Tuesday 30 March 2010

The Tuesday Tavern is Open!

The doors creak slowly on their hinges, the warmth of the fire touches the faces of the new visitors. It's time once again to welcome a new group of friends who have found their way through the wilderness.

Simon Acerton, Gabriel, Bard, Goblinkin, Trey, Amanda, Zanazaz,Dr Drucker and BlUsKrEEm, who is my 69th follower. I wonder who'll be number 70?

Sit ye down and enjoy all that Daddy G's place has to offer.

Here is Otto, my meat master, carving the loser of the Pig v Pig bout on Saturday Night Fight Club.

And here is Helga with your drinks.

And Simon, I don't want to worry you but on the list of followers, you're sitting next to Jim Raggi.

Monday 29 March 2010

Miniatures Monday - The Water Elemental

Citadel Miniatures released all four of the Elemental figures back in the 1980s. The Fire Elemental is not, in my opinion, the world's greatest iteration of that particular creature, so I decided not to put it into this particular series. The Earth Elemental will be featured in the coming weeks and I don't think that we ever bought the Air Elemental. However, this beauty really has to be appreciated for both the quality of the sculpting and the painting thereof.

We need to remember that this figure was produced way back when; modern sculpting technology was still a good few years in the future but with what they had, the Citadel designers could turn out some real gems. This is one such.

What I like about Andy's painting on this one is the way in which he's not gone for a uniform colour scheme for the whole figure. The base is that blue-grey of a storm-wracked sea, with slight highlighting on the crests of the little waves. As we move up the trunk of the figure, the piscine scales start to suggest something more than just water; there is the hint of white foam that comes to a culmination at the huge crest of spume that tops the figure's head. The main body of the figure with its firm musculature is painted in bold sea green and turquoise - it's the perfect choice of colours to suggest something that has risen from the ocean deeps.

I don't use elementals much in my adventures. Perhaps I need to revisit the Monster Manual and start thinking of good uses for these under-utilised entities. If anyone has any good pointers, do please let me know.

Saturday 27 March 2010

Saturday Night Fight Club - They call me MISTER Pig!

This edition of SNFC is dedicated to the Rusty Battle Axe who has made a lot of people very happy by deciding to stay a member of the Old School blogosphere. And there was great rejoicing!

So, a real Ice Age grudge match with no sign of talking mammoths or cuddly sabre-tooth cats. Let's take a look at the contenders on this evening's card.

Giant Boar (Elotherium)

Frequency: Uncommon
No appearing: 2-8
Armour class: 6
Move: 12”
Hit dice: 7 (average hit points 32)
% in lair: Nil
No of attacks: 1
Damage/attack: 3-18
Special attacks: Nil
Special Defences: Nil
Magic resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Animal
Alignment: N
Size: L (5’ at the shoulder)

THAC0 13 so to hit the wolf he’ll need a 7

Dire Wolf

Frequency: Rare
No appearing: 3-12
Armour class: 6
Move: 18”
Hit dice: 3+3 (average 17 hit points)
% in lair: 10%
No of attacks: 1
Damage/attack: 2-8
Special attacks: Nil
Special Defences: Nil
Magic resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Semi (low)
Alignment: N
Size: M (L)

THAC0 16 so he’ll need a 10 to hit Mr Pig

To make it interesting, and give you value for money since SNFC is taking a week off at Easter (yes, it will be coming back, no need to get a petition up) I’ll run boar vs. wolf, boar vs. two wolves and then boar against boar.

And then we’ll eat the boar.

Okay, round 1

Mr Pig and Wolfie roll for initiative. And guess what – they both get a 5.

Hit rolls, Mr Pig gets a 2, Wolfie gets a 12. And would you believe it, Wolfie maxes out on the damage, a colossal 8!

End of the first round, we have Mr Pig on 24, Wolfie on 17 still.

Round 2 – who’s for some apple sauce?

Mr Pig, goaded by losing first blood, gets a 6 on his reaction dice, to Wolfie’s 4.

And with luck like I’ve not seen for a long time, he rolls another 2. What is wrong with that D20? I gave it a good long roll and that’s what came up.

Wolfie’s not a laughing hyena but if he was, he’d be wetting himself now because he’s got another 12. At least his damage is only 6 this time, but nevertheless, a shock result for all the pig followers in the stands tonight.

End of round 2, and Mr Pig is squealing with 18, almost level pegging with Wolfie on an unscathed 17.

Round 3 and surely the fight must turn around for Mr Pig soon. I can hear Biopunk grinding his teeth in horror at this point, all the way across the Atlantic.

Mr Pig and Wolfie both roll 4 for their reactions. This is getting rather interesting.

At last, Mr Pig actually gets a hit in. Let’s see if he has better luck with his damage than he has had so far with his to hits. Of course, it’s entirely feasible that with 3d6 of damage, he could technically take Wolfie out in one round.

Not this round, however, as he’s only rolled 6.

12 is Wolfie’s lucky number as that’s the third time it’s come up for him. And with damage of 6, that luck is certainly going his way tonight.

End of round 3, the hit point totals stand at

Mr Pig 12
Wolfie 11

Round 4, and I can smell the barbecues getting going now…mmm, I’m getting peckish.

This time, Mr Pig is quicker off the mark with a 5 to Wolfie’s 2.

16 on the d20 and perhaps the porker’s luck has changed. I’ll roll for damage…

Woah! 14 damage – that’s one dead doggie we have there.

Right, time to bring on the second act of tonight’s mega-match. This time, it’s Wolfie and his brother Jack against Mr Pig. Will it go the pig’s way or will the dogs make sausages out of the giant boar? Only one way to find out…

Round 1

The d6s rattle their way across the table, giving Mr Pig 4,Wolfie 5 and Jack 2.

Wolfie rolls a 5 and his teeth bite on air as Mr Pig twists and turns like a twisty-turny thing, trying to avoid becoming a dog’s dinner. The porker rolls a 6 as Wolfie (or is it Jack?) dodges the savage thrusts of his tusks. Jack rolls a 16, so he manages to hit and does 5 damage.

End of round 1and the contenders stand thus

Mr Pig 27
Wolfie 17
Jack 17

Ding ding round 2!

Some low scores on the initiative rolls, but who got what?

Mr Pig 2
Wolfie 1
Jack 3

In comes Jack for another bite, but with 4, he’ll be going hungry this round. Mr Pig scores a 16 and the dice dictate that he selects Wolfie for a good tusking. He gashes his victim for a stonking 11 points of damage. You can hear the whining from here. Wolfie can give it out as well as take it, and with a 15, he hits home, doing 5 damage.

End of round 2 and I must say that I’m quite warming to this fight. Or maybe I’ve just seen the large delivery of burger buns at the back of the catering van.

Mr Pig is on 22, Wolfie is down to 6 and Jack is currently untouched on 17 – but for how much longer?

Round 3 and the dice rattle once more.

Mr Pig gets a mere 2, Wolfie is lightning sharp with a 4 and Jack comes in a close second with 3.

Wolfie has obviously been put off by his injuries and gets a poor 6, whilst Jack scores with an 18. His damage is average, 5.

Mr Pig rolls an 11 and gashes Jack for 11 damage, which he doesn’t seem to like at all.

End of that round and the porker is on 17, both Jack and Wolfie are on 6. If either gets hit next round, it looks like curtains for them.

Round 4

This time, Mr Pig gets a 5 for his reaction and both Wolfie and Jack are left bobbing in his wake with 4 and 3 respectively.

A 12 for Mr Pig’s hit roll and the crowd holds its breath.

11 points of damage against Wolfie. Doggone!

Jack is keen to avenge his brother but alas, with a 9, he’s just missed the bristly boar.

End of round 4 and there’s only Jack left on 6, with Mr Pig on 17 still.

Round 5 and we consult the dice to see who’s going to walk away from this one smelling of…

Mr Pig and Jack both roll 1s and we have a head to head.

Not that it matters much as with 6 and 1, they’ve both missed each other. Hope this ends soon; I’m really starting to get hungry now. Perhaps I should have ordered the chicken in a basket.

Round 6

Jack rolls a 6, Mr Pig is that little bit slower with a 4

Alas, with a 9, Jack can’t quite seem to hit Mr Pig where it hurts. The tusky one scores an 11, which is good enough to end this bout if the 3d6 roll well…

9 damage and Jack is now playing a harp on a cloud in doggy heaven.

Biopunk is probably jumping up and down with glee at this very point. Yeah, the dice were kinder to Mr Pig but he won fair and square both times.

So now we come to the highlight of the evening. Life’s a Riot with Pig versus Pig (ooh, get me, making obscure 1980s pop references there)

Before we continue, would anyone like a beer?

And something for Madame?

Good, now we’re sorted for drinks, we can crack on with the main attraction…

Round 1

Mr Pig and his arch rival Perky (oh come on, tell me I’m not the only one who remembers them…) roll their d6

Mr Pig, being the more experienced of the two gets a 4 to Perky’s 1

He rolls a 10 and gets first hit in. Damage of 8. Does Perky like that? Hell no, and with a 16, he tusks his rival right back. He scores damage of 15, which is really going to hurt.

End of round 1 and Mr Pig (who informs me that no way is he being called Pinky) is on 17 while Perky kind of gloats, if a giant boar can do gloating on 24.

But it’s anyone’s game with these two and Round 2 beckons. Pick up those d6 and roll ‘em.

Both boars roll 3 and so the clash is more or less simultaneous.

Mr Pig rolls a 6, which just misses, but Perky gashes successfully with 11.

This could be serious. What tale of woe do the damage dice tell?

Phew! 13, which is pretty bad news for Mr Pig.

At the end of that round, our embattled porker is down to 4, whilst Perky is sitting pretty with 24.

Round 3 and it’s with a certain amount of desperation that Mr Pig rolls his d6, while Perky is looking…well….perky.

Mr Pig gets a 2, while Perky trumps him with 4.

Perky gets a 10 and rolls his damage dice. He’s only two shy of the maximum he can get - 16!

Mr Pig is tossed high on his rival’s tusks and straight onto the barbecue grille.

I’ll have chilli sauce with mine please!

Well, as long as no-one minds me typing with my mouth full, that’s about all we’ve got time for this week. As I said, there’s the Easter break next weekend, and I haven’t selected a card for the next fight, but I’ll let you know what’s coming as soon as I know myself.

Till then, happy Easter, fight fans and pass the salad bowl!

Mmmm....mmmm...this stuff is good!

Friday 26 March 2010

Art on Friday - Anders Finer

Today, I'll be recommending one of Norway's best fantasy artists - Anders Finer. If you've played Arkham Horror, you'll be familiar with this one:

This totally sums up Call of Cthulhu for me. Tentacles and guns - what's not to like?

However, Finer has also done other work for the Cthulhu opus which is somewhat more sombre and gloomy, epitomising what CoC players know only too well - pursuit of eldritch horrors leads to a horrible ending.

Finer has also done some cracking fantasy stuff - check out this zombie. Or skeleton - are you going to argue with him?

I particularly like this one, which screams out for a caption.

Do yourself a favour and check out his homepage - there's a link on the right-hand side of this blog.

Next week, I'll be bigging up another artist who has caught my eye.

Thursday 25 March 2010

Good, evil and the line between them.


Evil shall never be portrayed in an attractive light and shall be used only as a foe to illustrate a moral issue. All product shall focus on the struggle of good versus injustice and evil, casting the protagonist as an agent of right. Archetypes (heroes, villains, etc.) shall be used only to illustrate a moral issue.
The TSR Code of Ethics 1995

Introduction – and a disclaimer.

I’ve always been interested in the notions of good and evil, morality and immorality especially when it comes to the alignment system in role playing games. In this post, I’ll be looking at some of the questions that the alignment system throws up and pondering how best to reflect a system of morality in RPG.

The inclusion of viewpoints and quotes for illustrative purposes should not be construed as endorsement thereof. I have no intention to offend or provoke; considered comments are welcomed. I am also aware that there has been a considerable amount of blog discussion on alignment, which I have not referenced or revisited before writing this post, as I wanted the examination to be my own and not unconsciously answering questions that those posts might have raised. You may well find that I either mirror or seem to complement issues that have been dealt with elsewhere.

Three versus nine.

I’m going to be playing in a Labyrinth Lord AEC campaign soon. Whilst discussing the rules set, the DM asked me if I had a preference between the three-point alignment system and the nine-point. As I’m a long-time 1e player and DM, you can probably guess my answer.

But there’s more to it than just tradition. Having started my gaming life with 1e, I had no prior experience of the three-point system and so had to come to it fresh.

Being somewhat contrarian in my views, I would – if I had to classify myself as any particular alignment – be Chaotic Good, although my recent completion of the WotC online alignment test had me down as Neutral Good. I have never had much time for an alignment system that equates Law with Goodness. There are many sorts of law that I could not imagine being classified as in any way desirable. The Nazi regime, the rule of Stalin, the harsh, and to our minds, barbaric rules that made up the legislature of the Roman Empire. As a singularly apposite example of Law without good, consider Drako, the Athenian lawgiver, whose name has come down to us in the word “draconian”. Concerning the liberal use of the death penalty in the Draconic code, Plutarch said:

“It is said that Drako himself, when asked why he had fixed the punishment of death for most offences, answered that he considered these lesser crimes to deserve it, and he had no greater punishment for more important ones.”

Nor indeed do I ascribe to Chaos the epithet of evil – the role of the rebel is one on which the entire United States is built and one that, in the personae of Robin Hood and his merry band we laud and hold up as heroic. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are not exactly upholding the rule of law; in fact they are using violence to overthrow a state. That the state itself utilises violence to perpetuate itself is immaterial; the fact is that it represents Law, stability and the institution of authority. If there were no rebel alliance, the Empire would probably endure for many years to come. Let’s look briefly at a section of the TSR Code of Ethics which addresses this:


Agents of law enforcement (constables, policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions) should not be depicted in such a way as to create disrespect for current established authorities/social values. When such an agent is depicted as corrupt, the example must be expressed as an exception and the culprit should ultimately be brought to justice.

Whilst corrupt law officials are clearly bad and need to be rooted out, the system that they serve is beyond questioning. There is also the equivocation between Law and Justice, which is not always necessarily so.

The Axis of Evil – and Good.

It’s said of the three-point system that the emphasis on good and evil can be applied by the players within the axis of Law, Neutrality and Chaos. All well and good, but perhaps I would have preferred, if any three-point system was to be used, to have the axis of Good, Neutrality and Evil, with law and chaos as gradations on that line.

But even this axis starts to look shaky when we ask the question “What is evil?”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has some wise words for anyone who might seek to ringfence particular viewpoints, beliefs, acts or peoples and mark them down as evil.

“the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.”

The Gulag Archipelago

Solzhenitsyn is indeed correct when he describes the line as a shifting one, and it’s one that generally tends to move forward rather than backward. To emphasise just how that can happen, let’s see what two admirable figures from history have to say on subjects which today would be considered cut and dried on a moral basis.

“I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favour of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; that I am not, nor ever have been, in favour of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say, in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And in as much as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favour of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

Abraham Lincoln 1858

“And how will the new republic treat the inferior races? How will it deal with the black? how will it deal with the yellow man? How will it tackle that alleged termite in the civilised woodwork, the Jew? And for the rest, those swarms of black, and brown, and dirty-white people, who do not come into the new needs of efficiency?
Well, the world is a world, not a charitable institution, and I take it they will have to go. The whole tenor and meaning of the world, as I see it, is that they have to go. So far as they fail to develop sane, vigorous, and distinctive personalities for the great world of the future, it is their portion to die out and disappear.”

H G Wells 1905.

Wells was a progressive, left-wing thinker of his time, so if he could hold the views cited, one shudders to think what the reactionaries of the day might have been thinking. What we are considering here is the way in which, even in a century, views that had been held by the progressives in society are now looked on with disgust and abhorrence by those who consider themselves enlightened.

Black and White and Grey

When we think about alignment, specifically about good and evil, we make those judgements based on the standards of today. In a way, the quasi-mediaeval societies that we create mirror far more the mores of the modern age than they do those of the time that they are intended to represent. Too many of us (and it does us credit) have trouble putting ourselves into the mindset of those who held fast to moral absolutes that would enable them cheerfully to put to death their fellow men merely because of a difference of doctrine or an geographical accident of birth.

Are there such things as moral absolutes? Whilst not wishing to go off down the path of moral relativism, there is always a case to be made for breaking what might otherwise be regarded as societal strictures. Ask yourself two questions: firstly, am I a good person? And secondly, are there circumstances in which I could commit what might normally be considered an evil act?

Thou shalt not kill? What about using violence to defend your children from an intruder? Thou shalt not steal? What if you’re a starving indigent who finds some stale loaves of bread left outside the back of a bakery?

Moral dilemmas

Here’s a conundrum based loosely on the (much disputed) Churchill and Coventry case.

A king whose army is fighting a long and bitter war with a confederation of humanoids has managed to acquire a mole inside the leadership of the confederation. This mole brings the king information that a large band of orcs is heading for one of his cities, intent on attacking and razing it.

If the king strengthens the garrison enough to repel the orc attack, the humanoids will know that he knew of their attack and they may deduce from this that a traitor is in their midst. If the mole is exposed and killed as a result of a hunt for him, the king will lose his source of intelligence inside the confederation and by the time he gets another one, the humanoids may have won and it will be too late.

But if he stays his hand and does nothing, feigning ignorance of the impending attack and its target, hundreds – if not thousands - of innocent citizens will be killed.

Moral dilemmas are always a good thing to throw at parties who seem secure in their alignments. Often, choices are presented in which the correct option is implicit in the question. But what if there are no right answers, only differing degrees of wrong?

Fighting fire with fire?

"They had gone down into the mire to destroy us and our nation and down after them we had to go"

Tom Barry

There have been cases where supposedly good-aligned characters have found themselves committing what might be termed atrocities against goblins, orcs, evil NPCs or cultists whose own moral compass points inexorably towards the Dark Side. Perhaps roughing up an orc to find out where he has hidden his gold. Perhaps the judicious application of sharp instruments to a cultist to obtain the location of his temple before the princess is sacrificed to summon a demon.

Is it ever permissible to use morally dubious methods against those who, given a particularly convincing argument, might deserve it? Is it, in fact, an act of Good to use whatever means are possible against Evil? After all, Evil doesn’t fight fair and to do so oneself hands Evil victory on a plate. Let’s see what the journalist Sam Harris has to say on the subject:

“Imagine that a known terrorist has planted a bomb in the heart of a nearby city. He now sits in your custody. Rather than conceal his guilt, he gloats about the forthcoming explosion and the magnitude of human suffering it will cause. Given this state of affairs—in particular, given that there is still time to prevent an imminent atrocity—it seems that subjecting this unpleasant fellow to torture may be justifiable. For those who make it their business to debate the ethics of torture this is known as the “ticking-bomb” case.
While the most realistic version of the ticking bomb case may not persuade everyone that torture is ethically acceptable, adding further embellishments seems to awaken the Grand Inquisitor in most of us. If a conventional explosion doesn’t move you, consider a nuclear bomb hidden in midtown Manhattan. If bombs seem too impersonal an evil, picture your seven-year-old daughter being slowly asphyxiated in a warehouse just five minutes away, while the man in your custody holds the keys to her release. If your daughter won’t tip the scales, then add the daughters of every couple for a thousand miles—millions of little girls have, by some perverse negligence on the part of our government, come under the control of an evil genius who now sits before you in shackles. Clearly, the consequences of one person’s uncooperativeness can be made so grave, and his malevolence and culpability so transparent, as to stir even a self-hating moral relativist from his dogmatic slumbers.”

This moves towards the realm of teleological or consequentialist ethics, where anything is permissible, provided that it serves a greater good. In Latin, this is rendered Exitus acta probat, literally “The End Justifies the Means”, a sentiment that was falsely attributed to Niccolo Macchiavelli’s phrase “Si guarda al fine” which, as Dungeonmum will surely tell us means “One must consider the final result” (in fact I’m sure she could give us a more accurate translation but it will do for now).

The Boredom of Evil

I’ve played an evil character once. I thought that it would be an interesting playing choice, given that at the time, there was little difference between good characters and those inclined more towards evil. Kill the monsters, take their stuff was the watchword then, as it sometimes tends to be today. Yet after a while, I started to get bored with the routine acts of evil that I was carrying out. With a good character there is always the battle between what the character knows is right and what their darker side, their animal nature wants to do. That battle of choices, the struggle to stay on the side of light makes for a very interesting playing experience. Yet with an evil character, that decision has already been made. There is no conflict - the line has been crossed. Even if the evil character carries out an act that might be considered good, it is usually for expediency, exploitative and cynical.

If we can’t be sure about evil, what is our definition of good?

Let’s consider two paladins. We’re on safe ground with these guys – everyone knows what alignment they have to be and everyone knows what sort of things that alignment allows. Right?


The first paladin serves Forseti, the Norse god of justice. The second follows Girru, the Babylonian god of fire. Both Lawful Good gods.

Our paladins come across a village of halflings. The first paladin rides in, preaches his deity, helps out, seeks to do good, uphold right and assist wherever possible.

The second paladin takes out his sword and starts to kill the halflings, because his mythos says that they are demons.

Both are doing what they consider to be right and were we to say to the second paladin that he was committing an evil act, he would be able to cite that particular page of Deities and Demigods as justification for his actions.

We do not have to look very far for examples of the shifting perception of evil in our own world. A gay couple who give to charity, do voluntary work with the homeless, help their elderly neighbour and never badmouth anyone will still be regarded as more evil than child sex offenders by some extremist groups. A law-abiding, caring tee-total, non-smoking father who observes speed limits, pays his taxes on time, never cheats the system and would never access Zak Smith’s blog would nevertheless - according to fundamentalists - burn in hell because he’s an atheist.

In a recent adventure I ran, (the Spider Farm), Junior Grognard and the gang burst in to one of the buildings and overwhelmed the goblins with such efficiency that the last goblin archer dropped his weapon and surrendered. JG ordered one of his party to kill the goblin. His justification was that if he let him go, the goblin would just join his fellows and go on to carry out more attacks. Nevertheless, an unarmed creature was executed. I noted this and moved on but it made me think and served as one of the bases of this post.

Another example – let’s say that the DM is running a campaign world based on the Roman Empire. A player in the campaign, who – with their modern sensibilities – believes that slavery is wrong and a societal evil, decides that their character is going to campaign to overthrow slavery, liberate the slaves and bring freedom to the Empire. He might cite this section of the TSR Code of Ethics to back his position up


Slavery is not to be depicted in a favourable light; it should only be represented as a cruel and inhuman institution to be abolished.

Of course, no character in that day and age would consider that such a thing was right. For a start, anyone who tried to free slaves would have the slave-owners on their backs, clamouring for the liberator to be arrested for theft. Even in the New Testament, written at around that time, the institution of slavery is taken as a given. Neither Jesus nor Paul take a stand against it. For them, it was no more immoral than keeping animals for food and agricultural use.

What to do with alignment?

After having thought long and hard on the subject, and given that the alignment system may well have been invented to simulate the dogmatic and entrenched viewpoints that existed during the mediaeval age, when certainties were more certain and good and evil were rooted in a spirituality that seems perhaps too simplistic by our age, I am minded to do away with it.

But what to put in its place? I am an optimist when it comes to human nature; the vast majority of individuals are decent, good people who do their best with what they have. That humans are also capable of terrible things is more a product of latent leftovers in their evolutionary heritage. I don’t believe in Original Sin.

I came up with something today – after writing the majority of this post – and grabbed a pen (this always happens to me, inspiration striking when I’m least prepared). Basically, what I propose is to have the players draw up a Statement of Principles for their character. It would run along the lines of

 Five things the character believes in.

 Five things the character would never do/try strenuously to avoid doing.

 Five things the character believes are wrong.

 Character principles (5-10).

It’s sort of a summary of what they stand for, what they won’t stand for and what’s important to them.

A statement of principles is an individual thing; as we’ve seen, no two definitions of good or evil are the same. Something similar could work for monsters too. As you can imagine, the Statement could well encompass ‘evil’ or ‘immoral’ principles also. To reflect the fact that our attitudes and values may change over time, I might allow the player to move one principle off the list and replace with another every level-up or two.

If the player acted inconsistently with the Statement of Principles, I would require them to be able to justify their actions. Responsible and mature players would probably appreciate that, and might even welcome it as an aid to good role-playing.

If I was unhappy with the justification or felt that they were using the lack of alignment to act in a capricious and unrealistic manner, I would probably inflict some kind of spiritual retaliation – remember that in fantasy worlds, the gods not only exist but interfere on a regular basis.

By the Gods!

In fact, upgrading the role of the gods in a fantasy setting might be an interesting way to enforce a degree of behavioural consistency. In mediaeval times, and the ages before that, the consideration that the average person gave to the doctrines and views of their gods was a good deal higher than it is today. Whether you view this as a good thing or a bad thing, the point is that it affected their day to day activities and many of the decisions that they made. That’s not to say that being devoutly religious in mediaeval times made you automatically good.

In 1209, during the "Albigensian Crusade" against the Cathar heresy in Southern France, the forces of Orthodox Catholicism had been besieging the city of Beziers, defended by the Cathar heretics, for some time. Finally they breached the walls of the city and prepared to storm it. The commander of the crusade, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, pointed out that not everybody in the city was a heretic; some of them were good Catholics, so how should they treat the inhabitants when they captured the city? A monk who was actually present at the siege recorded the answer of the Papal Legate to the Crusaders, Arnaud-Amaury, the Abbot of Citeaux, as "Neca eos omnes. Deus suos agnoscet." ("Kill them all. God will know his own.") So the Crusaders followed his advice and killed everybody they could find in Beziers.

The advice of the abbot makes perfect sense if his belief that death is not the end and that a benevolent god will ensure that souls are correctly treated is taken into account. Of course, there is a good argument to be made that he was just being cynical and had not one iota of genuine consideration for the views of his god. What his god thought of his justification is not recorded. A couple of centuries later, the Inquisition would cheerfully make bonfires of heretics because they believed in their hearts that they were doing good work, and that those who they killed were evil and merited no better treatment.

This might make a good case for extending the involvement of the characters with their deities. Recent posts on other blogs have discussed the relationship of the cleric to his deity but perhaps the relationship of all characters to their deities should be examined. Whilst a non-cleric has no spells that can be removed by an angered deity, there could perhaps be some method of sanction that can be applied if a character transgresses.

It’s also a fascinating opportunity to get deeper into the motivations of celestial and infernal beings – with alignment, demons and devils do evil because…well, that’s the way they are. Similarly with gods of good alignment, they just can’t help being good. If we jettison alignment, we then have to work out exactly what these entities are up to, why and what they might consider doing in order to get to those goals.

One last point that is raised by the notion of abandoning alignment is that the same holds true of monsters as well. It has always struck me as odd that entire races of monsters have the same alignment. Are all dwarves good? No. Then why are all orcs evil? The issue of the killing of orc females and children has been raised before, and I refer back to the example of the Abbot of Citeaux, who would have had no compunction on this issue. Indeed, the slaughter of men, women, children and animals is not only condoned but explicitly ordered by Yahweh (who is conventionally depicted as Lawful Good in alignment) in the Old Testament:

“But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth”

Deuteronomy 20:16

Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.' "

1 Samuel 15 v3

It would be an interesting argument if a lawful good cleric wanted to remove orc children from their tribe and raise them in a good environment. Indeed, something similar has been done in the real world with regard to taking Native American and Aboriginal children and raising them in white families, to ‘civilise’ them.

Is evil innate? The ascription of a generic alignment to monster races seems to indicate that Gygax thought it was, or intended it to be so for the purposes of game mechanics.


I hope that this has been an interesting – though long - ramble through some of the problems that alignment throws up. Interestingly, whether one holds to them or not, the pulp roots of D&D argue even more convincingly for an amorality that cannot be trapped within either the threefold or ninefold structure of alignment systems.

I’ve convinced myself that alignment is too restrictive for me, does not reflect the complexities of human nature and – in the case of monsters – is simplistic and unfair. My abandonment thereof will be an experiment, a work in progress. If it turns out that the interests of game mechanics require it to be reimposed, that’s what I’ll do. And I’ll let you know all about it!

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Bring back Chgowiz

If Chgowiz has ever helped you, given you inspiration or guidance, commented favourably on something you posted, or just made you feel "This guy is okay and I like having him around" then get over to Gothridge Manor and sign Tim's petition.

C'mon - don't let this nastiness deprive us of a truly inspirational blogger.

Monday 22 March 2010

Mentors, Meatshields and Mary Sues

I’m running a campaign for a new player starting at 1st level; the way that the campaign is going has brought to the forefront of my mind the concept of mentors. In this post, I’ll be looking at these, why they might be needed, when to kill them off, and their cousins, the meatshield and the Mary Sue.


The mentor of a PC fills the role of a Gandalf, an Obi Wan or a Yoda. With new or inexperienced players, or parties that are new to the campaign world in question, the mentor can be a lifeline, preventing unnecessary loss or damage until the party finds their feet.

The function of the mentor is more advisory than anything else, training, developing, nudging and hinting rather than turning up with a lightsabre and cutting the opposition to ribbons any time the PCs get into trouble. That’s moving into Mary Sue territory and I’ll be discussing that later. Indeed, page 39 of the DMG specifically states that magic users serve an apprenticeship with a ‘wise old master’ of at least 6th level. Why more is not made of this, I don’t know. Does anyone keep in touch with their ‘wise old masters’?

And mentors have only a limited lifespan. Both Obi Wan and Yoda ‘died’. Gandalf died but then he came back again, albeit with a respray. Indeed, there is a specific time to kill a mentor; usually when the PCs get to about 3rd level.

Why? Well, it’s about then that they have come to rely on the presence of the mentor. They know that having a mentor is not a Get out of Jail Free card, but if played well, the mentor can become a friend, an older brother figure, even a parent in a way.

And 3rd level is an interesting level. In fact, the odd-numbered levels are, I find, the more interesting to play. I’ll be posting about that later. Suffice it to say that by 3rd level, the players are probably thinking to themselves “I’m still alive. I didn’t die at 1st level, made it to 2nd and now I’ve done sufficiently successfully that I’m at 3rd; it might be worth investing some time to personalise my character, get a set of aims and objectives together, start imagining them as a person rather than just a dead PC waiting to happen".

And that is the time that the mentor has to go. By 3rd level, the character has enough personality and history with the mentor that the loss will be all the more meaningful. If the death of the mentor can be in some way attributed to the actions of the character, a whole raft of guilt issues can be introduced. Rich pickings indeed for future adventures with the character in question.

In fact, the loss of the mentor figure is necessary if the character is ever going to become an independent and self-reliant person. To keep the mentor present, or indeed to twist the mentor into a Mary Sue is to keep the character in a permanent state of psychological childhood.

There’s something about the character of a mentor; there may be a sense of resignation, sadness even about their attitude. Their advanced age means that they have seen a lot, often so much that their philosophical approach can be mistaken for blasé. Their protégé may well be the latest (or last) in a long line of trainees but now, it’s the twilight of their career and there is a sense of handing over the baton. It’s almost as if they know they’re going to die soon. (Sooner, if their DM has read this post)


I’m using the term Meatshield for the purposes of this post to refer to big fighter-types that accompany the party for the purposes of being the first to get hit, soak up the damage that would otherwise fall on the PCs and generally show the players what danger they’re in without actually killing a character. Occasionally, they may survive, at which point they often get a sort of honorary (if associate) membership of the party.

In the current Elesalia campaign, Junior Grognard’s party has made friends with Sergeant Subaras and his town guards. It happened rather by accident; an ettin had been reported and the guards were heading off to check it out. The party had the choice of going or staying and they chose to go; the fight was going to be a tough one but Subaras was 3rd level and his two guards were 1st. Their contribution to the fight was going to be providing extra firepower and decreasing the likelihood of any of the PCs getting hit (a one in ten chance of death is a lot better than a one in six)

Subaras and his men also accompanied the party on their expedition to the Spider Farm. They were instrumental in the success of the party but not utterly essential; the party may well have succeeded but at greater cost.

There may come a point at which, purely by chance, a randomly-generated meatshield starts to take on the role of Mentor. It’s very sandbox when this happens. Suddenly, the meatshield gets a name, attribute stats, a description and a personality. In this situation, the character’s new stats should be determined by the dice. And this is the reason why.

Mary Sues

There are times when the DM realises that the party is short a character. Maybe no-one rolled up a cleric and there are undead aplenty in the dungeon. Maybe they’ll be confronted by locked doors and the only thief in the party has just collided with an ogre. Either way, the DM-controlled NPC is often the quickest way round this.

However, this route is fraught with danger. The DM will want to make sure that the NPC created is the best NPC for the job. No-one wants to have a second-rate thief trying to pick that lock, or a cleric whose Wisdom is too low for bonus spells, or whose combat skills make them more of a liability rather than an asset. So the NPC is naturally going to be the best that they can be, which is logical if they are being created for a specific role rather than rolled up and at the mercy of the dice.

Being the best NPC possible is going to make that character rather more fun to play than would be the case for an average NPC. And the more fun something is to do, the more one is going to want to do it. Unless the DM is very careful (and very self-disciplined) they’ll find themselves falling in love with the NPC and that’s a bad place to go.

Soon, the NPC is proving their worth, saving the party’s bacon time after time. The party may become collaborators in their own enslavement, initially liking the fact that they’ve got a Get out of Trouble Free card and playing it whenever they can. This not only makes them lazy and addicted to the NPC, but also gives the DM positive feedback for the use of that NPC. Before you know it, the DM has worked out that if NPC equals good, then more NPC equals better. And total NPC must be perfect. We have arrived in Mary Sue town.

Another problem with the DM playing an NPC is that, like everyone who plays a character, they’re going to start projecting aspects of themselves onto that NPC and identifying with it. Some DMs might have inadequacy issues and find a kind of fulfilment through playing an NPC who is just better at doing things than they might be.

Although it’s initially nice to have a ‘big brother’ for the party, someone who can take on the tough guys and fight through to the treasure room, leaving the party to pick up the gold pieces, this happy state of affairs can’t last for ever. There’s going to come a point at which the NPC does something that the party wanted to do, kills a monster that they had been gearing to up to defeat, makes them realise that in fact they can take no credit whatsoever for the completion of the dungeon or adventure. They’ve just become the NPC’s fanboys.

In the worst-case scenario, the players might decide that they are going to kill the offending character. It doesn’t take a genius to see how this is going to spell disaster. The DM is addicted to this character by now, and no way is he going to give it up – the buzz is too good. In fact, there may be an even greater buzz from defeating the attempts of the party – actual flesh and blood players – to kill the Mary Sue. How much cooler will that make the NPC? Of course, attempts to kill the Mary Sue are doomed to failure – the character is going to have the best stats, the best magic items, and 101 things will mysteriously ‘go wrong’ with any party plans. What it boils down to is an attempt, albeit indirectly, to attack the DM himself – or that’s how he’ll see it.

In the end, the only thing that’s going to die is the campaign itself.

Miniatures Monday - The Purple Wizard

From the Diaries of J.R.R. Tolkien

7th August, 1968

"Christopher and Michael called round; they had been to Amsterdam on a day-trip and had brought back some delicious cakes and some new tobacco that they thought I might like. Later, whilst walking in the garden, some real elves came out of the bushes and started dancing around me. Then I climbed on the back of a huge dragon and we flew off to Rivendell. There, I met a purple wizard called Star Spirit and he bet me that I could not climb into the sky and pull down all the diamonds..."

8th August, 1968

"Man, my head hurts..."

Saturday 20 March 2010

Saturday Night Fight Club - Ettin v The Otyugh Brothers

This week, something a little out of the ordinary - yes, it's Otyughs. Well, I think that's the plural. I don't even know how to pronounce the singular. They look suitably monstrous but I can't recall having met one in all my dungeoning days. You might think that because they look utterly barmy (in fact, the MM picture of the otyugh is so naff I don't even want to use it, unlike the Neo-Otyugh, which is quite cool) they aren't worth using. Well, sit back and enjoy the fight and then tell me you don't think they're worth a go.


Frequency: Very rare
No appearing: 1-4
Armour class: 3
Move: 12”
Hit dice: 10 (average hp 45)
% in lair: 20%
No of attacks: 2
Damage/attack: 2-16/3-18
Special attacks: Nil
Special Defences: Surprised only on a 1
Magic resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Low
Alignment: CE
Size: L

THAC0 10

He’ll hit the Otyugh on a 7, the Neo-Otyugh on a 10


Frequency: Uncommon
No appearing: 1
Armour class: 3
Move: 6”
Hit dice: 8 (average hp 36)
% in lair: Nil
No of attacks: 3
Damage/attack: 1-8/1-8/2-5
Special attacks: Nil
Special Defences: Disease
Magic resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Low-average
Alignment: N
Size: M-L
THAC0: 12

It’ll hit the ettin on a 9

I’m not sure that the standard otyugh will be a worthy opponent for Eddie Two-heads, so I’ve lined up his bigger brother, Neo to provide the after-dinner entertainment.

Neo-Otyugh (just like an otyugh except it’s played by Keanu Reeves)

Frequency: Rare
No appearing: 1
Armour class: 0
Move: 6”
Hit dice: 10 (average hit points 45)
% in lair: Nil
No of attacks: 3
Damage/attack: 2-12/2-12/1-3
Special attacks: Never surprised
Special Defences: Disease
Magic resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Average to very
Alignment: N
Size: L

THAC0 10

It’ll hit the ettin on a 7

Oooh, I’m very excited about this – a two-headed gianty thing versus two walking cacti.

Let the dice start rolling and the blood/sap start flowing!

Round 1

Eddie and Otie roll for initiative

Eddie gets a 1, Otie a 6. That’s quite a bit of difference there. I wonder what Eddie was doing while Otie was gearing up to attack. Perhaps he was dancing a little jig. If you look at his picture, that’s what he seems to be doing.

Attack time! Otie rolls 4, 13 and 3 – a bit of a meh attack, really. His one hit does 5 damage.

Eddie decides to show Otie he means business. And with rolls of 12 and 11, that’s a business worth investing in. Let’s check out that damage – 6 and 9 respectively. Okay, not great but they’re not mere scratches…

End of round 1 and Eddie’s jigging away on 40 while Otie is down to 21.

Round 2, and let’s see who’s quicker off the mark this time…

Eddie rolls a 2, Otie a 6. That’s one fast Otyugh – I wonder if they practice martial arts in their spare time?

Otie rolls 6, 12 and 11 – two hits this time. Damage of 3 and 2 – okay, not great.

Eddie rolls his to hits, let’s see what he gets. Oh dear, looks like his heads weren’t pointing in the right direction, he gets a 4 and a 3.

End of round 2, and Otie is still on 21, while Eddie has dropped slightly to 35.

Round 3 and this time, Otie rolls 3 while Eddie decides the time has come to sting like a bee with 6.

That’s a bee without a sting however, since he’s just rolled 5 and 3. Oh dear…

Otie sees his chance and lashes out with his…whatever they’re called. Flappy spiky tentacle thingies. He rolls 10, 14 and 16. Will he be as lucky with his damage rolls?

8,6 and 5 – the answer is yes, those rolls are hot and they’ve got mustard on!

End of round 3 (and I like it when fights last this long)

Eddie is looking battered with 16 and Otie still has 21. I do hope that no-one is betting on this.

Round 4

Otie gets a 2, Eddie is that little bit quicker with 4. Let’s see if he can turn this fight around.

One attack misses with 6, one hits with 15. The damage dice speak and they say

Otie lashes out but his attacks are not quite as successful – 4,4 and 19. The one that does hit (is that his mouth?) scores 5 points of damage.

End of round 4 and our contenders are on the following

Eddie 11
Otie 9

A good hit or two could really finish this one off – now might be the time to order your chicken in a basket.

Round 5

Let the d6 decide…

Eddie 1
Otie 1

Both fighters leap into action, attacks landing simultaneously! Woo-hoo!

Eddie gets 15 and 13 for his hits, scoring 11 and 11 – ker-splat, and Otie is green wallpaper paste. But the tentacled one may have the last laugh – let’s see what his die rolls are…

6,12 and 6 – he scored a whopping 8 on that last tentacled swipe but it wasn’t quite enough to bring Eddie down. The dicephalic one hangs on in there with 3hp.

Your Chicken in a basket, sir.

Oh-kay! Fight Two and let’s see if Eddie can hold his own against Neo, the rather tougher older brother of Otie.

Round 1 and it’s initiative time

Eddie gets a 2, Neo a 6. Sharp and fast, these otyughs…

Neo’s attacks are 3,13 and 18 – damage of 6 and 3.

Eddie swings in with those two little tree-trunks he picked earlier. Maybe he should have picked a couple of others because these are a little off.

4 and 2 are what he rolled.

End of round 1 and Eddie is down to 36, Neo still on 45.

Round 2 and who’s fastest this time?

Eddie wins it with 5 to Neo’s 4

He’s clearly gone for his reserve tree trunks because he’s just rolled 16 and 18. Let’s see what these beauties can do…

3 and 10 - not quite as hot as all that. Neo’s tough hide is probably soaking a fair bit of the damage up. Can he do any better?

10, 18 and 6 say yes, he can. His damage is 3 and 8 so a little less than Eddie.

End of that round and let’s see where our contenders stand

Eddie is on 25, Neo on 32.

We know these fights can swing either way depending on the fickle whim of the dice, so let’s move on to Round 3

Eddie isn’t quite so fast this time as his 3 is beaten by Neo’s five.

He rolls 4, 12 and 13 – shame that low roll came on one of his tentacle swipes. His damage is 7 and 2 – well, 9’s not so bad. Let’s see what Eddie has in store for the spiny one…

12 and 6 – one hit at least, for damage of 5.

It’s shaping up to be quite a hefty one tonight. Let’s look at the hit points –

Eddie 16
Neo 27

Neo is proving to be somewhat tougher in a fight than his little brother. I wonder what will happen in round 4

It’s a good set of rolls for initiative but Eddie clinches it with 6 to Neo’s 5

16 and 3 – not sure what’s wrong with Eddie’s right arm but the left is speaking the language of Hit with another 7 damage.

Neo lashes out with his long and danglies (and that wee mouth of his) and scores 4, 12 and 7 – one tentacle and a bite do 7 and 3 respectively.

End of round 4 and is anyone about to give up and go home? Probably not.

Hit points are now at

Eddie 6
Neo 20

A good roll by anyone this round could spell the end of the fight so without further ado, Round 5!

Eddie and Neo both roll a 3, so it’s Even Stevens.

Eddie rolls 7 and 5 for his to hits. That’s a bad pair of rolls for him.

And with 12, 13 and 9, Neo is about to show him just how bad his luck has turned. Damage of 6,6 and 2 – not the highest scores you can get with d6s but enough to send Eddie to the floor with lots of spiky things sticking in him.

Well, the dice have spoken and we’ve seen that two extra hit dice and a slightly better armour class make quite a bit of difference. Against lower level opponents, the ettin is a formidable opponent (in one of my games recently, 9 first levellers and a 3rd leveller attacked one and it inflicted 40% casualties against them before they finally brought it down). The otyugh and his bigger brother are hefty fighters, the first giving the ettin a real run for his money and the second flooring the two-headed one completely. Against dungeon parties, they should make a meaty threat; although their stats say that they are encountered singly (or possibly in pairs) they could give even the toughest fighter some brown-trousered moments if deployed in larger numbers.

Next time, I’ll be seeing who’s the hairest and hardest – Giant Boar or Dire Wolf? Join us for an Ice-age smack-down.

Friday 19 March 2010

Flame Zombies!

You will probably remember these beauties from the recent jaunt by Team Adventure into Burnt Man's Haunt. During that, being caught off guard and having to adjudicate on the fly, I used the Harginn stats. Now, I've had a chance to flesh them out in all their fiery glory and am including them here for your delectation, delight and possible use.

Flame Zombies

MOVE: 12”
%IN LAIR: 100%
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 1d4+4 (an effect similar to Burning Hands spell, including the tendency of flammable objects to catch fire – a roll will be needed to see which part of the body is hit by the jet of flame)
SPECIAL DEFENCES: Certain spell immunity

When a human is killed in an intense fire, there is a chance (1%) that the fire will open a gateway to the Elemental Plane of Fire. Through this can come spirits of flame that will possess the burnt body and reanimate it. The appearance of a flame zombie is that of a badly charred corpse, with smoke issuing from its mouth and nose.

Flame zombies are immune to all fire-based spells. The flame spirit that burns within them can be extinguished by the use of holy water blessed by a cleric of seventh level or higher.

Flame zombies have a special attack, which can be used when three of them join hands. They have the power to cast a 6-hit dice fireball, range will be 16”. They will not be affected if they are caught in the blast area.

Another ability which they possess is the power to pour forth a smoky cloud that will envelop everything in a similar fashion to an Eversmoking Bottle (10,000 cubic feet, which is a space about 21’ x 21’ x 21’). A Gust of Wind spell should be able to disperse it without too much bother.

XP value 240 + 4/hp

They turn as a Wight

Team Adventure Campaign Log Session 5

You will remember that the team was stuck down a deep cave in Burnt Man’s Haunt, having just despatched two flame zombies. JG decided that as they had no idea how many more were down there, and they had already taken damage, they should make a strategic retreat. As they headed back towards the rope, they heard running footsteps in the dark and some very weird sounds, a cross between gibbering and whimpering. They held their fire as out of the dark came a dirty, shabbily dressed man, badly burnt down one side of his face and upper body. He started to babble about flames, fire loving us, wanting us to join the kingdom of ash, and so on, and advised them in no uncertain terms to run as fast as they could. They started to climb and Alurax, Akurath and Elise (again controlled by JG as Mummy Grognard was not playing this session) had already made it to the top when three flame zombies appeared out of the darkness. They joined hands and projected a fireball up after the fleeing adventurers. The rope caught fire, as did Zhastar’s cloak. The doughty hobbit lost his grip with one hand but held on with the other (bad Dexterity check, followed by very good one).

They arrived outside the dungeon to find that their donkey was still alive, not having been eaten by any passing thing with an appetite. They set off back down the trail, with the sound of percentile dice checks for wandering monsters rattling in their ears. They didn’t get a positive result until they were nearing the Clawbriars, when one happened that may well change the entire direction of the campaign. I’d rolled “Party of Adventurers 3-4 level” and having acted out a rather terse stand-off, they decided to pitch a joint camp as the prospect of crossing the Clawbriars in the dark was not a good one.

As they set up camp, I had the NPC party leader, a cleric called Pharas ask Team Adventure about their activities. This was a device by me to get JG to try and recapitulate the party’s doings so far and ensure that he could remember what had been going on. He did remarkably well actually.

During the talk at the fire, the cleric said that his party was coming back from Firebreath Forest, where they had been looking for the lair of a dragon reputed to be sitting on a hoard of gold. They had not found the lair, having run into some too-tough monsters and were returning to town to get more supplies and reinforcements. JG immediately thought to himself that his foursome would be ideal reinforcements for the adventure.

The dice had decided that the members of the new party were as follows:
Pharas, a 4th level cleric of Telgar, god of battles. martial prowess and honour, male
Hergest, 3rd level Magic User, male
Vulis, 3rd level fighter, female
Yerenna, 3rd level fighter, female
Galitia, 3rd level fighter, female.

I rolled another encounter during the hours of darkness, this one being “Wraith”. Yerenna and Galitia came back with armfuls of firewood and reported that they had heard strange noises and an eerie feeling from a ruined building nearby in the trees. Pharas decided that he and the two clerics in JG’s party should go and investigate.

They arrived, decided to circle the building and break the door down. It was remarkably resilient, withstanding three attempts at Open Doors. In the end they decided to go in through the window. Alurax and Akurath went in first, and were confronted by a figure darker than the darkness which came towards them, making eerie moaning sounds. They thought “Zombies!” and dived back out through the window to report what they had seen. Pharas considered that zombies were an easy job, and - with Yerenna and Galitia - finally managed to get the door open and burst in, holy symbol held high. Pharas managed to make his turn roll with a 16 and forced the wraith back into a corner, where the two fighters laid into it with +1 swords. Unfortunately, the wraith made some good to hits and ended up draining a level off each of the fighters. Realising that it would not be long before the wraith could come at them again, and unsure of his ability to turn it a second time, the cleric called retreat and the entire party headed back to the camp fire. I ruled that the wraith was tied to the building and so did not pursue.

The next day, they arrived at the river crossing, and signalled the boat to come across (JG remembered to use the mirror to flash the signal). The boat arrived, crewed by Pellis the boatman and his assistant Ozas, and did two journeys to get all nine of them, plus the donkey, back to Antiar’s Landing.

The first thing they did was book another week’s stay at the Soaring Falcon, then have a discussion about whether they should sign up for the trip back to the dragon’s lair and whether they could trust the cleric and his friends. The fact that the lair was in a place called Firebreath Forest hinted at it being a fire-breathing dragon and there’s only one colour that can do that sort of trick.

At this point, Pharas and Hergest turned up and wanted to talk turkey about their trip. They proposed to leave the next day, and would spend most of that day buying supplies and another pack animal. JG was still committed to going with them and we left it that they would meet up down by the river crossing the next morning.

So we reach the dawn of Day 10 since the party arrived in Antiar’s Landing. They’ve already killed an ettin, taken on a pack of marauding goblins, been across the river, met flame zombies, a wraith and are about to set off for the lair of a Red Dragon. And no-one near 2nd level yet.

In case anyone is wondering, the XP so far are as follows:

Zhastar 483
Elise 605 but divided by two as she is multi-class
Akurath 513
Alurax 505 but divided by two as he is multi-class

I’m not sure what’s going to happen on the next session. Firebreath Forest is at least twenty miles south of the river, and that’s a lot of wandering monster rolls. And Pharas, from being just the result of a die roll or two is now shaping up to be rather over-confident and extremely ambitious. Yes, there are nine of them now but that’s only 18 levels between them, which is not much if they come up against something nasty. And why do I get the feeling that Pharas is not telling them the whole truth?

I got an incredible feeling of excitement when I realised that the campaign had taken an unexpected turn. Whilst I now need to get something in place for the party, that work is part of the fun of running a sandbox. In the newer, story-driven campaigns, the encounter with the NPC party would have been scripted, planned and fully statted up before it even happened. The place of the encounter in the great story arc would have been established as well and, had the party been on another railroad, no amount of enticement from the NPC party would have been allowed to divert them from it.

Yes, Team Adventure may end up as ash; yes, they may run across something in the wilderness that finishes them off. But that’ll be their decision, not some fiat from the DM. And they may encounter something that sends them off in yet another unexpected direction. They don’t know until it happens – nor do I, and that, for my money is what the fun of being a DM is all about.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

The Tuesday Tavern opens its doors again

But it's okay, because like Hilbert's Hotel, it's always got rooms available. It's going to need them because today we welcome four new guests, Ravenconspiracy (of the fine artwork), Robert, Jonathan Hicks and Padre, who is my 60th follower.

This is for you, my friends. Enjoy!

Monday 15 March 2010

Miniatures Monday - The Blue Wizard

Tolkien afficionados will remember that besides Gandalf, Saruman and Radagast, there were two more wizards, Alatar and Pallando, known as the Ithryn Luin or Blue Wizards. I don't think that Andy was such a Tolkien devotee that he knew about them, but the colour scheme that he chose for this figure, which may well have been designed with a nod to Gandalf (note the sword at his belt) fits the notion of the Blue Wizards to a tee.

It's difficult to see the features clearly, what with the beard and the wide-brimmed hat, but the impression you get from looking at the figure is "You don't mess with me."

Massively powerful wizards are a staple of fantasy fiction from Gandalf the Grey to Bayaz, First of the Magi (although there is a world of difference morally between those two). There's something about the concept of an old man keeping his power cloaked until the time comes for him to unveil himself and really kick ass. The power is all the more awesome for having been kept veiled for so long.

Saturday 13 March 2010

100th Post! Saturday Night Fight Club – Who let the dogs out?

Yes, I know that you were expecting to see a White Dragon going up against the Hell Hounds but Mummy Grognard likes dragons and when I mentioned who the contenders were for tonight’s bash, she got very upset and made all sorts of veiled threats until I changed the fight card and made a substitution. So, to carry on the theme of dogs, here are tonight’s combatants

Hell Hound

Frequency: Very rare
No. appearing: 2-8
Armour class: 4
Move: 12”
Hit dice: 4-7 but for the purposes of tonight’s dogfight, we’ll call the average 23
% in lair: 30%
Treasure type: C
No of attacks: 1
Damage per attack: 1-10
Special attacks: Breathe Fire
Magic resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Low
Size: M
THAC0: 15 so to hit the werewolf will need a 10
In addition to their normal attack, the hell hound breathes a scorching fire up to 1” distance causing 1hp of damage for every 1 hit dice they possess in this case 5. Save vs. dragon’s breath to halve the damage.


Frequency: Common
No. appearing: 3-18
Armour class: 5
Move: 15”
Hit dice: 4+3, which is an average of 21
% in lair: 25%
Treasure type: B
No of attacks: 1
Damage per attack: 2-8
Special attacks: surprise on 1-3
Magic resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Average
Size: M
THAC0: 15 so to hit the hell hound, they’ll need an 11

Save vs. breath weapon 16 or better. And I'm aware that technically you need a magic or silver weapon to hit a werewolf but I reckon that hell hounds are pretty damn magic anyway, so I'm giving them that one.

And has anyone actually noticed that the frequency for Werewolves is Common – that means there’s a 65% chance of encountering them. That’s right – 65% chance. Odds like that, these things should be leaping out at you every time you go to the shops.

The numbers appearing is going to be interesting; it seems that werewolves are probably twice as numerous as hell hounds, so we’ll try and pit 8 werewolves against 4 hell hounds and see what happens. It’s going to be epic.

Round 1

To the sound of barking and howling, the fight begins. I’ll make it easy on myself and rule that each hell hound gets two werewolves.

We’ll work down the hellhounds in order, thus (and I guess we’ll see if SNFC can handle larger combats)

Hellhound 1 scores 1 on the reaction dice
Werewolf 1 scores 3 on his reaction
Werewolf 2 scores 6 on his reaction

Werewolf 1 rolls 11 and does 6 damage, Werewolf 2 a 9 and misses.
Hell Hound 1 rolls a 9 and misses.

Hellhound 2 scores 3 on the reaction dice
Werewolf 3 scores 4 on his reaction
Werewolf 4 scores 5 on his reaction

Werewolf 3 rolls a 15 and Werewolf 4 an 18 – their damage is 4 and 5 respectively.
Hell Hound 2 rolls a 7 to hit and misses.

Hellhound 3 scores 6 on the reaction dice
Werewolf 5 scores 3 on his reaction
Werewolf 6 scores 2 on his reaction

Hell Hound 3 rolls an 11 and hits, for damage of 6.

Werewolf 5 rolls a 9, as does Werewolf 6

Hellhound 4 scores 3 on the reaction dice
Werewolf 7 scores 2 on his reaction
Werewolf 8 scores 2 on his reaction

Hell Hound 4 scores a 17, for damage of 5

Werewolf 7 rolls an 18, with 6 damage, Werewolf 8 rolls an 11 and inflicts 7

End of that round – hit points are as follows

Hellhound 1 17
Hellhound 2 14
Hellhound 3 23
Hellhound 4 10

Werewolf 1 21
Werewolf 2 21
Werewolf 3 21
Werewolf 4 21
Werewolf 5 15
Werewolf 6 21
Werewolf 7 16
Werewolf 8 21

It’s Round 2 – no-one’s dead yet.

Hellhound 1 scores 1 on the reaction dice
Werewolf 1 scores 5 on his reaction
Werewolf 2 scores 6 on his reaction

Werewolf 1 rolls a 3
Werewolf 2 rolls a 20 – I’m not running the critical rule in this fight, it’s bloodthirsty enough as it is, so just normal damage of 3
Hell Hound 1 decides to use the breath weapon and directs it at werewolf 1, who fails his save and takes 5 damage.

Hellhound 2 scores 1 on the reaction dice
Werewolf 3 scores 6 on his reaction
Werewolf 4 scores 3 on his reaction

Werewolf 3 rolls a 9
Werewolf 4 rolls another 20 – damage of 5
Hell Hound 2 also decides to use his breath weapon and directs it at werewolf 3, who also fails his save vs. breath and takes 5 damage

Hellhound 3 scores 6 on the reaction dice
Werewolf 5 scores 1 on his reaction
Werewolf 6 scores 6 on his reaction

Hell Hound 3 (I think they’ll all go for breath this round and alternate with teeth) breathes fire at Werewolf 5, who manages to make his save and therefore takes 2.5, which we’ll round up to 3.

Werewolf 5 rolls an 18 and does damage of 7
Werewolf 6 rolls a 5.

Hellhound 4 scores 2 on the reaction dice
Werewolf 7 scores 2 on his reaction
Werewolf 8 scores 4 on his reaction

Hell Hound 4 breathes on Werewolf 7, who fails his save and takes 5 damage.

Werewolf 7 rolls an 11 and does 8 damage
Werewolf 8 rolls an 11 and does 6 damage.
This damage is enough to kill Hell Hound 4

At the end of that round, the hit point totals are

Hellhound 1 14
Hellhound 2 9
Hellhound 3 16
Hellhound 4 dead

Werewolf 1 16
Werewolf 2 21
Werewolf 3 16
Werewolf 4 21
Werewolf 5 12
Werewolf 6 21
Werewolf 7 11
Werewolf 8 21

Okay, round 3 – everyone keeping up?

There are now two spare werewolves, who will turn on Hellhound 2 as it’s the most badly damaged now. This round, I’ll rule that the surviving hellhounds decide to bite – it has a chance of doing more damage.

Hellhound 1 scores 5 on the reaction dice
Werewolf 1 scores 6 on his reaction
Werewolf 2 scores 2 on his reaction

Werewolf 1 rolls a 7 and misses
Hell Hound 1 rolls a 19 and does damage of 6 against Werewolf 1
Werewolf 2 rolls a 12 and does damage of 7.

Hellhound 2 scores 4 on the reaction dice
Werewolf 3 scores 6 on his reaction
Werewolf 4 scores 1 on his reaction
Werewolf 7 scores 4 on his reaction
Werewolf 8 scores 1 on his reaction

Werewolf 3 rolls a 2
Werewolf 7 rolls a 11 and does damage of 4
Hell Hound 2 rolls a 19 and inflicts damage of 9 on Werewolf 7, who is the most wounded.
Werewolf 8 rolls a 6
Werewolf 4 rolls a 4

Hellhound 3 scores 5 on the reaction dice
Werewolf 5 scores 4 on his reaction
Werewolf 6 scores 2 on his reaction

Hell Hound 3 rolls a 6 and misses

Werewolf 5 rolls a 4
Werewolf 6 rolls a 6

End of round 3, let’s see who’s up and who’s down

Hellhound 1 7
Hellhound 2 5
Hellhound 3 16

Werewolf 1 10
Werewolf 2 21
Werewolf 3 16
Werewolf 4 21
Werewolf 5 12
Werewolf 6 21
Werewolf 7 2
Werewolf 8 21

The Hell Hounds are really taking a pounding on this one, although two of the werewolves are not looking at all happy. Ah well, on with round 4

Hellhound 1 scores 5 on the reaction dice
Werewolf 1 scores 1 on his reaction
Werewolf 2 scores 4 on his reaction

Hell Hound 1 rolls an 18 and his bite inflicts damage of 5 on Werewolf 1
Werewolf 2 rolls a 10
Werewolf 1 rolls a 12 and does damage of 7, which is enough to kill Hell Hound 1

Hellhound 2 scores 2 on the reaction dice
Werewolf 3 scores 5on his reaction
Werewolf 4 scores 3 on his reaction
Werewolf 7 scores 6 on his reaction
Werewolf 8 scores 3 on his reaction

Werewolf 7 rolls a 2
Werewolf 3 rolls a 4
Werewolf 4 rolls a 6
Werewolf 8 rolls a 11 and does 8 damage on Hell Hound 2, killing it

Hellhound 3 scores 6 on the reaction dice
Werewolf 5 scores 2 on his reaction
Werewolf 6 scores 3 on his reaction

Hell Hound 3 rolls a 13 and does 7 damage on Werewolf 5

Werewolf 6 rolls a 4
Werewolf 5 rolls a 4

At the end of that round, it’s looking like curtains for Hell Hound 3. He’s got 16 hp still left, and the werewolves lining up now to take him down have the following

Werewolf 1 5
Werewolf 2 21
Werewolf 3 16
Werewolf 4 21
Werewolf 5 5
Werewolf 6 21
Werewolf 7 2
Werewolf 8 21

As the odds are overwhelming, I’ll say that four werewolves have the chance to launch their attacks; two hit, two miss. The hits do 11 damage. The hell hound replies with 6 damage against one of the werewolves; I’ll be charitable and say that the damage is against one of those who would be killed by it.

Round 6 – the final four werewolf attacks land two blows against the last hell hound, who falls to the attacks. His last bite finishes off one of the wounded werewolves.

Well, from that rather long,bloodthirsty and vicious combat, what can we deduce? The werewolves’ superiority in numbers was by far the most telling factor in their victory. Hell Hound breath, although touted as a frightening weapon, seems not to have done all that much damage – even the most powerful hounds only inflicts 7 damage in total with each breath and that’s assuming that the victim fails its save.

As we’ve already seen, the frequency of werewolves and the numbers encountered (3-18, which is on average either 10 or 11) makes them a scary opponent; granted, the concept of the werewolf is by now somewhat corny and hackneyed and needs a bit of revitalisation, rather like Neil Marshall did with Dog Soldiers. If your Dungeon Master either watched that or reads this blog, pack your wolfsbane, silver and magic. And remember that they have a 15” movement rate, so they’re probably faster than you.

Next week, if all goes well, we’ll see what happens when an ettin takes on an otyugh.

Friday 12 March 2010

Film Friday - The Mummy: best D&D film ever?

The other day, I acquired the DVD of The Mummy (the Brendan Fraser one) for a pittance at the local supermarket. I’d had it on video for years but hadn’t watched it for quite some time.

It struck me, thinking about the film, which is particularly good anyway, that it is probably one of the most dungeon-like films I can remember. Hell, it’s set in the desert – you can’t get a bigger sandbox than that! Granted that it’s not set in mediaeval times and it has guns, but careful consideration of the themes and events therein yield some interesting results.


Let’s look first of all at the main characters. We have a fighter (Brendan Fraser), a magic-user/cleric (Rachel Weisz), a thief (John Hannah) and for want of a better title, a ranger/paladin (Oded Fehr).

The backstory is quickly dealt with, very effectively and gruesomely, laying the groundwork for the rest of the adventure without reams and reams of exposition.

The fighter first encounters the lurking evil during a pitched battle against what might as well be hordes of orcs. He survives but only just – clearly, he is more than just an average character. Good strength and constitution there. The DM also manages to work in some enigmatic NPCs without having to go into great detail, although…

Many Med-jai (roll 1d20 three times)

1 Wear black
2 Have facial tattoos
3 Carry at least three daggers
4 Sit around on white horses looking enigmatic

The magic user is busy working her apprenticeship under a rather fussy and overbearing mentor (whose true status is only later revealed) when the thief arrives, having filched what appears to be a quaint but ordinary trinket. It doesn’t take long before the DM delivers the first clue to the location of something legendary and lost.

Soon, having recruited the fighter in a most dramatic fashion, the party is on its way to the lost city – complete with annoying NPC - but already they have encountered a group of rival adventurers, a useful staple of dungeon adventures. The rival party also has its fighters and a magic user of their own. And a thief, whose connection with the party and the dungeon quickly becomes clear. Effective recycling of an NPC with whom one of the PCs has history.

"Please don't kill me, I'm an NPC"

We then have the first encounter with what appears to be the forces of darkness. They wear black and they attack by night. Needless to say, not everything is as it seems, but the DM does not, of course, spill the beans about what’s going on.

"Talk amongst yourselves while I roll up the next encounter"

So we then arrive at the dungeon. Yes, it’s in ruins and it doesn’t take them long before they get in. Soon, however, it becomes clear that there is something nasty inside; the minds of the parties are however, solely on the treasure that they reckon is waiting for them.

"We can't die yet, this is only room 3"

Nasty bugs and seriously nasty traps are encountered (in a way that makes me think the place was designed by Jim Raggi) but the real menace is yet to come. The magic user then reveals her inexperience when she reads That Which was Not Meant to be Read. The DM’s clues about what’s about to happen are laid on thick at this point – courtesy of they who were previously thought of as the baddies - and after some casualties, the parties take the hint and run for it. Oded Fehr’s character now joins the party – perhaps his player turned up late and this was the first point at which the DM could fit him in to the flow of the game.

"Sorry I'm late, I couldn't get the car started. Now, what's been happening?"

Unlike a lot of megadungeons, where the party go in, raid and then retreat to the nearby town, which is strangely untroubled by the hordes of nasties in the dungeon – I’ve never sussed out why the monsters don’t just trash the adventurers’ base – the monster in this dungeon decides to follow the parties back and take the fight to them. It would certainly liven up a few games to have the parties shaken out of their complacency.

"Okay, I reckon it's a Lich...anyone know its stats?"

One by one, the rival party, being NPCs, are picked off by the undead monster and it quickly becomes clear that only clever use of magical artefacts is going to stop him. The DM’s drip-feed increase of the powers of the undead keep the party on their toes and don’t allow them to get comfortable. In a lot of adventurers, the party seem to have it very easy while doing their research or rummaging for manuscripts or artefacts outside the dungeon. It makes more sense to see, as here, the forces of evil actually taking the initiative.

We see a kind of Deus ex machina escape for the party, although they lose their magic user and the magic user’s mentor is finished off by the zombie hordes, presumably to show the party just how much danger they are in without actually killing anyone. The death of mentors is an interesting theme and one I’ll be posting on soon.

It’s now time for the return to the dungeon, armed with brawn, weapons and some sort of mad plan. Before that can be put into place, there are more combats and the use of magic books that really look the part.

Finally, rather than overcoming the monster through combat abilities, the use of magic is required (although there is a neat scene where the thief makes a Pick Pockets roll that saves the day – how many dungeons have you been down where the whole thing hinges on just one roll?)

And they make it out with the treasure (okay, a small part thereof, but still enough for them to consider it a dungeon well-braved) and the rascally thief gets his come-uppance.

"You want to know how many scarabs there are? Great, I get to use my D10000"

Like a lot of films, I would describe the Mummy as a dungeon that went successfully for the party. No-one wants to go and see a film where Brendan Fraser gets killed in his first encounter with flesh-eating scarabs. Rachel Weisz being sprayed with salt acid would make a great dungeon anecdote “Yeah, but there was that time when my character thought she’d found where the magic book was hidden, but she failed her Dexterity roll and… ” However, it’s not the kind of thing that a test audience would tolerate. Even when Oded Fehr’s character appears to be overwhelmed by mummies, he manages to make his escape – some good rolls on the d20 that night.

A lot of DMs (tending towards the younger and newer) make the mistake, when they see a cool film, of trying to replicate the events of that film in their dungeons, rather than using the film as inspiration to create a scenario in which the events of the film could take place if all went well for the party. Another mistake they tend to make is to slavishly copy the film and its milieu rather than fillet out the underlying elements and incorporate those into their campaign.

That’s all for Film on Friday this week. Has anyone got another film that really nails the essence of D&D? Feel free to share – I might make this a guest spot where we can have fans waxing lyrical about their favourite movies.