Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Ragnorakk and JD Jarvis, welcome

Two new stalwarts have joined my list of followers. I've been following JD's Aeons and Augauries for quite some time, and it's one that everyone should check out. Ragnorakk, I should imagine has tracked me down from TARGA, where I've been gauging the level of interest in my proposal for a local OSR convention. Welcome, friends - I have good feelings about 2010 and I'm glad to be a part of the OSR, whether my proposal takes off or not.

Note to Carl - I got another Japanese comment earlier. It came from someone called Ludivina Stokely and when I ran it through Babelfish, it came out as utter gibberish but I think, from what I could make out, that it might have been something a bit risque. Anyway, it's been rejected.

An announcement (ooooh!)

I have tentatively dipped my toe in the water, inspired by the stalwart efforts of those who do this sort of thing across the pond, and am floating the idea of a new convention sometime in 2010, provisionally titled HumberCon, from the area where I live. There seems precious little going on in the area at present; my library poster has attracted no replies at all, and the FLGS, such as it is, sells mostly card trading games and Warhammer. They told me when I tried to get a poster put up there that all they sell of D&D is a dribble of 4e stuff. There is a local games club but they run 3.5e - I have plans on that front, however.

Hull's geographical position is such that there are few large towns until one gets to York, Sheffield and - a bit further afield - Leeds. But I'm sure that at some point there must have been gamers around, who have now become dormant. And the two kids who have tried my Training Dungeon seem to enjoy the rules-lite game that is Old School (and the fun of whacking things with axes).

So, being faced with the prospect of travelling long distances for the chance of a game, I thought that someone ought to be trying to organise something more local. That someone is now me. I've not committed to anything concrete until I get a better idea of the level of local interest. I know next to nothing of the mechanics of this, or how to go about it. I've got feelers out to Brit gamers elsewhere in the country who might know a thing or two about getting this sort of thing off the ground.

So if anyone out there knows any Brit contacts in the north of England who might be interested in either getting involved in the organisation or gaming or DMing at the Con, please let me know.

At the bottom of all this is just an Old Schooler who wants a game!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

If you build it, they will come

Well, we're very nearly at the end of a year that has seen an incredible growth in the OSR. For myself, it was the year that I finally stopped talking about restarting gaming and actually did it, with the eager assistance of both Junior Grognard and my good buddy Old 4 Eyes. It seems strange to think that I've come so far in such a short time and now have a presence in the blogosphere and 26 followers.

26 people who are actually interested in what I do and what I have to say. Wow.

I'd like to thank you all for your kind comments and suggestions and for setting up and running some very entertaining, encouragingly good and useful blogs of your own.

What does 2010 have in store? Well, I hope to recruit some more players, get a real campaign going, maybe get some playing in, get involved in TARGA in the UK (there must be some Brit Old Schoolers, surely?), convert my Training Dungeon to S&W and venture into publishing OS material in partnership with Old 4 Eyes (that last one is the scariest but also the most exciting). And of course more posts that I hope will entertain and stimulate as the year goes on.

Keep rollin' those dice and may you make all your saving throws!

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Welcome to Brutorz Bill

I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome my 25th follower, Brutorz Bill of Green Skeleton Gaming Guild fame. As Christmas itself is past, I can only offer the following treat for hungry newcomers:

It is (apparently) an Ultimate Leftover Turkey Sandwich. For the recipe, follow the link. Enjoy!

I hope to be able to visit more of your blogs in the following few days, and to post more as well. Hope everybody has had a good Christmas and you all got something Old School.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Saturday Night Fight Club - Aerial Combat!

Chocks away, Ginger! Bandits at twelve o’clock!

Ah yes, aerial combat. How we love to think about it, but how many of us actually do it?

Anyway, here are our contenders:


AC 3
HD 7 (average hp 31.5)
Move 30”
Manoeuvrability class C
No of atts 1-4/1-4/2-16
No special attacks or defences
THAC0 – 13, therefore needs a 12 to hit the sphinx and a 10 to hit the wyvern


AC 1
HD 9 (average hp 40.5)
Move 9”/36”
Manoeuvrability class D
3 atts 2-8/2-8/1-10
THAC0 - 12, therefore needs a 9 to hit the griffon and the same for the wyvern


HD 7+7 (average hp 38.5)
Move 24”
Manoeuvrability class E
2 atts 2-16 and 1-6 + poison sting.
THAC0 12, therefore needs an 11 to hit the sphinx and a 9 to hit the griffon.

What I’ll do is pit the first two against each other and the survivor can go up against the wyvern. Not too sure what to do about the manoeuvrability factors – perhaps the best class gives the monster first attack. Yeah – that should do.

Okay, here we go!

Griffon spots hieracosphinx and swoops to attack.

His attack rolls are 6,16 and 9. Hits with one claw attack, damage of 2

Sphinx turns and fights back. Nyeeeeeow! Dakka-dakka-dakka (sorry)

Attack rolls of 9, 18 and 3 – two claws hit, beak missed. Damage of 4 and 7

End of round 1, the griffon is down to 20, the sphinx is down to 38.

Round 2

The griffon, a nippier flier comes in for another pass

Rolls 12, 18 and 3 – two claws hit. Damage of 1 and 3.

The sphinx replies with 18,19 and 5 – two claws rip into the griffon. Damage of 4 and 6.

End of round 2, the griffon is taking a pasting, limping badly on 10, the sphinx is mildly perturbed by the fact it’s down to 34.

Round 3 – despite its wounds, the griffon swoops in again. Roll the attack dice:

8,13,and 2 – one claw rakes the sphinx. It takes 1 damage.

Sphinx fights back. It rolls 11,11 and finally a 15 to hit with that beak. Damage of 3,5 and 9 – the griffon goes sailing towards the ground with blood and feathers in its wake.

Pretty emphatic, that one.

Okay, so it’s time for the sphinx to go up against the wyvern. I’ll make it fairer and allow the sphinx to return to base before the call to scramble comes through.

The sphinx takes to the air. Soon, the black silhouette of the wyvern is spotted against the sky. Battle is joined. As unwieldy a kite as the sphinx is, it’s still more manoeuvrable than the wyvern, and it hurtles in to attack. Angels One Five and all that.

Attack rolls 9,19 and 3 – claws rake the slower monster. Damage of 5 and 5. The wyvern is rattled but fights back. His attack rolls are 12 and 16. He’s hit with both his weapons, damage of 13 from the bite and 2 from the stinger. Plus the sphinx has to save vs. poison. He’s a 9HD monster, so his save will be 8 or better. He rolls a 15.

So at the end of round 1, the wyvern is down to 28, the sphinx is down to 25.

Round 2, the sphinx attacks again. Attack rolls of 14,2 and 13. Claw and bite. Damage of 5 and 7.

The wyvern swings round to strike. He rolls 14 and 2. He bites home for 10 damage but his deadly stinger misses.

End of round 2 and the sphinx has 15 hp left, the wyvern is still there on 16. Even Stevens.

Round 3 – the sphinx is not going to let this one go. He goes in for the attack again.

Attack dice – 4,20,18 – claw and bite, with damage of 6 and 9. The wyvern is down to one hit point but let’s see if he can even the score.

He rolls an 18 and a 12 – hits with both weapons. 10 damage from the bite and 5 damage from the stinger. The sphinx makes his save vs. poison but unfortunately he’s run out of hit points. The ground beckons; (perhaps we can be indulgent on this gallant fighter, as it is Christmas and say that he manages to glide to a bumpy but soft landing and get picked up by androsphinx ground crew). But the wyvern is left on one hit point and may make a prime target for scavengers, out for a quick kill.

So, in summary, the griffon, although the most manoeuvrable of the three, just didn’t have the hit points or the THAC0 to land the blows required on the sphinx when it could have counted. The sphinx v wyvern contest was much more evenly matched with that stinger hitting a couple of times and only the sphinx’s high HD giving it the good saving throw that it needed. However, that ferocious bite that the wyvern used so effectively finally told the day – but by only 1 hp.

Until next Saturday Night - happy flying!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Just in time for Christmas

As it's unlikely that I'll be anywhere near my computer tomorrow (I'm cooking dinner and have family over), I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Christmas, including Koren N'Rhys, who has become my 24th follower. Welcome, and it's nice to see another of us introducing the great game to a new generation of gamers. Keep us posted on how it's going!

I was also intrigued to see your ideas for a cyberpunk game - as someone who, as a callow youth of 19, read Neuromancer when it first came out, and enjoyed Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive as well as Burning Chrome, I will keep an eye on this project with interest. I tried something similar way back but had to customise Traveller to do it. Didn't really work all that well.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Welcome, Tenkar and Imredave

Very glad to see you - just in time for Christmas! That's what I love about the blogosphere - snow doesn't stop us here. Sit ye down by the fireside and put your feet up.

I hope that you find this blog interesting enough to pop by from time to time. I'm hoping to keep up the posts over the festive season, while recuperating from an 'interesting' 2009 and prepping for another year of gaming with Junior Grognard.

Oh yes, and I got a comment on one of my posts today that was entirely in Japanese. No idea what it meant. Has this happened to anyone else?

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Saturday Night Fight Club - the Call of the Wild

Giant Wolverine vs. Brown Bear

It is said that bears respect the ferocity of the wolverine. Let’s find out why….

Brown bear

HD 5+5 (average hp 27.5)
3 atts
If a paw hits with an 18 or more, the hug begins, with 2-12 additional damage.
THAC0 – 15, therefore to hit the wolverine, it needs an 11

Note that the brown bear will fight for 1-4 melee rounds after reaching 0 to –8hp.

Giant wolverine

HD 4+4 (average hp 22)
3 attacks

THAC0 – 15 - to hit the bear it needs a 9 but it gets +4 to hit, so it’ll only need a 5. Crikey – that’s good.

Musk as per giant skunk – 2” wide by 2” high by 6” long – save vs. poison or be blinded for 1-8 hours, even if save is made, creature affected will retreat for a full move and lose 50% of Str and Dex for 28 turns due to nausea. Eeewww!

Ferocity in combat gives them +4 on the to hit rolls (but not on damage, fortunately).

The regular wolverine has one hit die less, and an armour class of 5. The damage from attacks is only slightly lower than their giant relatives. These guys are nasty and I’m surprised that we’ve never had a were-wolverine lycanthrope combo before.

There’s always a first time…


Frequency: Very rare
No. appearing: 1
AC: 4
Move: 12”
Hit dice: 4+2
Percentage in lair: 20%
Treasure type: C
No of attacks: 3
Damage per attack: 1-6/1-6/1-10
Special attack: Surprise on 1-4 on a d6 , +4 on to hit rolls due to ferocity or the werewolverine can opt for two attacks per round at normal to hit.
Special defences: Only hit by silver or +1 magic weapons.
Magic resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Average
Alignment: NE
Size: M

The werewolverine is a feared and destructive lycanthrope. It never has to check morale and will attack till dead. It will take on virtually anything and this tendency to attack is often its undoing as it will go for opponents who can do it serious damage.
Its human form will typically be some kind of assassin, thug or hired killer, who uses the strengths that the animal transformation gives him to carry out his evil work. They will often have some sort of psychotic tendencies that manifest in their human form as sadism or a love of excessive violence.
It is unlikely that the victims of a werewolverine will survive the attack and become one themselves, as this monster leaves little of salvageable quality afterwards.
The werewolverine will also have an ability to resist cold, due to its wintry habitat.

The human form may well have some ranger hunting abilities that come with the lycanthropy. Probably surprised 1 out of 6
Outdoor tracking 75%
For every creature above 1 in the party being tracked +1%
For every 24 hours that have elapsed between making the track and the tracking taking place -15%
For each hour of precipitation -25%

The werewolverine also has the ability to cause an effect in animals that is the same as Cause Fear (1st level cleric spell) – the animal has a chance to save vs. this effect but at –2 on the die.

After several months of lycanthropy, the werewolverine will acquire the ability, whilst in human form to cause unease in humans of its own level and below. This will manifest as a desire on the part of those affected not to remain within 20’ of the werewolverine. Removal to another room will cancel the effect.

The human form will also acquire an insatiable hunger for fresh meat a week before its transformation is due. This becomes increasingly hard to resist (save vs. CON on the 1st night, and
2nd night CON - 2
3rd night CON - 4
4th night CON - 6
5th night CON - 8
6th night CON - 10
7th night CON – 12

If the roll is failed, the victim needs to save vs. WIS in order to overcome the desire to hunt. If he does save, he will seek out a butcher’s or other place where raw meat may be found. If he fails, he succumbs to the desire to hunt his meat down while it is still alive.

In the initial stages of this form of lycanthropy, the victim may still keep their essential character traits, but as the disease progresses, the conflict between the animal urges and the human side of their nature becomes ever more pronounced. Often, this will lead to a form of insanity in which the bestial nature finally wins, or – if the victim is sufficiently strong-willed – they manage to kill themselves.

This form of lycanthropy can often spell doom for paladins and good clerics, unless they voluntarily submit to incarceration (although this can only be done in the very early stages, before the victim’s human personality grows to like the feelings that it is now experiencing) and a lengthy curing process (see p.22 of the DMG)

Any humanoid creature bitten by a lycanthrope for damage equal to or greater than 50% of its total potential but not actually killed or eaten is infected by the disease of lycanthropy. If the person is carrying belladonna, there is a 25% chance that this will cure the infection if eaten within 1 hour. Note that this infusion will incapacitate the person for 1-4 days and there is a 1% chance of the poison in it killing the creature. Otherwise, a Cure Disease spell from a 12th or higher level Patriarch must be placed upon the creature within 3 days or it will become a lycanthrope within 7-14 days.

Trial by combat

Okay, so let’s get fighting.

Round 1

Bear’s attacks, 12, 14 and 12 – all three hit. Damage of 4, 4 and 8 (lucky bite). Total of 16 damage.

Wolverine attacks 6, 16 and 6 – all three hit. Damage of 3, 5 and 2 (unlucky bite). Total of 10 damage.

Round 2
The bear is down to 17hp, the wolverine to 6

Bear’s attacks, 2, 4 and 9 – all three miss.

Wolverine attacks 9, 9 and 4 – claws hit, bite misses. Damage of 3 and 3. Total of 6 damage.

Round 3 – the bear is down to 11hp, the wolverine is still at 6

Bear’s attacks, 16, 16 and 13 – all three hit. Damage of 1, 2 and 8 (lucky bite). Total of 11 damage.

Wolverine attacks 10, 7 and 13 – all three hit. Damage of 2, 4 and 6. Total of 12 damage.

So at the end of that brief but bloody combat, the wolverine is dead and the bear is at –1. It will be dead in 1-4 rounds.

Okay, so let’s run that again to see if the outcome is representative.

Round 1

Bear’s attacks, 15, 17 and 18 – all three hit. Damage of 5, 4 and 6 (lucky bite). Total of 15 damage.

Wolverine attacks 9, 9 and 15 – all three hit. Damage of 3, 5 and 4 . Total of 12 damage.

Round 2

Bear’s attacks, 10, 6 and 5 – all three miss.

Wolverine attacks 12, 19 and 16 – all three hit. Damage of 2, 3 and 7 . Total of 12 damage.

At the end of round 2, the bear is down to 3hp and the wolverine to 7hp.

Round 3

Bear’s attacks, 15, 4 and 8 – one claw hits. Damage of 1 – unlucky swipe. Total of 1 damage.

Wolverine attacks 7, 3 and 15 – claw and bite hit. Damage of 3 and 3. Total of 6 damage.

The bear is now down to –3 but he rolls a 4 on the d4 and fights on for another four rounds. This guy won’t be beaten.

Round 4 (first of the bear’s minus rounds)

Bear’s attacks, 4, 19 and 14 – claw and bite hit and he gets his hug damage. Damage of 3, 2 and 6. Total of 11 damage.

Wolverine attacks 16, 15 and 18 – all three hit. Damage of 3, 5 and 3. Total of 11 damage.

Okay, so the wolverine is now torn and crushed in the bear’s grasp, having gone to –4. The bear is now at –14 so I’m ruling that he is effectively torn so badly that he bleeds to death there and then. Besides, he’s made his point.

So, we’ve run it twice and the result is the same – both are dead by the end of round 3 or 4 at the latest. I would say therefore that the wolverine’s tendency to attack whatever the size of its opponent makes it indeed a fearsome adversary. Only the brown bear’s ability to fight on after reaching zero hit points gives it much of a chance against the wolverine, whose ferocity and sheer bloody-mindedness mean it should be avoided at all costs. Especially if the moon is full.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Rat Trap, or Who's that Ghoul?

It's just occured to me that it's been a while since the last session with Team Adventure got an airing on the blog. So, without further ado...

This entry is best read in conjunction with the map which can be found here.

You will recall that last session, after the finishing off of the two bugbear brothers, the team hunkered down in room 32 to recover their lost hit points. I don't know what it is about these particular sessions but getting the hp sorted, casting the cure lights and such like seems to take forever. It could be that JG now has eight characters to cope with and prefers, as he said at one point this session to 'just fight something'. They searched the bugbears' room, 31, and found, amongst the other loot, a golden chalice but this went into a backpack and was remarked about no longer.

Fully recovered, they set off along the corridor to room 35, where they were faced with a multiplicity of choices. Room 35 has no inhabitants, traps or tricks and yet, in a way is at the very centre of Level 3. They chose to try the door to room 34, and had no trouble opening it. Inside was a huge statue of a dragon, its snarling mouth open and pointing straight at the party. JG rushed off to make a model of the dragon statue out of Lego when I told him what was there. Three characters had gone in when my rolls indicated that one of them had triggered the trap. Hiss went the dragon breath and Garazor, Alia and the hobbit failed their saves vs. breath weapon. I rolled the damage, and found that Garazor and Alia were at zero and the hobbit went down to -7.

JG knew, for I had mentioned it, that a pressure pad on the floor was the cause of this, but thought that the entire floor was a trap. Lannius tied an iron spike to a piece of rope and tossed it across the room to the far entrance where his high Dex ensured that it snagged onto a crack in the stone. With Hruthnor holding the other end, making it a tightrope just above the floor level, Lannius shimmied across it. I thought that this was such a neat idea that I ruled each person had to make a dex save per 10 feet, which made two saves in total. Only two character failed their saves and at once got back on the rope and scurried across. No damage ensued because they were nowhere near the pressure pad.

JG, rather pragmatically, left the three incapacitated characters behind and pressed on. They moved on down towards room 37, entered and saw a pile of rubble in the far corner. Deciding that this warranted attention, they approached. Suddenly, over the stones came 15 giant rats, flinging themselves at the party. Despite only doing 1-3 points of damage per attack and having a THAC0 of 20, they managed to hit Lannius (that happens very rarely) and brough Alurax down to -1. Well, he only has 4hp to begin with.

The rats were eventually despatched, proving wearing and worthy opponents. The party headed on, down and around a big loop of corridor, eventually finding their way back to room 35. I had been rolling for wandering monsters but as you will recall, the table is getting emptier and emptier and no-one put in an appearance.

Back at the figurative crossroads, JG decided on the room that I'd been dreading them going into - 33. I knew that this had eight ghouls inside, but the party were unaware of this. They got to the door and started to investigate. Lannius reported a foul smell, and JG immediately thought "Carrion Crawler". They got the door open and from the darkness came a stronger smell and the sound of shuffling feet and growling. They slammed the door shut and started to iron spike it closed. Thumps and bangs from the other side of the door convinced them to hurry and whilst they were doing that, Garazor, Alia and Zhastur arrived. Garazor had used a Cure Light on himself, then cured Zhastur, who had reciprocated, bringing the three of them to full HP.

With 'something' banging on the door and nobody wanting to find out what it was, the party headed back to room 31, which they knew was safe, to rest up and recover their strength. Again, the iron spikes came out to prevent unwanted intruders.

Finally fully recharged, Team Adventure set off again, passing by room 35 and noticing that the door to 33 had been riven to shards of splintered wood. Whatever had been inside was inside no longer.

(I ruled that the ghouls have now taken the goblins' slot on the Wandering Monster table). JG has no idea what they are or where they are.

They now headed off towards the blank spot on the map, rooms 27 and 26. The door to 27 was locked and Lannius was about to open it when Garazor grumbled about not having had a go this session (or indeed, at all). Lannius stepped aside and let Garazor have a go. Garazor fluffed his roll. Lannius rolled and got a 03. The door clicked open. They found themselves in a room facing a table covered in dusty potion bottles. JG moved Lannius straight to the table and started picking up the bottles. Dismayed at his lack of caution, yet knowing that there was no threat, I decided to teach him a lesson, and started rolling dice by the handful, asking him exactly where the character was standing, what was his AC, etc. Cue dread and fear on JG's part, then I dropped the pretence and told him that nothing had happened, but not to go rushing in next time.

They pocketed the potions, having forgotten about Identify in the dead magic user's spell book (while I was waiting for JG to finish looking at the potions, I was reading up Identify and I'll have to have a good long look at that, because it doesn't look like an easy spell to adjudicate). Beyond this room was a locked door into room 26. Garazor had another go at the locked door to this room and failed, and Lannius did his trick again, rolling 08.

This room contained a puzzle. Briefly put, it was a case of matching small counters in a box with both the colour and shape required on slots in the wall. I thought that it would be reasonably challenging, but by no means impossible for a 6.5. year old. I drew it out on a piece of paper, but in retrospect, it might have been better to do it in coloured pencils. With a little gentle guidance from Mummy Grognard, who I'd enlisted for that purpose, JG got the puzzle and was rewarded with the appearance of a replica of the pillar that they had encountered in the treasure room, 36. The replica showed the pillar with the stone tokens in place and their correct order, but as well as that, the missing two were shown with their designs on.

The first two, having been found with the wolves and the water weird, had a wolf and snake on respectively. The missing two had a wave design and the best attempt at an ogre head I could manage. JG now knows roughly where to look for the last two tokens, and has sussed that level two is the place to go. He also recalled, without prompting from myself that they had seen a side opening on the way down the shaft to the third level but that, at the time, they had passed it by.

He returned to room 29, where they had fought the centipedes and found the room empty and the rope still hanging there. Their climb to the second level was about to begin.

It was there that I left it. I was quite pleased with the way that it had gone today, despite no figures with the exception of the party having made it out of the box. That may well change next week when they hit the meaty stuff on the 2nd level.

It occured to me that the ghouls could be reasonably quickly despatched with the clever use of dungeon geography and the use of Protection from Evil spells. Have a cleric at each end of a straight bit of corridor, casting their Protection from Evil and using these as a block for the ghouls, who cannot pass the magic circle (see MM entry). The rest of the party, using missile weapons and oil flasks, just send arrows and oil bombs past and over the heads of the clerics and turn that stretch of corridor into a killing zone (if you can call it that when the ghouls are already dead). No holy water available (well, not in the quantities required for splash damage and such like) but if there were, it would just add to the butchery. The ghouls would be so closely packed that even those not directly hit would be caught by splash damage, and that's no mean amount. And let's not forget that the three MU-classed characters (Alurax, Elise and Alia) could cast Affect Normal Fires to add to that cosy glow of roasting ghouls.

Well, that was about all for this session. Oh yes, they did encounter a wandering kobold down near room 36 but he spotted the party and ran for it rather than face them. Sensible fellow.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Seventy-three hooks

Okay, here's an early Christmas present. Regular readers will remember that some while ago, I did a post in which I listed geographical and evocative names that might be put into hexes as hooks, suggestions for what might be there if the party ever arrives and starts wandering round. Some people seemed to like them. As a man who never knows when to stop B-) I now offer seventy-three more, for your delectation and delight. Some are fairly obvious, some rather more enigmatic. Take them, use them, make of them what you will.

1. Boarspine Ridge
2. Grave of Giants
3. Lightning Peak
4. Sapphire Falls
5. Copperhead Canyon
6. The Seven Fists
7. Stonefall Vale
8. Hill of Lost Gods
9. Bearskin Forest
10. The Fiery Brothers
11. Demon’s Cauldron
12. Bloodqueen’s Bower
13. Thunderfist Top
14. Deathspawn Marshes
15. Devil’s Pathway
16. The Gargoyle Gate
17. The Weeping Skulls
18. Wyvern Ridge
19. Treeclaw Dell
20. Soulstone Gate
21. Shadowrift
22. The Hunting Forest
23. Doomsmouth Trench
24. Stalking Glen
25. Boulder Run
26. Tumblestone Heights
27. Bog of Dead Ships
28. Razorfish River
29. Stonesnake Valley
30. Sureshot Peak
31. Spearshaft Barrows
32. Slaughterer’s Bend
33. Tunnels of Gloom
34. The Men who Walk No More
35. The Skin Taker
36. The North Wall
37. Crackstone Ring
38. Emerald Tower
39. Red Sword’s Rest
40. The Wall of the Damned
41. Forest of Screaming Souls
42. Lion’s Leap
43. Longbone Valley
44. Greenscale Forest
45. Hill of Walking Bones
46. Nightmare’s Nest
47. Scorpion Pass
48. Ghostsnake Gorge
49. Mournfields
50. The Bull Gate
51. Winterdeath’s Palace
52. Hellcat Hall
53. The Blood Cascades
54. Soulblaze Hill
55. Nightblood’s Fastness
56. Circle of Teeth
57. Batwing Butte
58. Valley of Venomous Rain
59. Ten Dead Daughters
60. Goldencliff Fortress
61. Blacksoul Temple
62. Waterdeath Falls
63. Forest of Razors
64. Talonwood
65. Bloodhammer Chasm
66. Manhunter Mountain
67. Banshee’s Haunt
68. Fangmarsh
69. Jackal’s Ridge
70. Flaywind Heath
71. The Howling Heads
72. Silverbones’ Ruins
73. Hackblade Hollow

If anyone does manage to make something out of them, let me know. Always interested in what folks do with my stuff.

Comign soon - campaign history. Dates and Kings and things.


I don't know if it means that this blog has come of age, but I now have twenty-one followers. Welcome, Scholaboy - can't reciprocate, as you don't seem to have a blog of your own, but if you have anything that I can visit or link to, please let me know.

I hope that you like what what you read here, and as the Rusty Battle Axe can testify, I do respond to reader requests. Occasionally.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Two new followers - welcome, friends

A warm Yorkshire welcome to Akrasia, from whom I have learned a new word, and Mark from RPG Dumping Ground, who is running an introductory game for his two nieces and doing a very good job of it by all accounts.

By popular request, I have got out the mulled wine and mince pies again, as well as some fine Stilton and Reserve Port.

We may go carol singing later. Hope you're all in fine voice.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Saturday Night Fight Club - Catoblepas v Umber Hulks

Yes, it's Saturday Night, and you know what happens next. Two monsters that would probably have got on perfectly well, had a few beers, shared an anecdote or two, maybe eventually gone on holiday together, end up fighting for your entertaiment. So, put your hands together and welcome our two contenders for the main event....

Umber hulk

No. appearing 1-4
AC 2
Move 6”
HD 8+8 (average hp 44)
No of attacks 3
Dam per attack 3-12/3-12/2-10 – average total damage of 21
Special attack – confusion (any intelligent creature that views the umber hulk’s four eyes must save vs. magic or be confused for 3-12 melee rounds)
THAC0 = 12
Therefore to hit the catoblepas is 5 or better on a D20 or an 80% chance.


You'll remember this lovely creature from one of my recent posts.
HD 6+2 – average hp 29
No of atts 1
Dam per att 1-6 plus stun (base 75% chance minus 5% for every hit die above one – the umber hulk therefore has a 40% chance of being stunned)
Special attack – Death gaze 6” range.
THAC0 = 13

2/6 chance of total surprise and the gaze affecting ‘a party member’. I assume from this phrase that it can only affect one person, logical if you consider that it is a gaze weapon and therefore focussed. It’d be damn lethal if it was a wide-angle effect.

25% chance that the creature can get its head up long enough for the gaze to work. This increases by 15% each round if both the catoblepas and its attackers are still.
If it is moving its head around to get a fix on quick movements, there is only a 10% chance that it will get the head up.
A fleeing victim with eyes averted still gets affected by the gaze but it gets a saving throw.

Two judgements need to be made here. Is the catoblepas an intelligent creature for the purpose of the umber hulk’s gaze? Are the umber hulks taken by surprise or do they know that the catoblepas is there?

Let’s assume that the answer to the first is no, and the answer to the second is yes, they do know that the catoblepas is there. There are no precautions that can be taken against the gaze of the catoblepas; the umber hulks had just better trust to weight of numbers.

Okay, this is not one of those where I can just stack up the averages and work from there. For example, what’s an average of certain death?

Let’s play…..Trial by Combat!

Round 1 – here come the umber hulks. We’ll throw two in to be going on with, possibly a third in reserve, just in case.

We’re ruling that there is no surprise, therefore we first roll to see if Catoblepas gets a gaze in before Umber Hulks 1 & 2 pitch in.

88 – nope.

He swings his tail to see if he can stun one of the Hulks.

Rolls a 3 – the tail sweeps empty air.

In come the Hulks.

Umber Hulk 1 rolls to hit 10,18,10

Umber Hulk 2 rolls 13, 2, 8

Basically, they’ve hit with all six attacks. Roll those damage dice.

Umber Hulk 1 claw attacks 9 per attack, Bite attack 8

Umber Hulk 2 claw attack 7 per attack, bite attack 5

Total damage to the catoblepas is 45 – he’s been torn to bits.

Let’s just run that again to see if anything different happens second time around.

Round 1 – the umber hulks pile in again.

Again, we’re ruling that there is no surprise. Let’s see if Catoblepas gets a gaze in before Umber Hulks 1 & 2 get busy with the claws.

66 - it would appear not.

He swings his tail to see if he can stun one of the Hulks.

Rolls a 7 – the tail misses.

The Hulks launch their attacks.

Umber Hulk 1 rolls to hit 13,7,10

Umber Hulk 2 rolls 4, 6, 16

Basically, they’ve hit with five out of six attacks. Roll those damage dice.

Umber Hulk 1 claw attacks 8 per attack, Bite attack 8

Umber Hulk 2 claw attack 7, bite attack 5

Total damage to the catoblepas is 36 – he’s been torn to bits again. Deja slain.

Okay, let’s be fair to the catoblepas and rule that the umber hulks are just out for a walk when they come across the long-necked one.

But unfortunately he rolls a 3.

So, no instant death for the umber hulks. Let’s see if the catoblepas can get a gaze in before the hulks get to him.

He rolls a 34.

And we can proceed from there much as before…

Okay, let’s do it again.

Round 1

He swings his tail to see if he can stun one of the Hulks.

Rolls a 10 – the tail fails to hit.

The hulks get their claws ready.

The squeamish amongst you can look away now.

Okay, so that should have answered Rusty’s question.

However, let’s have a bit of fun now and see if the party that fared so badly against the stirges last week does any better against the catoblepas this week.

We have a party of low-level (say 2nd) adventurers, average AC4, six in the party, average hp 11 each.

I’m ruling that their average THAC0 is going to be in the region of 19 and that they are trudging through the swamp, never having read this blog before and therefore completely unaware of what the hippo-like thing ahead of them is. I'm also assuming that they wade straight in rather than stay outside the 6" range and use their bows and other missile weapons.


Round 1 – let’s roll that surprise roll.

5 – no-one meets the gaze of the catoblepas. The party have no idea what it is, since no-one has dropped dead yet, and rush in to attack.

Catoblepas swings its tail, hits with a 15. Roll of 98% means that the luckless adventurer actually stays upright but takes a hit point of damage.

1 hit – 7 damage
2 miss
3 hit – 8 damage
4 miss
5 miss
6 miss

End of round 1. The party has hit twice, doing a total of 15 damage. The catoblepas is still there and looking mighty annoyed.

Round 2
There’s a 25% chance that the catoblepgas can get its gaze working. Let’s roll


Zap! One adventurer falls dead with no obvious reason. The tail swings in, hits for 6 damage and stuns its luckless victim.

The adventurers, all four of them pile in again. 3 hit, doing 8, 3 and 6, a total of 17 damage. The catoblepas has now taken 32 damage and keels over.

So at the end of round 2, the party is down one dead, one stunned and a dead catoblepas.

Yes, attacking in numbers increases the odds that you’ll survive this particular monster. Not quite as dangerous as it might first appear – the chances of getting hit by that gaze are quite low. And of course low AC and poor hp are going to tell against it in combat.

Nevertheless, dead is dead and although the party in this particular combat were only low levellers, imagine if it had been someone’s cherished 10th leveller who got that unlucky roll against him.

But what if there were two catoblepas, both munching away in the swamps, a bit like page 14 of the PHB?

Round 1 - a 2 is rolled, one character meets the gaze of the first catoblepas and drops dead.

Round 2 – the party splits into two to take on the beasties.

1,2,3 take on catoblepas 2

Round 2 – gaze fails to make contact. Tail hits, one member stunned, 4 damage. Two attack, both miss.

Round 3 – gaze fails to make contact. Tail hits, one member stunned, 2 damage. One left standing, misses.

Round 4 – gaze fails to make contact. Tail misses. Party member attacks, hits, 2 damage

Round 5 – gaze fails to make contact. Tail hits. Party member stunned, 3 damage.

4,5,6 stick with number 1

One member has already died. The catoblepas swings with its tail, hits and stuns the unfortunate adventurer, 4 damage.

One member (the only one still standing) attacks, misses.

Round 2 – gaze fails to make contact. Tail swings, hits, stuns victim. 5 damage.

Now, here’s an interesting thing. One member of the party is dead, five are stunned. What happens when they wake up? Are the catoblepas waiting for them? If they are, then there is a good chance, 2/6 possibly, that they meet the gaze of the beasts as they open their eyes. And even if they don’t, they’ll still have to make a saving throw vs. gaze. Which I'm assuming is Death Magic, an average across all four saving throws of 12.75, let's call it 13. That's a 35% chance of survival. Not what would be considered good odds.

So that’s probably two more party members down. And as the others get up to flee (would you stick around after a pummelling like that?) then whichever of the survivors on which the catoblepas gaze will have to make another saving throw, although the catoblepas will still have to roll 25% to focus their gaze long enough.

So what have we learned tonight? Catoblepas have a one-shot sure fire definite kill weapon but the odds of them using it successfully are pretty limited. Scant consolation if you happen to be on the receiving end, however. If you're going to use these monsters against a party, make sure that you have two to hand - and plenty of D6 for your players to roll up new characters.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Warm Winter Welcome

I'm very pleased to say that Bliss Infinite from the Warlock's Home Brew has become my eighteenth follower. A warm welcome to you and I hope that you find my humble blog as interesting as I have found yours these past few weeks.

I'm greatly enjoying reading your campaign logs - these really give a feeling that our great game is alive and well. I'm envious of you for two reasons - firstly you actually have a group, whereas I have Junior Grognard, who - bless him - is doing a man's job to keep eight characters under control - and you have the campaign sketchbook as well. Way cool! If I can work out how to scan JG's dungeon sketches to jpeg, I'll post those one day.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Training Dungeon - more, sorry, players

I had a great bit of news yesterday when my good buddy Old 4 Eyes let me know that he'd finally managed to persuade his medium-sized boy, formerly a devotee of video games and Pokemon (1gp in the swear box) to roll up some characters and give my Training Dungeon a try.

I'm delighted and a little nervous to see what they will make of it. New readers should check out my Training Dungeon adventure logs to catch up with Team Adventure's efforts to clear it out.

Old 4 Eyes is thinking of running it with Castles and Crusades or possibly Hackmaster. I guess that shows the adaptability of the dungeon, and I hope he makes a great success of it.

I've been in regular contact with him for about eight months now and he's seen the gestation and development of this project. Feedback from the adventure logs has enabled him to hone and adapt it for his players. I had always hoped that others would take it on and test it on their Junior Grognards. I'm very happy that he was the first.

Developing the sandbox hooks and doing a bit of hexcrawling.

The Hooks in practice.

In the previous post, I gave a list of names that I had keyed to the hex map for my sandbox. Now I’m going to outline some of the ideas that a few of those have generated.

I have already written up Skeleton Tower, an ideal introduction to the area for new players. I list below some ideas that have sprung to mind following the hooks that I listed above. Associated with that is the Shrine of the Silver Knight, which has links to Skeleton Tower but can be played as an entirely stand-alone adventure.

Redstone Ruins
Some great slaughter or combat at this location has left an evil legacy - the blood stained into the stone, and it's given the stones a taste for blood. Perhaps they've got some sort of sinister, malevolent intelligence, keen to see more killing, sending out suggestions to all and sundry that they ought to get their blades red. Illusion and mental manipulation will be the order of the day.

Burnt Man's Haunt - I thought that this could be a situation where a group of hunters/poachers/etc stumbled across a rift to the Elemental Plane of Fire and some were possessed by fire spirits, becoming Flame Zombies - a bit like the Harginn in MM2. They can only be doused, as it were, by holy water blessed by a sufficiently high level cleric. A party managed to seal them into the cave where the rift is by use of Move Earth or some such, but now a landslide has set them free and now we have burnt bodies littering the landscape. Maybe a fire-deity cleric seeks the rift to set free some serious fire elementals to run rampage.

Ogre's Point.
A big gang of ogres used to live here. They were regarded as stupid and slow-moving, the first port of call for any young blade that fancied a scrap. Then an ogre mage happened by and whipped the ogres into shape, so much so that they creamed a 3/4 level party and got the town panicked. Some tougher adventurers eventually killed the ogre mage and quite a few of his gang, and all fell quiet again. The ogres are now a sorry bunch, who hide in the forested hills, skulking in caves and fighting back only if they are pinned into a corner. But of course, someone might happen along again with thoughts of stirring them up. The ogre mage's skull and bones are now part of their shrine, deep in one of their caves.

The Grey Ravines
I’m still sketching this out, but I know that it will include rock and stone creatures, such as the boulder roller and galeb duhr from MM2 and a pack of gargoyles who pretend to be outcrops of stone during the day and swoop on unsuspecting parties at twilight. There is also some sort of dungeon there, with a trapped tiled floor in one of the rooms. On two or three of the tiles are some stone figures, in positions of horror. What happened was that a party of adventurers were crossing the floor when the leading female MU trod on a stone that polymorphed her into a medusa. Before she realised what had happened, she had turned to her party to see if they were okay - with obvious results. The ones that made their saves fled, and she was stuck with the knowledge that she was now a monster and had killed two/three (not sure how many) of her friends. She is now a bit bonkers.

Clawbriars – thickets with very sharp thorns, possibly some stirges that live there, or tiny creatures like jermlaine and pesties. Vampiric plants, all sorts of plant-based nasties. Yellow musk zombies.

No prizes for guessing what lives in Firebreath Forest.

Wandering Monsters for the Sandbox

Whilst looking at the A4 hex sandbox that I published in the previous post, I had an epiphany (albeit one that I suspect many other DMs have had). I suddenly realised that I should treat the whole thing as just one huge dungeon. Each hex is like a room in a dungeon, with its own static feature, either a monster, trap, trick or puzzle. The players can approach a hex from a variety of directions and feel their way across the map, hex by hex. Some hexes they might miss, others they might deem too strong to take on. Some they will clear out after a good fight, and then when their backs are turned, something nasty creeps back in, unless they are astute and work out some way of stopping it.

And then there are wandering monsters. Basically, either
a) the whole map,
b) a cluster of hexes or
c) each hex
has its particular wandering monster roll and whatever comes up is whatever is prowling that particular hex of the sandbox. It could be a really tough monster, in which case, run away! run away! (brave Sir Robin) or it could be remnants of something, bones, bodies, clues, NPC character classes, other adventurers (but only to 6th, methinks, at first), bandits, brigands, military personnel, crazy cultists, etc. Or it could be a bombardier beetle! Going through the MM, I realised that some monsters are static, some are peripatetic. The former can be used as feature creatures, the latter as wandering monsters. Some might fall between the two stools and be static but with a range of a couple of hexes.

I listed out every peripatetic monster that might conceivably be found in the wilderness, including the naturalistic but giant-sized animals and NPC parties up to 6th level, and interwove an equal number of No Encouner rolls, then scored it up and came out with 200 different possibilities.

Once a static monster has been deemed present by a die roll, it will be noted as present thereafter on the map unless the party has wiped out all that they encountered.

The wandering monster list is also useful for deciding what, if anything, might wander into a previously-cleared hex and decide to take up residence.

Once the march of civilisation has moved south, the hexes that have been cleared will be checked for on another table, that for semi-civilised lands. It is not guaranteed that there will be no hostile incursions, but their frequency will be much reduced.

Next time, I’ll be handing out another list of name hooks for your consideration and use, and making a start on the campaign history.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Albie Fiore

I only found out the other day about the death of Albie Fiore back in July. He died from complications connected with a lung tumour. I guess many of you probably knew already, but I wanted to add a few words of my own.

You can read an obituary from the Guardian here, and a more personal reflection from his wife Sue here.

Although he was an incredibly talented and versatile man, as can be seen from the obituaries, I guess that many gamers, like myself will remember him for his modules that first saw the light of day in White Dwarf way back when, and which, by virtue of their inventiveness, playability and sheer genius of vision, have sunk into our subconsciousness and become part of gaming history.

Anyone who enjoyed Halls of Tizun Thane and the Lichway will also remember Albie and I'm sure will join me in rolling a D20 in his memory.

It's sad to see that in recent years, so many of the seminal figures of the great game have died. We owe it to them to continue to play and to pass on the love of gaming that they inspired.

Welcome to two new followers!

Greetings to John L Williams and Narmer, my two latest followers.

To John, I'll say that I find your blog stimulating, thought-provoking and very amusing, and I'm glad to have you on board. To Narmer, I'll say Iiwy em hotep, which I'm unreliably informed is Ancient Egyptian for Welcome.

Narmer, I see that you have a 9-year old son, who's just getting into RPG. I found your posts on this subject very interesting and hope that you might take away from this blog some insights into gaming with kids - a very rewarding activity.

Now I'm just off to make a start on decorating the house for Christmas, and hope to fit a session of the Training Dungeon in this afternoon.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Saturday Night Fight Club - Stirges take on all comers.

Yes, I said Stirges. You won’t be laughing when you see who they can take down.

Let’s have a look at their stats first.

No. appearing 3-30 (that's an average of 16)

AC 8

HD 1+1 (that’s right, these little devils have the same hit dice as a hobgoblin)

No of attacks 1

Damage per attack 1-3

Special attacks Drain blood

Size S

Move 18" in the air (try and outrun them....if you can!)

Stirges attack as if they were a 4HD monster. So even though the DMG lists its THAC0 as 18, it is for attack purposes 15. So on 15,16,17,18,19,20 it will hit AC0 (6 out of 20 or 30%)

The proboscis inflicts 1-3 hp of damage (an average of 1.5) and then they suck out 1-4hp (an average of 2.5) of blood each melee round until they’ve drunk 12hp and then they fly off to digest it.

Every round past round 4, the number of stirges who hit four rounds previously will detach and go off to enjoy their tasty repast (and probably a cigar or two and maybe some fine cheeses?)

Let’s do some quick calculations based on the AC of respective targets.

Orc AC6 Stirge to hit = 9 (60%) , Average orc hit points = 4.5. A stirge swarm of 16 attacking a gang of orcs would take out three on round 1, assume three stirges were killed, another two orcs the next round, assume another three stirges killed, another two orcs go the next round. Fourth round, down to four by its end but another orc killed, and by round 5, it’s more or less over for the stirges but they have killed eight orcs.

Okay, so orcs tend to hang around in groups which might make them a harder target (and believe me, it's a very good tactic when these little pests are in the air), but what about something a little heavier? Surely an ogre will be able to fend them off?

Ogre AC5 Stirge to hit = 10 (55%) , Average hit points = 19

Let’s assume that of the 16 stirges, 9 hit and will therefore detach on round 4 to fly off and digest the blood.

So on round 1, 9 x 1.5 = 13 points of damage. Let’s be fair to the big guy and allow him to kill one stirge with each hand per round. Let’s also assume that he sees sense and kills the ones that have already attached, since they do the most damage (if he’s stupid and goes for the ones in the air, that’s his hard luck). Total number of stirges on him now = 7, total stirges in the air = 7

On round 2, the seven who hit last round and survived start sucking blood, at 2.5 average HP per round. Round 2’s damage therefore is 17hp. Of the other seven who didn’t hit, 4 will hit this time, although two will be killed by his fists. The four that hit will now do 6 points of damage.

So by the end of round 2, the ogre has taken 13 + 17 + 6 = 36. Our ogre is a dead ‘un. There are twelve stirges left in the flock, nine of which are drinking blood. Three are flying around just waiting for their meal.

But what if there are two ogres?

On round 1, the stirges split so that eight attack one ogre, eight the other. Ogre 1 suffers four hits, at 1.5 hp per hit = 6 damage. Ogre two suffers the same. Both ogres are able to kill two stirges apiece with their fists.

On round 2
There are now twelve stirges alive. Both ogres have two stirges sucking their blood (5 damage) and take another six hp apiece from fresh attacks. They are now down to 2hp left. They kill two stirges apiece.

On round 3, there are now eight stirges alive, four of which are sucking the ogres’ blood. The ogres take 5hp damage each and although they kill two stirges apiece (leaving four alive) both ogres are dead. Exsanguinated.

Not much better for the ogres.

Okay, let’s pit the littlest guys against the biggest guy.

Hill Giant AC4 Stirge to hit = 11 (50%), Average hit points = 38

Let’s assume that of the 16 stirges, 8 hit.

So on round 1, 8 x 1.5 = 12 points of damage. As before, we’ll let the hill giant kill one per round with his hands, and as with the ogre, assume that he kills the ones that have already attached. Total number of stirges on him now = 6, total stirges in the air = 8

On round 2, the six who hit last round and survived start sucking blood, at 2.5 average HP per round. Round 2’s damage therefore is 15hp. Of the other eight who didn’t hit, 4 will hit this time, although two will be killed by his fists. The four that hit will now do 6 points of damage.

So by the end of round 2, the giant has taken 12 + 15 + 6 = 33.

On round 3, the stirges attached (six from the first round, four from the second round, less the ones that the giant killed (2) = 8) will drink another 20hp of blood. The giant is down and dead but not before killing two last stirges that are sucking him dry.

So by the end of round 3, there are ten stirges in the flock, six of which are drinking blood. Four left over may well have a go at anyone else in the area.

So a flock of stirges can take down a hill giant in three rounds. And an ogre in two. And remember that this is the AVERAGE number encountered. It could be as high as thirty.

Oh, and if it was thirty, and we have a party of low-level (say 2nd) adventurers, average AC4, six in the party, average hp 11 each….

That’s a 50% hit rate for the stirges, meaning 15 hit first round, doing 22.5 hp of damage. Each character has lost 3.75hp. The party kills six stirges. Twenty four remain. The next round seven hit, doing 10.5hp of damage. The party also takes ((15-6)*2.5) = 22.5 hp. Six more stirges are killed.

In round 2, the party took 33hp of damage, or 5.5 each. That’s a total per character of 9.25. Round three, there are ten stirges on bloodsucking duty. Twelve have been killed, meaning there are eight left to strike. Four hit, doing 6hp of damage. The ten doing the draining do 25 damage – the party kill six more. At the end of round 3, the party has taken another 31hp of damage, 5.16 per character. Each character has now taken 14.41 – they are all at minus hp and with no sign of rescue, they are a tasty meal for the stirges, of whom twelve are left.

"So, anyone else think we look stupid?"

Do not underestimate the power of the proboscis.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The Training Dungeon - creepy-crawlies and a descent into the depths of the earth

We start in room 2, the old goblin chamber where the party was resting up after the previous week’s exertions. The clerics got their Cure Lights ready, a bless, a protection from evil and a couple of others, the MUs learned up sleep, affect normal fires and detect magic.
After consulting the map, they finally sussed that the route to room 13 was the way to go and off they went, arriving at the door to find that it was not locked. Few are in this dungeon. They listened, but Lannius failed his hear noise roll and they opened the door to find a scene of decay and carnage. Bits of bodies, rotting flesh, bones. Slowly, they edged into the room and someone made a hear noise roll, result - a slithering scuttling from overhead. At which point, party members actually looked up and there it was a - a nine-foot scurrying worm shape, heading their way across the ceiling and down the wall.
It was at this point that the party did the last thing that I'd expected - they ran away. Specifically, they dived back through the door and shut it. They heard the noise of tentacles hitting the door and Hruthnor and Alurax readied their missile weapons.
"We open the door" said JG.
"How?" I asked "You've both got your hands full of bows"
After much prompting, Lannius tied a wire loop to the end of his 10' pole and used that to pull the door open. Through came the Carrion crawler and lunged for the two front members. Bows twanged and the CC got an arrow in the head. I should point out at this point that the CC only had 10hp (bad rolls on my part) but that didn't stop it heading straight for Hruthnor and hitting with four of its eight tentacles. The dwarf hadn't helped matters by getting a fumble (two 1s on the trot) whilst switching from xbow to axe, which meant his favourite weapon skittled across the floor. As the CC entwined a now-paralysed Hruthnor in his tentacles and started to turn to scurry off, the blows rained down and pretty soon the CC was a pile of sticky bits, some of those bits still attached to a paralysed dwarf.
I must admit, having looked again at the stats, that a single CC is actually a poor match for seven 1st levellers. The tentacle attack is all it has - I assume that once it's paralysed its victim, it scurries off to have a munch. The description doesn't give much else away, not even how long the paralysation lasts. Incidentally, this led to an amusingly cyclical conversation with JG, something along the lines of
"No, JG, Hruthnor can't move"
"What, not at all?"
"No, not at all"
"Why not?"
"Because he's paralysed"
"What does that mean?"
"It means he can't move"
Groundhog Day in the dungeon!

The party split into two - Alurax, Akurath, Lannius and Garazor searching the room for treasure and finding nothing, Elise, Alia, Zhastur the hobbit and the paralysed dwarf near the door.
The former managed eventually to find the secret door, Alurax being an elf, therefore having a 2 in 6 chance of spotting a secret door if actively looking.

Meanwhile, a roll on the wandering monster chart (now bereft of goblins) had revealed that the evil cleric and his zombie minions were on the prowl, looking for new recruits. All that Elise, who was rearguard, could hear were whispers, mutterings and footsteps coming out of the dark. She mentioned this to JG, and there was a great deal of indecisiveness on the part of the party (except for Elise, who decided to move everyone into the CC room and close the door). JG wanted to attack, which would have been an interesting fight, but sager heads kept quiet and heard the approaching footsteps and then a muttered "Hmm, what did this?" as the cleric found the remains of the CC. Footsteps went away again.

Eventually, the party made it to room 14, after I had ruled that a couple of CLWs would restore Hruthnor. There, they found the a ten foot by ten foot shaft. Going, not exactly. Elise went down on the 50' rope, only to find that halfway down the shaft there was another opening. She hung around while JG struggled to think about what to do. Eventually, she was pulled back up again and the party set off on the big loop of passageway that goes up and over room 14 to come back on the central north-south passageway. Elise had got a bit bored by now, and was hanging around the shaft room while the rest of the party were following the passageway until they rounded a corner and came face to face with 5 wandering kobolds.

It strikes me that an easy way to clear the dungeon would be to stay on level 1 and wait for the monsters to come to you, four or five at a time. Eventually, you'd have killed them all and could go and pick up the treasure without any risk.
In the fight, the party managed to wipe out the kobolds but Garazor went to 0hp. He gave himself a cure light and got all his HPs back again.
Meanwhile, Elise heard the approach of the evil cleric and zombie friends again. She decided to catch up with the party and let them know what she had heard. (Classic Dialogue coming up)

JG said "We're being followed....we retreat!"

In a rather circuitous fashion, the party arrived back in room 14, all deciding to go right to the bottom of the shaft rather than mess around with the opening halfway down. They arrived in room 29, whereupon they were confronted by a door. Lannius and Hruthnor decided to burst down the door and managed to make their saves vs. DEX, so they were on their feet when the giant centipedes attacked.
Killing one with every hit (I didn't even make them roll for damage, as the centipedes only have 1-2 hp, although a critical hit on a centipede should be something to see), they were soon working their way through the nasty little beasts, although as there were two per character, both Lannius and Hruthnor were pretty soon beleaguered. In strode Garazor and Akurath to lend a hand. Bad move.

As there were more characters fighting, the centipedes had more frontage to attack and so the pincers nipped and bit. Soon Hruthnor, Akurath and Garazor failed their saves, even with a +4 bonus (I ruled that the weakness of the poison meant not that you were ill if you failed your save, but that the save bonus reflected the rarity of fatal results). This result revised my opinion of giant centipedes as the most rubbish monster in the MM. Despite this, JG was not downhearted and pressed on with wiping out the centipedes. The good thing is that we'll not see them on the wandering monster roll any more.

They moved out of room 28 and soon found a blocked passage, complete with heavy rocks. JG correctly deduced, without any help form Daddy Grognard that he needed to add up the STR ratings from the party to see if they could move them and although I did roll for wandering monsters whilst they were doing it, nothing came along.

Once past that obstacle, they found a corridor that ran around a central chamber. The doors resisted attempts by Lannius to pick them, but the combination of Alurax and Lannius burst one open and they were confronted with a stone pillar on which were four slots. JG realised that the four slots corresponded to the four tokens, two of which he had, but without all four, he knew that he could do nothing and off the party went.

They were now going down a long passage towards room 30. There, at the end, they saw a shadowy figure, which they soon recognised as an orc sentry. It had not seen them, but it soon knew they were there when Alurax sent an arrow into it. With one hit point remaining, the orc shouted at the top of its voice that there were intruders attacking. With only five characters remaining, this meant that they were faced by ten orcs, but JG was reluctant to rush in and instead sent arrow after arrow at them. The orcs soon realised that they were sitting targets for the archery and charged in, waving their swords. In the first round of combat, Alurax went down and two orcs were toppled. I then hinted to JG that perhaps he had some resource that he was neglecting to use, resource. He (figuratively) slapped his head and recalled that Alia had a sleep spell learned (so the lesson about remembering which spells his casters had clearly paid off). A quick incantation and behold, the orcs were snoring. And then a quick dagger or two from Alia and Lannius and the orcs were dead.

Another one crossed off the wandering monster list.

There was a mysterious shaft in one corner of the room, which even the orcs had been reluctant to investigate. They went down it anyway, as JG tossed down the bodies, having first of course looted them. This was his introduction to electrum pieces, garnering in total about 100gp worth.

DMing kids is great - you can toss them 100gp and they think that they've won the lottery. I expect XP will be something similar. You can imagine it - "We slaughtered those orcs, how many XP did we get?"
"Oh, a hundred and fifty"
"A hundred and fifty? Wicked!"

They set off up one of the corridors out of the orc chamber and soon found a mysterious alcove. JG had remembered to look up as well as around when exploring a room and realised that there was a shaft in the ceiling. They sent Lannius up. Although he's got a Climb Walls of 85%, he rolled a 92 and fell ten feet, taking 4HP of damage. One occasion that his AC2 didn't help him. This provoked a certain reluctance on the part of the thief to have another go and so they decided to press on, around the corner and along to a staggered crossroads. At this point I rolled on the (increasingly empty) wandering monster list and up came "Party of Adventurers". I ruled that this was Garazor, Akurath and Hruthnor back from the start again.
It was just as well that they were up to eight again, because they headed up to room 32. They arrived to find four bodies lying on the floor.

I had set this up as an ambush scenario. Two bugbear brothers in room 31 had laid out the bodies, planting them with money and items in the hope that anyone finding the bodies would be too interested in looting to worry about watching their backs. So it transpired.

The party spotted the bodies and were immediately searching and checking to see what they had on them. I watched carefully and noted that they were all facing away from the door. So the bugbears burst in and attacked, taking out Zhastur the hobbit. One missed Alia on his first attack (yes, a bugbear missing AC10) but he made up for it on round 2 when he floored her, sending her to -1.
Then the fight was on. With the MU out of action, there was no-one to drag the party members back to safety and their survival depended on getting the bugbears killed before the wounded reached -10. Each bugbear had 18hp (a coincidence as I rolled them up) and those hp took a long time whittling down. Akurath and Alurax were brought to zero but no lower, and the rest of the party flung itself into the fight. Elise was next to get knocked down and finally, one of the bugbears fell. The survivor was backed against the wall but three characters (Garazor, Hruthnor and Lannius) were too great a match for it. It did hit Hruthnor for 8 points of damage but the doughty dwarf, with one HP remaining, bellowed out (in true King Leonidas style) "!" (okay, I did that bit) and swung his axe.
JG rolled a 20.
And another 20.
I just declared that the bugbear's head went flying off. (he only had 2hp left). I think that Hruthnor Butterfingers is well and truly forgotten.
And that's where we ended it.

Things that I’m learning about the TD

Carrion crawlers need to be committed in groups of 3 - or 1 per 2 party members. They are just too easily killed on their own. Also, the way that they are used and the places in which they live might be better considered. If they came out of holes in the walls or tiny passages and dragged their victims back down said holes, the party might have to go down after them, leading to an interesting session of fighting in confined spaces. The carrion crawler’s tentacles would be a more fearsome weapon if there was no way that the party could get round its flank.

The ideal party size for the TD is six. Eight is perhaps a little too overwhelming, and I don’t mean just from a paperwork point of view. Either that or up the odds a little. Maybe up the orc ratio to 3 per character.

Despite his young age, JG is acting very much as a player would be expected to act. Which is heartening. And he’s getting used to the dice that he needs and where to look on his character sheets for information.

In fact, as a DM running dungeons for kids, that’s the one thing that I would say needs sorting – much as I love the old goldenrod character sheets we used back in the day, they are overly complex for kids to read. Something nice and simple, with the to hits, the hp, AC and saves laid out in large script. I use, as I’ve already mentioned, the Dragonsfoot character generator and the sheet it prints out, with a little extra info on, could work just fine for youngsters’ character sheets. It really only needs the to hits, weapon damage and a note of the hp.

I’m also thinking of approaching the local school and seeing if we can’t get a small room at the next school fair (probably Easter or the summer) to set up a demo game with JG and perhaps a couple of his little friends. There’s nothing like seeing a game in action to whet the appetite either of those who used to play or kids who will be interested in the figures and the funny shaped dice (plus the home-made DM’s shield).

I have a good stack of pre-gens for anyone who wants a (very) quick start and there are several introductory dungeons for low-level beginners’ parties.

Now where did I put that copy of The Grinding Gear?

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Rare but dangerous - the Catoblepas

You don’t come across it that often; hell, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered it. Probably just as well. Just look at those stats.

Don’t worry about being stunned for 1-10 rounds by its tail. That’s by far preferable to its gaze. If you meet its gaze, you die – no saving throw. It’s like Tomb of Horrors on legs. No matter what level you are, no matter what magic items you’ve got, you die. No saving throw.

There’s a 2 in 6 chance that someone in your party is going to meet that gaze. It might be you. If it’s not you, the danger’s not over because, there is a 25% chance that it will raise its head long enough to gaze at you. It increases by 15% per round if both you and it stand still.

If you’re not dead by now, then run and dodge while you’re doing it because if it has to move its head around, the chance of it gazing at you drops to 10% per melee round. Don’t bother going astral or ethereal – its gaze works there as well.

Oh and even if you avert your eyes while fleeing, the gaze still works. Okay, you get a saving throw against Death Ray. Good luck!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


"My name's Jason and I'll be your Dungeon Master tonight...."

Recently, Jim Raggi was posting on Horror in RPG, the mechanics of fear for PCs and particularly on scaring your players. He’s not posted Part 2 yet, which I’m looking forward to reading. But it led me to think on ways that DMs have of putting the frighteners on players, or creating that feeling of unease in a dungeon.

A recent blog from Alexis on Tao of D&D talked about keeping players in the dark and allowing their imaginations to fill in the blanks. This is sound advice – no-one is better at scaring someone that the person himself.

A wise man once said “When you know what frightens someone, you can control them”. If you’ve been playing with the same group for a while, you will have a fairly good idea of how they react and what does frighten them. That knowledge can be used to rack up the tension and make the players sweat. Everyone likes being frightened at a certain level and there’s nothing guaranteed to make a dungeon memorable like making it scary.

Here are a few of my ideas – some are just DM psychological tactics, others are things to present to your players that may well create that edgy feeling.

Ask the players to describe what they are doing in great detail. Then seize upon the most mundane statement and repeat it back to them as a question, putting the stress on some harmless word.


Player: “We’re standing around the table, looking at the dusty bottles to see if they’re potions”

DM: “You’re standing around the table?”

Player (as minis are hurriedly moved) “No, we’re well away from the table. We’re nowhere near the table. Wherever the table is, that’s where we’re not”

The same can be done as a party enter a seemingly empty room.

DM “Okay, now could everyone show me exactly where they’re standing”

Have a corridor strung with fine wires and strings which are perfectly visible. The party must try and bypass every one as they have no idea which is the trigger for the inevitable trap. Maybe they all are. Or maybe none of them is.

Finding the remains of other adventurers who have fallen to the dungeon’s perils is a sure-fire memento mori, especially if those adventurers look as if they’ve died horribly and are sufficiently fresh as to display that.

Ask the players to make a series of D20 rolls but don’t tell them why. Once they’ve rolled, scribble something down, check in the PHB or DMG, mutter meaningfully to yourself, then smile pleasantly and continue with the game. Now the players are on edge, waiting for the inevitable. Or is it inevitable?

A DM with whom I played long ago used to observe dryly as the party marched down a corridor in a tight cluster

“Oh look – fireball formation”

And how quickly the party would spread itself out.

Smells – DMs often forget this feature of a dungeon – I’ve recently been using it myself and the party now associate a certain smell with carrion crawlers. What they didn’t realise was that ghouls smell very much the same.

Dungeon floors – why should they be level and smooth? Why not have them made of uneven slabs, crooked flagstones, pieces that don’t seem to match the rest of the floor. They’re not pressure pads but the party don’t know that.

Whilst we’re thinking about dungeon geography, the walls don’t have to be perfectly smooth and featureless. If you’re underground, you would expect there to be small holes, perhaps a foot or so in diameter every so often. Dark holes. Holes out of which things could crawl when you’re not watching. And why stop at the walls? What about the ceilings? A lot of players ask about the walls and the floors when they enter a room but how many look up?

The party is confronted by a stretch of water blocking their way. It’s only knee-deep but there could be anything in there. Or nothing.

If your party is one of those that actually remembers to post rearguards, they can be a good source of tension. As they move deeper into the dungeon, either pass the rearguard a note or ask to speak to them alone. Suggest that they hear slight noises, unnatural shadows. When they report back to the rest of the party, someone will invariably ask if anyone else sees anything. Say no. A bonus will be if the party then starts to mistrust the rearguard and subsequently ignores real warnings.

That having been said, shadows that flit across the far end of a dimly-lit passageway and then vanish are a good way of making players edgy. Do they investigate and risk being led astray or do they press on and risk something following them? A lot of DMs treat a monster encounter as a pretext for immediate attack, but more tension can be obtained from having the monster bide its time, waiting for the right moment to strike. Stalking the party.

Splitting the party is always a good tactic – I mean, what’s the one thing that the bold adventurers on any good horror film always do? If the party has split up and is out of visual contact, why not have magic mouths that are triggered by one or two people passing by and let out a blood-curdling scream of terror or something like “Help me! Please don’t kill me! No….aaaaargh!”

The idea is really to keep the tension up. If the players are scared of their own shadows three rooms in, the DM has done his job well.

What do you think? Have you got any techniques for getting the players freaked out and ready to run? Or perhaps you’ve got a story about a time when this happened. Let me know.