Monday, March 26, 2018

Monster Monday - Basilisk

Today, I continue to highlight a monster found in Rappan Athuk. There are 3 days left on Frog God's Kickstarter. I am thinking of moving Monster Monday over to the Silver Bulette blog, and focusing entirely on megadungeons here. I will make the decision in the next week or so.

In the meantime, today's Monster Monday features the basilisk. There is a section in Rappan Athuk called (gasp!) Basilisk Caverns. Wandering monsters in this area have a 50% chance of being basilisks. In the S&W version, all movement is halved, due to rough terrain. Saves must be made for moving faster, with failures meaning the character has fallen, taking 1d3 damage.

Similar to the cockatrice, the basilisk comes from mythology of Europe. (Read about it here.) They are a far mark different from what has evolved in the Dungeons and Dragons mythos, though. Here's the S&W (Complete, 3rd print, pg 100) stats:
HD: 6
AC: 4 [15]
Attacks: Bite (1d10)
Saving Throw: 11
Special: Petrifying gaze
Move: 6
Alignment: Neutrality
Challenge Level/XP: 8/800

Basilisks are great lizards whose gaze turns to stone anyone meeting its eye. (One way of resolving this: fighting without looking incurs a -4 penalty to hit.) If the basilisk's own gaze is reflected back at it, it has a 10% chance to force the basilisk into a saving throw against being turned to stone itself.

In AD&D, the basilisk has 8 legs, and its gaze reaches astral (turning the target to stone) and ethereal (simply killing the target).

Basilisks are a strange creature. There has been a lot of talk this week about dungeon ecologies (watch this video for more), and I would like to address it with the basilisk.

Basilisks are subterranean, and turn their potential meals to stone. I postulate, then, that they eat the stone. This makes basilisks a fantastic dungeon dweller. As a DM looking for visimilitude, it is unnecessary to have anything else near the basilisk's lair.

With this in mind, let's take a look at some interesting ways to use a basilisk in a game.

Basilisks pair well with almost any intelligent creature. In a lower level of Mord Mar, there are three trolls, with a trained basilisk. They keep its eyes covered unless in battle. The trolls try to maneuver the basilisk to the hallway, then remove the blindfold. The basilisk then charges whatever is moving that it can see, forcing saves against its gaze.

A pair of basilisks can be a deadly encounter, no matter the level of the characters. A mated pair of basilisks often hunt in the catacombs beneath a church. They know how to use angles to keep their prey within eyesight of at least one of them, and attack at perpendicular angles. Many adventurers have not returned after promising to rid the burial grounds of the threat.

A basilisk died in the Unholy Grounds. All creatures that die here return as undead. This undead basilisk is a ghoul, but has allied itself with several wraiths, as they seem immune to its gaze. This group terrorizes any living being that enters their floor of the dungeon.

The basilisk is not a boss monster. Its gaze attack means it is feared like one, though. When characters face a basilisk unprepared, there is often one or more casualties. Throw one (or more) at your players, and watch them squeal and run!

Artwork owned by Frog God Games, and used with permission.

Friday, March 23, 2018

How To Stop Trap Detection Dice Rolling

In the last blog, I talked a lot about trap and secret door detection. But, I didn't really say how to put it into practice, other than "be descriptive." Let's break that down a little bit. Here's a couple of descriptions of places where traps may be located.

"As you approach the door at the end of the hallway, you notice the keystone in the door's archway is carved like a skull. The door itself is a eight planks, held together by two brass bindings. The door does not have a latch, only a pull-ring. The damp of the dungeon has caused the wood to swell, making a tight seal between the door and the stone."

"The massive oak and iron door has the signs of water damage down it. The handle, a turning knob, is made of brass, and has a light patina. A keyhole, about a centimeter tall sits directly underneath the knob. As you approach, you see that the door opens toward you, and scratch marks gouge the floor where the door has been opened. What do you do?"

"The iron-bound chest squats on the pedestal before you. A brass lock holds the chest closed. From here, you can see that someone once tried to force the lock, causing damage to the keyhole. There is a 5' circle of dust surrounding the pedestal, that is not present in the rest of the room. What do you want to do?"

When training the players on when to search, and when not to, there are some methods that can help.
1. Keywords: When players look for traps and secret doors, its best to spoon feed them for a bit, to get them used to the new play style. Use words like damage, blood, gouges, skulls, and others that make them feel uneasy. As they grow more accustomed to the play style you can start using more subtle descriptions.
2. Blatancy: Murder holes, floors and walls stained with blood, nozzles, spikes, big red buttons all are immediate clues that point to a trap.
3. Notate things that are out of the ordinary: A different colored flagstone, a shelf with a metal lip, or the cladding of a chest that appears loose. These are clues that will make players immediately think trap.

That's the easy part. The harder part is to get them to stop searching everything, and everywhere. Several things can help.
1. Have a discussion before the session begins. Explain to them that you are changing how the detect/remove rules work. Tell them that you will use key words in your descriptions (but not what they are), and they need to be players and characters.
2. Make sure they understand the consequences of taking too much time. As I mentioned previously, Gary built in a clock to keep the players moving. But, in today's story driven game, there are more effective methods. The princess will be sacrificed at midnight is a great way to get people moving, and less cautious about where they step. Adding a time element to the story makes it feel less like rules and more like expediency.
3. Have a whole session, or even several, where no traps are found. At all. Eventually, they will let their guard down. At least enough to not deal with dice in every room and corridor.
4. Make them describe everything they are doing to search for traps. Everything. Not just "I search the floor." How do they search the floor? What do they use? Make them understand (and waste valuable play time) what it entails. When they get nothing accomplished other than searching a 30' corridor in a whole play session, they will rethink how they approach searching.

These are a few ways to help mitigate the dice rolling trap.

Traps and Secret Doors in the OSR

Door art by Patrick E. Pullen
Thanks to Jonathan Pickens on the OSGR Facebook page, I am writing this post. He postulated: "What purpose do traps and secret doors serve in today's games? I mean, players have so come to expect these and have devised well-known methods to counteract them (10 ft.-poles, iron spikes, etc.), much of the tension now boils down to rolls of the dice rather than player intelligence and agency."

Let's talk about TRAPS first. I decided to take a look at 1E AD&D for the discussion, as it is the most familiar system to most players in the OSR. In order to find traps with "rolls of the dice" a thief is needed in the party. They have a base 20% chance at first level (and 99% at 17th.) But, let's dig into the text and see exactly what this means.
PHB pg 27: "Finding/removing traps pertains to relatively small mechanical devices such as poisoned needles, spring blades, and the like. Finding is accomplished by inspection, and they are nullified by mechanical removal or being rendered harmless."
PHB pg 28: " Finding/Removing Traps is accomplished in exactly the same manor as opening locks. Roll for each function separately (a trap must be located before removal can be attempted). One try per thief is allowed. Success deactivates the trap.
PHB pg 45:
Find Traps (Divination)
Level: 2
Range: 3"
Duration: 3 turns
Area of Effect: 1" path
Explanation/Description: When a cleric casts a find traps spell, all traps - concealed normally or magically - of magical or mechanical nature become visible to him or her. Note that this spell is directional, and the caster must face the desired direction to determine if a trap is laid in that particular direction.

DMG pg 19: "Use the time requirements for opening locks. Time counts for each function. Small or large traps can be found, but not magical or magically hidden traps."
Here's where things get interesting. Gary is verbose here, so read it thoroughly, and carefully.
DMG pg 97: "Detection of Unusual Circumstances, Traps, And Hearing Noise: Regardless of the means, it takes effort and concentration to perform any of these activities . . . [examples] . . .To sum it all up, DON'T GIVE PLAYERS A FREE LUNCH! Tell them what they "see", allow them to draw their own conclusions and initiate whatever actions they desire. You are the source of their input, a time keeper, and the motivator of all not connected with them. . .

Assume that your players are continually wasting time (thus making the so-called adventure drag out into a boring session of dice rolling and delay) if they are checking endlessly for traps and listening at every door. If this persists despite the obvious displeasure you express, the requirements that helmets be doffed and mail coifs removed to listen at a door, and then be carefully replaced, the warnings about ear seekers, and frequent checking for wandering monsters (q.v.), then you will have to take more direct part in things. Mocking their over-cautious behavior as near cowardice, rolling huge handfuls of dice and then telling them the results are negative, and statements to the effect that: "You detect nothing, and nothing has detected YOU so far --", might suffice. If the problem should continue, then rooms full with silent monsters will turn the tide, but that is the stuff of later adventures."

Wow. That's actually a lot of information to disseminate. Let's go through, page by page.
Pg 27-28 PHB is the basic rundown of the thief's ability. But, it also severely limits the thief's abilities. The ability is to find relatively small traps. A thief walking down a corridor, by strict interpretation of the rules, cannot find a pit trap or collapsing ceiling. Also note, there are other limitations that don't show up in the PHB. Gary liked to never give the players all of the information.
On page 45 of the PHB, Gary actually gives clerics a much stronger ability than the thief. But, it is severely more limited in time, and therefore scope. To understand how limited it is, we have to look at the times that everything takes in D&D. A turn is 10 rounds, or 10 minutes. And he expects that adventurers rest 1 turn out of every 6 (10 minutes per hour). Moving and mapping a 90' section of corridor takes 1 full turn. So, 270' of corridor can be checked for traps with this spell. Less if a room is being searched. But, it does notice every trap.
The DMG is where all of this starts to matter, though. In the DMG on pg 19, it is revealed that magical traps cannot be found by thieves (no matter their percentages.)  On the same page, we find that most locks take 1-4 rounds, with some taking up to 10 rounds to pick. So, finding a trap takes the same amount of time. So does disarming a trap. On DMG pg 38 "(melees or other actions which result in fractional turns should be rounded up to make complete turns.)" So, finding a trap takes one turn, so does disarming a trap. That's 2/3 of a wandering monster check. Even if you allow players to check for traps in a 10' corridor, that's a wandering monster check every 30' without finding a trap.
But, pg 97 of the DMG is what drives everything home. Most doors and corridors are not going to be trapped. It is the DM's job to give descriptive clues of when to check for traps. The description is what makes the game. Without it, there is just endless rolling to see if a trap can be found. It is necessary to push the players away from rolling dice to find traps, and move them to a descriptive cue to search.

Now, Secret Doors are a similar, but different monster.
PHB 16: "Secret or concealed doors are difficult to hide from elves. Merely passing within 10' of the latter makes an elven character 16 2/3% (1 in 6) likely to notice it. If actively searching for such doors, elven characters are 33 1/3% (2 in 6) likely to find a secret door and 50% likely (3 in 6) to discover a concealed portal.
DMG 97 (see the paragraphs on traps above): Secret Doors: These are portals which are made to appear to be a normal part of the surface they are in. They con possibly be sensed or detected by characters who are actively concentrating on such activity, or their possible location may be discovered by tapping (though the hollow place could be another passage or room beyond which has no portal in the hollow-sounding surface). Discovery does not mean that access to the door mechanism has been discovered, however. Checking requires a very thorough examination of the possible secret door area. You may use either of two methods to allow discovery of the mechanism which operates the portal:
1. You may designate probability by a linear curve, typically with a d6. Thus, a secret door is discovered 1 in 6 by any non-elf, 2 in 6 by elven or half-elven characters, each character being allowed to roll each turn in checking a 10' X 10' area. This also allows you to have some secret
doors more difficult to discover, the linear curve being a d8 or d10.
2. You may have the discovery of the existence of the secret door enable player characters to attempt to operate it by actual manipulation, i.e. the players concerned give instructions as to how they will have their characters attempt to make it function: "Turn the wall sconce.", "Slide it left.", "Press the small protrusion, and see if it pivots.", "Pull the chain." It is quite acceptable to have a mixture of methods of discovering the operation of secret door.
DMG 136: Wand of Secret Door and Trap location: This wand has an effective radius of 1" for secret door location, 3" for trap location. When the wand is energized it will pulse and point to whichever thing it is to locate if a secret door/trap is within location range. Note that it locates either one or the other, not both during one operation. It requires 1 round to function and draws 1 charge. The wand may be recharged.

There's a lot less information about secret (and concealed) doors. But, let's go step-by-step. PHB 16 states that passive detection of a secret door by an elf DOES NOT HAPPEN. It only happens with concealed doors (i.e. the latter from the previous sentence). Even actively searching, elves only have a 2 in 6 of finding secret doors.
DMG 97 goes even further away from the auto-successes from dice rolls. The rule moves the doors down the "dice ladder" if the DM feels it is warranted. It also blatantly states that false positives should be given for secret doors (. . . has no portal in the hollow-sounding surface.)
The other important part of this passage is time (again). Each turn (10 minutes) allows for one character to search one 10' x 10' section. To search a 30' square room would take a party of four 3 turns (the time it takes to check for wandering monsters). To have each member check each wall would take 14 turns (remember, every 6th turn is a rest). That's four wandering monster checks, and a 5th one not very far away.
Finally, there is the Wand. It detects secret doors within 10' of the user, and traps within 30' of the user. It only works in one direction, and takes a full round to use. Although it can be helpful, it is only a stopgap, or possibly a "I'm sure. Let's use the wand to be 100%."

Summary, for those of you who don't want to read all of that ^^^
The long and the short of this all goes back to time and wandering monsters. AD&D had slow movement, a difficult rest period, and two wandering monster checks per hour. If PCs intend to search every nook and cranny meticulously, they are going to pay with blood from the wandering monsters.
Instead, it is vital that the DM give vibrant descriptions of the surroundings, so that players can make informed decisions when to search, and when to move. They will always be prodding with their 10' poles, but I assume that's in the time frames given by Gary above. Thieves don't get to roll for large traps anyway, so it makes sense for the PCs to use other methods to mitigate the dangers in a hum-drum hallway.
Use adjectives. Teach the players to think, not just roll dice. And your game and their play will be well rewarded for it.

Swords & Wizardry follows all of the rules above, except elves can passively find secret doors. However, the rules don't state anything for concealed doors. So, just change those sideways S to hidden doors with curtains, rugs, furniture, stucco or paintings. They will catch on that their dice rolling isn't working. Or they won't. Either way, the game will be more fun.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Monster Monday - Stone Golem

I'm finally back from GaryCon and my anniversary weekend. Both were great, and GaryCon will be a story for a different time. Right now, its Monster Monday!

The people at Frog God Games are doing a Rappan Athuk Kickstarter right now, so I decided to open my S&W copy to a random page and use a monster from there. I opened it to page 145, and had a nasty encounter stare me in the face:

A great statue of an angelic being stands here at the head of a 30–40 ft.
diameter cavern, wings outspread, wearing armor, and with sword raised
on high. Strangely, the statue faces down the cavern away from the PCs as
they enter. The walls of the cavern have been smoothed, and carved with
images of oversized human warriors marching in the same direction. At
the far end of the cavern rests another vault door, opened by turning the
wheel at its center 10 times counterclockwise.
The great statue is a masterfully crafted greater stone golem, though
it only activates if the Ravager itself comes into view—even standing
still for direct attacks from lesser creatures. However, hidden amid the
carved images in the walls are 20 hasted stone golems, and which move
to intercept anyone moving into the cavern.
All golems are made of the same iridescent stone that coats the walls
of this cavern, and even if completely destroyed they regenerate from the
walls at the rate listed below, so long as the stone remains magical.
 I don't know which of the Frogs wrote this particular nasty encounter (but I would bet Bill.) But, this encounter shows how monsters can be used in different ways from a "standard book encounter." Just because a monster has stats in a book, that doesn't mean they can't be tweaked and adjusted to fit into a different hole. (Ian does this well in his Orbs series with the chimera statue in Undying Orb.)

This concept is one of the reasons why I enjoy doing Monster Monday so much. Now, let's take a look at the book stats of the Stone Golem (From Swords & Wizardry Complete, by Matt Finch):

Golem, Stone
Hit Dice: 60 hit points
Armor Class: 5 [14]
Attacks: Fist (3d8)
Saving Throw: 3
Special: Unaffected by +1 or lesser weapons, immune to most spells
Move: 6
Alignment: Neutrality
Challenge Level/XP: 16/3,200
Stone golems are massive stone statues animated by very powerful
magics (much more than just animate object, in other words). They are
slowed by fire spells, damaged by rock-to-mud spells, and healed by
the reverse. Spells that affect rock, and fire spells, are the only ones that
affect stone golems. They can only be hit by +2 or better weapons.
(In AD&D they also have a Slow spell available to them.)

Golems are great for "dead" dungeons and tombs. The can remain inert for eons, don't need to consume anything (including oxygen,) can be programmed by their creators, and can appear as normal statues, blending into otherwise benign landscapes.

Golems are just as useful in "living" dungeons. Gray Varnum, a druid, was defeated by a challenger and thus reduced in rank to Druid (12th level.) The loss devastated his ego, and he has gone insane as a result. He constructed a stone golem in the shape of a giant starfish, which covers the entrance to his underwater cave. He resides inside, living out his days in the shape of a lobster.

Necromancers also find golems useful. Barriz Hajile cannot sneak his undead inside city walls. But, his stone cart, with a tongue oddly shaped by hands, passes by the guards on a weekly basis. He bides his time within the city, and if a person gets too close, they are added to the "burial cart" if nobody else is around.

Magic-users aren't the only people that find golems useful. The great warrior, Osphan found one in a forgotten tomb, and paid a sage a great sum to find its command words. Now, he uses the stone golem to guard his slaves.

As you can see, the biggest drawback to a golem is it can never be independent. At least, not normally. They are programmed or respond to commands from their owners.
Deep within Mord Mar, there is a level that breaks enchantments. But, this level doesn't destroy magic items, it just "frees" them from being commanded. At least golems roam this level, destroying all living creatures that they come across. The entrance is partially blocked by a huge ship (which was once a Folding Boat.)

Golems are the stuff that make DMs dream of ever better encounters. They are incredibly strong, resilient, resistant to magic and can take any form. Here's a list of some golem forms I have used in the past:

dragon (always a hit!)
giant (ho-hum)
medusa (what was powerful enough to turn a medusa to stone? Add the medusa's gaze attack for more evil DMly fun.)
sailing ship
spider, giant
statue (particularly cruel is a god or demon.)

All of these golems play very differently when they hit the table. Let me know what kinds you have used!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Monster Monday - Mimic

Sorry everyone, I missed last week's Monster Monday. I was finishing up the Silvery Moon Tavern, and was able to push it to have copies in print for Gary Con. It should also be on sale Thursday (March 9) on RPGNow. Now that I'm done with my excuses, let's get to the monster of the week!

The Mimic is a strange creature. It morphs its body into something that intelligent creatures might want in order to eat them. The classic example is a treasure chest, but there are several other examples that we will look at shortly.

Mimics first showed up in D&D around AD&D 1E, at least in the Monster Manual. PC Gamer says they showed up as early as 1974, but I don't know where. Mimics appear in the Monster Manual, where Gygax writes: " . . . are subterranean creatures which cannot stand the light of the sun. They are able to perfectly mimic stone or wood. There are two varieties, the large . . . and the slightly smaller, intelligent sort. While the former will attack anything . . . the latter are generally friendly if offered food."
There is a "killer mimic" in the Slavers series (A3), the Juggernaut in Temple of Elemental Evil is a "cousin." But, the most famous mimic of all is quite disgusting: Dungie. Dungie is a mimic that appears in Rappan Athuk. He was turned into an immortal mimic when he ingested a Staff of the Magi. He has a natural form: "a disgusting bubbling mass of vile feces and gurgling fluids." But, usually, he is sitting on a privy as a super clean toilet seat.

Mimics are the ultimate trap. They are a monster that can assume the form of what the characters want most: an exit, a treasure chest, even a bench to sit on.

Deep within the bowls of Devil's Dilemma, it is said that a room full of levers exists. All of these need to be pulled down simultaneously. But, one lever (and part of the stone wall behind it) is actually a mimic. When the mimic lever is pulled, the entire wall envelops whoever pulled the lever.

The Old Manor has a pipe organ, rumored to grant wishes if a particular series of notes is played. The bench near the keys is actually a mimic, waiting for the next victim.

A mad wizard bound a mimic to an iron golem as an outer "skin." When the golem attacks, the mimic lashes out and grabs the target, often carrying them into the air (if dwarf sized or smaller) or forcing them to Save or lose their weapon.

The rats in the basement of the inn snuck through the sewers to get there. Eventually, a mimic found the same path, and now resides as a bed in the least-rented room.

Artwork by Indi Martin © 2015

Monday, February 19, 2018

Monster Monday - Vegepygmy

As Gary Con draws closer, I continue to look at Gary's monsters and their impact in the RPG world. Today, we talk about the vegepygmy. They first appeared in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. To put it mildly, vegepygmies are a strange Gygaxian concoction.

They are one of few monsters with multiple HD listings (from 1-6 in Monster Manual II.) They are intelligent(ish), and form "regional bands, living by scavenging and hunting" (MMII p 124.) Vegepygmies are "born" through a russet mold killing a "character." (We will dive into that in a moment.) They generally have pigmentation similar to their environment, and can be found underground or in deep forests.

Let's talk about the reproduction cycle of the vegepygmy. They can replicate through "russet mold or propagating buds from their bodies." This seems odd, even for a Gygaxian ecology. Typically molds and oozes make more of themselves by "eating" people. And what happens when a russet mold eats a non-character? Say a rust monster wanders up to that yummy looking "rust" and gets spored. Does that make a vegepygmy? (See below for the answer.)

Vegepygmies, for all of their strangeness, are a great megadungeon faction. With two types of reproduction, and a built in trap (russet mold,) they can hold territory well. I would personally make them adversarial to the myconids of your dungeon. (And that just happened in Mord Mar.)

The great dragon, Tibalis, has taken a liking to the vegepygmy tribe near his volcanic lair. He allows them to stay, in exchange for any metal items they scavenge from their prey. The vegepygmies in return have been taught magical spells: comprehend languages, push, and spider climb. Each group of five has one such spellcaster present.

A russet mold infected a rust monster, which spawned a new type of vegepygmy. This one looks the same as the others in its band, but it hungers for the metal that people wear. Its attacks act like a rust monster, rusting metal. The sub-chief of the band recognizes this unique trait, and keeps this rustypygmy nearby in case of attacks from orcs or other humanoids.

A splinter group of vegepygmies has been chased away from its band, due to their blue coloration. These vegepygmies have developed a form of telepathy, and are searching for warriors to destroy their former band-mates.

Thump-pound-thump lost his way in a large cavern. It desperately wants to get home, and is searching for a way to communicate that to a group of dwarves when the group stumbles across the scene.

Vegepygmies are a great addition to a gonzo game. They can be made to work in other places, but lose some of their luster moving to conform with the other creatures in the world around them.

Artwork used under license from Headless Hydra. Artist: Bruno Balixa

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Archetypes of Megadungeons

When Matt asked me in the interview about what megadungeon I would recommend, I stated Grande Temple of Jing. But, there are many types of megadungeons. They all feel and play differently. So, that information may be inaccurate for some people. I would like to go through a few of the megadungeon archetypes and help people find what kind of megadungeon they may be looking for.
Image from my copy of Rob Kuntz's El Raja Key
It hangs on my wall and is beautiful.

1. The Underworld Megadungeon: This is the "classic" megadungeon. When people talk about megadungeons, these are the first that come to mind. Castle Greyhawk (Ruins or Zagyg), Undermountain, and Dwimmermount fall into this category.
These megadungeons are the original type of megadungeon. From The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures: "Before it is possible to conduct a campaign of adventures in the mazey dungeons, it is necessary for the referee to sit down with pencil in hand and draw these labyrinths on graph paper. Unquestionably this will require a great deal of time and effort and imagination. The dungeons should look something like the example given below, with numerous levels which sprawl in all directions, not necessarily stacked neatly above each other in a straight line." (pg 3) Gygax continues to talk about the concept until page 8.

 2. The Funhouse Megadungeon: A funhouse megadungeon is like a circus. You never know what's next. It could be a full zoo of every creature in every monster book (like World's Largest Dungeon.) It could be the personal playground of a trickster god (like Grande Temple of Jing.) It could be a spoof on a famous dungeon (WG7 Castle Greyhawk.)

3. The Story Megadungeon: A story megadungeon revolves around a plot line to delve the dungeon. Often, these are megadungeons only in the sense that most of the action takes place in the same dungeon, and they advance through many levels. Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk and Expedition to Undermountain are examples of this. To a lesser degree, Castle Whiterock follows this paradigm.

4. The Beer-and-Pretzels Megadungeon: These megadungeons are a lot like movies. They have sets and set-pieces, and, characters and, a lot of action. Games within Beer-and-Pretzels megadungons tend to be episodic. Go in, get the treasure, get out. No real exploring, just a goal and a fight. Rappan Athuk fits this category for me.

Most megadungeons fit into multiple categories on this list, but here's where I feel each of the megadungeons in my physical collections fall:

B4: The Lost City
Castle of the Mad Archmage
Castle Zagyg

Grande Temple of Jing
Lich Dungeon
The Emerald Spire
WG7: Castle Greyhawk
World's Largest Dungeon (and City?)

Story Megadungeon
Castle Whiterock
The Expedition Series from 3.X (Greyhawk, Undermountain)
The Temple of Elemental Evil

Barrowmaze (There's a 5E version in the link!)
Rappan Athuk

Monday, February 12, 2018

Monster Monday - Gelatinous Cube

As I type this up, I am waiting for my interview with OSGR. The guys over there have been kind to me, highlighting my blog a few weeks ago, and now doing that interview. But, that's not why we are here today. Today, it's monsters. Specifically the Jello Mold Gelatinous Cube.
Artwork by Scott Hershberger, used under license

As I was doing my research for this, I noticed that wikipedia mentions them in the OD&D boxed set. I didn't see them in there. They are mentioned in Greyhawk, however. Here's Gary's description (pg 39-40):
"As the name implies, these monsters are shaped very much like cubes, typically being about 10’ per side so as to be able to sweep clean of all living materials (as well as dead cells) the floor and walls of the labyrinthine dungeon passages. Any flesh which comes in contact with a Gelatinous Cube becomes anesthetized unless a saving throw vs. paralyzation is made. The touch also causes 2–8 points of damage as the creature seeks to dissolve and devour flesh. These creatures are subject to normal weapons and fire, but lightning, cold, paralyzation, fear, and polymorph attacks do not harm them. Many ’Cubes have rich treasures within their semi-transparent bodies, for they pick up metallic and otherwise non-digestible objects in their rounds, and these items often remain within the body for long periods of time before being redeposited."
That last sentence is the most interesting to me. It gives a legitimate reason why a ring or other item may be on the floor randomly.

As we move forward in time, we find the gelatinous cube holds its position as chief dungeon clean-up through editions. It appears in the 1E Monster Manual, 2E's Monstrous Compendium, the Monstrous Manual (under the heading Oozes, Slimes and Jellies, where it remains through 5E,) and in Monster Manuals for 3rd, 4th and 5th edition. It appears in Holmes and BECMI. The gelatinous cube has established itself firmly in all editions.

The appeal of the gelatinous cube is easy to see. A nearly invisible block of jello moves through corridors cleaning up everything in its path. They are difficult to see, dangerous and potentially hold treasure well above their pay grade. Coupled with their dangerous paralyzation attack, gelatinous cubes are fun to fight. 
But, I barely ever remember fighting one. I have fought a few in Undermountain. I am betting the DMs placed them there, though. I'm sure there are some published, and would love it if the readers would tell me where. 

Mord Mar's history of gelatinous cubes is a bit different. They were actually made by the dwarves to keep the city and sewers clean. They were discovered through an alchemical process, and the machine that makes them is still operational. Or maybe, its operational again. Either way, threats continue to spew forth in the old city.

As the party continues down a corridor, they find a trail of coins, haphazardly strewn about. Soon they stumble across a belt buckle, buttons, a dagger, an axe and finally a suit of plate armor. A cliff shears the end of the corridor shortly after the armor. At the bottom is a gelatinous cube that has been unable to leave the pit. The cube encompasses the whole ground level of the pit, and is difficult to detect, with penalties for the PCs being distracted (by climbing.) {I told you I found that sentence interesting.}

An ooze druid created his own lair deep within a dungeon. Entering through a normal cave, it looks like a huge cavern, with a sickly green tint. In actuality, the druid has anchored several gelatinous cubes in place, creating "walls" for his labyrinth.

Gnolls, with some help from an ogre mage, managed to trap a gelatinous cube in the ceiling of their complex. They fashioned a trap (tripwire, pressure plate or lever) that drops the cube onto the occupants of the room or corridor.

Gelatinous cubes are mindless creatures that live and move only to eat. This fact makes them different than most other encounters. When designing with a gelatinous cube in mind, always remember they often act like living traps. This makes them more of a memorable encounter than one just slurping down a hallway.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


Earlier this week, a FB post asked what was the best D&D supplement people ever bought. I answered with "Undermountain." Another poster asked me why. I gave a short answer,
"It was a mammoth resource. I have probably played or run 20 campaigns inside of it." I promised to expand on that explanation.

My initial statement is true. Undermountain is mammoth. 4 poster sized maps in the first boxed set. I love those poster maps. They immediately invoke a feeling of infinite space to explore. The terrain varies: water, worked passages, caverns, pyramids and ziggarauts can all be found on those maps. Even the city-within-a-dungeon Skullport is there.

Next, I want to take a second to talk about the Monstrous Compendiums. I loved those things. TSR executed them wrong, but they were still amazing. Why didn't they charge an extra $1-2 and print them on heavier paper? With only 1 monster to a page? That's why they excelled. They could be moved around and put into binders with your maps and notes. Undermountain came with 8 pages of those glorious Monstrous Compendium pages. The Elder Orb Beholder has even become iconic of the larger D&D universe. The other monsters within are strange, unique and evocative of the dungeon. Seeing those monsters all those years ago showed me how monsters could be more than cannon-fodder. They could be part of the lore of the dungeon itself (cough Xanathar cough.)

The books in the boxed set are the least inspiring for me. Campaign Guide does a good enough job of explaining how to run a megadungeon, but they are less evocative than other works in D&D. About 200 set encounters and six or so adventures seemed less than what should have been with those giant maps. But, the point was to give DMs the power to make Undermountain their own. It was just too much open space. Even notes like "Orcs control NE corner of level 1" or "this space is great for a hidden treasure and opponent" would have given new DMs a direction.

What I love the most about Undermountain is the Cards that came with the box. Eight of them: Pit Traps (1-3),Treasure Tables, Smash Traps, Snares and Lures, Dungeon Dressing, and Magical Doors all have their own reference cards. These short descriptions were more memorable to me as a fledgling DM than all of the splash and flair of the maps.
"Creatures passing through this door are instantly gated to a specific or random location . . ." How can a sentence like that not get you thinking about possibilities to put the players in.
I have never been very good at designing traps. Maybe these cards are why. A full five of eight are dedicated to traps, with the "doors" card having 1/3 of a side of traps as well. That's a lot of traps. And, unlike Grimtooth, these traps were (almost) fair.

I owe a lot of my D&D career to finding and loving Undermountain. Without it I would have never found other great dungeons. I would have never picked up Rappan Athuk, Castle Zagyg or Barrowmaze or the Grande Temple of Jing. Hell, I may have given up on D&D a long time ago if Undermountain didn't exist.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Monster Monday - Rust Monster

Art from Fat Goblin, used under license

Never doing damage, the rust monster still strikes terror into the heart of the bravest warrior. Instead of biting and clawing, the monster rusts weapons and armor away. The rust monster is a creature that many of us grognards cut our teeth on. My earliest memory of this creature is from Frank Mentzer's Basic (Red) D&D boxed set. It featured in the solo adventure in the Player's Guide.

Rust monsters are almost as old as the game itself. The rust monster first appeared in the Greyhawk Supplement for OD&D. Gygax said: "RUST MONSTERS: These seemingly inoffensive creatures are the bane of metal with a ferrous content, for as their name implies they have the effect of rust upon such substances, and this happens nearly instantaneously. Any hits by or upon a Rust Monster cause even magical weapons to rust and fall to flakes. Armor is affected in a like manner. The creature is very fast, being attracted to the smell of the iron-based metals, and when alone it will devour the rust it has caused." (Greyhawk, pg 39.) They have appeared in every edition of the game since: Mentzer's Basic (mentioned above), Monster Manual (AD&D), Monstrous Compendium (AD&D 2E), Monster Manual (3 and 3.5), Monster Manual 2 (4E), and Monster Manual (5E).

Here are the Swords & Wizardry stats for rust monsters:
HD: 5
AC: 2 (17)
Attacks: 2 antennae
Save: 12
Alignment: neutral
Number Encountered: 1-2
CR/XP: 5/240

Rust monsters are fast, but not deadly by themselves. In different editions they wavered between eating ferrous metals only and eating any metal (gold, silver, etc.) To best challenge a party with rust monsters, they need to be paired with something else. 

The great wizard Peln Fearlash wished solitude. To facilitate this, he created a trap at his front door. Three harpies reside in the antechamber. Their crooning activates a sliding door that releases rust monsters into the room.

An anis hag deep in the forest keeps a rust monster as a pet to get rid of the pesky warriors gear that she cannot cook. 

The ogres in Darkmoon Keep breed rust monsters and release them into the forest around their keep. They have not mastered metallurgy, but have found a way to even the odds.

The man-apes of the southern jungles worship a mammoth rust monster as a god.

Giant rock weasels have made their burrow inside of a rust monster carcass. This close contact has caused their claws to gain the ability to rust metal, just like a rust monster.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Monster Monday - Chimera

Today I will be spotlighting the chimera. The chimera, as a D&D monster originally appeared in Monsters & Treasure (Book II of the OD&D rules set.) Gary Gygax described them as: "Combining the worst of many creatures, a Chimera has the forebody of a great cat, the hind quarters of a goat, dragon wings, and three heads. The goat's head can gore with its long and sharp horns, the lion's head can tear with its great fangs, and the dragon's head can either bite or breath fire (but with a range of only 5" and but three dice damage)." - taken from page 10 of the WotC reprint.
Picture taken from

But, the chimera has much deeper roots than 1974. The chimera was originally a Greek myth, with a snake head (as its tail) instead of a dragon. It was killed by Bellerophon and Pegasus.
The chimera has been in every edition of D&D, always appearing in the earliest versions. But, from what I can tell, they almost never show up in adventures. They only appeared in Bloodstone Pass (1E) and Rise of Tiamat (5E.) I am sure that they show up in other publishers' works, but I don't have a list.
(EDIT: A chimera was also in Hall of the Fire Giant King, and Queen of the Demonweb Pits.)
(2nd EDIT: Mark Hughes was nice enough to do some further research and found the chimera in B4, CM6, X3, and X4.)

Using the S&W version, the chimera has one special attack, its fire breath. It deals 3d8, up to 50' and 3 times per day. The dragon head can alternately bite (3d4.) Coupling that with 2 claws (1d3), 2 goat horns (1d4), and a lion bite (2d4), you have a hit point grinder.

Chimera, being part dragon, lust and horde treasure. Particularly, gold. They are alpha-level predators, and solitary in their actions. Some describe them as nomadic (specifically in Cormanthor, a forest somewhere in the Forgotten Realms.) Most are territorial. Having examples of both nomadic and territorial chimeras makes them very versatile opponents.

I actually haven't placed a chimera in Mord Mar. Yet. Silver Bulette placed one in our last release, The Orb of Undying Discord. We had a statue that would become a chimera when the artifact was placed in its mouth. Designed for 1-3rd level characters, we set it up so the party would have several rounds to damage the creature before it could respond.

Three goats in a small village have died giving birth. This in itself is a bad omen, but the kids were malformed. One was still-borne with a lion's head, one with a dragon's head, and one with a snake's head. The villagers rely on the goats for milk, cheese, and meat. They want the curse lifted, and are willing to trade the Earth Crystal in exchange for the curse being broken.

A single survivor of the king's patrol to the south of his lands swears that a "three-headed monstrosity that dove from the sky, and breathes death in fire." Knowing that his guards are not enough to handle a creature of legend, the king offers something every brigand and ne'er-do-well dreams of, a personal, royal favor.

A known chimera lives in the Copse Forest. The king hires the party to destroy the foul beast. But, upon encountering the three-headed monstrosity, it is found to be good, as evidenced by the silver dragon head. Do the adventurers kill the unique beast for its and the king's treasure, or do they become enemies of the exposed evil king?

As the last hook brings up, the chimera is ripe for mutation. You can connect them thematically to almost any place or group or location. A white dragon for a frozen tundra, a bronze dragon as an ancient guardian of the dead. Even reverting to the mythological chimera for a Lord of Lies adventure would work. The possibilities are endless.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Monster Monday - Aboleth

It's Monster Monday time, again! Today, I am looking closely at the aboleth. They have long been a favorite monster of mine. One first showed up in the module "The Dwellers of the Forbidden City," by David "Zeb" Cook. Aboleths are highly intelligent, and have several special abilities that lend them to being a "mastermind" monster.
Creighton Broadhurst's aboleth, licensed from Rogue Genius

Using the S&W version, they have Charm Monster 3x daily, and Phantasmal Force 3x a day. They have a mucous cloud that makes people in contact with it unable to breathe air. (It is not noted in S&W that they breathe water instead, but that's typically the case.) They have 4 tentacles that strike for d6 damage each, and can cause disease.
Most versions of the aboleth note they have a very high intelligence level. However, what most early descriptions of the aboleth lack is how they communicate. 2E remedied this with the addition of telepathy (specifically Mind Link). Pathfinder moved this bar a bit further, giving them the languages: aboleth, aklo, aquan, and undercommon. 5E gave aboleths the ability to learn a creature's greatest desires if the aboloth can see it and communicate telepathically.

All of this adds up to a creature that is formidable in combat (disease, 4 attacks, force creatures into foreign environment,) able to Charm/Dominate/control other creatures, and with an intelligence to move plans forward. Aboleths are under-used.

In Mord Mar, the best known aboleth is in a fountain somewhere inside the shops district. This particular aboleth, whose name is unpronounceable with a human tongue, is not like its kin. It is content to rule over a small kingdom of orcs, gnolls, goblins, and other humanoids. It often buys and sells information with adventurers. Often it will ask for a share of a treasure horde for this information. Only twice have adventurers double crossed the aboleth.

There is another aboleth, deeper in the dungeons. In the "Grotto and Caverns" area there is an aboleth in a subterranean pond. Above her is a Mind Flayer squidhead, in an open hole in the ceiling. Ludos (the squidhead) has come to an agreement with the aboleth. In return for guarding Ludos' lair, the aboleth receives magical training. The aboleth's current enslaved roster is a cyclops, 2 ogres and a doppleganger.

An aboleth also resides somewhere to the north of Stonemire. This aboleth acts more like an aboleth "should." This aboleth delights in torturing and destroying all creatures that make their home on land. It decorates its lair with bones from its victims, including goblins, catoblepas, dwarves, humans, lizardmen and other creatures. It is rumored that a great paladin fell to this foul creature and a Holy Avenger sword is within its treasures.

 Aboleths are great creatures to throw against a thinking party. With their illusions, and charm abilities, they can make for a great encounter. They make for an even better long-term villain, pulling the strings from the darkness of the caverns below. Here are some more ideas on how I haven't used aboleths. Yet.

A dwarven king ran across an aboleth years ago. Now, his kingdom slides slowly into ruin. The king insists his decisions are for the people, but can the party prove the truth?

An elven druid found a strange egg long ago. The hatching aboleth quickly gained control of the druid, and he has been systematically destroying the land-based life in the area. Now the aboleth is hatching a plan to have the nearest village dam up the river. Even the druid is speaking for it! When the reservoir is full, the aboleth plans to destroy the dam, washing away the village, and all of the people in one easy step.

An aboleth has taken control of an orc chieftan in the hills not far from the Keep. The orcs have become more brazen, and the constabulary hires the party to find out why.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Treasure Maps

I was listening to Tavern Chat last night, and someone mentioned treasure maps. Then, while looking through OSGR, I found a podcast called Dungeon Master's Handbook. He also mentioned, in passing, treasure maps. I figured that two instances in one night deserved a blog post.

Treasure maps are an area where I greatly lack as a GM. I rarely use them, but intend to remedy that moving forward. They are way too much fun not to. Let's look at why treasure maps are so great in play:

1. They are a great visual aid. It's easy to make a treasure map: just Google and print. You can enhance the look by using different paper, or tea bags, or a lighter (with parent's help, of course).
2. They add a layer of mystery to the game. What's the treasure map depict? Who drew it? Why is it in our possession? Is it a trap?
3. Treasure maps allow the GM to plot the course of a sandbox more clearly. Once a visual is in hand, most players cannot resist hunting it down.

Treasure maps take on an extra importance in a megadungeon:

1. They can bring the party back to a place that has been "cleared out." A missed secret door, or a door that they forgot about can be the location of the treasure map.
2. It allows the players to have an idea of the theme, and design of a particular area of a megadungeon. Notes on the maps often let them know what they are facing.  "medusa here," and "fallen statue head" let them know how to plan for the area.
3. Treasure maps can foreshadow and give historical information that the party may not otherwise have. The maps can, for example, show a lost temple to Marshield that not even the clerics know about. Treasure maps can mention historical figures "King Trebor's Tomb" or "Axaclese's Stash."
4. Treasure maps have the ability to give a scope to an area, level, or the megadungeon as a whole. They can be a side-view, showing a treasure on level 6. They can be top-down, showing a particular lair on level 3. A treasure map showing the whole of a megadungeon would be a valuable thing indeed.

Treasure maps are the ultimate trick-or-treat:

1. They are not always accurate. A treasure depicted on a map may be long gone. Or, there may have never been a treasure.
2. Some groups may use them to lure the group into an ambush. The villain that the PCs keep thwarting gets mad. When he is defeated this time, he leaves a map, where he has set up the PC's "Ultimate Destruction."
3. The treasure map may lead to that Staff that the wizard has looked for since level 5.
4. The treasure map may lead to the dwarf's lost homestead/clan/religious shrine.

Treasure maps are diverse, and a lot of bang for the buck. Don't just throw that roll away the next time it comes up. Let the map and the players have a turn in the driver's seat.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Monster Monday - Monster Theme

The boss of a dungeon is an important thing. If you don't know what the boss of the dungeon is, you often end up with a "monster hotel." Today, for a change of pace, I thought I would go through a thought experiment. I am going to take a theme, and build an adventure outline based on that. Because it is Monster Monday, I will stay away from puzzles and traps.

An orcish shaman, recently uncovered an ancient tablet. This tablet pulses in the space between the Elemental Plane of Earth and the Prime Material Plane, bringing creatures to the shaman. He hopes to unlock its secrets, allowing him greater control over the creatures that keep showing up. The monsters travelling through the nearby farmlands should be enough of a plot hook to get adventurers moving.

The adventure is initially easy to populate. Orcs and worgs can be the main enemies approaching the lair. Staying thematically appropriate on the approach is easy, and mutable, depending on where the lair is. In a forest, ankhegs, ants, bear, boar (any real world creature appropriate to the terrain, really), goblins, ogre or owlbear all make thematically appropriate encounters. Adjust accordingly for swamps, mountains, or desert.
While flipping through my monster books, two creatures stood out as particularly interesting to place on the journey to the tablet: brownie (yup, the fairy) and a giant rock weasel. The brownie could be a helpful NPC to guide the party in the correct direction. And the giant rock weasel (Monstrosities, 398) is an excellent foreshadow monster. "Rock Weasels are Giant Weasels that have come into contact with potent transitive magic, becoming attuned to the elemental earths." (Monstrosities, 398,  Andrew Trent, Author)

The mythic underworld of the orc shaman appears straightforward. The elements are so thoroughly covered in D&D (and clones) that it's pretty easy to find monsters and ideas for the dungeon. Breaking into the cavern, the PCs find a fairly normal tribe of orcs. Dealing with them leads to a broken wall, which a few rust monsters live inside. The rust monsters were some of the latest creatures to answer the call of the tablet. Moving a bit deeper, we find a few hill giants, who are displeased to be answering a call from an orc, but are loyal to the master of the tablet. Deeper still, we can add any of the following: bulette, gorgon, medusa, roper, piercer, stone golem, and eventually coming face to face with the orc shaman, and the newly formed earth elemental.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Edible Monsters?

I'm working on my next release for Silver Bulette (Desktop Link), and find myself wondering what types of fantastical monsters are edible?

licensed from Fat Goblin Games

There are pretty much two criteria for "edible" things. One, it needs to be digestible. Two, it needs to not be poisonous. These rules probably hold true in a fantasy world as well. Fetid meat becomes poisonous, so undead flesh is probably out as a delicacy. Intangible things like aerial servants probably don't hold much caloric value. Something like a gelatinous cube probably has too much acid to be a viable food source. A third criteria that I am using for this project is "socially acceptable." What's edible to a starving man is completely different than what is edible to a comfortable person.

But, there are lots of things that might be edible. Take the cockatrice. Is that edible? It's basically a chicken. That can turn things to stone. Can an expert chef prepare a dish from it? How about their eggs? Gorgons are similar, with a breath weapon instead. As long as the person preparing the meal stays away from the lungs and maybe a weird gland, could it be beef stew? What about bulette? Is there soft, yummy meat under their rock-like plating?

Then there is the myriad of plants and plant-like creatures. Tangle-kelp sushi? Shrieker salad?

And the largest question that my third criterion poses is "what about intelligent creatures?" This, by far and large, makes up the bulk of "monsters" in the game: orcs, ogres, trolls, goblins (and their kin), mushroom-men, aboleth, fairies and fey, kobolds, dragons, and so on. The minotaur poses a real question, yummy beef or intelligent cow?

Is it believable to have people refuse to eat intelligent species in a fantasy setting? Would they only be opposed to eating humanoids? Would they believe that eating a superior being gives them a bit of power, and therefore pay extra for dragon meat? Would a ruthless ruler deem a particular species food because of a particular hatred for the race?

Anyone have any thoughts?

As of now, these are the creatures that I have deemed "edible"
Cockatrice eggs
Tangle Kelp

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Secret Doors!

Earlier this week, Tenkar posted about secret doors. I put my 2 coppers in there, but since, Peter Dell'Orto also spent some time on the subject. So, I guess I will add to the blog chatter for the week.

I think secret doors are a good thing in D&D (and clones). I do think they are used far too much. It's my opinion that they cannot bar a quest. Nor can they hide something important to the PC's goals. It just turns into a slog of dice rolling at that point, and sucks the fun completely out of the game for a while.

Great treasure, or treasonous secrets should be hidden behind secret doors. I used the example of a shrine to a dark cult in a mansion over at Tenkar's place. A wizard may have a secret study where he keeps a copy of all of his spellbooks, in case his enemies loot his tower.

Now, this being D&D, rules are always broken. A powerful enemy like Strahd will be the exception to the rule about barring quests. There is no reason why a powerful, rich person like Strahd would not hide his coffin behind a difficult to find door. Or a lich might hide a phalacrity behind a secret door.  But, when discussing enemies of that caliber, the heroes should have magics available to help.

So, in Mord Mar, my rules for secret doors are as follows:
1. It needs an original purpose. The secret door in Pickles and Potatoes was to hide the money-counting room.
2. The current resident needs to have the intelligence to use/find/access the secret door. A single ogre will probably not know about the secret door behind his lair, but 200 goblins would eventually stumble across a secret door in their area.
3. Almost everything behind a secret door will be "gravy." That demon's hoard of treasure seem light? Might want to search for secret doors.
4. Intelligent and powerful creatures will use secret doors to their fullest advantage. The party is beating up on the powerful mage a bit to quickly? His iron golem may just pop out of the secret door, and cover his escape.
5. Often ancient things lie behind secret doors. Maybe a long-sleeping undead, or maybe a forgotten relic?
6. The lower in the dungeon you are, the more likely there will be secret doors. The "pre-dungeon" has one secret door on level 1, two on level 2, and three on level 3. The deeper you go, the more likely that a secret door is around.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Monster Monday - Guest Post - Bulette

When I included the bulette on my Facebook poll, I had forgotten that I had done an early Monster Monday about it, here. Ian McGarty stepped in and said he wanted a turn. So, here is his Monster Monday, bulette:

The Bulette
This creature has been around since the early days of Dungeons & Dragons. Tim Kask created this monster after being handed a cheap plastic toy representing Japanese monsters. This creature was first featured in The Dragon in 1976 and has subsequently been included in every version of D&D. In its introduction, it couldn’t even leap! I love the possibilities of this creature burrowing through your campaign setting and frightening your players.  In most versions, this creature is formidable (Pathfinder removed its claws) and can wipe out an unwary party. I particularly enjoy the early edition use of a variable armor class and weak underbelly for this burrowing tank. This weak underbelly was originally a weak spot behind its armor plates on its head. This creature always loves to eat halflings and horses but will only kill dwarves and elves rather than eating them (too chewy and stringy respectively I imagine). The longevity of this monster speaks to its potential. In my own campaigns, I have used numerous versions of this creature. I have made them chromatic and given them breath weapons, I have adapted them for multiple environments like snow/ice.
Many players know of my love of this creature and its fearsome attacks. I recently ran a large group of 12 players against a pair of these monstrosities. They knew they were in a large sandy area. They made a plan to lure them out and a vicious battle followed with 4 players and both creatures dead at the end. I emphasized the weak underbellies and allowed players to use their creativity and ingenuity to cause the bulette to rise up and become vulnerable for their prepared archers.
This is one of the reasons I enjoy this monster. When faced with near dire outcomes, players surprise me with their ideas and overcome what seemed to be an impossible fight.

Ian McGarty

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Happy New Year!

I have been absent from cyberspace for the past few weeks. And, wow, a lot has happened! As I type this, I am listening to the inaugural video of It seems like a great thing has been born there. I know that my blog was linked. I know some of the blogs I read haven't been linked yet. (Looking at Castle Triskelion . . . )
The OSR Christmas happened. I don't even know who was gifted the Silver Bulette stuff. Hopefully everyone received something they enjoy. Finally, Castle of the Mad Archmage released a new Kickstarter: Musicland. It's limited to 100 in-print copies. Get on it while they are still there.

I actually was able to game! The game pictured above was run by my brother-in-law, Jason. He had 9 (!) kids under 12 years old playing in a Lite 5E Guardians of the Galaxy game! Drax, Starlord and crew defeated Krampus and freed Father Christmas and the Reindeer in time to deliver presents. I didn't play in that game, but did run one later in the night.

I ran the S&W module "It Started With a Chicken" the first module in the Splinters of Faith series, by Frog God Games. We had about 12 players, including a couple of the kids from Jason's game. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it. Next time we go camping, we will play part 2.

Next Monday will see the return of Monster Monday. Ian should have his entry for bulette finished. (He begged to do it when I put it on the list over at the Silver Bulette Facebook Group.)

That about covers my Happy New Year, and wrap up of 2017.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Monster Monday - Troll

Troll Image from
My best guess is its a DiTerlizzi from 2E

Over at the "Silver Bulette Group" on Facebook (hopefully the link works), I put up a poll to see what monster I should do this week. Troll was the only one that received any votes. Trolls are a great mid-level creature. The biggest problem with them is everyone knows their weakness - fire. Frog God Games (Kickstarter link, not their website) might be fixing this problem with Tome of Horrors V. They are adding 6(!) trolls to the 5E lineup. Somehow, my Tomes of Horrors are all AWOL. So, I can't check to see if any are all new. Maybe one of the Frogs will stop by and let us know.

Deadly and common, trolls permeate D&D culture. They are in the earliest printings of every D&D game, from 0E, BECMI, all the way up to 5E. And in almost every clone and knockoff out there. Here is the Troll from S&W Complete:
Hit Dice: 6+3
Armor Class: 4 [15]
Attacks: 2 claws (1d4), 1 bite (1d8)
Save: 11
Special: Regenerate (3 hp/rd)
Move: 12
Alignment: Chaos
Challenge Level/XP: 8/800
Special: Does not regenerate from acid or fire

Standard trolls in Mord Mar are similar. They are all "male." Trolls reproduce only asexually. When a troll needs help, it removes part of itself, and waits for a new troll to spring from the discarded body part. Fortunately, the trolls feel the pangs of hunger, and do not reproduce lightly.

In the fallen city of Mord Mar was a laboratory called Octana's Boilerworks. She was experimenting with using steam and heat to move things in a similar fashion to a windmill or watermill. Nobody knows how far along she was when Mord Mar was overrun. What is known is a troll named Gasbelly moved into her laboratory. The members from the Order of Lost Cups followed standard protocol in attacking the troll. They threw the oil and lit it with fire. This seemed to only make Gasbelly laugh. After this excursion, the Order disbanded, understanding they knew too little to continue in the darkness.

Near the city of Redstone resides a forest troll. Unlike his kin, he studies the arts of magic and nature, and has even been accepted into a druidic enclave. Unfortunately, he sees the city as a blight on his beautiful forest, and is attempting to learn how to summon fire elementals. If he accomplishes this goal, it is feared that he will burn everything inside the walls. What's worse, some of the elvish druids agree with his ideals and will thwart anyone looking for him. 

Deep within the Mausoleum of Lost Hope resides the medusa, Coberra. Several years ago, a troll wandered too close to her lair. A weird thing happened when she use her petrifying gaze on him. He turned to stone, but was still able to move. Sages think it was the troll's regenerative properties that caused this, but no-one has been close enough to test the hypothesis and live. What is known: Coberra and troll are inseparable now. And the troll no longer fears fire. 

The following encounter comes from my adventure, The Oracle of Stone and Flame (desktop link):
Encounter 4: Top Troll
The passageway spills through a wall into a room, with marble walls and a dug out, uneven floor. The room is probably 30 square, with a 15 foot high ceiling. In the corners are piles of rubble. There is a closed door in the far wall, about 5 feet above the current floor.
As the party searches, a 10 foot tall troll will burst out of one of the piles of rubble and attack.
Giant Troll
Hit Dice: 8+5
Armor Class: 4[15]
Attacks: 2 Claws (1d6), 1 Bite (1d8+1)
Save: 11
Special: Regenerates (3hp/round)
Move: 12
Alignment: Chaos
Challenge Level/XP: 10/1,400
Treasure: Some of the marble in the piles is still large and intact enough to sell. The party can find 400 pounds of salvageable marble, worth 8000 gp to a builder or stonemason in town.

List of trolls to appear in D&D is here. There are many ways to spice up trolls to be an exciting challenge for your players. You can try using the Tolkien troll on them (they can only be destroyed by sunlight turning them to stone.) A unique troll might only be killed by submerging it in the running water of a river (Billy Goats Gruff, anyone?) Some trolls might not even be traditional trolls. An artifact allows them to regenerate within 100 yards may be an exciting adventure hook for your group. 

I hope you all enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. Trolls, like their regeneration ability, can be reintroduced in countless ways that stay true to the collective idea of a troll.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Eleventh Hour Monster Monday - Shrieker

As usual, the holidays are screwing up my routine. It's going continue to happen until after the new year. That said, let us talk about shriekers.

Image found on Wikicommons.

Shriekers are a fascinating creature. They are not dangerous at all. Instead they attract other monsters when they are disturbed. They are a staple of megadungeons. Almost organic traps. Sometimes creatures use them as warning systems. Other use them as a dinner bell.

The shriekers near the Fallow Well are the only living creatures that the wraiths do not touch. The wraiths love the feeling of panic from adventurers and orcs as the shriekers scream.

Some myconids have bred shriekers in several colors. They do this trying to find a harmonic that will summon their demon queen, Zuggtomy. They have succeeded. Red, Red, Green, Blue, Blue and she will appear.

The orcs who now control the Finnius Brewery in Mord Mar have struck a deal with Acidander, the green dragon. Shriekers have been planted in the north alley of the brewery. When the shriekers sound, Acidander comes to their aid. For the grissly price of three warriors. He doesn't eat them, but is instead building his own army.

There is only one passage across the underground river in the Devil's Decision. A sea monster inhabits the waters.  It is attracted by the patch of shriekers on the far side. Chances are not everyone will be across when Dark Nessie shows up.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Megadungeon resources

Rhinegold and the Valkyries
licensed from Fat Goblin Games

I missed Monster Monday again. The holidays suck for schedules. What can I say. I'll try again next week. In the meantime, here's a few of the books and magazines that I look at when working on my megadungeon, Mord Mar. I am not including the books I listed here (my 5 important GM books.)

The Twisting Stair: I picked up copies of both volumes of this zine at North Texas, and they are both full of good ideas if you are building a megadungeon. They are well worth the price of admission.

Traps & Treachery: I'm not good at traps. It's a fact of my DMing life. I often use this book as a springboard for other ideas. You can find it cheaper than in that link, too. I think I found it for $5 at a FLGS somewhere in my state.

Dungeon Fantastic Megadungeon Design: Peter Dell'Orto has a great series of articles in that link. He also regularly posts dungeon play reports. He has a lot of great resources for free there.

Advice on building a megadungeon: Before the Marmorial Tomb, Benoist Poire wrote an extensive advice column for building a megadungeon on The RPG Site. It is worth the read. And probably taking notes.

Creighton Broadhurst's Dungeon Design: It is a short and sweet article that covers the basic design elements before hitting pen to paper.

Megadungeon search on RPG Now: I haven't read most of these. I looked at Megadungeon #1 today, and wasn't impressed. Too much not-megadungeon stuff. The best part, you can see which megadungeons are available on PDF today! (Those I HAVE read).

What other resources do you guys use that I didn't mention? Let me know in the comments or the S&W G+ page or the Silver Bulette FB page.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tuesday's Monster Monday - Dryad

I missed yesterday's blog, because we were finalizing the Orb of Undying Discord (the link is a desktop version. RPGNow is weird about mobile/desktop.) Ian wrote a pretty good adventure, and it is a nice addition to the series. We've got it on sale for $3.99 for the holidays. January we will set the price at $4.99.
Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art (c) Rick Hershey / Fat Goblin Games

Enough of my sales pitch, though. We're here to talk about monsters. I've chosen dryad today because one is prominent in Orb of Undying Discord. Dryads are nature spirits, tied to a specific tree. In Greek mythology, they were tied specifically to oak trees, but the D&Dverse has mutated that to any tree.
Dryad's goals are usually pretty straightforward. They want to protect their trees, and themselves. In S&W, they have the ability to Charm Person to help accomplish their goals. Because of this, and their natural physical weakness, dryads are best used as oracles, or keepers of secrets.

Celania is a dryad deep in the forest around Redstone. She bonded to her oak almost 500 years ago. Through its roots she feels changes deep in the earth. She fears that something awful is moving up to the surface that will threaten both her tree and the city. In truth, three bulette have moved into the area, but have not yet reached the surface.

Almoris is a dryad very near the town of Stonemire. She often tells stories to the children of the area about nature and the land. Last week, while telling one of these stories she collapsed. Some villagers helped her back to her tree, where they found a new swamp rot infesting it. Without intervention from adventurers Almoris' tree will surely die. And worse, the rot will continue to spread toward Stonemire.

Barberea's tree is very unique. It is made of living stone, and grows and flourishes deep in the megadungeon. She knows where and how most creatures move in the deep passages, and can be persuaded to share this information for things that entertain her. Maybe a poem about earth would do the trick?

Ferne also has a tree near Redstone. But, she has been tasked by a powerful magic-user to guard the entrance to the Orb of Undying Discord's resting place. She was instructed to open the way only for powerful goodly people. But, she wants something in return. If you can find her grove, you are welcome to ask her the cost yourself.

Monday, November 27, 2017

No Monster Monday

Monster Monday didn't happen today. We were busy at Silver Bulette pushing out our newest module. You can find it here:

Silver Bulette has released their newest module, The Orb of Undying Discord! We've discounted it for the holidays, so it's only $3.99 for a limited time!

Written in S&W, it is the third in a series. The other two were written in SWL. (link above is a desktop link. RPGNow is weird about those.)

That's the post from some G+ sites. I will try to get my Monster Monday done tomorrow.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Monster Monday - Vrock

From Wikipedia, originally found in Monster Manual

It's amazing how little time there is between Halloween and Thanksgiving. It looks like we are only getting two birds for Monster Monday. I talked about doing roc, griffon, owlbear, harpy or hippogriff. And someday, I will probably do the majority of them.
Instead, I decided to do the vrock. The vrock is an instantly recognized demon that "somewhat resemble a cross between a human and a vulture. (Monster Manual)" Swords and Wizardry describes Vrock (First-Category Demon) as "vulture-headed with feathered humanoid bodies, and huge dark-feathered wings." Yup, demon-turkey-vulture.

As D&D has moved forward, the vrock has changed too. In AD&D, the vrock had 5' darkness, Detect Invisibility, Telekinesis, and 10% Gate chance. They had 8 HD, 0 AC and 5 attacks per round. Their magic resistance was 50%
In 2E, vrocks gain a spore attack that deals some damage, and eventually encases the recipient in vines. They also now have a 'screech' that will stun everyone within 30' for a round (save applicable.) In 2E, they cannot be hit without a +2 weapon enchantment bonus and their AC improved to -5. Vrocks MR changed to 70%. They also gain Detect Magic, Mass Charm, and Mirror Image. Second Edition also gave the vrock the Dance of Ruin ability. Their Gate becomes much more powerful, with a 50% chance of success, and more possible creatures to summon.

3rd Edition saw the vrock change a bit more. Their AC went to 25, which is not surprising due to the massive changes to the game. Their spell list expands to include Desecrate, and Detect Good. Their Gate ability drops to a 35% chance (and is renamed Summon Tanar'ri.) The vrock's darkness ability becomes the spell, with a 30' radius.

I don't have the 4E and 5E stats nearby, so maybe someone will fill us in.

In Mord Mar, I have a few vrock running around. Any of these vrock can be a foil for one or several sessions. Remember, I use 1E/Swords & Wizardry for the majority of my sessions.
Cul'cha free roams the halls, and has created a small force of chaos. Among his forces are an ettin (his lieutenant), a pack of gnolls (last counted at 10), a group of orcs (25-75 depending on circumstances) and a cockatrice (his pet). He is strong and dumb. He often simply throws resources at whatever his target is, relying on his reputation to soften his enemy's resolve. Cul'cha prefers to capture enemies alive and convert them to his cause, almost exclusively through intimidation.
Ean is a vrock who was summoned by Percy Vanswift. Percy did not bargain well and lost his life and holdings to Ean. Ean has gained control of a small subsection in the sewers of Mord Mar, and defends his holdings with oozes, slimes and jellies. Like cranberry sauce, but deadly.
Ezz was a vrock once, but through a bargaining with a night hag ascended to an altroloth. His gain in power was not without cost. Summoners do not need to know Ezz's true name. He generally resides on his home plane, because he is so easy to summon. Although he has ascended forms, Ezz is still of low intelligence. He is easily manipulated and often bargains poorly.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Monster Monday - Cockatrice

I've missed a couple of weeks of Monster Monday because of Gamehole. It was an awesome time, and the Silver Bulette crew made a plan for the rest of the year. Expect to see Ian finish his Undying Orb series and then I will make it into a full blown adventure! But, that's not why you are here today. You are here to see cockatrices and how they can be an interesting encounter.

Image found on Wikimedia Commons

Cockatrices (cockatri?) trace their roots back to at least Roman times. They were said to be the result of a chicken egg incubated by a snake. Modern D&D mythology sees them as an amalgamation of the two. The description in the 1E Monster Manual reads "The serpentine tail of the cockatrice is yellow green, its feet and beak yellow, its wings are gray, its feathers are golden brown, and its wattles, comb, eyes, and tongue are red." Swords & Wizardry has the following description "A cockatrice resembles a bat-winged monster with a long, serpentine tail." The S&W stats (Monstrosities pg 70) are:
Hit Dice: 5
Armor Class: 6 [13]
Attack: Bite (1d6 + turn to stone)
Save: 12
Special: Bite turns to stone
Move: 6/18 (flying)
Alignment: Neutral
Challenge Rating/XP: 8/800

According to D&D (1E) cockatrices are found in temperate to tropical regions, both above and below ground. S&W lists them in the dungeon, forest, grassland, and hills terrain tables. They aren't listed in the jungle table, surprisingly.

With that all said, here's a few ways that I have used or seen cockatrices.

A nest of cockatrices beds at a major crossroads between cities, preventing caravans from going through. The city guard hires adventurers to clean up the nest, but they find the mayor (or king) has already been there, and has been stoned. 

The ranking member of the church in the party's village was ambushed by a medusa. Now, the party needs to find cockatrice feathers to make the Stone to Flesh potion to turn him back.

An unkillable monster resides deep in a cavern. Sages say he can be defeated, though. All that is needed is to have him turn to stone. Capturing a few live cockatrices and sneaking them into the monster's lair can't be that hard, right?