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.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

[D&D] "Lost" Gygax Monsters (Part 6)

Finishing this series up with a variety of demons. All of them were introduced in Gary's Gord novels - the cataboligne in Saga Of Old City (TSR, 1985) and Necropolis (as "blue demon"), Vuron in Sea of Death, the others in Dance of Demons - and were given AD&D stats by the illustrious GT.

Note that in addition to all of these creatures from Gary's novels, the massive document that GT sent me also included a large number of creatures of his own design, or adapted from other sources, that fill in both even more of AD&D's planar cosmology and also the other continents and realms on the planet of Oerth (Gonduria, Jahind, Suhfang, etc.) that were mentioned but never detailed by Gary. This stuff is also great, and fully captures and conveys the same flavor as Gary's creations (and, given that he did some work with Gary in the post-TSR era, it's likely that Gary would have given at least some of these creations his "official" blessing had he been in position to do so) and is very much worth sharing, but I don't really consider it my place to do so here. Hopefully he will some day see fit to share them more widely himself :)



FREQUENCY: Very rare
MOVE: 9"
% IN LAIR: 20%
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 1 – 6/1 – 6/ 2 - 8
SPECIAL DEFENSES: +3 or better weapon to hit
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic evil
SIZE: L (8'+ tall)
LEVEL/X.P. VALUE: VII/ 2900 + 12/HP

Cataboligne demons are quite nasty, and often summoned to be used as guardians.  They may, at will and once per melee round, use the following abilities: animate dead (as 9th level magic-user), cause fear (as wand), cause paralysis (as wand), change self, darkness (10' radius), detect invisible, dispel magic, levitate (as a 9th level magic-user), magic missile (four missiles), telekinese (4000 g.p.), and teleport (no error).  Catabolignes regenerate as do trolls until they are totally slain. 

This demon has a wrinkled visage with wide, fanged mouth, yellow eyes with horizontally-slitted pupils, and horns.  Its body is gray-blue and covered by plated scales, and twin rows of triangular spines run down its back.  Its hands and feet are wickedly-clawed and its somewhat short tail ends in a spike.


MOVE: 9"//12"
% IN LAIR: 10%
NO. OF ATTACKS: 3 or 1
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 1-6/1-6/2-12 or by weapon type
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic evil
SIZE: M (7')
LEVEL/X.P. VALUE: VII/ 2600 + 12/HP

These demons are servants to Demogorgon (q.v.), and often serve as his personal guards.  They attack with their claws and vicious bite, and may sweep their tail at opponents behind them for 2 – 8 points.  They may, at will and once per melee round, use the following abilities: darkness (10' radius), detect invisible, cause fear (as wand), levitate (as 9th level magic-user), polymorph self, telekinese (4000 g.p.), and teleport (no error).  They have a 30% chance to gate in 1 – 2 more dusins.  Dusins commonly wield +1 iron-bladed halberds.

Dusins appear as large, scaled humanoids with crocodile heads and scaly tails.  Their arms are somewhat stubby and end in clawed hands.  Their normal habitat is within the swamps of Demogorgon’s realm.  Demogorgon can field nearly 50,000 of these demons if needed.*

*See “Dance of Demons”, page 85, by Gary Gygax.

Nergel (Lord of Unlife)

MOVE: 12"
HIT DICE: 96 hp
% IN LAIR: 50%
SPECIAL DEFENSES: +1 or better weapon to hit
INTELLIGENCE: Supra-genius (19)
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic evil
SIZE: L (7' tall)
LEVEL/X.P. VALUE: X/ 43,680*

Nergel is a dark and dour demon lord having dominion over the unliving.  He has the fealty of legions of shadows (q.v.) and shadow demons (q.v.) in the Abyss, and occasionally is known to be at odds with Graz’zt.

Nergel appears as a hunch-backed man with misshapen shoulders and an uneven gait.  He has slab-like cheeks around a fanged mouth; dark eyes that flash orange when he is angry, and a wattled neck.  He wears black robes and carries an ebon staff.  This staff is +3 to hit and possesses two major powers: first, its touch will slay any creature not of like or higher status to Nergel if they fail a save versus Death magic (d6+3 damage if save is made), and secondly it can instantly summon seven babau demons (once per day).  If he opts not to use his staff to attack, he may make two attacks with his clawed hands.  Nergel may also use any of the following powers at will, once per melee round: animate dead, cause fear (as wand), charm monster, charm person, clairvoy, clairaudience, continual darkness, create illusion (as wand), detect invisible, detect magic, dispel magic, ESP, polymorph self, read languages, read magic, suggest, telekinese (9,000gp), and teleport (no error).  Once each day he may summon either 3 – 18 shadows or 2 – 8 shadow demons within one round.

His realm is called Meslamtaius (level 353), and is a benighted realm with dust-covered plains and deep caverns.  It is largely inhabited by Type I demons, shadow demons, shadows, manes, skeletons, and zombies.  He is consort to Ereshkigal (q.v.).


ARMOR CLASS: 8 overall, but variable to -4
MOVE: Special
HIT DICE: Infinite
% IN LAIR: 100%
NO. OF ATTACKS: See below
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic evil
SIZE: L (a plane of the Abyss)

Ojukalazogadit is a sexless, sprawling, imbecilic mass of chaotic matter that covers an entire layer (the 366th) of the Abyss under a featureless orange sky.  Its surface is mostly a disgusting dun color, resembling ulcerous, infected flesh.  It constantly seethes, pulses, exudes vile fluids, and extrudes extremities or forms gaping maws; and the entirety reeks of decay.  Its consistency ranges from sinking morass to steel-hard chitin.  Shrieks, moans, gurgling, rending sounds, and other disturbing noises are constantly emitted by the being in a maddening cacophony.

Because of its very nature, its attacks are entirely variable—it is fully capable of attacking and devouring anything from insect size up to a behemoth.  Methods of attack range from mandibles, claws, tentacles, pseudopods, fanged mouths, adhesive mucus, acidic or alkaline secretions, poisonous vapors, and any number of other forms; all made from its mass and then reabsorbed!  Damage is, of course, variable depending on the attack.

Only the entital force of a Greater God can possibly have any lasting effect upon Ojukalazogadit, due to its sheer size and power.

Palvlag (Demon Lord of Flame)

MOVE: 9"/18"
HIT DICE: 144 hp
% IN LAIR: 50%
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 2 – 8 (x2) or by weapon +8
SPECIAL DEFENSES: +2 or better weapon to hit
INTELLIGENCE: Supra-genius (19)
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic evil
SIZE: L (12' tall)
LEVEL/X.P. VALUE: X /52,050*

Palvlag, like Pazuzu and Shabriri, is a surviving proto-demon.  He appears as a type VI demon with four eyes of flaming orange.  His very blood is molten phlogiston.  There is a marked resemblance between Palvlag and Marduk, Lord of the Type VI demons, and they may be related.

Palvlag will usually attack with his claws rather than a weapon, but at times he will wield a gigantic two-handed +3 flaming sword (2 – 12 +3, +8 for STR).  He may immolate at will to inflict 6 – 24 points of damage on any creature not immune to fire attacks within a 10' radius.  He also has the following abilities, usable at will once per melee round: astral travel, darkness (50' radius), detect invisible, detect magic, flesh to stone, know alignment, pyrotechnics, shape change, tongues, teleport (no error), wall of fire, and unholy word.  Palvlag may also use wish once per day and symbol (1 each of pain, hopelessness and death).  His gaze causes insanity to anyone he wills (save vs. Spell), and thrice each day he may breathe fire from his mouth (as a red dragon) doing 66 points of damage.  He may gate in 6 Type VI demons (75% chance).  He has double normal range infravision and ultravision, and he regenerates 1 hit point every round.

Palvlag lacks the odd sense of humor common to Pazuzu and Shabriri, and he is a serious opponent in combat.

Shabriri (Demon Lord of Water & Blindness)

MOVE: 12"//20"
HIT DICE: 155 hp
% IN LAIR: 20%
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 2 – 8 (x4)/2 – 12
SPECIAL DEFENSES: +2 or better weapon to hit
INTELLIGENCE: Supra-genius (19)
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic evil
SIZE: L (10' tall)
LEVEL/X.P. VALUE: X/ 56,700*

Shabriri has the form of a hulking demon with horn-plated flesh and four arms ending in clawed hands.  His head has four red-glowing eyes and a fang-filled maw.  Like Pazuzu, Shabriri is a proto-demon of ancient origin and is on fairly decent terms with some daemon lords.  Also like Pazuzu, he possesses an odd sense of humor and enjoys toying with victims and following odd whims.  He may actually prolong combat with foes if he finds it amusing!

He prefers to attack and rend with his four clawed hands and bite, but this demon lord also has the following abilities, usable at will once per melee round: astral travel, cause blindness, create water, darkness (50' radius), detect invisible, detect magic, flesh to stone, know alignment, raise/lower water, shape change, tongues, teleport (no error), unholy word, and wall of fog.  In addition, Shabriri may use wish once per day and symbol (1 each of pain, hopelessness and death).  His gaze causes insanity to anyone he wills (save vs. Spell), and thrice each day he may expel a gout of negative energy stuff from his mouth that does 66 points of damage to one victim up to 1" range (save vs. Spell for ½ damage).  He may gate in 6 Type IV demons (75% chance) if pressed.  He has double normal range infravision and ultravision, and he regenerates 1 hit point every round.



MOVE: 15"
% IN LAIR: 15%
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 1-10/1-10/1-6
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic evil
SIZE: L (10' long)
LEVEL/X.P. VALUE: VII/ 4050 + 15/HP

Skurda are fearsome demons that are used as guards by several Abyssal rulers, notably Graz'zt and Lolth.  Skurda have the appearance of hulking, scorpion-bodied demons with a human-like torso and arms, both covered in armoring chitin.  Their heads have compound eyes, and mandibles around their mouth.  Their arms end in fearsome pincers.

Skurda attack with their mighty pincers (Strength = 18) and tail sting.  In addition to wounding, the stinger is poison and requires a saving throw at -1, failure of which indicates death!  They may use the following powers, at will, once per melee round: Darkness (15' radius), detect invisible, telekinese (3000 g.p.), and teleport (no error).  They may also gate in another skurda (30% chance).

Verin (Vuron) (Demon Lord)

MOVE: 12"
HIT DICE: 96 hp
% IN LAIR: 20%
SPECIAL DEFENSES: +1 or better weapon to hit
INTELLIGENCE: Godlike (22)
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic evil (neutral)
SIZE: L (8' tall)
LEVEL/X.P. VALUE: X/ 45,023*

Verin appears as a tall, thin, sexless albino humanoid with reddish-pink eyes.  His face is handsome, though stamped with evil, and his voice is bell-like.  He is lord general and viceroy to Graz’zt, and is utterly loyal to that demon prince.  While Graz’zt was imprisoned by Iggwilv, Verin continued to administer his realm until the demon prince returned.  Although he certainly has the demonic capacity for rage and cruelty, Verin tends to be more measured and thoughtful in his actions than most of his ilk.  He is well-versed in arcane knowledge and in battle strategy.

He wields a +4 lance in battle that is composed of milky crystal, with which he strikes twice in a round.  Any creature struck by it must save vs. death at -4 or die.  Even such as a demon lord or daemon ruler must save (but without penalty) or perish!  Those who save will still take 5 – 50 points of damage from the fell energies contained within this weapon.  He will wear armor of silvery metal into battle that gives him an AC of -4.

Verin has the following powers usable at will, once per melee round: charm person, clairaudience, clairvoyance, darkness (15' radius), detect good, detect invisible, detect magic, ESP, etherealness (self), fear (as wand), heal (3/day), suggestion, , telekinese (9,000 gp), and teleport (no error).  Once per day, he has an 85% chance of gating in 1 – 2 Type VI demons (90%) or Graz’zt himself (10%).