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).