Wednesday 25 December 2013

Encounter Type 1168(B)

Initial Situation: The party pass through a village where they notice an unusual level of affluence in some or all of the inhabitants.

Significant Characters: The local village headman, who is very weathy due to a deal struck with a being inhabiting a tree in the ground of his house/farm.

The Deal: The tree spirit is paying the villager two gold pieces per day, and has been for some years. Each day the headman comes out to the tree early in the morning and finds the coins at the base. The coins are very old, probably an unknown type unless someone in the party knows about coins or is themselves more than 300 years old.

Art by: Benita Winckler
The tree spirit is chaotic and the headman is lawful. roll 1d6:

  1. The tree spirit is Good and the headman Evil. The spirit is a young dryad who is trying to prevent the headman from cutting her tree down. He hates all women and her normal power of beauty is unable to affect him while she has not grown into her other powers yet. The villagers are afraid to help her, and she is afraid to keep asking them in case the headman goes back on the deal.
  2. The tree spirit is Evil and the headman is Evil too. The tree spirit is a minor devil bound to the tree until it can perform some great act of evil. The villagers are being manipulated by its supply of cash and are now mostly converted to devil-worship under the leadership of their "high priest" (the headman). They've proved reluctant to engage in human sacrifice from amongst their own, but a bunch of strangers might be a different story...
  3. The spirit is Evil and the headman is Good. The spirit is a simple tempting daemon from the lower planes sent here by an evil cleric. If it manages to make the headman evil then it, the tree, the treasure, and the headman will all be whisked off to Tartarus.
  4. The spirit is in fact a succubus and the headman is Evil. The succubus is the headman's "reward" for a rape and murder he committed. Its goal is to get the headman to confess (in fact, to boast) about what he did and for the villagers (or some passing group) to lynch him from the tree. The plan is coming close to fruition and the headman is more and more convinced that he is above the law each day as his gold buys him immunity to various petty acts. Once he is dead, the succubus returns to the Abyss with his soul. The succubus can not directly intervene or the man's soul will not be harvested for her master (although it will still go to the Abyss). She will, however, attempt to prevent a trial as such a lawful intervention would also cause her mission to fail. So long as she does not reveal her role in events, she is able to act.
  5. The spirit is a nymph who has fallen in love with the headman, who is young and handsome but married. She simply wants to steal him away. He is good, but is becoming corrupted by the money and the fact that he is hiding its source from his wife, not to mention the nymph's attractions. The nymph does not want to use magic; she wants him honestly, at least by her elastic definition of "honest". She is CN.
  6. The (CN) tree spirit is attempting to become a god and in return for the gold simply asks to be worshipped. Currently, the villagers are going along with the headman's suggestions that they worship nature and the tree spirit is able to grant him first level spells. If the tree can gather worship from higher level characters then it may be able to progress in its plans. The spirit has limited super-sentience and can offer a party aid as if it were a divination spell (cleric, 4th level ) cast by a 7th level cleric. It can/will do this no more than once per day and only if there is sacrifice or a solid promise of some high level worshippers on a long-term basis.
If the tree is cut down and the roots dug up, 2d4x1000gp wil be found underneath it.

Saturday 30 November 2013

Magic Item: Medallion of Thaumaturgic Alacrity

This medallion looks like a small (3") astrolabe but without any moving parts. The surface is scribed with concentric circles and spirals with small gems of various kinds, each small but perfect, at the intersection points. There are nine such gems on one side and seven on the other.

When found, the item will have between 0 and 15 charges (2d8-1), and can be recharged up to a maximum of 45.

When worn during spellcasting, the casting time of any spell is halved, costing one charge per spell level.

Limitations and Other Features
The medallion has no effect on spells which have no somatic component.

If there are not enough charges for the spell being cast, then the medallion has no effect.

The power of the medallion is not voluntary, so long as it is worn it will take effect and use charges if possible.

The device becomes inert once all charges are gone, although it will detect for alteration magic. It may be recharged by placing the inert medallion into "recharge mode" - for magic users this involves touching the nine gems in a particular order; for others (including illusionists) the seven gems are used instead. What the order is may be determined using divination, finding the notes of a previous owner, or perhaps by consultation with a sage specializing in magic items.

Once in recharge mode, any spells cast while wearing the medallion add one charge per level [edit: instead of having their normal effect]. However, only one spell per level may be used for charging purposes (i.e., to fully charge the item to 45 levels requires one spell of each level from 1 to 9 to be cast while wearing it). Once the user has finished charging the item, a simple touching of the gems in order again will change it back to its functional mode, where it will remain so long as it has charges, regardless of any attempt to use the gems.

GP: 12000
XP: 2000

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Monster: Sharkmaid

Frequency: rare
No appearing: 90%: 1, 10%: 2-3
Armour Class: 7 (AT 10+3)
Move: 24"
HD: 2
% In Lair: 5% (alone)/100% (with children)
Treasure Type: K; P in lair.
# Attacks: 1
Damage/attack: 2-12
Special attacks: charm
Special defenses: none
Magic Resistance: normal
Intelligence: Average
Alignment Chaotic Evil
Size: M
Psionic Ability: nil
Level/xp: II / 28 +2/hp

Sharkmaids appear to be normal mermaids but are highly predatory carnivores with several rows of razor-sharp teeth.

When encountered, there is a 10% chance that the sharkmaid has one or more daughters with her. In this case, there will certainly be be a lair nearby. A single child will have 1d4 hit points. movement of 9" and will fight in self-defence only, doing 1d6 damage with its razor-like teeth. A second child will have a full hit die, move at 12", and do 1d8 damage.

Normal morale is 55% but with children this goes up to 65%. Should morale fail, however, the mother will leave the children to their own devices.

Most of the time (60%) sharkmaids will be accompanied by a school of normal sharks hanging around for scraps. If there are no sharks with the maiden, there is likewise a 60% that a school will show up within 2d6 rounds of her making a kill. Numbers and size of sharks as per MM.

Although on good terms with non-intelligent sharks of all sizes, sharkmaids are other wise on openly antagonistic terms with basically all other forms of life and in particular dolphins and mermen.

A sharkmaid will attempt to kill any and all intelligent lifeforms she meets, whether for food or not. Against males she will use her charm ability, which is good to a range of 12" but only against a single target, which she must be able to pick out either by line of sight or, somehow, by name or distinctive call (e.g., "Are you lonely, helmsman?"). The charm allows a save but, once under the sharkmaiden's thrall the victim will desire nothing more than to kiss those luscious, perhaps suspiciously large lips. The first bite from the suddenly too-wide-to-be-real mouth breaks the charm, but for most victims that is far too late.

Females are immune to their attentions but it is not unknown for a sharkmaid with a child to use it as bait, either instructing it to thrash about (if older) or simply leaving it alone to panic (if younger) in the hope that a woman's maternal instincts will kick in and tempt her to "rescue" the child.

Once a ship or boat is alerted to the presence of a sharkmaid it should be possible to stop her from picking the crew off one-by-one, but those shipwrecked on rafts or even walking along a tropical beach may find themselves in grave peril.

Individual treasure takes the form of tarnished silver trinkets rather than actual silver pieces, and any lair will simply be a small underwater cave suitable for shelter from storms. Although their eyesight is good by human standards, sharkmaids will not venture to depths where the sun never reaches.

They breed by ingesting the genitals of male human/demi-human victims as part of their normal feeding and give birth to live young which they suckle. The whole thing is very Freudian, but the sharkmaids do not care about that and would probably just eat the old faker if he tried anything.

Saturday 9 November 2013

AD&D: Apocalypse When?

♫It's the end of the world as we know it♫
AD&D is a post-apocalyptic game by default (as has been noted before) and much of the fiction listed in Appendix N and fantasy fiction elsewhere has some post-apocalyptic aspect. REH's Conan stories are set in a Europe which is recovering from the sinking of Atlantis, a setting repeated to drastically different effect by Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. But many of the other entries in Appendix N are set sometime after a "golden age" of some kind has come crashing down in flames or, as in flavour-of-the-year Game of Thrones, ice.

For the game as originally envisioned, this is an ideal set-up as it gives in-built reasons for various things that Gygax and Arneson wanted in play. Firstly, it implies that current technology is limited, so mediaeval weapons and armour are the norm despite the recorded history of the world being quite deep and the Golden Age presented as being very advanced in one way or another.

Secondly, it means that the "civilized" parts of the world have at some point shrunk drastically. They may be recovering but there is a feeling of a candle in the dark. This can give characters a motivation both to go out and explore and also to push back the boundaries of the "wilderness" and re-establish civilization, both goals that were explicitly stated in D&D from the very start. It also means that there's lots to explore.

Bow before the Green Witch
And where the characters go out into the wilderness they will find the ruins of the pre-apocalyptic world - things that they call castles, dungeons, and ancient cities but which could, to their builders, have been research centres, bomb shelters, and fields of generation ships which were never launched to the stars (this one is from Tekumel, surely the greatest apocalypse of them all with hundreds of entire solar systems sucked out of our universe and into somewhere else, each completely isolated in a sky with no stars other than their own).

Inhabiting these ruins are of course the monsters - the things which are no longer "normal". Were they normal Before? Were gnolls simply pets to the Ancients? Perhaps the monsters are a result of the apocalypse; perhaps they caused it. Similar questions may be asked of the gods; in my CSIO campaign the god Mycr was based on the computer "Universal AC" in Asimov's short story "The Last Question" and was the reason that the Apocalypse (the group, not the event) had failed to destroy the world and instead created Gamma World.

High Level Ranger
And what are these monsters guarding if its not the Lost Knowledge of the Ancients? Well, apart from the Lost Gold of the Ancients, of course. The Ancients could do things that can not be duplicated now - they made the artefacts and even some of the non-unique magic items are still beyond the ability of the greatest magic users of the "modern" age. This is embodied in the difficulty of making magic items in the DMG - if making one's own items was too easy, then a chunk of the motivation to go out and try to dig up ones already made would be gone.

The dead past thus represents the origin of threats (monsters) while holding out a possibly false promise of a quick-fix for that threat in the form of read-made magic items.

This dead age can also be used more directly to produce adventure hooks - certain beings may have survived, perhaps in suspended animation or perhaps simply immortal. Or magic can open a rift, allowing characters to travel back to the lost Golden Age where they might find that all that glistens is not, in fact, gold - potentially a complete reversal of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon show where D&D characters try to escape from a much more advanced world than the one they're used to, and return to a world of simple magic and flying horses.

Old School End of the World Checklist (other old-school checklists are available; time invested may not pay off; offers not valid in some dimensions)
"We're not kobolds, okay,
Mr Monkeyboy?"
  • When did the old world end? Is it within human memory? What about elven memory? Will almost any exploration turn up evidence or is it only the deepest levels of the deepest dungeons that carry a risk of encountering Horrors from the Past™?
  • What sort of world was it? What sort of ancient artefacts might show up? It's true that the things listed on the magical tables are, duh, magical but maybe there's other options even there. Keoghtom's ointment may in fact be a product of nano-technology; bracers of defence some sort of force-field. But beyond such terminology changes, the DM can sprinkle one-off items around which evoke both the promise and the dangers of the past, whether canisters of viruses or demons enslaved to power flying machines.
  • What destroyed it? Perhaps it's something cyclical, like the thread of Anne McCaffrey's Pern stories - if it is, when can it be expected to happen again? Perhaps it was some other natural event like the sinking of Atlantis. Maybe it is something that poses some indefinite future threat like Ksarul/Tharizdun or Cthulhu, waiting for something to free them from slumber to finish the job. Maybe it was the arrival of magic itself, or the gods. Perhaps a war of some sort between wizards and clerics or between dragons and humans, elves and dwarves (leaving the stage clear for humanity), or Law and Chaos.
  • Do people know what happened? If not, does anyone care and should they? Is there a stigma or taboo connected with things recovered from "the wastes" or are such items required by law to be handed in to the authorities under pain of, well, pain? Are there sages which know, or are willing to pay for expeditions to find out?
  • Is the Apocalypse actually over? The game assumes that the players will, even incidentally, cause the wilderness to retreat. But perhaps it pushes back; perhaps there are intelligent forces out there still trying to harness whatever created that wilderness - organized and intelligently led parties who are themselves exploring dungeons for weapons in a war that civilized people don't even know is being fought.
  • Are there survivors, and if so where and what are they? Are they individuals or perhaps an entire race, Silurian-like, expecting to return to a position of rulership once their agents feel that it's safe to come back to the surface?
  • Why did anything survive? What did the people at the time try to do about it, and what weapons, artefacts, spells, monuments etc. might remain of this effort? Was the final end only delayed? To what extent are the monsters of the wild simply the descendants of things which were commonplace Before?
  • The ultimate question: could someone that knew enough about what happened deliberately cause it to happen again?
"When my horoscope said 'The stars are right',
I assumed that was a good thing!"
"Shut up and row."
Some of these questions can be answered in ways that tend to lead to over-arching themes but mostly they have answers which will only influence the tone of what is found underground and in the wilderness and I've not tried to give examples of the really off-the-wall possibilities such as might be found by a close look at Alice in Wonderland or Bagpuss. Writers, and myth-makers, have found the idea that we are living in the tumbled-down remains of some Cyclopean past (literally, in the case of Greek mythology) a rich inspiration and from Plato to Tolkien to, of course, Jack Vance it has provided a backdrop to some of the world's best fantasy stories and D&D is largely designed to allow interaction with exactly that sort of backdrop. Simply running down the list above should spark ideas for races, magic items, spells, patrons, dungeons and towers, and special encounters.

Spell: Spare Room

Material component
Bodices and Bustles
Spare Room (Alteration)
Level: MU 5
Components: V, M
Casting Time: 5seg
Saving Throw: none
Range: touch
Duration: 1 year/lv
Area of effect: 36sq feet+1sq foot/level and see below

Explanation/Description: This spell is cast upon a doorway (ie, a portal with an attached movable door) and creates an extra-dimensional space which is anchored to the door frame.  The surface area of the doorway can not exceed the given area of effect, and must be shaped to allow the caster to pass. If the door is opened then whatever was behind it before is still there and can be entered and used as normal.

However, if the door is opened while uttering a command phrase (chosen by the caster) then it will instead lead to the extra-dimensional space. The room has a floorspace equal to the caster's level in feet squared (ie, a 9th level caster can have a 9'x9' room or a 4½' by 18' room). As with the doorway, the space created must allow the caster to enter fully. The ceiling height is that of the top of the door frame.

It is possible to cast two or more instances of this spell such that they overlap in the extra-dimensional space, in which case a single room is created with multiple doors and perhaps, if carefully placed, an increased floor space.

Note that the spell is anchored to the doorframe and if the doorframe is moved without damaging it, then the rooms will too. If the door is damaged then entry to the spare room is blocked until the door is replaced, although those already inside may leave. If the doorframe is broken then the contents of the room are deposited back in the "real world" as a safety precaution.

If the magic of the spell is cancelled (e.g., by dispel magic) the room is cut off and the contents will be trapped there until the spell runs out, at which point the safety mechanism will kick in.

The spell may be made permanent, but may still be dispelled, in which case the normal duration will re-assert itself in respect of the extra-dimensional space.

The material component is a embroidered cloth representation of a house which is turned inside out at completion of the spell and which re-appears when the spell expires.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Spell: Swan Boat

Not the same thing at all
Swan Boat (Enchantment/Charm)
Level: Druid 2nd, Magic User 4th
Components: V, M, S
Casting time: 4seg
Saving throw: Neg.
Range: 3"
Duration: 1hr/level
Area of Effect: 3", 1 swan/lv

Swan boat enchants a group of swans, cranes, or similar flying animals, and a boat such that the swans can carry the boat through the air at a rate of 36" (Class D).

Each swan can lift 50lbs weight and the total weight of the boat and its occupant must be accounted for or there is no effect and the spell is wasted. Each swan gets a saving throw unless it is willing.

Material components are small golden crowns which go around the swans' necks and from which depend delicate golden chains linked to the boat (the magic bears the weight). These amount to 100gp per swan but are not used up.

The boat may be any normal craft, but it must be sea-worthy (or at least lake-worthy). The swans will sense in advance that the spell is ending and will attempt to make a landing on water. If they can not, the occupants of the boat will take 2d6 damage and the boat will almost certainly (90%) be damaged beyond immediate use.

Loyalty Bonus

The only "core system" I didn't cover back in the early days of the blog when I was doing the introduction to AD&D posts was, or perhaps were, the twin topics of loyalty and morale.

The reason for that is that it's been a long time since I used them as written. In fact the loyalty rules contain a note to the effect that an experienced DM shouldn't really need them and probably the same goes for the morale section. But, as with so much, it's worth going back and re-calibrating every so often, so here's a summary of the loyalty and morale rules.

Twin Peeks
Looking at morale first, we're given a system to decide whether a particular opponent will stand and fight when the going gets tough. It's certainly worth noting that this starts at a base of 50% for creatures of less than 2 hit dice if they are intelligent. What if they're not intelligent? That's not stated but I'll come back to it below.

There's a list of fairly obvious to make a morale check - 25% of party killed, leader runs away etc. - and a set of possible modifiers. To make the morale check, the DM rolls the dice, adds the modifiers and subtracts the base morale of the figure. If the result is positive then the creature falls back, disengages, flees, or surrenders depending on how high the result is.

On the loyalty side, things seem fairly similar: there is a base score of 50% modified not by hit dice but by the charisma of whomever the loyalty is owed to, a set of occasions on which to test loyalty, and a bunch of modifiers.

Sadly, as is often the case, there is a pointless difference too: loyalty modifiers are added to the loyalty score before rolling, although they could be subtracted from the dice of course, and any score over the loyalty score indicates a fail. Although there is no grading of the degree of failure as there is for morale, I would suggest that the DM should take it into account.

Loyalty has a broader scope than morale. Loyalty can be tested by a bribe or by temptation when left to guard valuables and so forth. It's also subject to many more modifiers than morale and it's quite possible to end up with loyalty scores of 200% and more if a high-CHA character associates for a long time with henchmen or troops who are treated correctly. Simply being lawful good gives a bonus of 15%, and a racial preference gives another +20%, which means that paladins inspire a base loyalty score of 115%+ right off the starting blocks when dealing with humans who are of a compatible alignment.

On the subject of which, there is the question of compatible alignments and a strange table on DMG p 37. If the henchman (or whatever) has an alignment "1 place removed" from their liege then there is no modification. 2 places gives a mod of -15% and three one of -35%. But what is a "place"? The examples given are bizarre: LE<->LN is 1 place; LE<->LG is 2; but LE<->CG is 3. So what would LE<->CN be? I can only assume that the last row in the table should read "3 or more places removed" and that neutral is meant to be 2 places from LG and only 1 from CN.

It is possible for substantial loyalty penalties to be incurred, but generally they are all for things which a LG character would never do, so it's a fairly sure thing that if a paladin is leading a group of NPCs then those NPCs will come under "Fanatical - will serve unquestioningly and lay down own life if necessary without hesitation", probably even the chaotic evil ones (which is as good a reason as any to introduce a massive penalty for alignments which are opposite).

Loyal to whom?
So who is loyalty owed to? It's not defined specifically but the DMG does repeat the fact that the rules apply to hirelings as well as henchmen and seems to intend that the rules be used for any "associated character". I take this to mean those which are paid by or recruited by a character directly to to whom the liege character has paid specific attention to.

In a combat situation, I would also apply it to any friendly figures within a radius of the character's CHA stated as scaled inches (ie, 12" for a charisma score of 12), assuming that they are not being commanded by someone else and can be communicated with to some degree. In the case of an army on the field of battle, perhaps the normal (non-mercenary) soldier could have a score calculated from a base 0% instead of 50% and capped at 90%.

Morale is a much simpler system and hardly has any more detail than covered in the overview above, but it's worth looking at some typical scores.

A bog-standard man-at-arms has a morale score of 50% and a morale check with a 5% penalty is triggered when any figure has lost ¼ of its hit points. Since a man-at-arms can't have more than 7hp, this means that just 2hp damage gives a 55% chance that the figure will try to withdraw from combat to some degree. Orcs are the same, and gnolls have only a 5% increase on that.

A troll, on the other hand, has a base morale of 81%. Assuming that non-fire/acid damage doesn't bother a troll much, then even facing a superior force which is striking twice as often as the troll means that the troll will only fail morale 19% of the time and will never panic or surrender unless the attacking party are really showing no signs of wear and tear.

But still - 19% isn't peanuts and the morale system's tables allow for a rout to set in as each deserter grants a 15% penalty for those left behind, so three trolls will not last three times as long as one before retreating.

Morale makes a huge difference to combat, especially at low levels where it's needed most to soften the opposition that a party might face. Ignoring morale issues is certainly a cause of many low-level party wipe-outs.

So what about those unintelligent monsters? Well, it depends on what one means by unintelligent. My rule of thumb is that animal intelligence means a morale of 50% flat regardless of HD while true non-intelligence effectively means infinite morale, and certain particularly aggressive animals such as bull elephants, giant wolverines, water buffalo, and females with young, should get the normal hit dice bonus.

On that subject, what about loyalty and unintelligent creatures? Well, clearly animals can have loyalty but I'd say that most fungus can't. Most of the loyalty modifiers are, in fact, reasonably applicable to any creature that is capable of personalized memory of individuals and I would include the alignment mods (see below).

Conflict of Self Interest
The place where loyalty and morale come together is in combat. The DMG simply states that creatures which have loyalty use it instead of their morale score in morale checks (assuming that they have been ordered to fight, of course). That's fine but there's the chance that morale is actually higher than loyalty, what then?

The simple answer is that an NPC fights for themselves first (morale) and then for their leader (loyalty). If they don't want to fight then they will only do so if commanded to do so by someone they will obey. So, when morale breaks, check using loyalty.

For example, a party with three NPC men-at-arms (Larry, Curly, and Harpo) is in a dungeon and get into a fight with a substantial force of hobgoblins. The MaA have a loyalty to the party leader of just 40% and a morale of 50%.

On the second round of combat Curley is dropped to half their hp and makes a morale roll (at +15) of 70 - disengage and retreat. The leader orders Curly to stand firm and he makes a second check using his loyalty score (but with the same +15), rolling a 30. Curly's morale has broken but his faithfulness keeps him going.

On the third round, Larry is killed. Curly's morale has already broken so he rolls another check using his loyalty score (now at +30: 10% for a quarter of the party being lost, 10% for a friendly figure being killed, and 10% for taking casualties without inflicting any) with a total roll of 83, Curly throws down his weapon and flees. Harpo, meanwhile makes a check against his morale score (at +30% too; Curly's desertion won't have any effect until next round) and rolls 78% (disengage) and then 93 (surrender); taking the best of these means that Harpo attempts to disengage while Curly legs it.

If these guy's retreat is blocked (say, by other members of the party) then the only chance is to talk them down, making another loyalty check, but this will disrupt the party and another fail here may lead to fighting between the would-be flyers and the rest of the party.

There are modifiers to loyalty for alignment. I know from experience that the first thing a would-be Evil leader will claim is that they are not going to act evil and so should have the "neutral" modifier of ±0%. Well, as previously mentioned, alignment is an actual force in the AD&D world and as such I regard these modifiers as being unavoidable. People just sort of know, even if they can't quite put their finger on what the problem is.

Evil has many advantages in that it's always easier to be destructive than to be helpful and careful and the alignment modifiers to loyalty can be a strong boost to Good characters.

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World
At the table, of course, all this is baloney. There's no way any sane DM would sit and add up and subtract all the possible modifiers that might apply and still less track the changes (-1% per living enemy hit die?).

But the base scores are not too hard to quickly tot up and note on a stat-line for a monster or NPC and after that most of the intent can be captured by making reasonable guesses at modifiers and applying them ad hoc. If you roll 90 for morale when the party are low on hit points, it's likely that the NPC has decided to quit or even change sides if their loyalty breaks too. You don't need to worry about every little mod.

And in that spirit, you really don't need to use percentage scores for all of this either. The PHB mentions giving a +1 to morale in the bless spell and by +2 in the 4th level illusionist emotion spell. These clearly are signs that Gygax was intending to divide all these numbers by 5 and use a d20 instead. I suggest you follow suit and forget about the little ones like the hit dice modifiers to loyalty.

Some Spells
Banner (conjuration/summoning)
Cleric Lv3
Components: V,M
Casting Time: 1r
Save: None
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 turn/lv
Area of Effect: target's charisma+1" radius per level

Banner causes a spectral flag, pennant, banner, or otherwise culturally appropriate image to appear above the character touched. This expands the range of the character's charisma for the purposes of loyalty scores. Any friendly figure within that area is treated as having a normally calculated loyalty score to the target of the spell. If there is a conflict, whether because of another use of this spell or simply that the NPC already has a loyalty to someone else, then the higher charisma is the one which gains the NPC's loyalty with ties broken by the level of the charismatic character and finally by dice rolling. Once the spell ends, previous loyalties are restored.

The material component is a finely made duplicate of the image which is to be displayed. This must contain on it some identifying and inspiring mark associated with the target character.

This spell is generally only available to clerics of war gods and leader-type deities (e.g., Odin and Tyr; Zeus, Ares, and Athena; but not Thor or Pan).

Talisman (conjuration/summoning)
Cleric 5th level
Components: V, M
Casting time: 1 turn
Save: None
Range: Touch
Duration: 12hrs
Area of Effect: 1"/ level

Talisman causes the cleric's holy symbol (the material component) to radiate a sense of well-being and security to all those of the same faith as the cleric (same deity or same pantheon). It grants those within the range of the spell +10% (or +2) to their morale scores and -2 to those that they fight.

For Good clerics, the symbol also radiates a bright light such that monsters which do not like sunlight will fight at -1 even at night (vampires and the like are not damaged but do receive -1 to combat rolls). Evil symbols generate a gloom such that evil monsters can fight normally even in daylight (vampires and so forth included) and those without infra- or ultra-vision suffer -1 on ranged attacks only.

Protection from Evil/Good will ward out these effects as appropriate, assuming that the casting cleric is Good or Evil.

The area of effect is centred on the symbol and continues even if it is taken from the cleric, but no cleric can have more than one of these spells in operation at a time; later ones fail upon casting.

Magical items which duplicate the talisman spell power must take the form of holy symbols and never have charges. They are often associated with the tombs of saints (of all alignments).

Friday 25 October 2013

Evil Is As Evil Seems

I'm not bad, I'm just...actually, I am.
Evil is a real force in D&D and the stories it is based on - both traditional folklore and pulp fantasy (and high fantasy, for that matter) view Evil as something that has an effect on the world.

If a witch (hags are the closest that AD&D gets to traditional witches) sets up home hear a stream then you can be sure that the stream becomes filled with slimes and its banks become marshy and unwholesome; the local fauna becomes less and less colourful and fungus will spread. This is not a specific power of the witch, basilisk, or dragon - it is the effect of their Evil nature.

Evil in this sort of fantasy is a corrupting force which can alter nature, causing malformed offspring such as giant versions of normal insects, spiders, frogs, and so forth.

You can still tell it's a wig
I mention this only because it is so tempting to get into a "monster ecology" frame of mind, which I like fine but when the ecology is just real-world issues like predator to prey ratios and logarithmic analysis of female fecundity rates it starts to drift away from monsters being monsters. The term "monster" is in fact one that means something unnatural or outside of normal experience - often an impossible mix like the chimera, the type V demon, or the owlbear.

One aspect of this "fairy-tale ecology" that doesn't go down well in our post-modern world is the reverse of the coin: that Good is normal and normal is Good; indeed that beauty is Good. There is certainly a strong strand of this in folklore and the attitude often leads to real-world racism and xenophobia when the other party does not fit local ideals of beauty (hence all the Nazi head-measuring crap, for example). But over the centuries the inventors of these stories have seen the dramatic possibilities of subverting the trope - of making the beautiful step-mother be, in fact, Evil - that to a degree that has to a degree reversed the notion, so that a person who is too good-looking seems suspicious.

"You look shocking, my dear.
Shocking, geddit? Oh, please yourself."
Frankenstein is an interesting case where the hideous monster seeks a righteous revenge on his initially rather dashing creator, but ultimately he too is unable to really shrug off the burden of that word: "monster".

So there's a double standard here: we very rarely see honourable and upright heroes and heroines who are not good-looking and physically idealized before the 1960's (when the potential for ugly central characters to be "pure of heart" instead really took off), but the beautiful can be Evil.

In AD&D we can see the influence of this pre-modern attitude by a quick scan of the Charisma table on page 13: assassins are the only class with the possibility of Charisma below 6, paladins have to have a charisma of 17, and humans view half-orcs as never more than 12 CHA, reflecting the xenophobia aspect (not quite sure about the druid's place in this).

Tell-tale sign of Evil taint:
two right hands
Interestingly, although I encountered a few characters (either PCs or NPCs in printed material) with high CHA but who were not physically attractive, I don't recall anyone with a character possessing a low CHA but who was supposed to be good-looking, which is an interesting mirror of the asymmetry mentioned above.

When UA added comeliness, the modifiers involved meant that assassins really are uglier than average, and paladins more physically attractive on average. The comeliness rules even have a half-arsed attempt at suggesting that the sufficiently hideous is in fact attractive to those who are Evil. The assumption is that Evil tends towards ugliness and Good towards beauty. They are tangible forces that have effects on living things.

This all links to the central notion of D&D being about archetypes (classes) rather than the much more nuanced character creation of RuneQuest and its descendants (although, of course, there are very few physically attractive Mythos creatures in Call of Cthuthlu). For D&D, simulation is still a key to the rules - they're not intended to be abstract - but it's always good to remember that it's not a simulation of the real world.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Monster/Campaign: The Cuckoos

Aren't they adorable in their little suits?
Who's mummy's little alien seedling?
The Cuckoos are a strange race who's adult form is purely intellectual and is normally encountered only on the astral plane, where it is greatly to be feared. Fortunately for astral travellers, the adult form is the shortest part of the cuckoo's life cycle. Unfortunately for everyone, if the adult form is encountered it is because the cuckoo's are travelling from one world to infect another.

4-24 cuckoos (the number of adults in a normal encounter) will approach a world, spread out over it and each will start a new iteration of their life cycle by creating a psychic "egg" which is used to infect one populated site; the adults dying in the process.

The Cuckoo's Egg
Each adult will attempt to find a settlement of beings with no adult member possessing less than INT 5 which is reasonably isolated (basically, not part of some larger settlement) and capable of being encompassed by the cuckoo's "egg" - an invisible psionic sphere two miles across which has a number of effects.

The first one is somewhat like that of a sleep spell. Any creature within the volume of the egg will fall asleep. Those with less than 2HD get no save; others do and receive WIS modifiers.

The egg's second function is to harass those intelligent beings who prove to be immune to its sleep effect, with the intent of forcing them away from the area. This will take the form of a psionic attack. The egg has 200 attack points, all attack modes and can not itself be psionically attacked. It does not recover attack points, however, so if it can be resisted then it will eventually simply give up.

The egg's primary function is the production of new cuckoos. This is done by causing all the females of child-bearing age to become pregnant. Individuals may make a save versus breath weapon, with WIS modifiers, to avoid this fate. Note that this effect may take some time to become apparent.

Those who are put to sleep by the egg will recall nightmares of a fairly unspecific nature but which in fact create a post-hypnotic desire to protect the young cuckoos when they "hatch" via normal childbirth. This will have a 50% chance of compelling the victim to protect the children both before and after birth, although the strength will fade away by 5% per month after the "happy events".

The future mothers, however, will be specifically targeted by their foetuses prior to birth using the minor psionic discipline of hypnosis and so will be totally incapable of knowingly allowing any action which would threaten the pregnancy.

The Children of the Cuckoos
The young will be born at more or less the same time (and this applies across the infected sites as well as the individuals within each site) but they will manipulate the labours in order to ensure the maximum chance of success viz-a-viz available midwives and other help. Other than this, the chance of a successful birth will be the same as is normal for the campaign world and the specific location therein.

It's easy to spot once you know it's there
Physically, Children will resemble their host race, although probably not their host parent, but will have some distinctive trait that they all share - albinism, violet eyes, long or missing tails if the host is a tailed race, different hair or plumage etc. The difference will be strong and distinct but it will not be physically handicapping.

The stats for the Children are more or less normal. However, they will all have INT, WIS, and CHA rolled on 10+3d3 and they will all be psionically endowed.

At birth, each will have one attack mode and two defence modes, however they will initially rely on their minor discipline of hypnosis.

Psionic strength base is calculated as normal (so there is a minimum score of 3 and a maximum of 84) but no percentile roll is made. Instead, each infant is born with a score equal to their base plus 10 and psionic ability is double this - so from 26 to 188.

Growing Up Different
As the Children grow they add 5 psionic strength points (and therefore 10 points of psionic ability) per year for 10 years. On odd Birthdays, each cuckoo will develop a new attack or defence form (at random but no re-rolls) and on even ones they develop a new minor discipline and add a general level of mastery.

The development of the minor disciplines is such that any particular group of Children will only have a maximum of two examples of each type. On the Birthday, roll for the strongest Child first and then down to the weakest, with later members of the group simply not developing any new ability if they roll one that has already two examples in the group.

It's like Russian Roulette, but
with less uncertainty
No member of the group will willingly stray further than a mile from the others during this period and they will use their hypnotic power to protect themselves and ensure that they are well fed and looked after by their hosts. They will attempt, probably very successfully, to remain hidden from the outside world and strangers will be well-treated initially. Only if they show signs of staying too long or nosing about will any trouble occur.

On the 12th Birthday, the stronger members of the group will decide upon the weeding out process. Any Child with less than 3 minor disciplines, or less than 3 attack forms will be "consumed" in a ritual which results in their psionic points being drained and divided evenly among the "strong" members. If all the surviving Children are classed as weak, they will all die and the infestation will be over. This process is part of their life cycle and individuals will not resist - indeed, can not resist. The host bodies of weak members do not survive this process.

Village of the Damned
The survivors will now have psionic ability scores roughly in the range of 126 to 288 (perhaps slightly more if there were weak members to absorb) and as part of their 12th Birthday development all survivors gain two major psionic disciplines: Mass Domination, and Telepathic Projection. Mastery levels for all psionic effects will be raised to 8th and all the Children make a final roll on the minor table, limited as before to 2 examples of each ability within the surviving group.

The next phase lasts for another 12 years during which the Children gradually dispense with those members of the host community of no use to them - starting with the elderly and those under about 4 years-old. Anyone able to resist the cuckoos in any way will also be eliminated and there will be much less fuss about hiding from the outside world.

Breeding will commence with the adults around them, which will result in cuckoos rather than normal host children, regardless of whether the mother is a cuckoo or a host. Cuckoos can not breed with each other.

Once there is a new generation of 12-year-olds ready to breed, the first generation will leave the area to find new locations where their powers can be used to create ever more cuckoos. Back at the original settlement, once all the host adults are beyond breeding age they will be dispatched (probably at their own hands) and the place abandoned.

Ever Onward
Host bodies will live a normal lifespan, albeit one that has all the advantages that can be obtained by such a species' use of its powers over those around them. When the host body dies, the adolescent (ie one that is more than 11 years-old; young cuckoos simply die if their body is destroyed) is finally released to become an adult without physical form. This adult can produce a new "egg" - perhaps with a new target host race. If no viable sites are available then the adults will form into packs of 4-24 before leaving to find new worlds to consume. Adults gain 4 levels of mastery (ie, 12th) and an additional 20 points of psionic ability.

Violent death of a host body is likely to be accompanied by enough psychic distress to kill the cuckoo itself, unless a save against death is made. If the cuckoo has no class levels (all have the potential to gain levels, but need to find a mentor before the age of 12 in order to fulfil this) then they save as a 4HD monster. The cuckoos will not normally risk suicide unless they have infected a long-lived species, in which case they will end their own lives at the age of about 100. Naturally, they will do this in a way that avoids violence and the need for a saving throw.

Frequency: V. Rare (astral plane only)
# Appearing: 4-24
AC: 10
Move: 24"
HD: 4
% Lair: nil
TT: none
# Attacks: none
Damage: none
Special attacks: Possession, psionics
Special defenses: +2 or better to hit
MR: std
Intelligence: 10+3d3
Alignment: Lawful Evil
Size: M
Psionic Ability: 142+4d4x10
Attack/Defense Modes: var./var.
Lv/xp: V/ 230+4 per hp

For random encounters with adults, assume 1d3+2 attack forms and 1d3+1 defence forms. All adults will have hypnosis, mass domination, and telepathic projection as well as 1d6 other minor disciplines at the 12th level level of mastery.

The adult forms will attack anything they encounter, in order to prevent any warning of their movements. Although normally invisible, the adult form resembles a fuzzy ball which propels itself through the astral plane by will force alone.

Intellectually, the race is detached and aloof, considering all other intelligent PMP races as farm animals to be used as tools and discarded when they are no longer useful. Although not a hive mind as such, they are completely devoted to the survival of the race and will willingly sacrifice themselves for the good of the group and, of course, many will actually have abilities that allow them to work in concert. Although evil, they are not sadistic - they don't care enough about their hosts to engage in that sort of behaviour - although their treatment of the host parents will certainly be cruel.

Children are difficult to stat out as normal monsters as their abilities vary by the host race to some extent. However, they do appear in lair 100% of the time (with treasure appropriate to the location and host) and of course they have psionic abilities which add to the xp value but even these vary with age.

Working together for
a more ordered tomorrow
It is worth remembering that psionics can work together in chains, and even when young the Children will do this in order to maximise their ability to resist any threat to their uncanny "kindergarten". Adults will do this too, of course.

The older adolescents who have moved on from their original homes are more stable and will have the same number of attack modes as the adults, no major disciplines and mastery of their minor disciplines at the 8th level.

Yet another example of my belief that something interesting can be done with the psionic rules even if they are badly written and explained. The monster is of course based on the Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, which was made into a movie called "Village of the Damned" in 1960 (and, bizarrely, remade just four years later as "Children of the Damned"). It also inspired many comic book adaptations and variations, including "Freak Angels", a modern "what if the children had grown up?" look at the idea.

The monster can be used as a one-off, but it also has potential to kick off a major development in a campaign world as various sites are infected, discovered, and tackled while the cuckoos use puppets and possibly their own powers and class abilities to counter any resistance.

Monday 21 October 2013

Magic Item: Potion of Regeneration

Come Prepared
A potion of regeneration contains 3 draughts. A single draught grants one point of regeneration per round for 3 turns; a double grants 2 points per round for 2 turns and consuming the whole potion grants 3 points per round for 10 rounds.

Taking draughts in overlapping stages increases the regeneration ability from that point onwards and shortens the duration, but time already used counts towards the time limit. So, if a character took a single portion and 5 rounds later took the other two, they would have 3hp/rnd regeneration for only a further 5 rounds.

The regeneration is limited to returning the user to the state they were in when the first draught was taken, but otherwise is fully effective. So, for example, if a one-armed man drunk the potion they would not re-grow the arm, but if a person lost an arm while under the influence of the potion it would regrow (in 1 round). Similarly, if a character is reduced from 72hp to 10 before taking the potion, it will only regenerate further damage suffered; it is not a healing potion.

Unlike troll regeneration, the potion will heal any damage even from fire and acid.

The potion will not protect against poison (unless it does hit point damage), nor against effects such as disintegration. A severed head will grow back from the neck down (if the head is destroyed, say by being put into a Green Devil's mouth which is actually a sphere of annihilation, then the potion will fail) in 3d6 rounds. Other than these limitations, any amount of damage which does not reduce the drinker to ash or similar will be regenerated, time permitting.

Other healing magic will work in conjunction with the potion of regeneration, but healing potions use at the same time will require a roll on the potion miscibility table (DMG p119) and any damage done as a result of that roll will not regenerate.

The active ingredient is troll-blood (which is generally very hard to obtain).

XP value: 500
GP value: 1200

Sunday 29 September 2013

Turning Japanese

Nagora is a samurai of great honour
Blog's quiet at the moment as I'm spending a lot of time learning Japanese using Heisig's system and the Obenkyo application on my phone, which is working very well. However, if anyone else is interested in trying this be warned that Obenkyo is based on the 5th edition of Heisig's Remebering the Kanji and the cross-referencing will not work with either the new 6th edition or the older ones.

With 70 minutes to spend on the Tube each day, I've been able to get up to 508 Kanji memorized pretty quickly, which only leaves another 1600 to go!

I have also learned the Hiragana (using Heisig's method as well), but of course that gets you nothing other than the ability to read out some Japanese without any comprehension. Learning 500 Kanji means I've learnt 500 actual words/concepts which I can use to read and comprehend text. This is a lot more satisfying, especially now I work beside SOAS and have access to huge amounts of Japanese books, magazines, and newspapers. As fragments become lines and lines become paragraphs of understandable text it is a great boost to morale and I'd heartily recommend learning Kanji before tackling phonetic Japanese, especially as there are many Japanese books which are almost totally written in Kanji. If you can get a Japanese text about something or somewhere you know about it's useful too; I'm using a Japanese guidebook to London.

The ultimate goal is to be able to visit Japan and be able to get about without help - reading signs, maps and so forth - so verbal communication to others is definitely a secondary requirement for me and I'm happy to leave it until I can read and write useful amounts. The downside is that, as Heisig says, knowing 50% of the 2000 common Kanji isn't really enough - they're genuinely "common" and normal text has a wide variety of them, just as written English casually draws on thousands of words without seeming flowery or overblown. So Heisig presents the Kanji in an order that suits his memorisation method rather than the more normal presentation in frequency order. This means that the symbol for person (人) is #951 in his system, whereas it usually turns up in the first ten or so Kanji in flashcards and dictionaries.

The major downside of not learning the sounds of the Kanji is that it makes it impossible to take advantage of Emac's very impressive Japanese support which depends on the user being able to type the phonetics and then choose from a menu of Kanji.

Heisig's method for the Hiragana leaves something to be desired, by the way, if one is a native English speaker rather than an American. He suggests mnemonics for the sound of each symbol and links that back to a word which has a similar sound in American and if you aren't American it can be rather weird. The worst example is the mnemonic for あ (an "a" sound) which Heisig links to "otter"! Try saying it with a broad American accent and it's a bit clearer: "ay is fer ahtter, y'know?" sort of thing. So, you have to patch the method up a bit if you're not from the right part of the world but other than that it works well and of course the Kanji are not affected by this as he's not trying to teach you the pronunciation of those.

So, that's what I'm doing at the moment.

Saturday 31 August 2013

Beauty is in the Die of the Beholder

If your looks are holding you back,
Get some armour and a small
European country and you'll soon
be beating them off with a stick.
Or a death ray, as the case may be.
D&D had charisma as an "ability" from the start and from that start, the lack of appearance was noted by players, DMs, and adventure writers alike. The idea that charisma subsumed appearance never worked for a moment with anyone I knew and it's still a pretty laughable idea; just talk to a good-looking 18-year-old sometime and test it out.

So, when it was added in UA it should have been good news, surely? All those succubi could be stated out sensibly without giving them huge loyalty bonuses; and handsome rangers could set hearts aflutter across the boarder lands while good-looking rogues could wile their way into the confidences of women without being automatically regarded well by everyone around them.

Yeah, well. You know; didn't work out that way. I think like many others I rejected some aspects out of hand but a recent discussion on DF made me wonder if it was worth surveying it again with a more detached view compared to the exciting days of holding a new AD&D hardback in my hands.

Firstly, there was the name. "Comeliness" is not a neutral word, nor is it an elegant one for the concept. "Appearance" is much better and has the virtue of not abbreviating to something that starts with "Co". Just a plain stupid choice, which I suspect was driven by pride - Gygax simply couldn't admit that so many rival games which had used "Appearance" for years had been right.

Second problem, and the main thing I want to post about: comeliness grants a special power of fascination for the higher scores. Which sounds oookayish, except that "high" starts at 14 in a game which suggested that all player characters should have two scores of 15 or more. So, 14 isn't that impressive sounding to the players.

Heroes are just different.
(click to enlarge and read 2nd paragraph)
But player characters are special. For the bulk of the population, 15 is the highest score they can have and that's only as common as 18 is when rolling 3d6. Combined with a 15 charisma, for a +1 bonus, the best a normal person can hope for is a comeliness of 16. At the other end of the scale, the lowest score possible is 5 - "simply ugly".

In the context of the rules, the 1-in-46656 village heart-breaker is only able to use the fascination power on people with a wisdom score of 8 or less, which sounds fine, really, and probably more of a nuisance than a boon.

But PCs are not normal people and they can have the full range of comeliness from -2 to 21 (-5 to 23 with inter-racial modifiers) and the effects of the fascination are greater as the numbers climb, and not just in proportion.

A character with comeliness of 17 can still only fascinate creatures with wisdom of 8 and under, but with a score of 18 that jumps to 12 for the opposite sex (and starts to work on the same sex, albeit at a lower strength).

The next step up is at a score of 22, which is just about reachable for elves dealing with humans although it would be so incredibly rare as to be insignificant if scores were being generated randomly. While the wisdom score affected remains at ⅔ of comeliness (14 or under at this level), a new power has appeared which means that if such an attractive being actively attempts to seduce a character then they must have a wisdom of 18+ to resist being fascinated.

Fools in love
Strictly speaking, the maximum score is 25 like any other ability, available to a CHA-19+ with a base 18 comeliness and a couple of points inter-racial bonus. The rules however give details for scores up to 30 presumably in the expectation of them being used for an updated Deities and Demigods or something similar. I'm going to ignore this category for now.

In parallel with the fascination power, the new rules say that reaction rolls are modified. Firstly, it seems that ugly characters (scores under 10) simply get a negative reaction. Does this mean no roll is made? Who knows?

For mildly attractive characters in the 14-17 range, the reaction roll is still made and increased by the comeliness score; at 18-21 this is increased to 1½ times the score and at 22 and up the modification is a whopping 2x the score. So that's at least +44%! To put that into context, that on its own is enough to leave just a 1% chance of a reaction below "neutral" and an 88% chance of a positive reaction.

"On its own". Well, is it? Because such a character almost certainly has a high charisma too, which also has a reaction bonus. Combining them simply breaks the system.

On top of that, there's the question of when do the comeliness effects actually apply? Plainly, not while in full plate armour with the visor down. What about when wearing a veil or mask? This is where comeliness gets tricky, because it's in actual play when players want to use or manipulate their comeliness that questions like this come up.

"And where do you keep
your spellbooks, Merlin?"
"Oh, come on! That's got to
be worth +4 at least!"
Leaving that aside for a moment, there is some interesting material in the explanation of the fascinate power. The first one being the saving throw against being manipulated - roll 3d6 and try to exceed the comeliness score in question. Bonuses are given for being asked to do things against one's nature (with +3 or +4 suggested for alignment-changing requests).

Any successful save against the fascination power breaks it permanently. I think this is something that's often overlooked when judging the effect of this power in the game. Until scores get really high, it is reasonably possible to break free quite quickly.

There's also a note about how shape-changing magic works and in particular a mention of polymorphing only allowing a modification of 2 from the figure's original score due to "subtle social clues", which offers a possible solution to the question of hidden faces.

Finally, the whole shebang is modified when dealing across races - and in the special case of drow, across sexes too. Essentially, all the demi-humans and humans are divided into classes and given a modifier for when dealing with others. There are some groupings within these classes whereby two races see each other without modifiers. For example, all races see the grey elves and high elves as having +2 to their comeliness but they do not get the bonus when dealing with each other.

There's an odd note about humans and halflings being paired this way, but since both have a zero modifier it makes no difference anyway.

Drow females get +1 to comeliness from other races, including drow males; drow females view drow males as having a -1 penalty. Which is quirky and quite good, or at least as close to good as anything about the done-to-death clichéd tedium that the drow represent ever gets.

Complicating this further is a note in UA for comeliness of 7-9 which implies that the modifier due to charisma is not received when dealing with other races. Perhaps this is another of those cases where subtle social clues leave the viewer none the wiser about what makes a particular dwarf or elf more beautiful or, as I believe, it's just a mistake in the text. I suspect the idea was to point out that dwarves have a maximum charisma of 16 to non-dwarves and do not get a bonus for higher charisma in those cases.

Evil is as Evil Seems
Did I say "finally"?  I lied. Most of the above is about high comeliness and there is a quirk of low comeliness which reflects some mediaeval views on the subject of beauty (which were themselves rather muddled). Ugly evil creatures are, apparently, seen as beautiful by evil characters so that a negative score in such circumstances is treated as positive.

"You can't book me for 'being funny looking'!"
This effect is mentioned only in relation to scores below -8, so it's not entirely clear whether these scores are the only ones to which it applies. Nor is it clear if anything is meant to be inferred about evil characters and positive scores. And on top of that, harsh rejection by a high comeliness character results in their score being treated as negative by the spurned would-be lover. What if both are evil? Does that mean there's no effect? I doubt it but it's another sloppy bit of thinking in a section of rules that has similar issues, I think.
Since this range of scores is impossible to generate, the questions it raises are only in relation to specifically placed encounters so I guess it's up to the DM, and the same is true of the ultra-high scores. I suppose that it makes some sort of sense in a fantasy world to have evil characters view, for example, both  Juiblex and a succubus as equally attractive.
Interestingly, comeliness is defined in the rules as being something that effects creatures of a human sort, not something only they posses, so the DM is free to apply it to anything that takes his/her fancy as being horrific or beautiful, even if not actually humanoid.
There's a subtext here that evil acts perhaps should reduce comeliness, but that perhaps would not go down well with players. Still, it's an interesting "Dorian Grey" notion that might be worth playing with.

"Okay, that's 700sqft of rug
and one Egyptian queen.
Cheque okay?"
That's the rules as written, pretty well. The problem for me is not actually the power of fascination in itself. Stories are full of examples of great characters (usually men, it has to be said) led astray by beauty and the rule reflects that but is, in my opinion slightly too hard to snap out of at higher scores (technically impossible at scores of 24+).

No, for me the problem is the blanket applicability of of the power. Beauty is not quite subjective in the sense that any particular person is as likely to be classed as ugly as they are to be judged good-looking by each other person. The standards for beauty vary over time, but there are standards and certain people clearly float more boats than others. But who floats every boat? Even Helen only managed 1000.

If I were writing a computer game, I would effectively roll 3d6 and add the charisma modifier each time characters met and record the resulting score for future reference, effectively recording how attractive character A is to character B separately from how attractive they are to character C etc. That's not possible in a pen and paper game, clearly.

What I normally do now is to record the PC's comeliness scores (with charisma mods) and keep them secret from the players. I then pick key figures that they come into contact and check only them for the fascinate effect. Players are free to think of their characters looking god or average or whatever and I'm free to track when it matters whether the rest of the world agrees or not.

I also give the targets of fascination a bonus equal to their own level and a save the first time the power is exerted, whether in  a way which is harmful or unnatural to the character in question or not.

Beyond that, I just use it as a loose guideline. But, having looked over it all again for this post I think I might go back to a more BtB system and see how it works out.

Here's my suggestions for using comeliness:
  • Comeliness trumps charisma for reaction rolls where the character's face and/or body shape is visible. Ugly characters get initial negative responses no matter what their charisma score.
  • If only the face is hidden (by a mask or similar) then inter-racial modifiers are based on expectation or are ignored if there is no expectation.
  • Also, if the face is hidden then comeliness is modified by 2 points towards 11 (so 6 becomes 8; 18 becomes 16).
  • Modifications for dubious requests should be cumulative - so if Mistertique asks the Snow Queen for two unreasonable (or just plain annoying) requests at +2 each, she will get +6 on her save for a third such abuse.
  • Age-related changes in wisdom are matched by equal and opposite changes in comeliness.
  • No effect on the opposite sex, in the general case.
  • Only inflict the fascination power on PCs if the situation is trivial and funny or serious and key to an interesting plot line. Don't bother with every damn shop keeper.
  • Only inflict PCs' fascination power on NPCs if the player specifically tries to use it, if it would be trivial and funny, or it is serious and key to an interesting plot line.
  • Call it "appearance" and abbreviate it to "A".

Saturday 17 August 2013

Fatigue and the Nymph

'Nuff said!
AD&D doesn't have obvious fatigue rules. Which is to say that it has fatigue rules but they're almost unknown as such. The rule in question is under forced movement on page 49 of the Dungeon Masters Guide. The system is fairly simple and has its obligatory "that's just wrong" and "I'm not sure what that means" passages too, for that genuine 1e experience.

The system is this: one can move the normal allowance (whether the DMG's odd-ball hold-over system from OD&D, or the PHB's nicely abstracted system) without penalty.

After that, things get a bit weird and the word "hours" appears in the rules where I think it probably shouldn't and certainly doesn't make sense with the worked example in the text. So, this is my reconstruction of the rule:
  1. For a forced march of 10-30% over normal movement, there is a multiplier of 1.
  2. For a forced march of 40-60%, the multiplier is 2.
  3. For a forced march of 70% or more the multiplier is 3.
The amount of forced march (10-100%) is multiplied by the given value and that is the amount of travel time that is lost on the next day due to resting.

So, a character on horseback (24") has a normal movement allowance of 48 miles in the PHB system. Travelling 55 miles in a day counts as 20% forced march and therefore 20% of the following day is lost to rest, taking that day's base movement down to 38 miles.

If the same horse rider moves 90miles in a day, which is 90% over, then 3x90%=270% of a days travel is lost. In other words, the horse must rest for two days and on the third day will only manage 30% of normal movement, or about 15 miles.

All this resting can be ignored and characters can push themselves, and/or their mounts onward beyond 200% of normal movement. At which point each 10% (or part thereof) extra movement carries a 10% chance, cumulative, of killing "beasts of burden" and reduces the hit dice or level of creatures by 1 until they too drop dead.

The loss of hit dice/levels lasts until the character has rested for 8 hours per 10% movement over 200%.

For an example: a 9th level dwarven fighter with 6" movement can travel (using the simpler PHB system) 12 miles in a day. But there is a battle to get to, and so she marches on doing 20 miles instead (70% over normal). She should rest for more than two days, but can not due to the fact that there's a battle on. Forced to fight, she is only able to contribute as a 2nd level fighter.

That's the whole system and some obvious points are left to the DM. For example:
  1. Can characters rest for some time and recover some levels? I would say yes, so if the dwarven lady was able to rest for a day she would get 4 levels back (at 8hrs per level).
  2. What counts as a "beast of burden"? I take it to mean normal animals such as horses and mules while, for example, a paladin's warhorse would count as a creature with hit dice. I think that it also covers 0-level characters.
  3. How does the loss of hit dice/levels interact with hp? Personally, I would tend towards counting each lost level as loss of hit points at random where applicable. Thus, a 12th level fighter losing 2 levels to fatigue would lose only 6hp but our dwarven lady would lose 7d10hp (I would specifically not add CON modifiers to this) and a thief would suffer damage using d6.
  4. How does lack of rest interact with spell memorization? Actually, I think this is fairly easy to guess; see below.
  5. What's the effect of fatigue on the rider of a horse or other animal? I've no idea on this one but I'm going to try ½ for now and see.
Well, quite
Who Cares?
I'm generally against systematizing any more than is needed - been there, researched the rules for making t-shirts - but fatigue is something that is a common plot device or concern in fiction, and the ability of characters to press on beyond normal limits is something that marks them out as heroes.

Let's get down to generics
Well, this is all nice and good for forced marches; can we use it more generally? I think so. The overall system can be abstracted to:
  1. There is a limit to what normal people can do in some base time period.
  2. There are increments over this which anyone can force themselves to perform which incur what I'm going to call "fatigue points".
  3. Once 10 points have accumulated, beasts of burden have a % chance of dying equal to 10 x fatigue each time a new fatigue point beyond 10 is incurred (so 10% at the 11th point, 20% at 12 etc.).
  4. For each point over 10, characters subtract their one from their level (and, I think, suffer hp damage as appropriate).
  5. Each fatigue point up to 10 requires a number of base time periods times 1, 2, or 3 depending on the maximum total number of points a character has reached since they were last at 0.
  6. Recovery time for points over 10 is 8 hours per point.
  7. Spell memorization is impossible while fatigue points are above zero.
  8. Heal removes all fatigue points.
  9. Cure spells and potions remove one point per d8 of curing done.
  10. Natural healing does not start until fp=0.
For example, characters are normally required to rest a turn in every hour. We could say that pressing on without such a rest counts as one fatigue step per period skipped. For 1-3 such steps the characters have to rest for one hour per fatigue step, for 4-6, two hours, and for 7-10 three hours per step.

So, a party exploring a dungeon is in a hurry and take no breaks for 10 hours. At this point they have 10 fatigue points and each of these will require 3 hours to remove. But at this point they find the lair of a group of drow and enter combat. Rest is also normally required after a combat but the DM rolls a wandering owlbear attracted by the noise and the party are unable to take that rest and so incur another fatigue point, taking them to 11. Each character who fights the owlbear loses one level worth of hit points and performs at one level below normal.

Blocking up the door of an empty room to rest up, the party finally takes a break. The members who did not fight the owlbear will require 30 hours of rest to get back to 0 fatigue, the ones who did will require an additional 8hrs.

Various spells and magic items may modify these effects is more or less obvious ways.

You mentioned "Nymphs". Where are the nymphs?

Monster Name: Ice Nymph

Frequency: Rare
No. Appearing: 1
Armour Class: 6 (10+4 for dex)
Move: 12" (see below)
Hit Dice: 3
% in lair: 10%
Treasure Type: 1-4 Jewels 50%, X
No. Of Attacks: 0
Special Attacks: Fascinate, Stunning
Special Defenses: Immune to cold
Magic Resistance: 50% (12)
Intelligence: High
Alignment: CN(E)
Size: M
Psionics: None
Level/xp: V/330+4/hp

The ice nymph is a nature spirit of water which has been frozen for a long time (i.e, many years). Their normally warm and beneficent nature has become cold and brittle like the water they were born from and they are generally much more hostile than their MM counterparts.

Additionally, their appearance is different and although lively, and lithe, their flesh has taken on the appearance almost of a corpse with blue lips and pale grey/blue skin. Eyes and hair remain as animated and beautiful as ever, however, and it is unlikely that they could be mistaken for undead at any distance under 30' or so.

They share their sister's ability to use dimension door once per day and can also move over ice or snow as if it were dry, firm soil, leaving not even a foot print.

Their druidic spells are normally: 1st) Faerie fire, Invisibility to animals, Predict weather, Speak with animals; 2nd) Cause light wounds, Chill metal; 3rd) Hold animal, Protection from fire; 4th) Quench fire.

While cold-based attacks have no effect on ice nymphs, fire-based ones do an extra hit point per dice of damage.

The change in their appearance has modified the effect of their beauty. Firstly, looking at one causes only a fascination effect whereby those viewing the nymph must save versus spells (with wisdom bonus/penalty, and an additional +4 for females) or be drawn to pursue the nymph for an embrace.

The nymph may give orders to fascinated males by promising various things but each such promise delayed or broken allows another saving throw with a modifier of +1 for each broken promise. Orders which directly harm the victim or their friends or which normally would be against their alignment will additionally allow a saving throw before the order is carried out. Females can not be so manipulated but are otherwise affected by the nymph's aura.

Should the nymph feel particularly threatened, she may disrobe completely. Doing so has the effect of power word stun on all males within 12" on first laying eyes on her. Females are affected but receive a saving throw.

Ice nymphs are generally haughty and arrogant, even those which are not evil, and are loathe to stoop to disrobing and will only do it very reluctantly and usually to take the opportunity to flee. Naturally, they can not be tracked while in their natural environment.

If someone actually manages to get a hold of an ice nymph, their naked touch will cause 1hp of damage per round to both a warm-blooded holder and to the nymph; increasing at the DM's discretion if the contact is extensive. If the grabber is cold-blooded then double damage is only incurred by them and none to the nymph. Undead may handle the nymph without injury to either.

Ice nymphs are only encountered on ice or snowfields and are usually alone. However, 60% (1-12 on d20) of nymphs have 1d4 frost giants as fascinated bodyguards back in her lair (were their treasure will be added to hers), 15% (13-15) have 2d8 wolves who will be nearby, 10% (16-17) have 1-2 polar bears who can be ridden or harnessed to a sledge for transport, and 5% (18) can summon an ice para-elemental (MMII p98) once per week.

A (rare) friendly encounter with an ice nymph may take the form of a distant voice calling out through a storm to guide a lost party to safety. No matter what the weather, an ice nymph's voice always carries as if it were the dead of the stillest night.

A neutral encounter with an ice nymph will usually involve similar use of their voices to play tricks on a party, the severity of which will depend on the exact reaction roll but will not directly kill them.

A typical hostile encounter with an ice nymph will take place when a lone male is out in deep snow which hampers his movement. If there is more than one man the nymph will probably sow discontent. The victim will then be tempted to follow through the snow, either until they collapse from fatigue or encounter the nymph's companions.

Movement through deep snow is very hard work and movement rates should be reduced to ⅓ of normal, to a minimum of 1". Each half hour of such movement counts as one fatigue point as above (with half an hour as the base time period).

In addition, characters who are dressed inappropriately (and removing bulky and warm clothing will be one of the nymph's first suggestions) will suffer additional penalties: firstly, actually taking rest will not help reduce fatigue unless they can find warmth somehow, and secondly, they will receive an additional fatigue point for each one which would normally be incurred.

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