Friday, 28 May 2010

Art on Friday

A bit of a thin week for me post-wise; still, not to worry. Some solo dungeon stuff happening over the weekend, methinks and I'm rather chuffed that my paperback copy of Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold has arrived from Amazon. I have some birthday gift tokens left over so I shall probably order the HP Lovecraft Omnibus (3 volume set) from Waterstones this weekend as well.

But down to business. What art treasures have I found out on the net for you this week? Well, today's artist goes by the handle Gaius31duke - I know no more except that he is a resident of the UK. Never mind - I salute you, friend, when you can turn out brilliant stuff like this:

Did someone mention Ravenloft?

I need to write a dungeon for this...

And this...

I think I'm already writing one for this.

Who needs a film of the Hobbit when you've got images like this?

The inhabitants of Atlantis face some hard truths about climate change.

One pepperoni with anchovies for some guy named Raggi?

"It says ring the bell and ask for Aslan..."

Okay, I'm getting my books, my dice and my pens out right now...


Be sure to go and check out his website via the link above - there is so much cool stuff there that I was very spoilt for choice.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Miniatures Monday - Baruk Khazad! Khazad ai-Menu!


And we all know what that means. Today's figure will be recognised by long-term followers of the blog as that of Hruthnor Notchblade, dwarven fighter of renown, famous for his motto "First in the attack, last in the retreat, and get the hell off my mountain!"

Let's take a good look at this mini - check the horns out on the helmet. Andy's not gone for a single colour but instead has given them a tan shade at the base and darkening towards the tips. Very much as horns would be in real life. The helmet itself is a plain iron cap, shiny on the edges but dulled elsewhere. The hair and beard have a distinct red tinge to them but dry-brushing has give the impression that this is a dwarf with a good few years under his belt.

For a change, the face casting of this figure has given Andy the opportunity to put some real character into its features. Over his back, you can just see the crossbow, which Junion Grognard made so much a feature of Hruthnor's repertoire. The gloves are a vivid green, which is unusual - I'm not sure why Andy chose that. Perhaps he fancied an eye-catching contrast.

The boots again, much like the haversack on the knight last week have benefitted from a great paint treatment - they really look like worn leather, long-travelled, warm and dry. Those boots, you could imagine, might see you from the West Doors to the Dimrill Gate, not to mention outrunning a Balrog.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Solo Dungeon - the Cast List

Okay, you'll remember that I mentioned this project last week. I've now rolled up six characters on the Dragonsfoot 1e character generator, 3d6 method, three tries. No moving scores around, so no dump stats. The generator rolls up HP as well as starting money, but what I'll probably do is get them weapons and whatever armour they can wear and a fair amount of basic equipment, iron spikes, rope, torches, oil bombs etc. I figure that six characters would pool their resources to give themselves a fighting chance.

I rolled up the first five to get two fighters, a cleric, a thief and a magic user and then rolled up a sixth to see what extra character we could get. Surprise, a second cleric. That might come in handy.








I thought, for a bit more audience participation, if we get any kills and new characters are needed, if anyone wants to send in a 1st leveller that they've rolled up and we'll have them join the party. If I don't get any foolish vict...I mean brave volunteers, I'll roll some more up myself.

I'll be using my trusty D20 of Doom, the one that's sent so many monsters to their death in SNFC.

THAC0s are as follows

Sanathris: 20
Ralgaz: 20
Garamar: 20 (and 20 to hit AC1 as well)
Feebul: 21 (and 21 to hit AC1 as well)
Brother Algo: 20
Athgal: 20

Let's just roll up the Magic User's four starting spells from the list in the DMG, page 39 in case anyone was wondering.

D10 rolls are 4, 10 and 4. So that's Friends, Choose and the ever-useful Find Familiar. And Read Magic.

So that's our first choice of the dungeon, readers - what spell should Garamar choose from the Defensive Spell List? The choices are

Affect Normal Fires
Dancing Lights
Feather Fall
Hold Portal
Jump
Protection from Evil
Shield
Spider Climb
Ventriloquism

Let me know what you reckon he should pick and we'll go with that one. And while you're in voting mood, does anyone have any preference for weaponry for the party? I think two main weapons and a third smaller one for each character, apart from the MU, who'll have smaller stuff. All suggestions will be taken into account.

Next time, I'll be choosing the starting point for the dungeon from page 169 of the DMG and, with any luck, setting out on the quest for...whatever it is we're looking for. (must think of a snappier title)

Friday, 21 May 2010

Art on Friday

Today, I'm featuring J P Targete, an artist whose weird and fantastical style really appeals to me. A visit to his website is highly recommended; you'll find plenty there for inspiration or just enjoyment. As can be seen from the following selection, his range is varied and his imagery striking, innovative and at the same time has an element of the familiar.








Other art news - you'll note that I've added the blog of Jonny Hodgson to my blogroll. He's a great artist and again, well worth a visit to check his work out.

Junior Grognard has produced another of his pictures, with a D&D slant (as opposed to the Clone Wars, which seems to be taking up a lot of his time just recently). Check the stalagmites out - that's detail for you.
Knight and Dragon

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Poisoned!

INTRODUCTION

It’s clear as day that Gary Gygax did not like poison in D&D. He went out of his way to say so and set down various conditions on their use that makes them very impractical unless the user is determined to press ahead.

However, a study of the use of poisons in history, particularly in the Renaissance shows that at certain times and in certain places, the use of poison was part of the political process. Think of the Borgias for example. In fact, in Venice there was a "Council of Ten" who met regularly to arrange poisonings for the State and their written records are preserved. Victims were named, prices agreed and contracts with poisoners recorded. When the deed was done, a note was made in the margin that read "Factum" and payments were made, sometimes in the form of a regular pension. The "Council of Ten" had a number of poisons in their repertoire. Three of them are preserved as the "secreta secretissima" in archives dating from 1540-1544. So rampant was poisoning during this time that expert poisoners ran schools for would-be-poisoners.

This article is not going to address the exact nature of poisons, how they work or why. I don’t pretend that the effects of poisons detailed below are in any way toxicologically accurate. What I want to talk about is ways of making them more interesting, developing their effects and features and a way to develop the Save Vs Poison ability to make it perhaps a little bit more realistic.

TOXIFACTORS

I’m using a new term in this article – Toxifactor, a manufacturer of poisons. The definition differentiates the maker of the poison from the one who actually administers it (the poisoner)

The art of the Toxifactor is a skilled one; many serve long apprenticeships and often have to run the risk of being killed by the very substances that they make.

It should also be noted that governments and the military would certainly employ toxifactor as a valued resource. The toxifactor would ensure that they have insurance policies in place in case they outlive their usefulness and end up on the death list themselves. An interesting moral dilemma might await a lawful good government who are desperate for every advantage against unscrupulous and deadly evil foes. Do they use poison? The superpowers of today’s world have arsenals of chemical and biological weaponry stockpiled and they would consider themselves both civilised and good. A hunt for weapons of mass destruction would be a good plot for a gang of adventurers sent in to enemy territory to hunt down and destroy stockpiles of poison.

A Toxifactor will be of a specific skill level, and this skill level will determine what poisons they can make. If a Toxifactor tries to make a poison beyond their skill range, they will reduce its potency by one for every level it is out of their range, and there is a chance that it will have an unexpected or unforeseen effect.

There may be guilds of Toxifactors in certain cities (see above), or – depending on the campaign setting – they may be solitary but brilliant craftsmen who are sought after but sell their services dear.

Assassins who choose to make a study of poisons, much as in the DMG, can attain toxifactor skill as they progress, at the discretion of the DM.

WHAT’S YOUR POISON?


The following poisons are not all lethal; some of them have effects that go far beyond mere death and cause the victim no end of discomfort. Some do not even kill the victim; they don’t need to. Some are killing poisons - there are no special effects, just death.

I have categorised the poisons under the following headings:

 Toxicity – this is a figure from 0 to 4 which is the bonus added to the die roll that the character makes when trying to save vs. poison.
 Format - a poison comes in one of four formats, liquid, powder (solid), gas or paste. If it is in powder format, it will dissolve in water, wine and other liquids but the clearer the liquid, the more likely it is that the substance will be noticed. Liquid format poisons are, with one or two exceptions, clear. Gas format poisons come in sealed containers which can be broken to release the gas (checks need to be made to see if the containers are broken accidentally). Pastes come in jars but these need to be kept sealed if they are not to dry out and lose their potency.
 Speed of action – instantaneous, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months
 Areas of effect – which part of the body is affected
 Antidote – if an antidote can be administered in time, another save roll must be made and this time the antidote’s modifier is applied against the toxicity level. If the save is made, the poison’s effects are nullified. If the save is failed by the specified amount, the effects are limited. If the effects were previously limited by a failed save and the antidote save is failed within the required margin, the poison is nullified.
 Cost to buy – from a toxifactor. I start out with a base 750gp cost per dose and onto that is added 250gp for every level of toxicity over 1 and 250gp for every level of toxifactor skill over 1 required to make it.
 Complexity – the level of skill that a toxifactor needs to concoct it.


A BIT OF FLAVOUR

It must be galling for toxifactors to work for days, if not weeks on a new concoction, probably to order, only for it to be described as “a poison”. I’m a big fan of real ales, which are produced by small and dedicated breweries. The analogy works well for me, and I can’t see why poisons produced by craftsmen would not have far more evocative names. These are but a few – I’m sure that you can come up with many more.

FORTY-FIVE WAYS TO DIE


Powderbones – the victim’s bones crumble to dust inside the body
Toxicity 0
Format liquid, powder (solid)
Speed of action minutes
Areas of effect - bones
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 750gp
Complexity 1

Crimson Sludge – the victim’s blood turns to a sticky morass, the consistency of molten plastic. Death will follow swiftly.
Toxicity 1
Format liquid, gas
Speed of action - minutes
Areas of effect blood
Antidote – yes, +2
Cost to buy base 750gp
Complexity 1

Lead’s Dominion – the victim suffers tremendous weakening of all muscles, leaving them with a STR of 2.
Toxicity 0
Format liquid.
Speed of action - hours
Areas of effect muscles
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 1000gp
Complexity 2

Flame’s Chisel – the joints lock and fuse together, causing the victim to be unable to move
Toxicity 2
Format liquid, gas
Speed of action - hours
Areas of effect joints
Antidote – yes, +2
Cost to buy base 1250gp
Complexity 2

Sunlit Drowning – the victim’s lungs are filled with water – no matter how much is expelled, more keeps coming until they die.
Toxicity 1
Format liquid, powder (solid), gas or paste
Speed of action - minutes
Areas of effect lungs
Antidote – yes, 0
Cost to buy base 750gp
Complexity 1

The Terminus Bell – a killing poison
Toxicity 1
Format liquid, powder (solid), gas or paste
Speed of action instantaneous
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote - none
Cost to buy base 1000gp
Complexity 2


Florian’s Gift – the victim is plunged into a state of euphoria, and will not believe that there is anything wrong; meanwhile the poison eats away at their internal organs.
Toxicity 3
Format liquid
Speed of action - hours
Areas of effect brain and internal organs
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 1500gp
Complexity 2

Hell’s Welcome – the victim catches fire and burns to death where he stands
Toxicity 2
Format liquid, gas
Speed of action minutes
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote - none
Cost to buy base 1500gp
Complexity 3

Plucker’s Bit – the eyes become so painful that insanity is likely unless they are torn out
Toxicity 3
Format – liquid, gas
Speed of action - minutes
Areas of effect eyes
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 1500gp
Complexity 2

Green Silk – the victim’s skin takes on the texture of leaf tissue, a deep green and very poisonous to anyone who touches it.
Toxicity 4
Format liquid
Speed of action - hours
Areas of effect skin
Antidote – yes, +2
Cost to buy base 2000gp
Complexity 3

Future’s End – a killing poison
Toxicity 2
Format liquid, powder (solid), gas or paste
Speed of action instantaneous
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote - none
Cost to buy base 1250gp
Complexity 2

A Dream of Glass – the victim becomes completely translucent
Toxicity 1
Format liquid
Speed of action - minutes
Areas of effect – whole body
Antidote – yes, 0
Cost to buy base 1250gp
Complexity 3

Serpentine Secret – a killing poison, very hard to detect
Toxicity 3
Format liquid
Speed of action instantaneous
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote- none
Cost to buy base 2000gp
Complexity 4

The Scythe of Time – this one may well cause a very rapid ageing of the victim. Depending on their age, this may be fatal or not. A young woman who seeks to put her love rival out of the picture may deliver this in order to turn her into a wizened crone without actually killing her and thereby risking a charge of murder.
Toxicity 2
Format liquid, gas
Speed of action – anything up to two hours for humans
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 1750gp
Complexity 4

The Dark Lady’s Caress – a killing poison. This poison causes no pain at all.
Toxicity 4
Format liquid, powder (solid), gas or paste
Speed of action instantaneous
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote- none
Cost to buy base 2000gp
Complexity 3

Basilisk Beauty – similar in effect to a potion of petrification but more easily able to be administered unnoticed.
Toxicity 3
Format powder
Speed of action – instantaneous (seconds)
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote - none
Cost to buy base 1750gp
Complexity 3

The Glory of Pain – causes exceptionally agonising torment for the victim, with the option of prolonging the agony, ending it with death or ending it after a specified duration
Toxicity 4
Format liquid, powder (solid), gas or paste
Speed of action as required, onset within minutes
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote – yes, +2
Cost to buy base 2000gp
Complexity 3

Coral Kiss – killing poison; the vial of this poison is a deep pink in colour.
Toxicity 1
Format liquid
Speed of action instantaneous
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote- none
Cost to buy base 750gp
Complexity 1

Ocean’s Revenge – this poison has the same effect as aboleth slime.
Toxicity 3
Format liquid
Speed of action hours
Areas of effect skin
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 1750gp
Complexity 3

Black Sunset – killing poison
Toxicity 1
Format liquid, powder (solid), gas or paste
Speed of action instantaneous
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote- none
Cost to buy base 1000gp
Complexity 2

Butterfly’s Fang – causes the victim’s skin to become blistered and swollen. It will then harden and darken like a chrysalis, inside which the victim will transform into some vile and horrific creature.
Toxicity 2
Format liquid, powder (solid)
Speed of action hours
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 1750gp
Complexity 4

Warrior’s Fist – the victim’s skin and flesh begin to split open and bleed, the wounds similar to those inflicted by a sword. The victim will lose 1-6 hp per round. The wounds will not respond to Cure Lights or others such spells unless a Cure Poison spell is cast first.
Toxicity 3
Format liquid, paste
Speed of action minutes
Areas of effect skin and flesh
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 1750gp
Complexity 3

Red Ruin – causes the victim to dissolve into a sticky red sludge
Toxicity 4
Format liquid, gas
Speed of action - minutes
Areas of effect – whole body
Antidote – yes, +2
Cost to buy base 2250gp
Complexity 4

Flaymaster’s Best – the victim’s skin sloughs off like a snake and leaves them alive but skinless.
Toxicity 3
Format liquid, gas
Speed of action - minutes
Areas of effect - skin
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 2000gp
Complexity 4

Brown Fire – the victim begins to blister and bubble like burnt milk as their body fat combusts.
Toxicity 1
Format liquid, gas
Speed of action - minutes
Areas of effect – skin and body fat
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 1250gp
Complexity 3

Silver Torment – the victim’s blood turns into a living metal which then infects the rest of the body, bursting out through the skin and pooling on the floor as it turns the whole victim into a bubbling lake of living metal.
Toxicity 4
Format liquid
Speed of action - minutes
Areas of effect – blood and then whole body
Antidote – yes, +2
Cost to buy base 2250gp
Complexity 4

Wolf’s Claw – causes the victim to undergo a lycanthropic transformation but with no chance of recovery. The transformed victim will attack the nearest person, then the next nearest until they are killed.
Toxicity 3
Format liquid, gas
Speed of action - minutes
Areas of effect – whole body
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 1750gp
Complexity 3

Cut and Run – the blood cells of the victim become razor-edged and slice through the walls of the veins and arteries, exsanguniating the victim from within
Toxicity 2
Format liquid, powder or paste
Speed of action - minutes
Areas of effect – circulatory system
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 1750gp
Complexity 4

Unadulterated Nightfall – killing poison
Toxicity 2
Format liquid, powder (solid), gas or paste
Speed of action instantaneous
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote- none
Cost to buy base 1250gp
Complexity 2

Shade’s Tears – a killing poison
Toxicity 3
Format liquid
Speed of action instantaneous
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote- none
Cost to buy base 1500gp
Complexity 2

Shadow’s Reach – causes the victim to become dark and non-corporeal, a shadow in shape and form (but not the undead version)
Toxicity 1
Format liquid
Speed of action - hours
Areas of effect – whole body
Antidote – yes, 0
Cost to buy base 1250gp
Complexity 3

The Yellow Dagger – a killing poison
Toxicity 4
Format paste
Speed of action instantaneous
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote none
Cost to buy base 2000gp
Complexity 3

Skin Shedder – the victim’s skin peels off layer by layer; after each layer, the victim becomes more and more primitive
Toxicity 0
Format liquid, gas
Speed of action - minutes
Areas of effect – skin and then whole body
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 1250gp
Complexity 3

Sweet Maid of Hell – a killing poison
Toxicity 2
Format liquid, powder (solid), gas or paste
Speed of action instantaneous
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote - none
Cost to buy base 1250gp
Complexity 2

Gateway of Winter - a poison that causes its victims to freeze solid in minutes.
Toxicity 4
Format liquid, gas
Speed of action - minutes
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote – yes, +2
Cost to buy base 2000gp
Complexity 3

Baker’s Dozen - a poison that causes the victim to become living clay that then needs to be kept moist or it will bake and they will become a terracotta figure.
Toxicity 3
Format powder
Speed of action - minutes
Areas of effect – whole body
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 1750gp
Complexity 3

The Unwelcome Visitor – a killing poison
Toxicity 1
Format liquid, powder (solid), gas or paste
Speed of action instantaneous
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote- none
Cost to buy base 1000gp
Complexity 2

The Iron Crown – the victim begins to turn into metal, a process taking 1-5 minutes. A random check should be made to see which metal it is unless the poisoner has specified otherwise.
Toxicity 2
Format liquid, gas
Speed of action minutes
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 1750gp
Complexity 4

Naked Bones – the victim’s flesh dissolves to leave them a living skeleton.
Toxicity 1
Format liquid, powder (solid) or paste
Speed of action minutes
Areas of effect - whole body
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 750gp
Complexity 1

Plague of Shadows – the victim suffers hallucinations that to them are completely real and threatening so that they take irrational steps to protect themselves.
Toxicity 1
Format liquid, gas
Speed of action - minutes
Areas of effect – brain and eyes
Antidote – yes, 0
Cost to buy base 1000gp
Complexity 2

Kiss of Night – the victim is plunged into a coma that may very well be mistaken for death
Toxicity 2
Format liquid, gas or paste
Speed of action minutes
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote – yes +1
Cost to buy base 1250gp
Complexity 2

The Gates of Dawn – the victim undergoes a reversal of the ageing process, getting younger at the rate of a year a minute.
Toxicity 0
Format liquid
Speed of action anything up to two hours for humans
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote – yes, +1
Cost to buy base 750gp
Complexity 1

The Crown of Diamonds - killing poison
Toxicity 3
Format liquid, powder (solid), gas or paste
Speed of action instantaneous
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote- none
Cost to buy base 1500gp
Complexity 2

Vengeance of Dragons - killing poison
Toxicity 4
Format liquid, powder (solid), gas or paste
Speed of action instantaneous
Areas of effect whole body
Antidote- none
Cost to buy base 2000gp
Complexity 3

MORPHIC ELIXIRS
Similar in format to the Polyjuice potions from Potter, these are prepared from various body parts of creatures, a sort of compulsory Polymorph which, when consumed, causes the victim to turn into the creature from whom the elixir was derived. The favourite types are those creatures who are relatively harmless unless disturbed. Imagine what would happen if the Chief Justice’s wife drank an elixir derived from an ochre jelly or green slime?

I would imagine that the form into which the victim changes will be of more or less the same size or volume. It would not be possible for someone to be changed from human into a dragon for example, unless the resultant dragon was about six feet long.

Provided that the ingredients are available, morphic elixirs will take about a fortnight to prepare, cost 750gp per dose to buy. They will need to be pre-ordered if a specific transformation is intended but there are probably pre-made varieties for sale. A toxifactor of skill level 2 or higher is needed to make these.

HARMLESS BUT ANNOYING


Glo-fish are tiny creatures who live in dungeon bodies of water. They are totally harmless but a chemical in their bodies causes them to glow different colours depending on their mood. They could make great pets for the children of the urban rich.

Angry - Red
Happy - Fuchsia
Sad – Pale Blue
Frightened - Yellow
Amorous – Deep purple

What if they had a bite that injected the victim with a substance that caused them to glow in the same colours for the same moods?


BIO-WEAPONS

Whilst we are on the subject of poisons, it doesn’t have to stop with sinister potions. Has anyone ever managed to extract a Worm of Kyuss and use it as a bio-weapon? Yes, simply place in a sealed casket and send it to an unsuspecting member of the family you want to wipe out. The victim will open the casket and in no time at all will be a rotting, worm-ridden monster, stalking the house and converting those therein.


SAVE VS POISON

Save vs. poison rolls are an interesting development. They seem to imply, in fact they downright state that the higher the level the lower the chance of a poison, whatever it is, and however deadly it is, having any effect, or any detrimental effect. If you say that making the save halves the effect, that might be a bit better but why should a 15th level fighter treading on a stonefish fare any better than a 1st level fighter? There is an argument that higher levels should benefit saves because they represent the cumulative benefits of experience and ‘toughening up’ but should this really apply to poisons, many of which the character is unlikely to have encountered? The only way in which this could be justified is if the character is himself a poisoner or assassin and has built up an immunity to certain poisons by constant exposure.

I propose a combination of STR and CON – these can either be averaged out and the poison modifier applied. Rolling below this will not indicate harmlessness but a gradation of saves will apply. The toxicity modifier is added to the die roll rather than the number that the saver needs to make.


Roll below Con + STR/3 on a d30




There will be gradations of severity from totally unaffected, through mild to severe. Even severe will only be probably 75% of the effect of the poison itself.

A 30 will always be a fail and a 1 will always be a save.

I think that monster HD as a guide to saving throws should be retained. Monster HD are a better guide to their toughness and resilience than character levels.

The Spell Neutralise Poison may have to be modified so that it has differing effects against different poisons, or adds a modifier to saving throws.

JUST FOR HUMANS?
Species specific - it may be possible to concoct poisons that only affect particular species. The converse is that no poison is guaranteed to affect all species. In AD&D, Gygax cites the example of a party using poison weapons against a dragon and garnering a large amount of loot for little effort. This assumes that a dragon poison can be obtained – such substances might well be very difficult to obtain or manufacture, and be kept for use by the military.

The use of species specific poisons is a subject that the DM can rule on as he wishes. Their use is dependent on the situation. For example, a poisoner may wish to strand a party in the wilderness and use a poison that only affects horses. Or he may wish to introduce a poison deadly only to humans into an animal that he knows is going to be cooked and eaten. He may actually concoct it so that its potency increases when it is heated. Unless otherwise stated, the poisons listed here affect humans only.


The DM will need to draw up a list of ingredients to make the poison if the characters are doing so. If they have gone to a toxifactor, they may be asked to obtain one or more of the ingredients, especially if a morphic elixir (q.v.) is being requested

CAVEAT

The above can, and probably will be altered by individual DMs for their campaigns. The poison listings will hopefully spur others on to be equally inventive.

It should be borne in mind however that the introduction of complex poison rules into a game can radically transform it and DMs (and players) may not welcome the developments that these suggestions may bring.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Miniatures Monday - Oh what a Knight!



Today's miniature has such a wealth of detail and a cracking paint job that I thought I'd do both front and back shots for him. In contrast to some of the more recent stuff I've displayed, Andy has gone for a grassy base this time, to emphasise that this knight prefers the great outdoors to going underground.

I should at this point mention that he seems to have become separated from his shield - that lumpy bit on his arm was Citadel's bid for a bit of interchangeability - you could swap shields around depending on which one you preferred, but his has probably ended up at the bottom of the box with all the little bits and bobs like that.

Never mind that, though - feast your eyes on the excellent treatment of the armour on this figure. Like the chainmail on the Drow a couple of weeks ago, it really looks authentic. You can almost hear the grinding of metal on metal as he moves. Anyone who's had to clean older metal (as have I) will know that the tarnishing and oxidisation does indeed linger in the nooks and crannies, as is the case here.

Turning to the back of the figure, check out the mace, tucked down behind the haversack that looks as if it is really made of leather. Andy could have gone a bit heavy on the darker brown but he's kept his head and his subtle use of the deeper tones makes all the difference.

In a recent conversation with Old 4 Eyes, we discussed the improvements in casting technologies over the years that had enabled figure sculptors to get away with lots more in the way of detail. Faces back in the day were somewhat odd on occasion but this one, to me, has a certain haughtiness that well befits a knight of the realm. I like the blue feather crest on his helmet, the only real splash of colour on a figure that is otherwise stripped down for combat. Check out the blood on the sword - not dripping with gore but there nonetheless, dirty and a reminder of the battles that this warrior has already faced that day.

Well, I hope to get another post in during the week but if it doesn't happen, I'll see you on Friday for the Art slot.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

What's going on?

The times they are a-changing; things begin, things happen, things end. I'm not pulling the plug on the blog, never fear, but I am making a few changes that will affect what you read here.

Firstly, SNFC - I've decided to put it on a sabbatical for a while; I've been running low on ideas and I wanted to prevent it getting stale. It has been running for about six months now. It may return in another format, I'm not sure. Anyway, just wanted to say that up till now, it's been a lot of fun to do and I do appreciate those of you who commented on it and whose support gave me the confidence to keep it going. Hopefully, it may have spurred some of you into giving some lesser-known monsters some OSR love.

Secondly - I've decided not to blog unless I've got something worth blogging about. Depending on how full the ideas pot is, that may mean that quite some time goes by without a post. I'm working on something at the moment that may see the light of day next week.

And to completely contradict myself, I'm also planning something a little bit unusual. Lots of bloggers post their adventure logs and until a few weeks ago, I was doing the same with Junior Grognard's activities. He's gone a bit meh on gaming at present - may restart it, may not. Anyway, to get over the lack of players, I've decided to do the following:

Using the random dungeon tables in the DMG and a bunch of characters from the 1e Character generator on Dragonsfoot, I'm going to do a solo dungeon and write it up. I'll not know what's coming up until I make the rolls, and I'll report the rolls as they fall, honestly and without fudging. I think it'll be interesting to see how the dungeon develops - TPKs and dead ends notwithstanding. Comments on the posts may affect what the party does the next session. What is rolled up will stand and may generate hooks and ideas for further adventures.

I'm not allocating a particular day for it - when I have time (RL issues permitting) I'll do some rolling and writing.

Following a suggestion by Lawrence Blake on my recent post "Things to do in D&D when you're dead", I may also start to do a Hooks Alphabet. If anyone has any ideas on stuff they'd like to see hooks for, let me know and I'll see if I can jump-start the brain into action.

My module writing will continue in the background; a second session of playtesting the first one will (hopefully) happen soon thanks to Dungeonmum's gang - then it's getting it illustrated and converting it to pdf. If anyone knows a freeware reliable pdf converter, could they let me know?

Many thanks!

And now I'm off to attend to RL issues.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Miniatures Monday - Under the Sea

Crawling out of the sea this week comes what I'm assuming is Citadel's take on the Sahuagin. It's a nice figure (there are more in the box but I'm using this as a representative sample). Andy has gone for the light green base with a darker turquoise wash to give the hint of deep mysteries of the sea for this chap. The eyes are a deep black and you will notice that there is a tiny (and it really must be tiny, given that it's hardly visible on a 25mm figure) spot of white to represent the glint of light on the shiny surface of the eye.

I'm not sure what the thing is that he's carrying - a weapon of some sort, I would assume. The floor is again painted in a dungeon stone style.

I've not done that many (okay, I've not done any at all) underwater adventures. I had a cracker of an idea once but it foundered (if you'll excuse the pun) on the rock of lack of players. Now that I'm designing modules, I might well trot it out for the world to judge. Sahuagin tend to put in an appearance in our world, rather than the adventurers having to voyage into the depths, complete with water breathing apparatus, etc, and whilst any appearance of these scaly fish-men is good to see, I can't help thinking that the party would have it easy against them. Let them meet the sahuagin on their home ground and it might be a different story.

But, above water or under water, there's only one thing to do with these denizens of the deep...

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Things to do in D&D when you're dead

Yesterday, I posted a long, long article on D&D and the afterlife (well done if you made it all the way to the end). I did mention that I'd follow it up with some adventure ideas. Here they are, albeit hooks at best. I hope that you can find something in here that you can run with.

All these presume that the party members are dead and have come back in one of the three forms mentioned in the previous article.

 A dead child is resuscitated but did the right soul come back? The party must find out
 The party is offered the job of rounding up recalcitrant souls who show no willingness to move on to the afterlife.
 A person brought back to life by a reanimator tells of a band of souls who were running a spectral protection racket, offering to escort souls on their way to paradise in return for grave goods. But do they deliver or is it something more sinister?
 The party is contacted by law enforcement who are overrun with crime and disorder. They offer to allow the party to feast on the life forces of the criminals they catch.
 A young man who is desperate to recover his lost love decides to enter the land of the dead to find her but needs back up and protection while he is there.
 A party member is killed but cannot move on. The rest of the party don’t know this and are planning his funeral, at which point the body will be cremated
 The party is stuck on the Spectral Plane and is being pursued by something awful and must try to find new bodies in which to live.
 A team of vampire hunters have a troublesome bloodsucker who moves through the spirit realm to avoid his pursuers. He will be vulnerable to spirits whilst in this form but has his own spirit defences
 The party is contacted by the ghost of a man who was murdered by a love rival (or possibly the girl’s father in cahoots with love rival) who wanted his rich fiancée; the ghost now wants revenge or restitution
 The party is approached by a lovestruck man who wants them to ensure that he and his beloved can be reunited in the afterlife or reincarnated to escape their disapproving families
 A party member is brought back by a reanimator but into the wrong body. It’s a very nice life and he doesn’t want to go but the family is starting to suspect that there is something wrong and wants a second opinion
 A man lies in a bed, seemingly comatose. The family wants to know if he is brain dead or if there is a chance of recovery. The party must see if they can find his soul and, if possible, reunite it with his body.
 A prosperous and successful businessman is being stalked by a black hound that only he can see. It is getting closer and he fears for what will happen. Is he the innocent victim of a curse or is there another reason for the stalking, the answer to which lies in the spirit realm?
 A village hit by a terrible plague/disaster still remains in limbo since the inhabitants don’t realise they’re dead. To prevent them from becoming vengeful ghosts, the party must subtly persuade them to move on. However, there will be those who are particularly difficult to persuade.
 A master thief needs someone who is immune to the traps that a merchant bank has installed in their premises. However, the object he needs to steal cannot be lifted by non-corporeal creatures
 Souls in the afterlife are ‘disappearing’. Why? Who, or what, is doing it?
 A suspect is arrested by the authorities; he claims that he has been possessed by a spirit and is being forced to commit his crimes. Is he telling the truth?
 A local temple is being visited by a spirit that claims to be a representative of their deity but some of the priests are suspicious and decide that this needs investigating.
 A reanimator has managed to bring a soul back to its body but suspects that something else has come back with it and is lurking within. Is this the case or is it just the trauma of the reanimation?
 Wizened corpses have been found littering the city, mostly of young and healthy people. The city watch is baffled but the party know that a hungry spirit is draining life force and must be stopped.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Men with Sticks and Ropes

Introduction

“The giant swings round and brings its club crashing down on you – for (rolls dice) 16 hit points!”
“I’ve only got four left”
“Okay, that puts you on minus twelve. Sorry, but it looks like you’re dead”
“So what happens next?”
“Well, you’re dead”
“I know…but what happens after that?”

So what does happen? I remember the first character that I ever had dying. I picked up the d6 and got rolling but I asked the DM after the session what had happened to my character. His reply was short – “probably living it up on one of the Outer Planes”

And that, in a nutshell is what most of us reckon happens to our characters when they die. A transparent version of them wafts up out of the body, there’s a bright light, a tunnel and then lots of harps and singing. However, this might not be such a good thing.

In this article, I’m going to have a look at various examples of the afterlife, how to get there, how to get back and what might be waiting for you when you go. I’ll examine the efficacy of various methods to control the afterlife, how possession might work and how an altered perspective on the afterlife might change the layout of the planes themselves.

The Afterlife

“You see, the thing about heaven is that heaven is for people who like the sort of things that go on in heaven. Like, well, singing, talking to God, watering pot plants.”
Blackadder


However, there are other views as to the nature of the afterlife. Regardless of how unjust life is, no-one likes to think that this injustice will continue after the grave. Consoling tales about the happiness of loved ones after death are balanced by the tales told of the horrors that await those who transgress the diktats of the deities or who believed themselves to have escaped justice in this life. The mythologies of many cultures are replete with scenes of eschatological judgement, from Zoroastrianism to the scales of Osiris in the Egyptian afterworld. The whole of Christianity is predicated on the notion of the four last things, Death, the Day of Judgement, Heaven and Hell.

And maybe it doesn’t even have to be evil to be terrifying. Years ago, I read a short story, really can’t remember what it was called or who wrote it, about a woman whose husband is returned from a Japanese POW camp. She slowly comes to the realisation that whilst it is his body, it is not his soul. It turns out that there is an afterlife but without bodily senses like sight, hearing, touch, etc, there exists only consciousness in a dark and silent nothing world. The soul that entered her dead husband’s body had been driven nearly mad by the isolation and yearned for the sinews and bone, the veins and arteries of the meaty realm so he took the first opportunity that presented itself.
Another short story that I read (and I really should note these down) was about a man who was convinced that he was going to Hell and grew accustomed to the idea. When he finally died, he found himself in darkness, then a growing light and finally an explosion of brightness and sound – the noises of the delivery room. For him, reincarnation was hell itself.

Examples
There have been many treatments of the afterlife in fiction. I’m going to outline just a few that I’ve read or seen and from these, work out a way in which they can be used in game systems.

In Brian Aldiss’ Helliconia series, humans can enter into a shamanistic trance and commune with the spirits of the deceased, who seem to be sinking slowly towards the centre of the earth. The more recent dead are more recognisably human, whereas the older dead seem to have lost limbs and extremities and their memories are also fading. Their attitude towards the living seem to be one of irritation. This seems very compatible with the Speak with Dead spell in D&D, where the longer the person has been dead, the harder it is to contact them. This system might work well in a game world where the predominant religious structure was shamanistic in style. More advanced theologies would render this inadequately primitive.

In many stories, the dead seem always to be cold. The returnee in Truly, Madly, Deeply is always shivering. Fires and light seem to attract them. The old Celtic festival of Samhain involved bonfires at which the dead were held to come and warm themselves.

In the TV series, Being Human (whence comes the title of this article), a door appears for the newly dead, who are dragged through (very reluctantly in most cases) and seem then to join an afterlife bureaucracy, moving from room to room, filling out endless forms. Perhaps this is a telling commentary on the modern fear of pointless form filling, that the idea of hell is to be trapped in there. This has hints of the Chinese afterlife, where the pantheon is modelled on, and serves as a theological reinforcement for, the Chinese system of government. This system might work well in a Lawful Neutral game world, where form and function predominated and individual merits were subordinated to the interests of the state.

In The Warrior Who Carried Life by Geoff Ryman, the land of the dead seems to be populated, if that’s the right word, with people condemned to spend eternity as they died – hanging victims suspended from invisible nooses, those who died in combat being stabbed over and over again by unseen assailants. Those who died in their sleep might lie unwakeable forever. Great cataclysms such as a town being burnt by magical means might leave a scar of burning on the land of the dead itself, although generally physical damage did not show up in the land of the dead. When the flower of life is stolen from the great serpent at the heart of the land of the dead, the dead start to follow it, hungry for any scent of the life they once knew. This limbo existence argues for the existence of the dead merely as echoes of their deaths, trapped in an endless cycle of repeated demises. It is hardly surprising that when they get the chance to follow something new and vibrant, they take it. This system might work well enough in a world that lacks the complex eschatology of judgement and instead merely imprisons the dead in a kind of nothing world, where no prayer, intercession or ritual can save them unless, almost Orpheus-like, someone comes to lead them out.

Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy revolves around the relationship between the living and the dead. The dead make their way slowly down a huge river, through various gates to a final destination. Necromancers can negotiate this river and bind spirits to their will but there are malevolent entities and dead spirits can be brought back into our world and bound to service. This gives an explanation for the existence of the undead and there are several interesting new types to be encountered. Again, this serves a worldview in which there is some kind of ultimate spiritual destination, nature unknown.

In Terry Pratchett’s Mort series, Death, the kindly if stern psychopomp collects souls at the moment of death and sends them on to their next destination, which is implied to be dependent on their beliefs. Death exists independently of the gods and is a personification of a force of nature.

In Pullman’s Dark Materials Trilogy, the land of the dead is a vast prison camp established by the Authority. The infinite grey plain, patrolled by vengeful harpies is a torment rather than a paradise. The dead, once they have ceased to live, set off down a long road, accompanied by their own personal Deaths, who serve almost as companions and comforters on the way, to the crossing, a Stygian destination where an island very much like the Arnold Bocklin painting awaits them.

In Torchwood, Owen Harper was shot dead but brought back to life (it was thought temporarily) by the Resurrection Glove. However, his revival was permanent, although he now existed as a living corpse, not breathing, no bodily temperature, no need to eat or drink. Any damage he sustained would not heal naturally and had to be repaired. It was implied that there was no afterlife per se, but a darkness in which Something was waiting.

The Planes

“We all die – and religions are a way of trying to control what happens next.”

The idea of the Great Wheel of multiple outer planes is that there has to be somewhere for the gods to live. Many D&D worlds tend not to be quite so multi-mythoic and may well have only a handful of pantheons, if that. How then can we reconcile the differing doctrinal claims as to the nature of the afterlife with the naturalistic homogeneity of a single spirit world?

It could be that each one has come to a separate understanding on the way in which souls make their way to their particular paradise. It may well be that there is only one paradise and that the gods are merely expressions of the nature of that paradise, perceived through the prism of cultural identity. If all gods are aspects of one universal concept, there need be only one final destination and possibly one final infernal one as well. If the various pantheons do have a separate and quite definite existence and identity, then their planes of existence must exist but link in to the spirit world in some fashion that a gateway may exist, but on the deity’s plane.

In an earlier post on the concepts of good and evil, I discussed getting rid of alignment altogether and replacing it with what I called a Statement of Principles. It stands to reason that if alignment is no longer a factor in the game, there does not need to be an outer plane for each alignment and therefore, a new type of cosmology can be introduced.

In the standard D&D cosmology, the ethereal plane was for travelling between the Prime Material Plane and what were known as the Inner Planes. To get to the outer planes required the use of the Astral Plane. The merging of the functions and nature of the two could form a new plane, which I’m calling the Spectral Plane. This name was suggested by a commenter on a post on Grognardia, and I hope that he does not mind me making use of it.

Of course it may well be that there are no gods per se, and the dead arrive in the spirit world with no idea of how to progress. Those who are homesick for the physical may try to return there, those who have viewed the afterlife as a journey towards immortality may set off for wherever it is that they believe they are going. Some might be drawn by the pull of ancestors, some might fall prey to spectral predators. There may well be pocket dimensions where like-minded souls have set up social experiments in afterlife. Alternatively, the spectral plane may well be in some sort of quantum flux, inasmuch as the desires and perceptions of the dead may cause new dimensions or mini-planes to come into existence, much as in Moorcock, when visitors to the castle of Myshella forge new lands from the raw stuff of Chaos merely by journeying into it.

In a godless planescape, it might be that the Positive and Negative Material Planes could serve as the ultimate destination for good and evil souls. The spiritual essence of good and evil that inhabits each person and serves as the touchstone for their moral values (a sort of spiritual explanation for alignment, in a way) may return to its origin; it is possible that within each person, there are varying degrees of positive and negative energy that contend and struggle for dominance, each good or evil act reinforcing the power of the respective energy. Death may release the energy in the form of a spirit or soul which, depending on the balance, may well be drawn towards the positive or negative. In a way, the Manichean nature of this solution serves as some sort of cosmic battleground, since if a soul has more negative than positive, then when it reaches its destination, the negative returns to the pool of ‘evil’, whilst the positive is consumed, thereby altering the balance throughout the multiverse.

If the concept of reincarnation is being used, it may be that there are nexuses that form at the moment of birth on the Prime Material Plane and any soul that happens to be nearby on the Spectral Plane may be sucked in and reborn into flesh. The random nature of this phenomenon may not suit those who believe that some sort of karma or fate determines the next incarnation but a rebirth nexus may be classed as some sort of natural predator, claiming souls – it could be that it feeds off the memories of the soul as some sort of psychic nourishment, explaining why alleged reincarnation subjects tend to forget their previous lives.

Crossing over

Death can be sudden or prolonged. In either case, the imminence of death will affect the relationship between the spirit world and the material one.

It may be that when a person is undergoing the process of dying (rather than an unexpected or sudden death) there is some sort of corresponding manifestation in the spirit world which draws all manner of entities thither. One or more may try to slip in to the body as the spirit departs, and this may be prevented by the use of charms, spells, incantations and such like.

In a sudden death, the barrier between the worlds is punched through, and the speed of this may leave the dead person confused and unaware of their situation. In this circumstance, they may be easy prey for anything that might be in the area of the death event. Alternatively, their anger at the unfairness of their end might cause them to linger at the event and plague the living by trying to act out whatever agenda they have.

Funeral rites may be necessary both to protect the spirit on its journey to wherever, or to close the hole that the death has caused. If there has been a long process of dying and the death itself was peaceful enough, the hole may closed more quickly as the level of disruption has not been so great. In the event of a sudden death, it may need mending and without this, it may take a lot longer to close.

If there is no-one to perform the necessary rites, then there is a bigger chance that something will try to use the corpse. Depending on the nature of the afterlife, it may well be that the spirit is insane or greedy for life. When a person has been killed by a member of the undead, it could be that in some way their spirit has been bound into the body or has been forced to remain on the material plane against its will. An exorcist (to which we will return later) might have the experience and skills to break the binding and release the spirit to continue on to its final destination – wherever it is.

Some cultures believe that the spirit must be sent on its way after death, since the temptation for it to remain in the material world as a ghost is very strong. Rituals for the journey to and from the burial site reflect this, as the spirit might follow the mourners back to its original home. Superstitions linger; I still recall my mother drawing the curtains when an elderly neighbour’s coffin was carried out of her house. She said this was ‘out of respect’ but in reality, it harks back to a time when there was a fear that the dead person’s spirit might try to enter another home through the doors or windows. This suggests that the Spectral Plane is a place where spirits do not want to linger, and the journey across it is not something to look forward to.

The question also arises of possessions on the Spectral Plane – do clothes, weapons, tools, food and drink exist there? How do grave goods become spiritual? Are they subjected to a spiritual killing to enable them to exist with the dead person?

Coming back

Ghosts, in whatever shape or form they may manifest, are the staple of supernatural fiction and we need to discuss the ways in which a dead person might return to the land of the living.

Characters who are dead may well take one of three forms in order to come back

 Ghost – the character’s spirit remains on the Prime Material Plane but can plane-shift to the Spectral Plane. The ghost may either be visible, invisible, tangible or intangible.

 Animated corpse – the character’s spirit remains in their old body, even though that body is no longer alive. Any further physical damage that the body sustains must be repaired – it will not heal. (A variant of this is the decaying animated corpse. The body will decay at the standard rate and the occupying spirit must consume life force in order to halt the decay or reverse it.)

 Possessed body – the character’s spirit has come back from the spectral plane but its old body is no longer in a fit state to be used so the spirit must occupy another body, either by evicting its current occupant or occupying it at the moment of death or while it is still fresh.

Reanimators and Exorcists

Reanimators
I’m using this in its original sense – those who try to find the soul (anima) and reunite it with its body. This would suggest that somehow, they are able to enter the Spectral Plane and seek out the souls of the dead. If the souls linger on the Spectral Plane rather than voyage towards some ultimate reward, the reanimator’s job is easier, but no less dangerous, as we have already discussed the notion of spectral predators. Similarly, the reanimator’s body may well be occupied whilst he is out. Protection will almost certainly be needed. Training, therefore would seem to be a great necessity – an apprentice reanimator can voyage with their masters, getting to know the lie of the land, so to speak, and watching their master’s back.

Exorcists
Those who try to drive out possessor spirits. This is a hard battle, in a way trying to assist the possessee in their struggle to reassert dominance. The exorcist may be able to lend the possessee their spirit power in a bid to drive the possessor out. This could be done by another roll on the possession table. The danger to the exorcist is that the possessor may well decide to leave its current home and move into the exorcist himself.


In some cases, the dead person may not even realise that they are dead. As far as they can see, the life they are now experiencing is very similar to the one they had. In the case of multiple deaths in the same incident, the presence of other familiar faces may well reinforce this perception. The central premise of the Sixth Sense hangs on this very fact.

How to communicate as a ghost? I read a story once where, after an accident (I think, it was a long time ago) a girl found herself a non-corporeal entity (more or less a ghost) whose presence could be sensed but nothing else. She drank from a bowl of blood, which gave her a fizzing sensation and with that, she could be seen as a translucent image of herself. Alternatively, the idea of mediums might be of use here as those who are either born with or acquire an ability to ‘see’ objects and entities related to the Spectral Plane could be receptive to the presence of ghosts. Or the ghost might try to possess the medium, albeit with their consent in order to send messages. This is of course very dangerous for all parties since if there is a gateway to the Spectral Plane, all manner of things might use it to gain access to the material world and the beings therein.

Raise Dead and Resurrection
These two spells are very powerful and the way in which they operate will vary immensely depending on the nature of the afterlife itself. If the soul of the departed has joined the Positive or Negative Material Planes, there is not much chance of getting it back. However, what if the spells didn’t bring the soul back per se, but recreated the body and reinfused it with essence from the plane to which the soul had gone. The end result would be the same – more or less.
If the soul can be brought back from wherever it has gone, and said soul does not mind overmuch being returned to the world of the flesh from whatever paradise (or otherwise) it had found, then the use of such strong magic must, by implication, rip a hole in the barrier between the Spectral and Prime Material. The dangers in this are similar to those presented by a sudden or violent death, except that it may take longer for the rift to heal, if it does in fact heal at all. Permanent holes, gateways that never close may be the result of recourse to strong magic that overturns the natural order of things.


What’s out there

The Spectral Plane is not a calm, tame or pleasant place to be. It is alien to our senses since conditions there are wholly inimical to the material and survival is often a matter of chance rather than skill.

Time itself may well be an alien concept to the Spectral Plane. It could well be a timeless place, where there is only a simulacrum of passing time, or perhaps time only passes when it is being observed. If someone comes back later, nothing will have changed. We return to Ryman’s Land of the Dead – time itself is dead there and there can be no progression, no development, no past and no future – only an infinitely extended now.

Maybe time itself is a commodity on the Spectral Plane, and has to be imported from the Prime Material plane – globes of time could be used to create temporal pockets where things seem to run normally. As time begins to run out, things will slow down perceptibly, like a clock whose battery is running out.

This, incidentally, might explain the rumours of time displacement so beloved of the X-files – maybe denizens of the Spectral Plane are stealing time to enable them to function in their own world.

It could also be that in areas where the Spectral Plane and the Material World come closer together, there may be overlapping images of various times in the past, present and future as raw time bleeds through into a plane that might, otherwise, be starved of it. It may attract those who value it, like moths to a flame. The flux of time back and forth as the rents in the barrier between the planes heal may catch those unawares and land them many centuries from where they started – or only a few second.

If the Spectral Plane is like a world, then it must have predators. They may well roam the spirit world, seeking out unprotected souls. The denizens of the Spectral Plane may well be spirits of humans and other creatures who have just been there for a long time and gone feral. Some may have grown huge and wild, devouring others and becoming debased thereby.

The landscape of the Spectral Plane could be similarly in flux, with areas of solidity interspersed with areas where there is nothing at all. Islands of reality could float through oceans of illusion. Given the temporal confusion that reigns there, what is there one day might not be there the next. Establishing anything like order would be a virtually impossible task. Movements of energy, almost like weather systems, although the weather systems of a nightmare may cause great dangers for travellers and denizens alike.


Controlling it

We’re well-acquainted with the cliché circles, pentagrams, eerie symbols, Dennis Wheatley stylie, but these to me suggest that the Spectral Plane and its denizens can somehow be controlled or compelled to do the bidding of those who have the knowledge.

To me, this reduces the Spectral Plane to just somewhere that you can pop off to, safe in the knowledge that any danger there is can be handwaved away with the appropriate scroll or symbol and that anything that lives there can be summoned to do your bidding with the right incantation.

Wrong.

The Spectral Plane is a wild and dangerous place and even those who know about it and have some learning about rituals, amulets and talismans can no more control it and its denizens than a meteorologist can steer a hurricane. The feeble nature of the human body ill-equips it to handle the immense energies that course through the Spectral realm, let alone the fearsome creatures who roam its weird and nightmarish intricacies, seeking who knows what.

There may well be safeguards to stop unwanted spectral intrusion and devices, artefacts and spells that might offer some protection but the notion that there is one single set of rules and that all spectral creatures are bound by it, a bit like a Shadow Proclamation does not wash in my opinion. It might be an idea therefore that certain countermeasures work only against specific named spirits or creatures and that others who are not guarded against can still cross over. As we’ve already mentioned, there are areas where the distance between the material world and the Spectral Plane is very short indeed. In other areas, they might as well be a million miles apart. The trick is to find the short places and use them.


Possession

As we’ve seen earlier, possessing a body, either living or recently vacated can be one way of returning from the dead. It should be noted that this system supplants the one used in the spell Magic Jar although that could theoretically still be used since it is a magic user spell rather than a clerical one.

Possession, once attempted, can have the following outcomes


i) Rebuff – the possession fails. The would-be possessor remains outside the body
ii) Possession succeeds but the possessor is the minor party inside the body. He will be in essence an observer, a passenger, but can try to influence the possessee through dreams and subconscious suggestion
iii) Possession succeeds but control is only 50/50. A battle will ensue as both parties are aware of the other’s existence, unless the possession was agreed upon beforehand.
iv) Possession succeeds and the possessee remains in the body but as a minor presence. If the possessor departs, the possessee regains full control and will not remember anything about what happened during the possession.
v) Eviction of the resident spirit. The possessor now has full control of the body

The act of possession is a combat of spirit vs. spirit. Spirit is calculated by adding WISD and CHA together. Wisdom is a measure of how intuitive and in tune with the universe the character is, whilst Charisma is a reflection of the strength of their personality and ‘spirit’. I feel that these are appropriate parameters to use in this calculations.

As well as the two attributes, there are also other modifiers, depending on age, character class and such like.

Child -4
Young Adult -3 (although since many stories describe adolescents being particularly vulnerable to spiritual influences, this can be adjusted if need be)
Mature 0
Middle aged 0
Old -1
Venerable -2

Fighter 0
Thief 0
Magic User +1
Cleric +2

Amulets and talismans give a bonus to the die roll depending on their strength. An Amulet of Life Protection will prevent possession attempts full stop. Whilst it is tempting to merely describe amulets and talismans as +1, +2 or whatever, they should have their own names, stories and features to individualise them.

If a character is injured, his ability to resist possession will be commensurately affected
% of hit points lost Die modifier
25% 0
26-50% -1
51-75% -2
75-99% -3


(you'll have to click on this to read it properly)

This table gives the bonuses or otherwise for the attempt to possess. The possessor rolls a d20 and applies the bonus; the possessee makes a similar roll.

The difference between the two rolls is then compared; if the possessor’s roll is higher, one of the five outcomes results, depending on the scale of superiority

26-35
Eviction of the resident spirit. The possessor now has full control of the body

19-25
Possession succeeds and the possessee remains in the body but as a minor presence. If the possessor departs, the possessee regains full control and will not remember anything about what happened during the possession.

11-18
Possession succeeds but control is only 50/50. A battle will ensue (re-running the contest again with a +1 bonus to the possessor on each subsequent round) as both parties are aware of the other’s existence, unless the possession was agreed upon beforehand.

5-10
Possession succeeds but the possessor is the minor party inside the body. He will be in essence an observer, a passenger, but can try to influence the possessee through dreams and subconscious suggestion

1-4
Rebuff – the possession fails. The would-be possessor remains outside the body


So, let’s suppose that a person with Wisd 15 and Cha 15 attempts to possess a person with those abilities at 11 each. Let’s check the table. The possessor will have a bonus of +3 on their die roll, the possessee has a –3.

The rolls are as follows – possessor rolls 9 and possessee rolls a 1.

Adjusted rolls are 12 and -2 – the difference is 14 and therefore the possessor succeeds but shares the body 50/50 with the possessee.

If the possessor had rolled a 15 for example, the difference would have been 20, and the possessee would have become a minor presence in their own body.

The possessor can choose to vacate the body of the possessee at any time but if the former spirit has been evicted, the result is a comatose body, vegetative and vulnerable to further possession. A reanimator may be able to locate the evicted spirit and reunite it with the body.


Conclusion and Acknowledgements

My inspirations for this article, besides the fiction that I’ve listed earlier are the incomparable Dungeonmum and her article on Speaking with the Dead and a post by Norman Harman last October I think that first raised the idea of using life after death as an adventuring feature for D&D.

This article has given some suggestions and ideas on how to treat the afterlife; in the next article, I’ll be laying out some plot ideas for the game.

Art on Friday

Art is life, life is art. And Friday is Friday. Here's some more cool stuff from European artists. First up is a guy called Marek from Poland. That's all the bio I've got but here's his art.







Next up is a young lady from Barcelona, Marta Nael.. I think that this is more or less all the fantasy stuff that she's got.





I've been a little busy this week, apologies for the sparseness of posting but some good stuff is more or less ready to roll; I'll be posting that later today. Keep 'em peeled.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Miniatures Monday - Back to the Darkness


No, not the Mindflayer (although I do have one and when I've got the digicam fixed, I'll be putting a picture of that up) but another of Lolth's little chums.

Now, firstly I must admit that I've absolutely no idea what that big stick is; given that the Drow are nifty with the magic, I suspect that it's some sort of arcane artifact. It appears to have something winding round it but as for what that nobbly thing is at the top, it's anyone's guess. The dry brushing on the chainmail gives it that niello effect, really making it look like real chainmail. Again, the white hair has that bluish tint to it that gives the Drow their air of having been isolated from any sort of daylight for a long, long time. The lank and pale hue puts me in mind of bodies that have been underwater for prolonge periods.

The head-dress, skull motif and belt are picked out in gold, but it's a gold that has a slightly reddish tint to it. Why does that not surprise me when we're talking about the Drow?

Note that just visible below the skirts of the mailshirt is what appears to be a garment in a sickly green colour. I like the idea that everything about the Drow is distorted, warped and slightly decayed, the corruption that warps their souls leaching out into everything that they do.

Finally, of course, there is the stone flooring pattern on the slotta base, Andy's trademark when it comes to the dungeon figures we've been seeing over the past few weeks.

Tune in next week, when there'll be something fishy going on.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Saturday Night Fight Club - Conan v Fafhrd

Well, it's Battle of the Barbarians time and have we got a clash for you tonight. Fierce and bloody but not overlong - Lankhmar's champion versus the Hefty Hyborian himself.

Fafhrd

I did try to scan in the picture in Deities and Demigods but it's quite close to the centre of the book and I was quite reluctant to bend back the spine enough to get a good copy, especially as it's a very good condition D&DG with Cthulhu and Melnibonean mythos in. So I thought that this Mike Mignola drawing might do instead.

AC3 – I’m assuming that this is with his DEX bonus factored in.
Move 12”
HP 120
No of atts 2
Damage per att by weapon type
Height 6’ 11”

15th level fighter (ranger)
13th level thief
5th level bard (oh yeah, that’s so going to come in handy)

S 18(00) +3 +6
I 17
W 14
D 18
C 18
Ch 17

Bastard sword (8-14 (2d4+6)) and dirk (poignard or short sword) (8-14 (2d4+6))

2 atts per round (presumably with two weapons per attack)

Base THAC0 6 so to hit Conan he’ll need a 4 and with his strength bonus, it’ll be a 1, although his strength bonuses mean that he is almost certain to hit Conan, I’ll rule that a 1 will always miss. It’s either than or there’s no suspense whatsoever. And we wouldn’t want that, would we?

Conan
Good old Frank, he doesn't let us down.

S 18 +2 to hit, +4 damage
I 14
W 10
D 18 +3 reaction, -4 AC adjustment
C 18
Ch 17

Fighter level 13 THAC0 8 so to hit Fafhrd he’ll need a 5 or better, and with his strength bonus, that’ll be reduced to 3

Two attacks per round. I’ll rule that he gets the second attack in at the end of the round.

Thief level 7

HP 100

Leather armour (well, loincloth, anyway) (base AC8, less DEX bonus = 4) , broadsword (2-8 + 4 damage = 6-12) , dirk (poignard or short sword) (6-12 (2d4+4))

I’m giving Conan the same weapons combo as Fafhrd to make things a bit more even. Since Conan was a dab hand with many weapons, I think it’s credible. Also, since Fafhrd is using two weapons per round, methinks the Cimmerian should do likewise.

Well, let’s see who dies first. Ah, wait, we are still using the ‘down to 10% of HP means they yield’ rule.

That means that Conan has to drop to 10, Fafhrd to 12.

With two such evenly matched contestants, it’s really down to the luck of the dice. That means the d20 of Doom could decide the match. Oh hell…

Round 1

Both fighters have the same DEX so there’s no point adding the bonuses, they’d cancel each other out.

Fafhrd gets a 3, Conan a 1

First attacks, Fafhrd rolls a 6 and a 20 – as you will recall, we do operate the SNFC critical rule, so let’s see if it is. A 9 means double damage from that poignard. Good job he brought it with him.

12 damage from Greywand and 22 damage from Heartseeker, doing exactly what it says on the tin.

Phew! What can the shocked and bloodied Cimmerian do about that?

He rolls a 9 and a 13 – good hits, those. Let’s see what damage he manages to inflict on Nehwon’s finest.

9 and 11 damage. That’s not bad. Not quite up to what Fafhrd did earlier but nevertheless, we have yet to see their second attacks.

Fafhrd rolls first, although I’m deeming second attacks come at the end of the round and are more or less simultaneous, unless of course someone’s life depends on it.

12 and 10 for his hits, and for his damage, 9 and 8.

Conan rolls an 8 and a 9 for his to hits, and 10 and 7 for his damage.

End of that round and let’s look at where we stand hit point-wise.

Fafhrd is on 83

Conan is on 49 – he’s lost half his hit points in one round. That critical really left him reeling. Let’s see what round 2 has to offer.

Ding ding!

This time, Conan comes whirling out and into action on a 6 and Fafhrd is caught on the hop with a 3.

15 and 4 means that the Cimmerian has two hits, and the damage from each is 11 and 6.

Fafhrd replies with a 9 and an 18. I was half-expecting another critical there. Given the damage that these two can do, two of those in one fight could be a real match-killer.

Greywand does 11 and Heartseeker slides home with 13. Why do I get the feeling that this fight is going to be over sooner rather than later?

Second attacks – Conan rolls first; 19 and 3 so his poignard thrust only just catches Fafhrd. Damage of 9 and 10 respectively.

Fafhrd’s second attacks (I’m tensing myself to see what the rolls are) yield rolls of 8 and 4. If anyone is interested, the first roll looked as if it was going to be another 20 but decided on the 8 instead.

The damage from Greywand is 12 and from Heartseeker 9.

At the end of round 2, who’s alive?

Fafhrd 47

Conan 4

Crikey! End of Round 2 and it’s all over! The big Cimmerian has yielded. Seeing as how Fafhrd is Neutral Good, he’ll probably shake Conan’s hand and buy him a drink.

Well, let’s take a look at the numbers – Fafhrd had a good head start with an extra 20 hit points to his tally, and he did achieve that whopping critical in the first round. If he had started out with 100 hp, he’d be down to 27 at the end of round 2, and if Conan had not taken that critical, he’d be 11 points higher on 15. Closer, but it’s virtually certain that Fafhrd would have knocked him down to single figures or even minus figures the next round. The damage bonuses are only 2 higher but that makes the difference when there are four attacks thudding in each round and virtually no chance of missing.

I’m not sure what to serve up next weekend. I think I’ve used up most of the non-magical monsters in the Monster Manual and I might take a look at the Fiend Folio or Monster Manual 2 for inspiration. If anyone has any ideas as a combo they’d like to see, let me know and I’ll take a look at the stats.

As a postscript, and because I'm a big fan of miniatures, here's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouse as customised figures.