monster
Groaning Spirit - Banshee
Herd Animal – Antelope, Giraffe, Musk Ox, Reindeer
Hobgoblin, Koalinth – Marine Hobgoblin, Water Hobgoblin
Ixitxachitl – Vampire Fish
Lamprey – Leech-eel
Lion, Spotted – Cave Lion
Lizard, Fire – False Dragon
Masher – Coral Eater
Mind Flayer - Illithid
Morkoth – Wraith of the Deep
Mule – Burro
Nightmare – Demon Horse, Hell Horse
Nixie – Lake Sprite
Ogre, Aquatic - Merrow
Ogre Mage – Japanese Ogre, Oriental Ogre
Pegasus – Flying Horse
Purple Worm, Mottled – Marine Worm, Water Worm
Ram, Giant – Giant Sheep
Rat, Giant – Sumatran Rat
Remorhaz – Ice Worm, Polar Worm
Tiger, Sabre-tooth - Smilodon
Sahuagin – Devil Men of the Sea, Sea Devil, Water Devil
Satyr - Faun
Sea Horse, Giant – Water Horse
Sea Lion – Water Lion
Shambling Mound - Shambler
Shrieker – Wandering Fungus, Walking Toadstool
Snake, Amphisboena - Two-headed Snake
Sphinx, Crio- - Ram-headed Sphinx
Stirge – Bat Bird
Sylph – Air Nymph
Thought Eater – Eater of Thoughts
Treant – Moss Trunk, Shrubling, Tree Man
Troglodyte – Reptile Man
Weasel – Ferret, Mink, Stoat
Whale – Beluga, Humpback Whale, Killer Whale, Right Whale, Sperm Whale, White Whale
Wight – Barrow-undead
Will-o-wisp – Swamp Lantern
Wyvern – Poison Dragon
Yeti – Abominable Snowman

Aarakocra – Bird Man
Adherer – Sticking Mummy
Aleax – Avenger
Al-mi-raj – Unicorn Rabbit, Unicorn Hare
Algoid – Algae-man
Babbler – Mutant Lizard Man
Blindheim – Light-frog
Booka – Attic Sprite
Bullywug – Frog-man
Carbuncle – Ruby Armadillo
Caryatid Column – Pillar Golem
Caterwaul – Screech Cat
Clubnek – Mutant Ostrich
Crypt Thing – Teleporting Skeleton
Dark Stalker - Dark Creeper Leader
Death Dog – Two-headed Dog
Demon, Lolth – Demon Queen of Spiders, Queen of Spiders
Devil Dog – Ice Dog
Dire Corby – Black Bird-man
Disenchanter – Eater of Magic, Magic-eater
Dragon, Li Lung – Earth Dragon
Dragon, Lung Wang – Sea Dragon
Dragon, Pan Lung – Coiled Dragon
Dragon, Shen Lung – Spirit Dragon
Dragon, T’ien Lung – Celestial Dragon
Dragon, Yu Lung – Carp Dragon
Elf, Drow – Dark Elf
Enveloper – Dough-man
Ettercap – Spider-beast
Eye Killer – Bat Snake, Snake Bat
Firedrake – Miniature Red Dragon
Firenewt – Newt Man
Fire Snake – Larval Salamander
Forlarren – Evil Nymph
Frost Man – Ice Demon
Galltrit - Gremlin
Gambado – Spring Monster
Garbug – Flying Lobster
Giant, Mountain – Summoning Giant
Giant Strider – Firenewt Steed
Goldbug – Coin Creature
Gorbel – Red Beholder
Grell – Flying Brain
Hellcat – Devil’s Familiar
Hoar Fox – Ice Fox
Hound of Ill Omen – Omen Hound
Ice Lizard – Miniature White Dragon
Imorph - Imitator
Iron Cobra – Metal Snake
Jaculi – Javelin Snake
Jermlaine – Bane-midge, Jinxkin
Kamadan – Snake Leopard
Kelpie – Seaweed Woman
Kenku – Hawk Man
Khargra – Earth Fish
Killmoulis – Grain Pest
Kuo-toa – Fish Man, Goggler
Lava Children – Volcano Men
Mantari – Air Ray
Meazel - Strangler
Necrophidius – Dance of Death, Death Worm
Ogrillon – Ogre-orc, Orc-ogre
Osquip – Rock Rat
Pernicon – Grasshopper Beast
Quipper – Cold-water Piranha
Retriever – Spider Construct
Revenant – Undead Avenger
Rothe – Subterranean Ox
Screaming Devilkin – Mephit Devil
Sheet Phantom – Sheet Wraith
Shocker – Electric Man
Skeleton Warrior – Undead Lord
Skulk – Blending Man
Slaad, Death – Lesser Master
Slaad, Gray – Executioner
Slaad, Ssendam – Lord of the Insane
Slaad, Ygorl – Lord of Entropy
Snyad - Pestie
Son of Kyuss – Worm Zombie
Stunjelly – Paralyzing Wall
Sussurus – Headless Droning Ape, Singing Ape
Svirfneblin – Burrow Warden, Deep Gnome
Tabaxi – Cat Man
Thork – Copper Stork
Thoqqua – Fire Worm, Rockworm
Tiger Fly – Man-fly
Troll, Spirit – Invisible Stalker-troll
Tween – Luck Changer
Umpleby – Electric Beast
Vodyanoi – Green Hulk, Aquatic Umber Hulk, Water Umber Hulk
Witherstench – Mutant Skunk, Skunk Beast
Xvart – Blue Goblin, Blue Kobold

Aurumvorax – Golden Gorger
Barghest – Devil Dog
Bloodthorn – Vampire Thorn Vine
Bookworm – Paper Eater
Choke Creeper – Strangle Vine
Cooshee – Elven Dog
Crane, Giant – Giant Heron
Daemon, Oinodaemon – Anthraxus, Bubonis, Choleria, Diptherius, Typhous
Demilich – Ghostlich
Demon, Babau – Ebony Death, One-horned Horror
Demon, Bar-lgura – Leaping Demon
Demon, Chasme – Fly Demon
Demon, Nabassu – Stealer of Death
Demon, Baphomet – Lord of Minotaurs
Demon, Fraz-urb’Iuu – Prince of Deception
Demon, Pazuzu – Prince of the Air
Devil, Abishai – Reptile Devil, Scaly Devil
Dinosaur, Tennodontosaurs - Ichtyosaurus
Drelb – Haunting Custodian
Duergar – Gray Dwarf, Gray One
Eblis - Storkman
Falcon - Hawk
Firefly, Giant - Firefriend
Forester’s Bane – Snapper-saw
Formian – Ant Man, Centaur-ant, Myrmarch
Froghemoth - Tadhemoth
Greenhag - Shellycoat
Grue, Chaggrin – Soil Beast
Grue, Harginn – Flame Horror
Grue, Ildriss – Wind Terror
Grue, Varrdig - Snowman
Hordling – Hordes of Hades
Luck Eater – Eater of Luck
Lycanthrope, Foxwoman – Silver Fox, Vixen
Mantrap – Man-eating Plant
Miner – Woodland Trapper
Moon Dog – Black Hound, Night Prowler
Myconid – Fungus Man
Narwhale – Ocean Unicorn, Unicorn of the Ocean, Water Unicorn
Ophidian – Snake-man
Pyrolisk – Fire Cockatrice
Quickwood – Spy Tree
Raven – Crow, Rook
Retch Plant – Globe Palm
Selkie - Sealwere
Storoper – Stone Roper, Tar Roper
Twilight Bloom – Purple Death
Vapor Rat – Cloud Rat
Vilstrak – Marl Mugger, Tunnel Thug
Willow, Black – Evil Treant

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

[D&D] [Greyhawk] The heavens above

The heavenly bodies above Oerth are mentioned in various evocative snippets spread throughout the canon, but those details are often vague, sometimes contradictory, and certainly leave many holes to be filled in by individual dungeon masters. So, in that spirit (i.e. with no claims that any of this should be considered "official" or necessarily be used by anyone else, but just to give an idea of how I treat these matters in my own games) here's what I've done with respect to the moons, planets, and stars of the Oerth-verse:

1. The Moons

To start with, what we know, the in-setting author of the World of Greyhawk Guide tells us that "the Great Moon (Luna) waxes and wanes in fixed cycles of 28 days each, upon which our months are based; while the Handmaiden (Celene, the small aquamarine satellite) follows a path which shows Her in full beauty but four times each year, thus showing us the time for our Festivals. When both Mistress and Handmaiden are full, things of great portent are likely to occur." However, the Glossography tells us that Luna actually has 13 cycles in each year (because of the four week-long Festivals that occur between the 12 months) and therefore the months do not correspond to the cycles of the moon (i.e. the full moon occurs on the 11th day of the first three months of the year, the 4th day of the next three months, the 25th day of the next three, and the 18th day of the last three months). Furthermore, it also details cycles for Celene that are irregular - there are 22 days between full and 3/4, 20 days between 3/4 and new, 21 days between new and 1/4, and 28 days between 1/4 and full. 

The only significant detail that the Gord novels add regarding the moons is the concept of the "whole" moon - when Luna is at 3/4 and Celene at 1/4 on the same night. Under the cycles described in the Glossography, this phenomenon occurs once each year, on the 4th night of the month of Harvester.

I know this is the Official calendar and it's easy enough to just use it and not think too much about it, but every once in a while despite myself I do think about it too much, and when I do I don't like it. I don't like the months not lining up with the cycle of Luna, and I don't like Celene having an irregular orbital period (and I also don't like the proposed "fixed" regular Celene cycle that means the whole moon as described in the Gord novels will never occur). What I've done to resolve those issues in my mind is to depart fairly drastically from Official Greyhawk and shorten the length of the year - in my Greyhawk calendars the four Festival weeks don't fall in-between the twelve Lunar months, but instead overlap them, so that Needfest occurs on the 26th of Sunsebb through the 4th of Fireseek, Growfest on the 26th of Coldeven through the 4th of Planting, Richfest on the 26th of Wealsun through the 4th of Reaping, and Brewfest on the 26th of Harvester through the 4th of Patchwall. Thus, the year has 336 days instead of 364. Luna is full the first night of each month, which means that Luna is always full when Celene is full (and the Dark Time/Dim Nights mentioned in the Glossography no longer exist), and the "whole moon" occurs four nights a year - on the 8th night of Coldeven, Wealsun, Harvester, and Sunsebb.

At first blush this seems like a major departure, which is why I hesitated over it at first, but the more I've thought about it the more comfortable I become, especially when I recall that the 364-day-long year isn't graven in stone. In fact, in the 1980 folio version of the World of Greyhawk the year is 360 days long (with each Festival only lasting six days instead of seven). The change in the 1983 set was presumably made to make the calendar and lunar phases work out more regularly. So I'm just doing the same thing as TSR already did, and for the same reason even. I'm just doing all the way what they only did partially. Does it matter if Oerth's year is 29.25 days shorter the Earth's? Not really. Every 12th year an Oerth person is effectively one year younger biologically than an Earth person the same "age" - a small enough difference to be pretty easily overlooked, at least for me. Perhaps Oerth orbits its sun more closely than we do ours, which could help explain the long summers of the Flanaess, but might also mean the inhabitants are absorbing more solar rays leading to slighty lower average lifespans (or some other handwavey malarkey...).

2. The Sun and Planets

On this subject, the Guide tells us that "the sun travels once around Oerth in 364 days," and also mentions "five wandering stars," presumably a reference to planets. In the post-Gygax era at TSR this reference was taken literally and the entire "official" cosmology (as detailed in, for instance, TSR's Spelljammer line from the 1990s) is Oerth-centric with the sun and other planets as, effectively, additional moons (I haven't read enough of that material to know whether the outer planets have epicycles to explain retrograde motion, but am guessing they probably do). However, sharp-eyed readers of Saga of Old City (written by Gary Gygax and published by TSR in 1985) will notice an entirely different cosmology described by the druid character Curley Greenleaf:
"Here," Curley Greenleaf said, placing down a huge sphere of uncut yellow corundum, "is the great globe of our sun. This emerald orb here is Oerth, I think; that opal represents Luna, and the star-sapphire of smaller size stands for the blue disk of Celene," he continued, placing each piece in its correct relative position. "These various stones are the spheres which accompany our world in its circuit of the sun…. These round diamonds are stars, and the little black opals the various moons and other celestial bodies whirling and spinning their pathways through the system," he concluded, not bothering to specifically place each of the smaller pieces. "What such imitations were used for is lost to us now, lads, but they represent a fortune to us all!"
Or, in other words, a standard heliocentric solar system. Later in that same chapter Curley further explains that a large jacinth from that cache of gemstones "must represent the planet of Rao, greatest of the celestial spheres in the family to which Oerth belonged." This tells us that at least one of the planets is named after a Flannish greater deity. In later email correspondence, Gary reportedly told Gene Weigel that the Oerth system was intended to have ten planets total - the same nine as ours (Pluto was, of course, still categorized as a full planet at that time) plus "one beyond." Combined with the reference to the "five wandering stars" in the Guide suggests the last four planets aren't visible to the naked eye or known to laymen such as the "savant-sage," but would be familiar to experts such as the druids and worshipers of Celestian (who don't just watch the sky but actually travel in space).

Taking all of this together tells us pretty much about the planets - that they generally correspond to the planets of our solar system, that they're named after greater gods, and that they are symbolically represented by various gemstones. That leads me to something like the following:

Sun/Pelor                           Yellow Corundum
Zilchus                               Topaz
Boccob                               Amethyst
Oerth/Beory                       Emerald
  - Luna                               Opal
  - Celene                            Star Sapphire
Ulaa                                    Ruby
Rao                                     Jacinth
Cyndor                                Sapphire
Procan                                 n/a
Incabulos                             n/a
Nerull                                  n/a
(Tharizdun                           n/a)
Other moons, comets, etc.   Black Opals
Stars                                     Diamonds

(It is not coincidental that the gemstones representing the planets and stars, but not the moons or sun, also correspond to the Orders of Celestian)

This isn't something that's going to be immediately relevant or useful in most games, but in the right circumstances it can add color and at least an illusion of depth - the representation of the planets as gemstones and their connection with the greater gods allows for symbols and patterns when describing temples and treasures, creating rituals, and so forth. Perhaps a party of adventurers can discover some means of traveling to the red planet Ulaa and having adventures there, in the same manner that Erac's Cousin visited Mars (Barsoom) in the original, pre-publication, version of the Greyhawk Campaign.

3. The Stars

The Guide offers almost nothing about the stars, mentioning only that there are "12 Lairs of the Zodiac" through which the sun passes "in an appointed round which never varies."  There's not much more in the Gord novels, only a mention (in Artifact of Evil) of a constellation called the Eldest Griffon whose extended wing points north and can be used as a navigational aid.

However, even that little bit of data gives us something to work with. We know that the sky of Oerth has constellations of stars, that the sun passes through twelve of them and forms a Zodiac, and that there's one called the Eldest Griffon (implying a separate Youngest Griffon) that functions the same way as our own Ursa minor (aka Little Dipper) - as a guide pointing to the North Star. Between all of this and what we know about the solar system above (and keeping in mind Gary Gygax's revelation in Polyhedron #21 that Oerth and Earth (and Aerth, Yarth, Uerth, and possibly others) are parallel worlds differentiated by the level of magic present on each), it doesn't seem unreasonable to assume that the constellations in the sky over Oerth are, by and large, the same as those over Earth, just given different names. [This is also consistent with the adventures Rob Kuntz ran in the pre-publication version of the Greyhawk Campaign set in another solar system, indentified by Rob as Fomalhaut.]

Classical astronomy included 48 named constellations (and modern astronomy has 88), and I haven't been ambitious enough to attempt to rename all of them (and some of them, already named after mythical creatures present in D&D, perhaps don't need to be named - Centaur, Dragon, Hydra, Pegasus, etc.), but I have proposed a version of the Zodiac constellations, as follows:

The Efreet              22 Coldeven - 21 Planting
The Gorgon            22 Planting - 21 Flocktime
The Ettin                22 Flocktime - 21 Wealsun
The Kraken            22 Wealsun - 21 Reaping
The Sphinx             22 Reaping - 21 Goodmonth
The Dryad              22 Goodmonth - 21 Harvester
Istus                        22 Harvester - 21 Patchwall
The Phoenix           22 Patchwall - 21 Ready'reat
The Shedu              22 Ready'reat - 21 Sunsebb
The Satyr               22 Sunsebb - 21 Fireseek
The Djinn               22 Fireseek - 21 Readying
The Triton              22 Readying - 21 Coldeven

As with the details about the planets, this isn't material that is likely to be immediately useful in an at-the-table gaming context, but it does add some extra color. More pertinently, though, because the Oerth Zodiac is intentionally close to the Earth Zodiac, it allows for the inclusion of astrology-based symbols and references without having to either expect players to familiarize themselves with an entirely new fictional astrological system or justify a distinction between in-game and out-of-game knowledge. At very least, having the Oerth Zodiac line up with ours makes The Abduction of Good King Despot more easily usable as a World of Greyhawk adventure, without having to perform mental backflips to explain its astrology-based theme and symbols.

In most games, none of this is going to come up or matter. But if it does, I'm happy that I've already got it figured out :)

[Note: most of the above was workshopped and brainstormed in a recent discussion thread at the Doomsday Message Boards operated by my friend (and fellow Gygax/Greyhawk/AD&D aficionado) Scott Gregg. I don't want to take undue credit for any ideas, suggestions, or research contributed by any of the other participants in that discussion.]

Saturday, April 21, 2018

[D&D] The trade road from Narwell to Verbobonc

Most trade in and out of the Wild Coast region of the World of Greyhawk goes by water, through the bustling seaport towns of Safeton, Fax, and Elredd. However, some merchants also follow an overland route across the Kron Hills and through the Gnarley Forest, connecting the region with the breadbasket of the Velverdyva Valley.

This route, commonly called the "High Road" (as opposed to the "Low Road" that runs along the shore of the Velverdyva) stretches approximately 200 miles connecting the towns of Verbobonc in the northwest and Narwell in the southeast.

Eastbound wagons are typically loaded with foodstuffs and cloth goods intended for the inhabitants of the Wild Coast, while westbound wagons are more likely to carry goods imported from across the Azure Sea - superior food and clothing of Aerdy origin (including crates of highly-prized Sundish lilac wine) and even more exotic goods - spices, ivory, and rare wood - from further abroad. Thus, while the former traffic is greater in volume, the latter tends to be more valuable.

The trip takes ten days (including one mid-trip rest day) for a wagon train. Parties on foot or horseback - be they pilgrims, refugees, adventurers, or outlaws - also use this route on occasion, and are able to navigate the hilly terrain more quickly. A party on foot can traverse the route in seven days, and a group on horseback requires only four.

Although the road passes mostly through wild lands, it is fairly well maintained, and the woodsmen, gnomes, and wood elves inhabiting the Gnarley Forest are sufficient to keep the route safe from most bandits, humanoid raiders, and other predatory monsters. Nevertheless, a series of inns and lodges along the route serve as regular stops for the passing traffic. From east to west they are:

  1. The Chirping Redbreast Inn (Woodsedge village: pop. 750): Night 1 (9) stop for wagon trains, night 1 (6) stop for men travelers on foot. The scenically rustic village of Woodsedge is situated at the verge between the Gnarley Forest to the north and Welkwood to the south and sees traffic from both directions. This inn is pleasant, if largely nondescript. It is generally busy with patrons coming from all directions, who are happy to trade news and gossip of their travels. 
  2. The Grand Timberway Inn: Night 2 (7-8) stop for wagon trains, night 2 (5) stop for travelers on foot, night 1 (3) stop for riders on horseback. This large inn is, effectively, a self-contained fort. It is surrounded by a high palisade with two watchtowers and employs a dozen-person militia among its total staff of fifty. In addition to the inn proper, several outbuildings within the wall provide supplemental services (blacksmithing, candle-making, baking, etc.) to the innkeeper and travelers alike. The accommodations here are expensive, but most travelers consider it worth the price. Woe to those who (through excessive rowdiness, property damage, or inability to pay their bill) end up on the wrong side of the proprietors and find themselves banned from the establishment, forced to make camp outside its walls.
  3. The Windy Hollow Lodge: Night 3 (6) stop for wagon trains. This small, lonely inn sees little traffic, and even some merchant caravans will choose to make camp along the road rather than stay here. The lodge is a single dilapidated house which may have once been grand but certainly has not been that way for decades, and now smells of mold and dust. The small family who operates the place all seem dreary and listless, which also well describes the quality of the nourishments served here. Most travelers are sure the place is haunted, and those who've stayed here in the past tend to have stories of unexplained footsteps, moaning sounds, and even shadowy visions.
  4. The Homely House Lodge: Night 4 (5) stop for wagon trains, night 3 (4) stop for travelers on foot. This comfortable lodge is operated by an extended family of gnomes, though in recognition of their clientele the public eating and sleeping areas were all built at human-scale. When they learn that a group of travelers are passing through, gnomish peddlers from the nearby burrow-villages will descend upon the lodge in hopes of trading trinkets and gossip. The cuisine served here is typically gnomish - turnips, carrots, and other root-vegetables - but the gnomes brew their own beer, which is surprisingly good.
  5. The Cat's Cradle Inn: Night 5 (4) stop for wagon trains, night 2 stop for riders on horseback. This inn is operated by a pair of old widow sisters and their improbably extensive brood of 20+ children and grandchildren who are constantly scurrying back and forth on errands. The place feels underdefended (one son and two grandsons have spears and shortbows and form a feeble militia) but both women are powerful mystics (the elder, Bezequelle, is an Astrologer, the younger, Pegeen, is a Medium) who not only have placed various magical charms and wards about the place, but are also on friendly terms with and watched over by both the woodsmen and elves of the area. Should any trouble arise here one of the urchin granddaughters has been instructed to run into the woods to summon help, which will arrive 4-24 turns later in the form of a patrol of woodsmen (1-2) or wood elves (3-6).
  6. The Hillsmoor Inn (Imeryds Ford: pop. 200): Night 6 (3) stop for wagon trains, night 4 (3) stop for travelers on foot. The rustic folk of this hamlet keep their heads down and are not typically friendly with travelers during the day. At night, in the common room of the inn after their tongues have been loosened by ale, they are more willing to trade gossip (and slander) about the next village over. A pair of Footpads keep an eye on all traffic passing through (as this is one of only two fords along this stretch of the Imeryds Run) and if they spy anything unusual will report it to their boss (Gremag, in Hommlet), either by seeking to join on with the travelers (and spending the next day in further observation) or - if a group seems particularly interesting or dangerous - secretly departing on horseback during the night in order to make their report before they arrives. The villagers here know that these two (and their half-orc Warrior companion, who keeps a low profile but is available as muscle if needed) are untrustworthy strangers, but are very unlikely to share that with people who are themselves untrustworthy strangers. 
  7. The Welcome Wench Inn (Hommlet: pop. 250): Night 7-8 (2) stop for wagon trains, night 5 (2) stop for travelers on foot, night 3 (1) stop for riders on horseback. Located at the crossroads of the High and Low Roads, this large and prosperous inn is renowned for its good food and excellent drink. The ostler will often attempt to purchase out of the stock of any passing merchant carrying wine or liquors to replenish his extensive cellar. A few miles east of here on the Low Road lie the ruins of the Temple of Elemental Evil, that cult of demon-worshippers who were the cause of so much mischief around these parts a decade ago.
  8. The Pig and Barrel Inn (Bywater village: pop. 850): Night 9 (1) stop for wagon trains, night 6 (1) stop for travelers on foot. Nondescript and seedy lodgings in this nondescript and seedy riverside village that always seems to smell vaguely of rotting fish. Travelers along the Low Road also frequent this inn, so despite its mediocre quality it is usually busy and travelers may be forced to sleep in the common room (30%) or barn (10%) even if they are willing to pay for private rooms - though offering to pay double or triple will see some other group consigned in their place.

Encounters on the road: For the first and last days of travel, encounters should be checked normally for the Viscounty of Verbobonc or Wild Coast (respectively, depending upon the direction of travel). For the days in-between, while the road is passing through the wild woods and hills, the following table should be checked three times per day of travel (morning, mid-day, and evening), with an encounter of some sort occurring on 1 in 10.  If the party stays in any of the inns above there will be no encounter checks during the night, but if they make camp in the woods instead they will be subject to three more nighttime encounter checks.

Roll (1d8+1d12)            Encounter
2                                   Bugbears
3                                   Kobolds (1-4) or xvarts (5-6)
4                                   Snake: poisonous (1-3), giant constrictor (4-5), or giant poisonous (6)
5                                   Owl (night) or Raven (day)
6                                   Giant porcupine (1-3) or skunk (4-6)
7                                   Gnomes
8                                   Bear: black (1-4) or brown (5-6)
9                                   Men, woodsmen
10                                Giant beetle: bombardier (1-2), boring (3-4), stag (5-8), slicer (9), or death watch (0)
11                                Wild boar
12                                Stag
13                                Wolves
14                                Men, merchants
15                                Wood elves
16                                Men, bandits
17                                Men, other: pilgrims of [St. Cuthbert (1-2), Fharlanghn (3-5), Olidammara (6)] (1-3), Rhennee (Attloi) (4-5), beggars (6), refugees (7), or adventurers (8)
18                                Giant tick (1-3) or weasel (4-6)
19                                Spider: large (1-3), huge (4-5), or giant (6)
20                                Monster (see Sub-table)

Roll (1d8+1d12)            Monster Sub-Table
2                                   Displacer beast
3                                   Lycanthrope, werebear
4                                   Giant: hill (1-4) or verbeeg (5-6)
5                                   Blink dog
6                                   Griffon
7                                   Basilisk
8                                   Leprechaun
9                                   Ghouls
10                               Gnolls
11                               Ogre
12                               Owl bear
13                               Lycanthrope, werewolf
14                               Stirges
15                               Troll
16                              Shadow
17                              Lycanthrope, wereboar
18                              Peryton
19                              Wyvern
20                              Green dragon

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

[D&D] [Review] The Red Prophet Rises

I don't really do reviews. Mostly that's because I don't really buy new gaming stuff - both because I already have a lifetime supply, and because most of the new stuff I do run across tends to not be very good (or, more charitably, doesn't line up particularly well with my tastes). Nonetheless, occasionally people will give me stuff for free, and that's what happened here: one of the authors of this module (Malrex) reached out and asked if I'd be willing to read it and share my feedback if he gave me a free copy and I said yes. I gave it a quick skim-read, and found it surprisingly not-bad, and shared my thoughts with the author. And since I've already written them down, I figured I might as well post them here as well, as a review of sorts. The first part is background and summary for the benefit of people who aren't the module's author, followed by my reactions and opinions, pretty much directly copied and pasted from what I already sent to Malrex a few days ago.

The Red Prophet Rises, co-written by Malrex and Prince of Nothing, is a 40-ish page AD&D-ish adventure for characters level 3-5, published by The Merciless Merchants and available for $5 in pdf format (or $10 in print) from Drive-Thru RPG. It's a location-based adventure centering around a canyon occupied by a particularly nasty and brutish gang of cultists and a set of caves beneath their lair, of which they're at least mostly unaware, in which assorted ancient horrors dwell. There's a special horse being held captive that can become the mount of a paladin character, which is a possible hook to draw the players into the adventure; otherwise the DM is left to his or her own devices how to use this adventure (making it truly modular). The cultists in the canyon are bad guys to the core, keeping slaves and making regular bloody sacrifices to their Bull God. This is described in a fair amount of gory detail, but it doesn't go totally over the top. The level of gore is probably about on the level of Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay adventures from the 80s. Which brings up possibly the oddest aspect of this adventure, that it's rather-inexplicably labeled as being for use with the "For Gold & Glory" ruleset which, from what I gather, is an OGL "retro-clone" equivalent to 2nd edition AD&D. This is an odd choice by the authors, because not only did I not notice any particularly 2E-ish elements in the adventure (the NPCs don't have "kits" or "wild magic" or flintlock pistols or any of that stuff, the only specialist wizards are illusionists, etc.) but the tone and style of the adventure is very far from what I think of as "2nd edition AD&D" style: it's dark and bloody, and it's also location-based and open-ended, with minimal backstory and no real "story" except what happens in play. I'm sure the authors had reasons of their own for labeling the book this way, but it seems to me like an odd choice that will probably limit their audience, because people who like the 2E flavor won't like this adventure, and the people who would be more likely to like it probably won't even bother looking at something labeled as crypto-2E. With some very minor changes in the statblocks, this module could just have easily have been released for OSRIC (the 1st edition retro-clone), for which I think it would be a much more natural fit.

And with those preliminaries out of the way, here's what I did (and didn't) like about this adventure based on my skim-reading (I can't claim to have read every word of every encounter, but I feel like I read enough to get a pretty good feel for it):

In general, I like it. I like the set-up with the obvious bad guy cultists on the surface and the more mysterious and weird stuff hidden underneath. That's a pretty standard D&D adventure trope (e.g. Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun) but it's one of my favorites, and the way they've handled it here doesn't just feel like a rehash of earlier work. I like that the villains seems really villainous but without dwelling so much on the gore and cruelty that it feels like they're reveling in or getting off on it. It feels like a situation that could be straight out of a Conan story, which for me is a good thing. I like that the canyon is described in an open-ended manner so there are several different ways the players can approach and deal with it, that there are several flavorful NPCs and potential rival factions, and that there's a suggested timeline of events to make the location seem "alive" (and not just have everybody sitting in their rooms waiting for somebody to come kill them) but that it's not fixed on rails: there are some implicit or potential "scenes" but none of them are fixed or mandatory. I like the way the room descriptions are written and organized, with an introductory paragraph followed by bullet-points enumerating special features and/or possible actions and conditions in a very user-friendly manner that seems like it would work very well at the table - better than when reading. The way the room descriptions include the possibility of different conditions depending on when and how the adventurers encounter them (e.g. that various NPCs and monsters may or may not be present) reminds me a bit of some of my favorite adventures like Dark Tower and Snakepipe Hollow (the latter a RuneQuest adventure).

On the minus side, though, it feels really overwritten to me - like they've taken a situation worth about 20 pages and filled 40 pages with it. The setup feels to me like something that should be a pretty minor adventure - that should fill one or two sessions of play - but the authors have gotten carried away and added too much to it. The adventure details 43 locations, every one of which is described sufficient detail to make it at least potentially a significant and unique encounter. This seems overdone to me: since there are so many rooms and every one of them is something new and different and active there's no real "downtime" - no rising and falling action, but rather it seems like it's "all climax." It feels to me like the authors have crammed too much into the package - that they had so many good ideas and wanted to include all of them - and I think the adventure would've worked just as well (and would probably also be easier to run) if it had about half as many encounters, or at least if there had been more "mundane" stuff mixed in as palate-cleansers to help pace the big moments.

The treasure in the adventure is the same way: all (or almost all) of the treasure is unique magic items with individual names and paragraph-long descriptions of their various functions, most including both benefits and drawbacks for their users. To me this felt like too much, not necessarily the quantity of items as the number of moving parts per item, especially in combination, and especially if the adventure is played as part of a campaign where the players will keep these items and accumulate more on top of them. I know it's conventional wisdom nowadays that generic and from-the-book magic items - +x weapons, etc. - are boring and should be avoided, but in play these things work, because the players get the benefit of them without having to actively think about them, to remember and track all of the moving pieces. Standard magic items are the background against which the unique and colorful items stand out, but when everything is unique and colorful it becomes a burden and frustration, too much to deal with.

Now I get that the authors are in kind of an odd and difficult spot because this is something that they're asking people to pay money for, so they feel the need to give the audience their money's worth in terms of density of fresh and unique stuff that feels like something most readers couldn't have just come up with on their own, and I accept that that's a legitimate concern and that they've maybe handled it in the way they felt was best (make everything special!), but I don't think that necessarily makes for the best adventure to actually sit down and play at the table with a group of friends. If I were to run this in an actual game (and the fact that I'm even thinking in that way means that they've mostly succeeded) I feel like I'd probably end up cutting about half of it out.

Of course I might use something that I cut out of this somewhere else (it's not that I think the encounters are bad, just that there are too many of them; e.g. there are two full pages devoted to a hidden alchemy lab that feel completely excessive to me in this context, but I could totally see this room being inserted into another dungeon where it would fit just fine), and other DMs who feel the same way as I do might choose to cut other encounters than I would (kind of like how everybody agrees that the Beatles' White Album would've been better as a single album but no two fans will ever agree on exactly which songs should have been included on that hypothetical album). Plus we know  that most people who buy this (or any other module) aren't going to actually run it - they're going to dream about it and hopefully draw some inspiration from it and maybe strip-mine some material out of it. So, in that regard, this grousing should be taken with a grain of salt and the authors probably know what they were doing better than my armchair second-guessing gives them credit for. Being in a position that an adventure has too much interesting stuff that you need to trim some of it out to make it manageable to is certainly preferable to the all-too-common alternative of boring adventures that offer nothing that hasn't already been seen a thousand times before or incomplete adventures that the reader/would-be DM has to effectively co-write to turn into something decent and usable.

Friday, March 2, 2018

[D&D] Focused Energy Activation Techniques

Characters who have received special training may concentrate and focus their personal energy (ki or qi) and then release it in a sudden burst to achieve a superhuman or spell-like effect. Each such activation technique must be learned separately, and a character may only learn as many different techniques as their wisdom score divided by 3 (rounding down).

Activating a minor technique costs one Joss Factor per use. Characters of 5th level or higher may activate moderate techniques at a cost of two JF per use. Major techniques may only be activated by characters of 11th level or higher and cost three JF per use.

In order to activate a technique the character must either give an emphatic shout (kiai or equivalent) simultaneously with performing the action that activates the technique or must concentrate for 1-3 full rounds before performing the action that activates the technique. Most techniques can be activated by either means, though some will obviously require one method or the other.

Generally speaking a technique cannot be activated multiple times in order to stack its effects, but multiple techniques can be in effect at the same time, and those with durations may be re-activated in order to extend the duration (with each activation requiring that additional JF be spent, naturally).

The ease or difficulty with which characters may locate masters capable of training them in the various techniques, how long the training takes to complete, and the payment in goods or services that the masters will demand in exchange for the training, are all entirely at the discretion of the DM according to the feel desired for his or her individual campaign, though it is recommended in any case that only NPCs be capable of providing training in these techniques.

In the WORLD OF GREYHAWK setting, these techniques are generally only known and taught in the areas of and surrounding the Celestial Empire of Suhfang, far to the west of the Flanaess. The techniques are jealously guarded secrets by the sects who have mastered them, and certainly any outlander barbarian (and note that in Suhfang all outlanders are considered to be barbarians) who traveled to those lands would face great difficulty convincing any master or school of his or her worthiness to be taken on as a pupil and initiated into the mysteries of even a minor technique. Within that realm, individuals who show promise are typically inducted into an organized school or sect as children, based on their family’s caste and status. Each such school retains the knowledge of up to three techniques (one each minor, moderate, and major) that are passed on to the pupils as they reach the appropriate stage in their training.  For example, the legendarily secretive assassin’s guild known as the Hidden Army, in addition to training its members in the mundane skills of the assassin and acrobat classes, is rumored to also teach its most promising initiates the secret energy activation techniques of regulated breathing and water walking, and perhaps even to possess knowledge of the ultimate secret technique of phase shifting

Seeking out knowledge of additional, or different, techniques requires either ingratiating into a rival sect by deception or trickery (which, if discovered, causes both grievous loss of honor to the character’s family and likely expulsion from the character’s own sect) or seeking out a hidden or remote individual master. After locating such a master, a formidable quest in itself, the prospective pupil must convince the master of their worthiness to be taken into service. This likely involves fulfilling a series of difficult tasks or quests as dictated by the master. Once the master has agreed to take on a pupil, several game months of time are required for each technique during which the pupil may perform no other activity than exercise, training, and meditation. At the end of each month of training the character has a cumulative 25% chance of mastering the technique, up to a maximum of 90%. Should the character ever roll a 00 on this check then that character will never be able to master this technique from this master. 

Minor Techniques:

  • Blind Fighting: Upon activating this technique, the character suffers no penalties for operating in darkness, or from blindness, for a duration of one turn.
  • Danger Sense: By means of this technique the character’s senses are heightened for one turn, doubling the character’s normal chance of hearing noise and spotting traps, and halving their chance to be surprised.
  • Graceful Step: By means of this technique the character exhibits perfect balance, including the ability to balance on something as narrow as a tightrope or as light as a single tree-branch, and also gains a +25% bonus to move silently checks (or a +1 bonus to achieve surprise, for non-thieves) for a duration of one turn.
  • Hare’s Speed:  Activating this technique doubles the character’s normal movement rate for a duration of one turn.
  • Power Surge: Activation of this technique allows the character to focus a surge of additional energy into a single action, which can take the form of one extra attack, or maximum damage on a single attack, or an increase in the power of a single spell as if it were cast by a character three levels higher than the character.
  • Protective Aura: Activation of this technique raises an invisible aura around the character which grants a +2 bonus to the character’s armor class, +2 bonus to all saving throws, and +20 additional psionic defense points (if relevant) for a duration of one turn.
  • Quick-draw: Activation of this technique gives the character a sudden burst of speed, giving a +3 bonus to initiative for one round. Note that this applies to any action for that round – including, for instance, initiating spell casting - and not just to drawing a weapon.
  • Regulated Breathing: By means of this technique the character is able to regulate their breathing to allow either holding his or her breath entirely for a one turn + one round per level (thus allowing the character to operate underwater or resist the effects of gasses), or to slow down breathing, heart rate, and body temperature so as to feign death (as the monk ability) for a duration of one turn per level of the character.

Moderate Techniques:

  • Boar's Resilience: By means of this activation the character’s will is so strongly focused that he or she will remain conscious and continue fighting or other activity even after being reduced to a negative hit point total of up to the character’s constitution score (i.e. a character with a 14 constitution may remain active with up to -14 hit points) for up to one turn. At the end of that turn, if the character has not been restored to a positive hit point total, or should the total negative hit point total exceed the character’s constitution score, then he or she will fall unconscious and begin bleeding out per the standard procedure (q.v. DMG p. 82) if the negative total is up to -9, or die immediately should the total equal or exceed -10.
  • Fear-inducing Shout: When this technique is activated by means of a mighty shout, all enemies within 30' radius of the shouting character must make a successful saving throw vs. spells or flee for 1-4 rounds as if affected by a fear wand.
  • Mighty Leaping: Activating this technique allows the character to make one leap for every four levels the character has attained of up to 50' each – forward, backward, or vertical. Each leap takes but a single segment to perform, and the character may use this technique to leap into melee, which is treated as a charge attack, or out of melee, in which case the opponent does not get a parting shot (unless he or she is also capable of leaping and chooses to pursue).
  • Missile Deflection: When this technique is activated the character’s reflexes are sharpened to such a degree that he or she is able to dodge or deflect any missile attack upon a successful saving throw vs. petrification, or may attempt to catch missiles, with a chance of success equal to the character’s dexterity score x3 as a percentage (i.e. 45% for a character with a 15 dexterity) for thrown missiles, or the character’s dexterity score as a percentage for missiles launched by device (i.e. bow, crossbow, or sling). The activation persists for one round per level of the character.
  • Pinpoint Strike: By activating this technique, the character may make a single attack with pinpoint accuracy, so as to ignore an opponent’s armor completely or otherwise to target a precise location. By means of this technique, a character could, for example, snatch out an unwary opponent's eyeball.
  • Resist Elements: Activation of this technique allows the character to function as if under the effect of a resist fire and resist cold spell for a duration of one turn per level of the character, and as if under the effect of the endure cold/endure heat spell for a duration of one hour per level.
  • Water Walking: This technique allows the character to walk upon water at his or her full normal movement rate for a duration of one turn + one round per level.
  • Weapon-breaking Strike: By means of this technique, a single successful hit does not inflict any damage on the opponent but instead requires that individual to succeed in a saving throw vs. petrification or his or her weapon breaks and shatters. Magic weapons add their “plus” value to the saving throw and any weapon of +4 or higher is unbreakable except by a weapon of equal or greater power (i.e. a +5 sword can only be broken by another +5 or better weapon).

Major Techniques:

  • Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique: By means of this technique, the character makes a single open-handed attack with the same effect as the monk’s quivering palm ability.
  • Indomitable Will: When this technique is activated the character’s force of will is strengthened so as to render the character totally immune to all mind-affecting spells and effects, and to all manner of psionic attack, for a duration of one round per level of the character.
  • Levitation: Activation of this technique allows the character to levitate, as per the magic-user spell, simply by willing it so, with a duration of one turn per level of the character. As with all energy activation techniques, this ability is not considered to be magical in nature and is thus not subject to dispel magic, magic resistance, or anti-magic effects.
  • Paralyzing Shout: The force of this great shout causes all enemies within 30' radius of the shouting character to make a saving throw vs. spells or paralyzed and held immobile in place, unable to attack, move, or even speak, for 1-6 rounds.
  • Phase Shift: When this technique is activated, the character becomes ethereal (cf. oil of etherealness) for a duration of one round for every four levels of the character.
  • Whirlwind Attack: When this technique is activated, the character is allowed to make a full round’s worth of melee attacks upon each opponent within a 10' radius of the character.