Wednesday 25 December 2019

Rebuilding Hobbits

Art by Jimmy Cauty (of KLF)

A short one to end this series on rebuilding demi-human cultures. “Short” because there is little to say; of all the demi-human races the Hobbit or Halfling is the most like Humans. They reproduce sexually, there is a female which is strongly dimorphic with the male and who carries the child for a long period (6 months) and gives birth to a helpless infant which she then feeds with milk which she produces herself.

The main difference compared to humans is the length of infancy. Halfling children rarely walk before the age of 4 years and are not socially considered adults until they are 33 although they are sexually mature around 22.

Although halflings can have quite large families, they are spread out over a very long period of fertility in the females, who are capable of successfully giving birth for around 80 years. Thus, a hobbit family with 8 children may actually represent as little as one child per decade and in fact most halflings see that as a normal rate of reproduction which allows one child to be “half grown” before their next sibling is on its way.

Family planning is mostly via abstinence, with both sexes’ drives being naturally suppressed while there is a “young” child at home.

This all has had quite dramatic effects on halfling society. In particular, it is very, very conservative and traditional. Hobbits regard having two children in a decade as signs of being a bit of a radical and long childhoods means that family life is very stable. They dislike anything which disrupts that, and by extension, any other part of home life.

This makes them very peaceful and reluctant to go to war in general but civil war is unheard of. Instead, grievances are subsumed into grudges which can last centuries. Outsiders can view these grudges as petty and foolish, but in fact they are a necessary safety valve for what is really quite an emotionally repressed society, at least where there are significant numbers living together.

Another result of these factors is that adultery is a very serious crime which is seen as attacking the foundations of their Lawful society and is usually punished by exile for both parties. Thus, a considerable number of the individuals found outside of halfling lands are there because of adultery in their family history - a fact which causes many of them shame.

Whereas dwarves, elves, and gnomes do have clerics, albeit ones which worship non-human deities, powers and forms, halflings do not bother themselves with the affairs of gods and instead look to nature and druidry for their more spiritual needs.

Even here, the halflings seem to humans to be rather half-sized. Their druids concern themselves only with crops and harvests and other agricultural issues. They have no truck or interest in super-powers like controlling the winds or producing walls of fire, let alone fingers of death and elementals. They have never been interested in or of interest to the Cabal.

Halfling druids’ duties are at home and they will never join any party for more than one adventure and only then if their home land is directly and mortally affected by the goal of the adventure.

NPC halflings can multi-class into druid/thief, druid/fighter, or druid/fighter/thief, although only the first is at all common.

Monday 23 December 2019

Rebuilding Elves

1 Introduction

Following on from the previous two posts it’s time to look at elves.

Elves are more problematic than gnomes, dwarves, or for that matter, hobbits. Gnomes have a very vague and nebulous folklore in Britain and so any game treatment of them is likely to work reasonably well, even if they are a bit too tall. Tolkien’s dwarves stuck fairly well to the well-known tropes of dwarf stories - albeit without the supernatural strength that often appears - and so the fact that the game sticks largely with Tolkien’s version isn’t a problem. This goes even moreso for hobbits who are more or less an invention of the professor from the name down.

Elves, however, are different. The D&D elf is not a Tolkien elf for the most part but at the same time Gygax included the concept of the half-elf which is more or less a JRRT creation. It’s true that there are many stories about elf “changelings” and a few of mortals falling for elves of the opposite sex but the former are not clearly half-elves and the latter are not well known. The biggest influence from Tolkien on the D&D elf is the focus on elvan military harness which was certainly included to allow players to re-run the Battle of the Five Armies from The Hobbit.

With the publication of the game came a culture clash between the largely British Folklore elves of the game and the expectations of a (predominantly American) readership that associated the word “elf” with the super-human race of that name from The Lord of the Rings - which in turn are derived from a much more Scandinavian version of the race.

The British elf is, in folklore terms, a very degenerate version of the Nordic/Anglo-Saxon being of almost god-like power which had first been demonised by the Christians and then reduced from that to a bugbear and finally to a race of tricksters who were a threat only at an individual level.

Shakespeare mixed in, or preserved, a tinge of their original magical and immortal character as well as the concept of the Seelie Court with a King and Queen ruling not just the elves but all fairy folk.

None of this has really ever bothered me personally - I read Tolkien long after starting to play D&D and never considered them as anything other than what I think Gygax had in mind - the little people of the woods.

For my purposes here, the main problem reconstructing elves along reproductive lines is the constraint of retaining half-elves, a popular and fun game race which I want to keep in play more or less un-touched.

Well, let’s get on with it.

2 Songs from the Woods

The elves are the tallest of the “little people” as humans call them. An adult male elf can look eye-to-eye with many adult female humans. Male elves range from 4’8“ to 5’6”; females from 4’2“ to 5’.

But this is a generalisation as the elves are almost as varied as the dwarves, and in ways which are more substantial than just skin and hair colours. For elves are creatures literally of the forest and the nature of an elf is bound up with the nature of the forest in which it initially grew and to the Deep Wood to which it can retreat or return when the world of humans becomes tiresome.

The Deep Woods

In elvan parlance, forests are divided into two types: the Plain Woods and the Deep Woods. The Plain Woods are, generally, woods which can be crossed in half a day’s walk, or are artificially planted, or which have permanent intelligent inhabitants other than rangers or the creatures of “Faerie”. These woodlands can not allow entry to the true Faerie realm.

The Deep Woods can be reached by an elf (or any Fay being) by entering a wood and walking for more than three hours beyond any part of it which could be classed as Plain Woods. This process will take the elf into the Faerie version of that woodland - the Deep Wood - and it can be assumed that entry by any non-fey being will be detected and assumed to be hostile until proven otherwise.


Faerie is in effect the great Forest from whence all the creatures called “Fey” derive and the elvan word for “world” is indeed “forest”. This forest includes realms of snow and of steaming tropical jungle, as well as lakes and oceans. In D&D terms it is in fact a parallel material plane where there are no humans - and where humans are not welcome. It links to many of the material planes through naturally occurring conduits which connect the world forest to the lesser forests of those planes. Note that these links join similar types of woodland - jungle to jungle, kelp to kelp etc - each of which is thought of as a different Deep Wood.

Faerie experiences the seasons one would expect based on the type of tree but there is no wooded region which ever experiences 24hrs of day or night - 4hrs is about the minimum length of either (other regions do exist but they are not wooded). The sun of Faerie is very like that of Earth, but perhaps slightly more golden, and the single moon is a similar size and colour but the face of the “Man in the Mood” is slightly more like a real face but its features are changeable. Although the moon goes through the normal phases, the face is always at the same angle to the viewer, implying to some sages that Faerie itself is not a sphere.

The native beings of Faerie include many of the standard D&D monsters: all the standard demi-human races, all the beings listed as “humanoid” for rangers, dragons, unicorns, pixies, brownies, slyphs, dryads and nymphs, satyrs, giant versions of normal woodland animals (including giant lynx) as well as their normal counterparts, hags and annises, myconids, heraldic beasts (griffons, wyverns, and so on) etc. although not all of these are encountered in the same Deep Wood.

Almost all of these beings are able to walk through to the forests of the other PMP worlds, but only the more intelligent can easily find their way back in again, thus various creatures from faerie can be found wandering so-called “human lands”.

Travel from one part of the Great Forest itself to another takes a very long time unless aided by magic, and many creatures there do possess such magic, but it can be done. However, reports indicate that returning to whence once entered the wood can prove even more difficult.

Along the way, travellers will cross elven kingdoms and estates as well as the territories of various beasts and beings who may not be friendly.

It is not known as the Perilous Realm for nothing.

A Note on Alignment

Elves are as a rule Chaotic Good. Their social structure is one where social status is gained by actions rather than birth or wealth. Elves of lower status mostly obey or follow those of higher status due to admiration, and certainly not through fear.

The “Good” aspect of their alignment is most strongly expressed in relation to other inhabitants of Faerie. Foreigners who do no harm will not normally be robbed or killed. Initial responses will be to “guide” them back out of the woods and to their own lands.

Persistent visitors or ones overtly damaging the Wood or its inhabitants will be warned off and, eventually the elves will respond with force, either magical or martial depending on immediately available resources.

Although strong, elves are not capable of achieving the levels of ability that humans are and so it is difficult for them to eliminate some of the more powerful evil beings which are native to their woods - anni and dragons, for example. Agreements may exist between the elves and such beings which prevent all out war between them and which even allow the elves leeway to call on them if some common threat appears.

Thus, a particularly troublesome party invading the Deep Wood may find themselves facing not only elf maids on unicorns, but elf wizards riding green dragons!

The elves’ alignment will allow these measures only to combat some unambiguous danger and their potential allies will only cooperate if they can see no advantage of siding with the interlopers, so it’s a delicate balance.

Time and relative dimensions in Faerie

Faerie has one big downside. Time passes in a strange way, usually much more slowly than in the planes it touches but not consistently or predictably.

The mental state if a being affects the passage of time for an individual. The net effect is not problematical for trees and plants, or the less intelligent animals. But the other denizens: including dragons, bugbears, goblins, elves and so forth, must reproduce elsewhere or their young do not develop “properly”.

Hence they must travel out of the Deep Woods and into the human worlds where time is less flexible and more predictable. The different creatures do this at different points in their reproductive cycle, goblins being quite lax about it and dragons the most careful - leaving Faerie even before eggs are laid. Elves have three distinct phases to their infancy, of which only the last is normally completed Outside.

3 Seedlings

Elves conceive largely as humans do, although generally with much less frequency. Their long lifespans mean that there’s no hurry and many elves do not reproduce until they are over one hundred years old. Actual mating is a very personal event and almost never takes place in human lands but in the Deep Woods of either partner.

When they do choose to conceive, the chance of success appears to be 100% and a few weeks after the coupling the female will secret a small seed-like object. In theory this seed can be planted in any wood but in reality only desperation will lead to a seed being planted outside the Deep Woods. The seeds sprout into plants, like young versions of the trees associated with the father’s background but after a year, or perhaps two in colder regions, a flower similar to the ones on the mother’s ancestral trees will bloom and the falls away revealing a large pod.

This pod must be taken by pixies (sometimes brownies) and carefully opened to reveal what appears to be a young pixie. This pixie-elf will be cared for for 2 years. At the end of this time, it will become soporific and the pixies (or brownies) must weave a cocoon for it using dryad hair or some similar material. Inside this cocoon the pixie will become a baby elf, almost indistinguishable from a human baby. At that point the child must be removed from Faerie lest its developing mind interact with the nature of the plane and warp the child in strange and possibly unfortunate ways.

Normally it will then be raised for 20 years by the surrogate family on some other plane. But sometimes they may shirk their responsibilities by switching it for a human child (pixies being neutrally aligned; brownies never do this, although they may in dire straits try to add the child to a human family if there is no other safe option). What the pixies do with the human children is a mystery, but this may be the source of some of the unique monsters of Faerie.

At the end of this time, the elf parents will be contacted and the child returned to its family if possible and entering Faerie will be safe for it.

Because the female elf needs to put relatively little physical energy into childbirth, and takes no role in feeding the child, sexual dimorphism in elves is slight and sex in general plays a minor role in their society.

However, although among elves friendship is more highly prized than sexual partnership, the two can certainly overlap and long-term pairing of male and female elves are by no means unusual or remarkable.

Bardic songs about elves often include strong elements of what we would think of as “Courtly Love” and the sort of romance that one finds in Arthurian stories, and the admiration for this has influenced some human leaders and through them their kingdoms.

However, long-term pairings (and groupings) of same-sex elves is much more common than in human societies, leading to the words “fairy”, “fey”, and even “pixie” and “elfin” becoming pejorative words - or sometimes just plain synonyms - for homosexuality in many human societies.

4 The Races

We’ll look at the main races as classified by humans into Wood, Grey, High, Drow, Valley, and Aquatic.

The elves do divide themselves into groups or types and there is some overlap with the human ones, but in general the elves use much more fine-grained terms even when dealing in generalities and each “family” of elves is treated as an individual type when dealing with specifics.

Wood Elves

“Wood elves” is the human term for the common elves of the broad-leaved temperate ancient woodlands of oak etc. The broadness of this categorisation ensures that they are the most numerous. In fact, of course, there are many types of elves which elves themselves would recognise as different caught up in this definition and none of them is especially numerous.

Regardless of this taxonomic note, the Wood Elves are generally the most conservative and private of the large groupings - we’ll look at Valley Elves later - and are much less likely to be encountered in human lands than in Faerie itself; they are Rare in the former and Common in the latter.

Wood elves receive +1 STR and -1 INT rather than the modifiers in the PHB.

Grey Elves

The grey elves are generally those elves from woods dominated by cedar, beech, and hard maple type trees. They are the nobility of Faerie.

Grey elves must have INT 9+ and DEX 8+ in addition to other requirements. Modifications are +1 Wis, +1 Dex, and -1 CON rather than the values in the PHB.

High Elves

The high elves are the most outward-looking of the elves, although that’s a low bar, and by far the most frequently encountered in human lands or planes. Their woods tend to be birch, rowan, or even ash.

The modifications for elves in the PHB are for high elves.

Dark Elves

The dark elves come from the snowy evergreen woods of high latitudes or altitudes. Their skin is the blue-white colour of virgin snow, their hair of the deep shadows of a moonlight forest. Their young are raised by ettercaps and cocoon in spiderweb.

Chaotic and evil, they band together only in order to attack a strong opponent and feel no obligation to each other or to any “king” or “queen of the elves”. To the outsider it may seem that they are an exception to the rule that elven society is never ruled by fear, but in fact dark elves follow the leader most able to inspire fear in others, and an attempt to directly dominate the dark elves would be met with derisive laughter and contempt.

However. They are not numerous and they are often brought to heel by other Fay who can threaten them with force - the only language they respect. They also embody the sort of racial arrogance which other elves are prone to in their worst moments and will side with their relations against any serious human incursions, never dealing with humans as equals, although they may feign cooperation or even friendship when they actually feel nothing but distain.

Dark elf PCs must have a STR and CON of 7+ in addition to other requirements. They receive +1 Dex, -1 CHA and -1 WIS instead of the modifications in the PHB.


The drow are a mythical race of elves who live underground. It’s not clear how they would reproduce and so the assumption is that they do not exist.

Unusual Woodlands

Valley Elves and Grugach

These elven types are emblematic of the fact that the true effect on the nature of the elves is not so much the type of trees found in their wood, but the nature of the forest.

These types are examples of elves from woodlands which are isolated geographically. The elves of the Valley of the Mage dwell in woods which benefit from a micro-climate, resulting in a woodland of deciduous trees inhabited by animals more native to pine forests.

Grugach similarly are found in forests which are very isolated, for example on islands, and which have no other permanent settlement by intelligent creatures, not even ents or their ilk.

Other examples exist, including elves from jungles and eucalyptus woodlands, sequoia forests - basically any distinctive type of forest will result in some equally distinctive elven inhabitants (if it has any).


An extreme example of this are the aquatic elves, the most well-known of which are the kelp elves (not to be confused with Kelpies, or for that matter mermen).

The kelp elves have +1 STR, +1 DEX, -1 INT and -1 WIS in place of the PHB modifiers.

They are generally hostile to humans by association with fishermen who kill not only fish but dolphins and (usually accidentally) the elves themselves.

They have a 15“ swimming rate and although, like other elves, they suffer no short-term ill effects from leaving their ”native“ forests, they can not survive on land for more than two rounds, after which they temporarily lose one level per round until death at level -1.

Their clerics have spells specifically to allow more time on land, and the frequent trade meetings between aquatic and land elves will always include a cleric who will ensure that there is time not only for trade but also for some festivities.

Aquatic elves can not breed with land elves, but can breed with humans.

Internal Relations

Because they reproduce sexually, elves are much more prone to internal division and strife than the dwarves or gnomes and at times this can result in open warfare between even groups, even those which share the same ancestral woodlands.

External Relations

Elves and dwarves do not get along well due mostly to the latter’s use of wood for fuel and construction (pit-props, mostly).

The more itinerant nature of gnomes has the effect of preventing long term damage to relations with any one group of elves and so relations are on a much better footing than the dwarves’.

Halflings have fairly simple needs and are capable of supplying them from their own managed woodlands; their lack of interest in expansionism makes them another generally acceptable race.


The relationship with humans is strained for similar reasons to the dwarves but the human talent for managed forestry mitigates this and elves generally are only slightly suspicious of humans. As human populations expand, however, there are always going to be flash points when farmers start assarting.

The elves do struggle to understand how a race as short-lived as humans can manage to do so much, and the more rural wood elves are more likely to be hostile to humans - engaging in “tricks” which can escalate to hazardous levels. Grey elves are least likely to have anything to do with humans but if humans blunder into their territory the elves will take action and will be very harsh judges of alignment indeed. Crimes against the forest or elves may result in capital sentences, geases, charming, hostage-taking, or other measures designed to prevent repeat offences and the grey elf preference for humans is closer to ’A’ than ’N’.

High elves tend to be more exploration-oriented and are certainly the most likely sub-group to be encountered outside of their forests. They have most knowledge and understanding of human ways but this is a mixed blessing and the overall result is that they are also rather suspicious of humans.


Elves can not reliably without access to the worlds that they enter from the Deep Wood so it is vital for the long-term viability of any elf family that they continue to have access to and from the Deep Woods. This makes them vulnerable to being cut off deliberately by hostile actions.

Thus, most of the “foreign policy” of the elves revolves around protecting ancient woodlands in the normal material planes from interference which would break the link back to Faerie.

Some of these enemies are other Fey - including dark elves working against other elves, evil dragons and so on - and some are simply forces of evil who desire to cut humans off from useful allies or who just want to wipe out elves in general.

Elves can be seen by humans as flighty and unreliable when their forests are not at stake; they become very serious when they are.

5 Orcs

Orcs are a special problem for me as I don’t normally use them. Unlike Hobbits, there is absolutely no folklore basis for orcs to make them universal enough that they don’t intrude a specifically Tolkien element into a campaign.

However, since I’m trying to rebuild the core races I need to include some handling of orcs for the same reason that elves have to be sexual: the existence of half-orcs as a player character race.

Indeed, this neatly mirrors the Tolkien orcs as for a long time JRRT viewed them as corrupted elves and in the Lord of the Rings there’s hints that the orcs are as long-lived as elves as a result.

Tolkien himself initially called orcs goblins but that did not serve his purposes very well and they became something different and much more brutal and bestial. As a symbol of Evil’s power to corrupt there was nothing better than the idea of the beautiful and noble (but hubristic) elves being debased to the level of Shagrat and Gorebag.

This notion proved untenable in the long run (the sheer number of orcs was probably the issue) and Tolkien moves away from it in his later letters. But, as in D&D, he left behind the concept of the half-orc.

In D&D we are told that there are female and young orcs. Given the vicious and clannish relations of the orcs, I think the best approach is to run with that and have orcs reproduce with each other in more or less the same way that humans do - not inheriting the reliance on trees which elves do and so leaving them free to destroy forests as a way of hampering and harassing their elven ancestors.

Orcs can also reproduce with humans, but no other races, not even the elves.

Reincarnation gone wrong

A more subtle influence of Tolkien on D&D is that elves can not be resurrected, only reincarnated.

Put simply, I propose that any evil elf reincarnated as “elf” will have a 50% chance of being reincarnated as an orc, whether rolling on the druid or magic-user tables.

In addition, reincarnation should be ca stable on orcs - which is probably already the case.

Saturday 14 December 2019

Rebuilding Gnomes

A young adult Gnome, only 90 years old

1 Introduction

Following on from the previous post here’s a look at gnomes under this thought experiment. Gnomes are like dwarves in that they are not the result of sexual reproduction. They are instead created through a combination of ritual and geology. However, this connection with dwarves is fairly superficial and in many ways they are closer to humans than their supposed "cousins".

2 Nodules and Eggs

Although gnomes and dwarves are similar in appearance and both frequently dwell underground in well-kept and clean “mines” they create themselves they actually have little else in common, although the races tend to get on well and do form mixed settlements from time to time.

Whereas dwarves are created from fixed magical pots in the rock, gnomes are born from geological nodules which are found in relatively small groups.

Consequently, gnomes tend to be nomadic (gnomadic) and each group cycles through stages of hunting for nodules, mining and developing the nodules into new gnomes, and then after maybe 5 or 10 centuries in one place, the seam is worked out and they abandon their town for the open road and more exploring.

The nodules are special in some way which human sages have not ascertained but which dwarves and kobolds do understand intimately (but keep to themselves). They need to be treated by a ritual which uses electrum (a natural alloy of gold and silver) and powdered gems.

The problem is that the same nodules treated with just silver and powered gems can be hatched out into kobolds. Consequently, the war between the gnomes and kobolds is unending.

Whereas kobolds tend to horde the eggs/nodules for when they need to replace losses or just need a boost to the labour force, gnomes generally try to develop them immediately. Once consequence of this difference is that humans believe that little gnomes are found (sort of true) while kobolds lay eggs (not at all true).

Whereas dwarves have no females, gnomes do have what in human terms seem to be females, with breasts for suckling the young gnomes. Unknown to most humans, these females are also population pool for the gnome’s clerics and in that sense some are also the “mothers” of the baby gnomes. It is just about possible for a male gnome to be a cleric but only if somehow all the females in a clan are wiped out. Otherwise, whatever principle is the source of their clerics’ power will not answer any male’s attempts to gain spells. This situation may also arise during the formation of a new clan but even then it is very rare.

Gnomes do not view the raising of a child in the same way that humans do; it is more of a social duty and they have no real analogue for words like “father”, “mother”, or attendant concepts like siblings and extended family. Naturally, an individual is likely to become emotionally close to those that raised it, assuming that they were raised well which is almost universally the case but there is no idea of blood-ties, let alone negative institutions like blood-feuds or even blood-money.

The sex of a child is determined by the cleric who performs the ritual to hatch the egg.

3 Tell Your Fortune, Deary?

One consequence of this reproductive cycle is that gnomes have an entirely different relationship with the outside world than dwarves do, as once or twice a century the whole clan must up-sticks and travel in search of a new supply of nodules, a process which itself might take a century or two.

Thus, they must cross other lands and deal with other races rather than always being locked away in splendid isolation like the mountain dwarves.

Such groups normally travel in brightly-painted caravans pulled by stout ponies, often putting on fairs or magic-shows in the places they pass through, giving them a justified reputation for levity and fun. As with many demi-humans, their relationship with humans is tainted by a belief that gnomes are also good thieves and that they are good thieves through practise. In fact, this is rather true. But most gnomes restrict their stealing to very wealthy or evil victims and frequently try to help those worse of than themselves if they can, even humans.

Unlike dwarves, gnomes have managed to work around their own anti-magical nature by harnessing the simpler types of illusions and phantasms rather than “true” magic. A few have in fact mastered - if that’s not too strong a word for 2nd level spells - the spells of the magic-user.

Their other great magical interest is in alchemy and in particular the detection and/or identification of nodules which will produce new gnomes.

4 Alias, Smith and Gnomes

Although the best gnome smiths exceed the skill of the best dwarven ones, their relative lack of martial prowess means that it’s very hard to find gnomish weaponsmiths of the quality needed to create the more powerful magical arms and armour. However, gnome jewellers are unrivalled outside the grey elvan courts and many amulets and rings as well as items like the figurines of wondrous power are of gnomish design.

5 We Are All Different

Gnomes show both more variety within a clan than dwarves do, and also much less as a race. There is a woody tone to their skins, which can range right up to a pale birchwood shade or down to a rich oak but never the pale chalk white or the deep coal black that some dwarf clans can exhibit.

They can and do burn in hot climes and one of their alchemical tricks is a very effective suncream for when they are migrating across such areas.

Alignment is much more variable too, and can be NG, LN, LG, or (rarely) N. Whether this is connected to where a particular gnome’s nodule was found and/or the ritual for birthing is unknown to those outside the gnome clergy (and possibly to them too).

Various prophecies circulate amongst the gnomes about nodules and possible future leaders and villains of the gnome race, but it is up to the individual DM to decide what they may be and whether or not they are accurate.

Innate languages and skills are just that - innate and do not need to be taught.


Kobolds are basically evil gnomes. The only objective physical distinctions are skin colour, which generally is darker and has a red tinge of varying depth, and of course the two little horns.

They also appear to humans at least to be rather ugly compared to the gnomes and where gnomes take pride in their dress and usually prefer not to remain in their work clothes at the end of the day (or night), kobolds are almost never seen except in the leather aprons, ragged shirts, or mouldy cuirboili which embody the individual’s current role in kobold society. Flat caps are ubiquitous, some using them to hide their horns while others cut holes in the caps (or peaks) to show them.

Kobolds hatch the nodules in a similar way to gnomes but they use silver in the process, which is overseen by a witchdoctor. Nourishment of the young is more or less the same as with gnomes but the kobold “mothers” are, to say the least, less caring. Where gnomes see it as a duty, kobolds are more likely to see it as a chore and to expect the growing child to “repay your debt” by indentured service. From this poisonous seed so grows the whole foul tree of kobold society, which is bound together by a grudging sense of obligation as well as the knowledge that almost everything in the world dislikes kobolds and is stronger on an individual basis.

The gnomes say that the fact that kobolds use only silver - a metal that tarnishes - in their ritual is the source of their own moral tarnish.

As mentioned, kobolds tend to horde nodules until the hassle of raising the children is seen as being outweighed by the utility of having them around. The brighter kobold leaders also know that disaster can strike at any time in the form of an incursion of gnomes or dwarves (or even elves!) and it pays to always have some young kobolds developing to fill any holes that appear in the rank and file due to holes unexpectedly appearing in the rank and file.

Nodules (for both races) develop and hatch very quickly after the birthing rituals, perhaps just a few hours. This means that in theory, a nodule is not a kobold nodule or a gnome nodule until that point. However, gnomes have always been squeamish about claiming a nodule from a defeated kobold stronghold unless the kobolds had themselves stolen the nodules from the gnomes in the first place. The latter is a possibility as the kobolds not only do not have such qualms but see gnomes as a potential way of avoiding the work of mining for nodules in the first place (and of course, they just enjoy depriving the gnomes).

After a kobold lair is cleared out, gnomes will generally smash any nodules they find “in case they’re tainted”.

6 Gnome Homes

At least in temperate regions, gnomes are much more partial to the open air than dwarves and will for preference build a village above mine workings rather than live permanently underground. If the geology is appropriate, they will build burrows very like hobbit holes. They especially love to garden and no gnome has really made it until they have a fish pond by which to sit and while away a long summer evening.

In hot or high terrains, they will retreat underground to control their climate but still usually retain a fairly visible presence on the surface even if it’s just a single building in which to meet human-sized visitors and traders.

A healthy and lucky gnome clan will grow over time and eventually it will split, usually into two groups of 200 or more adult “males” in each, divided along age lines. The eldest group will leave the current site, which becomes the “inheritance” of the younger group.

7 Changes to the MM

(Additionally to what is listed). For every 50 gnomes encountered there will be one fighter/illusionist of 1st-3rd level (same level in both classes). For every 150 encountered there will be an illusionist of 4th to 6th level and any clan with 360 or more members will have a 7th level illusionist (80%) or a 6th/6th fighter/illusionist (20%). If there is a 7th level illusionist, there is a 5% chance that s/he is also a 1st-4th level magic-user.

20% of gnomes will have a thief level of 1d12 and 1% of these will instead be assassins of the indicated level. These will be in addition to any other classes they have advanced in.

Saturday 7 December 2019

Rebuilding Dwarves

Art: Ben Hodson 

Following on from the previous post, here’s a look at dwarves under this thought experiment.

1 (N)PC Clerics

The fact that dwarven clerics were only NPCs always sparked ideas in my head about what was so special about being a dwarf cleric that they had no time for adventuring.
Some of the answers are hidden below, but the obvious answer in these posts is that they are intimately concerned with creating new dwarves from the pots.
Slightly awkwardly, of course, the PHB rules don’t allow dwarves to reach “high priest” level, although I allow that for WIS scores over 18. UA confused the issue by making dwarf clerics just the same as any other clerics.
On the one hand, it was nice that players could play dwarves with some type of magic. On the other it seemed to rob them of a big part of their mystery.
But, even sticking with the PHB, there is surely scope for dwarven PCs of levels too low to play a key role in the reproduction of the tribe.

2 Here we Stand (yes, we are standing)

The pots from which dwarf children (they’re not really babies) emerge are large and carved into the solid rock, much like the Cambodian temple in the illustration. If a pot ever becomes disconnected from the living rock it becomes inert and only a limited wish, alter reality or wish spell can restore it (roll 1d10 and if the result is equal to or less than the level of the spell used it has succeeded. Failure means that spell will never work for the specific pot). As an aside, the pots must be pots for technical, practical, and ritual reasons; they can not be pits.
Because of this, dwarven tribes are very strongly tied to the location of their pots and the creation of a new tribe - which requires the creation of new pots - is a rare thing. Each dwarf is strongly and instinctively protective of the pot in which it was created and if placed in a dilemma between protecting it from imminent damage and obeying an order to leave (or similar), will have to make a loyalty check at -30%.
The importance of the pots, and their nature, mean that there are almost no modern cases of pots being constructed in the open air - although there may be some ruined sites around the world. Almost all dwarven homes are therefore underground.
All of the ritual and paraphernalia associated with creating new dwarves, and still more that associated with the creation of pots, is very secret indeed and very little has leaked out even to the normal dwarf-in-the-hall, let alone humans and their ilk.
However, whatever is done and however it is done is surely fertile grounds for creating macguffins for scenarios and NPCs on various missions. Perhaps the rood-flangler has been stolen and no new dwarves can be created until it is retrieved, or replaced by one languishing in a deserted dwarf city.
Perhaps the melding irons have become distended by some careless use and only meteorite iron can be used to mend them… etc. etc.

3 Diversity

Dwarves are probably the most diverse races in the campaign world. Each tribe, indeed each pot, produces young dwarves who’s appearance reflects the stone from which the pot was carved. Hill Vs Mountain is the most well-known distinction but that is crude compared to the subtle differences between granite and basalt, limestone and marble dwarves.
The differences are often only something that a dwarf can see - and almost all dwarves can recognise the tribal affiliation of another dwarf on site, assuming that the viewer already has knowledge of the other tribe. Sometimes the differences are visible enough that even humans and elves can see them - some chalk and flint dwarves (pech) have very pale skin indeed, and a few marl tribes even have blue or green skin. Hair colour varies from steel-grey to jet black and rarely changes with age, making it hard for outsiders to judge the age of a dwarf on first meeting, although there is a tendency in some tribes to age-related baldness.

4 The Great Outdoors

Although dwarves spend a lot of time underground and are famous devourers of mushrooms and fungi of all sorts, many hill dwarves are in fact farmers and many hunting tribes are formidable hunters.
Most dwarves share a deep love of nature and beauty, adorning their underground homes with things which remind them of the world outside their stone mansions - gold, silver, and copper flowers and trees displayed in caverns whose ceilings are studded with gems representing the night sky.

Martial Arts

The fact that dwarves can not easily move location, and the disaster that befalls a tribe whose home is overrun, means that dwarves have always been strong on the field of battle. As well as possessing keen tactical minds, their smiths have reach pinnacles of weapon-crafting only surpassed by the elves, who may have more than a thousand years extra practise compared to even the most venerable dwarven smith.
Homelands are always well stocked against siege, as retreat is never an option and it is rare indeed for any dwarf to be captured alive if a homeland is conquered.
Dwarves need not devote any bodily energy to reproduction and they are tough and strong far beyond a similar-sized human, or even many human-sized humans.

5 Diplomacy? That’s a Game, Isn’t It?

Because of the above factors, dwarven homelands are always self-sufficient and the need to hold or control territory sufficient to support that is the most common cause for conflict between dwarves and other races (since tribes are always settled at a safe distance, there’s no case recorded of dwarf Vs dwarf combat).
It is also a reason why dwarves tend not to be good at diplomacy or even plain old tact; they simply don’t need to be. They also don’t normally need to trade, another activity which helps knock the corners off a race (see the upcoming gnome post). Hill dwarves are somewhat more prone to interaction with others, simply because they tend to live in more accessible areas, but even they are not normally much involved with their neighbours.
This does not alter the fact that dwarves are generally Good-aligned but it’s a very metaphysical alignment. They are hard to fool, cautious, and frequently disinterested enough to be hard to corrupt. They also have been the victims of some of the world’s worst underworld monsters. So they are not tools for Evil and generally go beyond that, eschewing neutrality as well.
However, on an individual level they may seem gruff to the point of grimness unless they’ve had a few drinks. At such times they can surprise companions by eloquent discussions of what constitutes great Art, or even recite poetry extolling the wonders of the natural world - although few of these are in a human language.


Dwarves are apparently born/created with language imprinted in their minds. The few foundlings ever raised outside of the homelands have grown up speaking the language of their upbringing but also perfectly able to speak the tongue of their birthplace.
Each dwarven language is intelligible to every other and as such they are really dialects and sometimes a dwarf who struggles to understand another will say something like “His speech is very slatey,” or “There’s a strong greensand tone to his voice”. These dialectal variations seem to be wider than the differences seen in appearance.

6 The Crackpots

But not everything in the world of dwarves is rose-quartz.
It is said that a pot can be damaged or can develop a flaw before, possibly long before, it is noticed by the priests in charge of the making-rituals.
The resulting dwarves are known as “duergar” - literally “crackpots” in an ancient dwarven tongue.
The evil nature of these dwarves will eventually be found out. If the problem is caught early, then the individual or two will simply be killed. If the problem has been able to fester the result will usually be akin to civil war. This has destroyed the pots of more than one homeland, scattering the survivors from both sides out into the world, or the underworld.
Constant strange behaviour my any dwarf can lead to whispers of “he’s cracked” or “There’s a chip off there somewhere” and so on.

7 Race Relations


As discussed, dwarves have little contact with humans for the most part. They view human society as very badly organised and prone to outbreaks of evil behaviour. As such they remain cautiously unenthusiastic in their dealings with humans - neither shunning them nor trusting them overmuch.
For their part, humans tend to melt all demi-humans into the same category of “nimble-fingered foreigners” and view the dwarven desire for beautiful things as the result of barely controlled congenital greed.


The mutual dislike of dwarves and elves comes mostly from the fact that many dwarven homelands depend on wood for fuel. There are exceptions where coal has been found but broadly speaking, dwarves cook their meals and sometimes prop up areas of weak tunnel using wood.
For mountain dwarves this dislike is reinforced by their relatively constant trouble with the Dark Elves - the snow-skinned nocturnal terrors of the high woods and frozen lakes. Dark Elves are practically the only surface-dwelling race that the mountain dwarves encounter with any frequency and they tend to tar the other elves with the same brush. It is not helped by the fact that many elves will not speak against the Dark Elves for reasons of kinship - a reason the asexual dwarves find to be weak.
Hill dwarves might be expected to be rather less hostile to elves as they have much more contact with the typical elf - the small flighty, fun-loving spirits of the wood as well as their taller and (slightly) more serious cousins - but they are also much more likely to be in dispute over access to trees.


As miners, dwarves particularly hate kobolds and will generally attack them on sight unless the weaker kobolds outnumber the dwarves by three or more to one.

8 Changes to the MM

  • Dwarves do not have females and all references to such will be confused observations of dwarves aged under 30, when the full beard starts to develop.
  • “Young” dwarves are those dwarves aged under 10. A dwarf resembles a beardless garden gnome in size when it first emerges from its pot. They are “born” with full knowledge of their language (and the other languages listed for PC dwarves) and all the lore which allows them to detect secret doors, sloping passages and so on, as well as an instinctive talent for carving stone.
Next: Gnomes.

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Sex and D&D: Making alien babies

It's what it's all about

"I don't understand - what does
'plant your seed' mean in your land?"
Almost all human history, politics, art, science, and behaviour is shaped by reproduction - how we do it, how it works, who decides. So I was thinking that if we change those things we almost inevitably start to approach a much more genuinely alien race. So, here’s a set of ideas to change the demi-humans.


  • Dwarves do not reproduce biologically. Dwarven clerics use secret rituals to make new dwarves in huge stone pots. If these are destroyed, the tribe is effectively doomed to extinction unless new ones are made, and it’s very very hard to make them.
  • Young dwarves (i.e., under 30) do not have beards and are sometimes mistaken for females.
  • All dwarves have penises, which are for waste excretion only.


  • Gnomes also do not reproduce biologically, but are dug out of geodes in metamorphic rocks.
  • Most of gnome society is devoted to finding seams of these geodes.


  • Kobolds (evil gnomes) also breed using these same geodes. 
  • They have a process which converts the geode's contents into kobolds instead of gnomes. The process uses silver and they prize this metal higher than any other.
  • They also preserve the stones rather than "hatching" them immediately in the way that gnomes do. The stockpiles of geodes has lead outsiders to believe that kobolds are oviparous.
  • The geodes are saved for when new silver or gem seams are found and the tribal leaders want more labour. Kobold children - "scamps" - can work usefully from the age of two.


  • Female elves have a gestation period of about two weeks, at the end of which they secrete a small seed which must be planted and tended for about a year before the child emerges in the form of a pixie.
  • This form is retained for about two years before it finds a hollow in a tree and forms a cocoon. The following spring the child elf is born “for real”.
  • Adult elves take no part in raising a child until it reaches the age of 20, at which point the pixies take the young elf to meet its parents (or wider family).
  • Half elves born of human mothers grow like a human child.
  • The dark elves of the high boreal forests with their snow-white skin and raven-black hair breed only in the winter and their children take the form of and are raised by goblins.


  • Halflings are much like humans except for a shorter gestation period of only three months, during which time the mother is said to be “eating for four”.
  • Fertility rates are low, with twins being exceptional and most births being separated by 5-12 years.
  • Halfling children mature slowly.
The more I think about these changes, the wider the ripples become. Dwarves are rooted to the place where their pots are; gnomes are nomadic; elves protect their woods as a matter of life or death; halflings are stay-at-homes. All common tropes, but with an underpinning beyond "because".

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Encounter: Gnoll at Sea

1 Introduction

These are the voyages of the oared galley Evermore. It's ongoing mission to disrupt shipping, devastate the country side and bring chaos to the world of humans, elves, dwarves and cost accountants everywhere.

The ship was reported missing, presumed sunk in a storm almost a year ago. In fact, the crew managed to get it to a sheltered beach and draw it up on shore before too much damage was done. In the process, however, a captive half-elf who had been released from the hold so as to not drown somehow managed to get a hold of his sword which had been locked away in a storage area. Within ten minutes nearly 40 men lay dead and the remaining crew had fled into the night only to run into the arms of an advancing party of gnolls.

The half-elf, able to speak the language gnolls of course, hailed them as they approached with the remains of the crew in tow. The gnolls ignored his calls and, not taking the circle of blood and gore as a warning, quickly lost several warriors in melee combat with him.

As the slightly unnerved gnolls prepared to kill him from range he explained to them that he could teach them how to work the ship. Together, he said, they could prey on fat merchant vessels and fall like hawks on the weak settlements of the coast, then be away before any aid could be fetched. The gnoll chieftain liked the sound of this and so began a strange partnership.

Ælfhun, the half-elf, has since wormed his way to a position of power, albeit a fragile one, as the chief's semi-trusted adviser and is now practically in charge of strategic planning - not the gnolls' best suit in any case. As the chief makes sure to abuse Ælfhun in front of the ship's new crew everyone is as happy as a bunch of gnolls ever gets.

2 Ælfhun, NE half-elf F/MU/T

Age: 46 Ht: 5'3" Wt: 9st 4lbs (130lbs)

Ability Score Bonuses
S 16 +1 damage
I 12  
W 12  
C 14  
D 9  
Ch 13 5 hench, +5 reaction
Cm 12  

F4 Mu4 T5


Personality score: 7+12+13=32 -1/3hp lost

Armour: Leather +1; ring of protection +1 (AC 6 [8+2])

Dagger +1 "Toothpick". Scroll of fear (4th level). Potions: Oil of Fiery Burning, Elixir of Madness (cursed - he will claim it is a potion of invisibility), Potion of Climbing.

2.1 Combat

If Ælhun enters melee he must at least wield Founder due to the curse on it. When facing lightly armoured foes (AT 8 or worse) he may choose to also use Toothpick, his +1 dagger. He will never throw Toothpick.

Longsword "Founder": +2 cursed berserker. NE, Int 14, ego 10 (personality 24), detect invisible objects, 1" rad, locate object 12" rad. Speaks NE, brass dragon.

Sword only

CL: 6 Damage: 1d8+3/1d12+3 Speed: 5

Sword and dagger

CL: 4/0 Damage: 1d8+3, 1d4+3 / 1d12+3, 1d3+3

Full Berserk

As a final possibility, if the user of the sword is unencumbered and wearing non-bulky (or no) armour, then they additionally receive the power of "normal" berserkers to either attack twice in the round as above, or to attack once per round at an additional +2 to-hit giving Ælfhun the following combat characteristics:

Sword only

CL: 8 Damage: 1d8+3/1d12+3 Speed: 5

Sword and dagger

CL: 6/2 Damage: 1d8+3, 1d4+3 / 1d12+3, 1d3+3


Ælfhun's survival and eventual semi-domination of the gnolls is partly based on the fact that when they first encountered him he slew many of them single-handed using the sword's powers. Rather than kill him from range, the then-chief sat out his rage and took him as, he thought, a slave who would explain the workings of the ship.

What the chief did not know was that the sword would teleport into Ælfhun's hand when he entered combat. This missing bit of information led to the deaths of the witch-doctor when he objected to having a half-elf in the crew and who's role Ælfhun took up afterwards.

Since then, Ælfhun has used the sword trick on several occasions as it allows him to enter a camp or meeting clearly unarmed. The gnolls like this tactic as it also means that he can leave them well behind and out of berserk range, slaughter the leaders or merchants he's meeting, recover and then signal for the ship's company to descend on the settlement or caravan as the case may be without too much risk that he will attack the gnolls.

Ælfhun himself dislikes the feeling of being berserk but likes its results. As such, he will avoid combat as long as possible if he can find alternative, especially if at sea where the gnolls are likely to have to neutralise him quickly, such as by overbearing him and throwing him overboard (he can swim).

His scouting abilities are limited by his poor dexterity, although he can shin up a wall handily enough and ventriloquism is handy for distracting guards. Rope trick is also likewise good for hiding out, Trojan Horse-style, or just getting gnolls over walls they can't cope with.

2.2 Character

Rich clothes which are not maintained; dirty, ragged, and stained.

  • Intense.
  • Extroverted; blustering.
  • Apparently compassionate.
  • Anti-intellectual.
  • Hard-hearted and geedy.
  • Driven.
  • Spendthrift.
  • Immoral.
  • Gambler.

Ælfhun is a cursed half-elf. Not much of a success before he found the sword, its magic lead him down dark paths and gradually the evil he did became Evil in his heart. Captured for his crimes, he was able to initiate combat on the ship carrying him for trial and in the ensuing bloodbath the crew were killed and the ship went adrift until he encountered a gnolls raiding party on a beach.

His goals today are simply to slay and steal, driven by the darkness that the sword has burnt into him. If the sword was ever excised now, it is unlikely that Ælfhun would even think about atoning for his crimes and return to his original NG personality.

The money he is accumulating (although the gnolls might not see the treasure in that light) will, he hopes, ultimately allow him to found a kingdom of darkness from where he can spread suffering and cruelty, fulfilling the restless dreams that flay his psyche on an almost nightly basis.

On most days he maintains a steely grip on his behaviour and seems unbothered by anything, blustering and showing off to humans and demi-humans he encounters. His rich but unkempt clothing, however, speak of how much of his attention this pretence takes and his gambling is a symptom of the sadistic streak that runs though him now; none of his bets with captives are ever fair.

He prays to daemons and dreams of blood.

2.3 Thieving

45 32 30 20 26 20 90 25

Backstab: x3

2.4 Proficiencies

Fighter (5)

  • Longsword
  • Short bow
  • Light Crossbow
  • Scimitar
  • Club

Magic User (1)

  • Dagger

Thief (3)

  • Short sword
  • Sling
  • Dart

2.5 Spells

Per day: 3 2

Those marked with "+" are normally memorised.

Level 1 (7 @ 45):

Spell Book
  • Armour
  • Detect Magic+
  • Magic Missile+ (2 missiles)
  • Mending
  • Read Magic
  • Shield+
  • Ventriloquism+
NOT known

Find Familiar Grease Hold Portal Shocking Grasp Write

Level 2 (3 @ 45)

Spell Book
  • Continual Light
  • Detect Invisibility+
  • Rope Trick+

3 Gnolls

There are 200 ordinary gnolls on the Evermore, a bireme. When the wind is not in its favour, or in combat, 50 gnolls take the lower row of oars and another 100 take the two (port and starboard) upper banks.

3.1 HP

As ordinary gnolls are encountered or needed, take them from this list in this order.

11 12 8 12 6 5 9 12 5 10 12 11 3 13 12 11 8 10 10 6 4 6 7 8 10 6 10 4 11 5 14 12 2 7 7 10 10 4 14 8 10 4 12 8 9 5 12 10 11 11 9 9 3 7 11 7 11 11 7 7 6 11 8 7 14 3 13 8 11 8 2 4 9 8 11 13 13 13 8 9 11 4 12 9 4 9 3 13 7 7 9 13 14 12 4 10 8 4 6 10 10 13 7 10 12 9 6 12 11 11 8 9 10 10 6 9 9 11 10 16 13 8 5 15 9 9 11 11 15 4 2 7 12 5 7 2 9 8 10 10 7 12 12 9 12 7 7 6 6 8 13 9 11 13 14 13 13 5 10 9 9 8 7 13 11 8 10 8 9 4 11 16 9 9 6 14 12 11 5 8 13 13 7 13 6 8 11 12 12 7 10 11 12 6 9 12 10 15 8 7

3.2 Leaders

"H" represents gnolls who are in fact Ælfhun's henchmen whom he can rely on somewhat in a pinch.

Rank AC hp weapon Spd CL Dam. Notes
Chief 3 22 2HS 10 6 d8+2  
Chief's Guard 1 4 20 B. Axe 7 5 d8+1 H
Chief's Guard 2 4 20 B. Axe 7 5 d8+1  
Chief's Guard 3 4 20 B. Axe 7 5 d8+1  
Chief's Guard 4 4 20 Trident 7 5 d6+1 H
Chief's Guard 5 4 20 Trident 7 5 d6+1  
Chief's Guard 6 4 20 Trident 7 5 d6+1  
Chief's Guard 7 4 20 Trident 7 5 d6+1 H
Chief's Guard 8 4 20 Morning Star 7 5 2d4  
Chief's Guard 9 4 20 2HS 10 5 d8+2  
Chief's Guard 10 4 20 2HS 10 5 d8+2  
Leader 1 5 16 Morning Star 7 5 2d4 H
Leader 2 5 16 2HS 10 5 1d10  
Leader 3 5 16 2HS 10 5 1d10 H
Leader 4 5 16 2HS 10 5 1d10  
Leader 5 5 16 2HS 10 5 1d10  
Leader 6 5 16 Trident 7 5 1d6+1  
Leader 7 5 16 Trident 7 5 1d6+1  
Leader 8 5 16 Trident 7 5 1d6+1  
Leader 9 5 16 Battle Axe 7 5 1d8  
Leader 10 5 16 Battle Axe 7 5 1d8  

3.3 Rank and File

# AC weap Spd CL Dam. Notes
30 5 great bow NA 5 1d6 Melee with claw and tooth (2d4) damage
170 5 trident 7 5 1d6+1  

Landing/Short/Raiding parties

Any party encountered away from the ship will have one of the leaders (not the chief or his bodyguards) and a number of gnolls.

The basic number of gnolls away from the ship will be 1d6x20 at any time. They will be encountered at a distance of 1d6 miles from the ship (remember that a mile is 176" using the outdoor scale, which is 2 turns' movement for the gnolls at normal walking rate). However, if a 6 is rolled for distance, the away group has split in two and a second d6 is rolled for distance, for a range of 7-12 miles (a third 6 indicates a third split; don't roll any further).

If 6 is rolled for distance three times, the encounter is far enough from the ship to prevent return there today.

The chance that a group will include Ælfhun is equal to the number of gnolls as a percentage chance, doubled if the group is encountered too far from the ship to return to it today (assume he's up to something).

The DM rolls an encounter in a 6'mile hex where the Evermore is operating. A roll on the encounter table indicates the gnolls and a roll of 74 on d100 is greater than the gnoll's 20% in lair, so the encounter is with a party of gnolls. A roll of 2 on d6x20 indicates that 40 gnolls are away from the ship. The DM rolls 1 d6 for the distance and rolls a 6, so the away team has split into two groups of 20. A second roll for distance comes up 5.

So, the party have encountered 20 gnolls 11 miles from the ship. Direction can be decided in whatever way is desired. Since the group has 20+ gnolls, there will be a leader with it in addition to the 20. There is a 21% chance that Ælfhun is accompanying the gnolls. If he is, he will have Leader 1 and Leader 3 with him in addition to the other 21 gnolls.

There is a 85% chance that any land-based encounter means that the ship has been drawn up on a beach somewhere and the rest of the gnolls will be there. In the previous example, that would be 160 gnolls plus the various leaders since 40 are away from camp.

3.4 Morale and Loyalty

The gnolls generally have a base morale of 55%.

Ælfhun's henchgnolls have a loyalty score of 75% and if he is within 13" this is boosted to 90%, so they will tend to stick by him.

General loyalty to the chief is 65 (80% if alive, in sight and within 9") with his bodyguard (except those loyal to Ælfhun) have a fanatical 120%.

All the gnolls admire Ælfhun's combat ability and in the absence of the chief respect his decisions on anything to do with killing and raiding as well as, of course, magic.

However, Ælfhun is far from ready to take on the chief for control of the ship, so he has never shown any sign of disloyalty and the chief accepts his advice more often than he rejects it.

3.5 Treasure

Ælfhun keeps an eye on the treasure and has practised picking the lock to the store so many times that even under pressure he can roll twice per round. Without pressure he can effectively flip it open at will.


  • 5000gp in 5 chests weighing 112lbs each. These chests are not locked - which may cause difficulties if trying to transport them off a sinking ship or during a storm etc.


The gems are kept together in a velvet bag in one of the cash boxes.

  • Gem stone (Oriental Topaz) 1000gp
  • Fancy precious stone (Topaz) 500gp
  • Semi-precious stone (Smoky Quartz) 50gp
  • Gem stone (Star Sapphire) 1000gp
  • Semi-precious stone (Sardonyx) 50gp
  • Semi-precious stone (Smoky Quartz) 50gp
  • Fancy precious stone (Peridot) 500gp


These potions are stashed in the back of the captain's cabin in straw holders for padding.

  • Potion of Polymorph Self
  • Potion of ESP
  • Potion of Invulnerability (F)
  • Oil of Etherealness
  • Potion of Clairvoyance


Generally there are 2d10+10 captives on the ship to serve or feed the gnolls (Ælfhun has not yet reached the point of eating the captives, to the amusement of the gnolls).

There are effectively three permanent "positions" in the crew which can be filled by captives:

  • Engineer. Anyone who knows how to maintain the catapult is likely to have a long life onboard ship. Whether that's a good thing or not is an open question but many prefer to hope than to die.
  • Carpenter. The ship is made of wood.
  • Blacksmith. The wood is nailed together, as is the catapult.

Carpenters and blacksmiths are more common than engineers, so those positions are generally more precarious and sickness is often "treated" by throwing the sufferer overboard and abducting a replacement.

Aside from these positions, captives are generally on the menu rather than being worked hard (mostly, they are too weak compared to a gnoll).

There are 19 captives currently on board, none of whom have any class abilities.

On the Nature of Gnolls

The gnolls are not natural beings. They are not misunderstood people who happen to look different and are ostracised for essentially racist reasons by those who fear otherness.

Gnolls were created by some Evil, probably Demonic power long, long ago and constructed with the pre-programmed goal of bringing suffering to all living things. And they strive to do that, enjoying the work that gives their short lives fulfilment, meaning, and satisfaction. The DM may or may not allow for the possibility that individual gnolls overcome this programming but even so, no such gnolls sail aboard the Evermore.

The gnolls are not like stereotypical pirates either. They don't drink. Nor do they sing many sea-shanties. They laugh a lot, however. The strange high-pitched laugh of hyenas are the last sounds heard by many would-be frontier settlers or bounty-hunter. Before a battle begins, however, they can maintain an eerie silence.

Their greenish-grey skin is not hairy, as many suppose it to be, and they must wear cloaks to keep warm in cold climes and tunics to prevent sunburn in hot ones (the sun does not scare them, although they prefer to be active at night to exploit infravision). They do sport long manes, however, but they do not "punk them up" as they have no interest in their own appearance, relying on their size to intimidate foes. They smell bad.

They're also less tribal than many humanoids, which has allowed the Evermore to replenish losses from different gnoll tribes over the years. A recruit need only hold his own against some member of the existing crew - a fact which helped Ælfhun, who is much stronger than he looks.

Treasure has a minor practical use for these (fairly) intelligent monsters and they use it to buy things when they can't simply take what they need, but that is a secondary role for gold, gems, and all the things that adventurers seek out.

The real value of treasure to gnolls, and many other evil humanoids, is that it has to be taken from someone. Gnolls don't mine for gold; they steal it. Preferably while humiliating and/or killing whomever had it before them. Treasure is a scoring mechanism for the gnolls and they are loath to let anyone take it off them or to lose it. To be robbed is bad; to be defeated in combat is worst of all.

Gnoll society is one of casual and routine violence, of cuffs and snarls and occasional bites which serve to assert each gnoll's place in the order. The only gnoll who does not have to take this low-level physical abuse is the chief. One reason Ælfhun's henchmen in the group have a relatively low loyalty to him is that he can not engage in this process - the chief simply would not allow a demi-human to cuff one of the gnolls, not even the lowest. Without this normal part of social interaction, the gnolls' respect for the half-elf is limited.

This fractious, laughing, snarling ball of chaos is held together by each gnoll's innate desire to cause suffering in others. Hurting smaller gnolls is certainly good light-hearted fun and better than nothing, but it is more fun to hurt those weaklings that the forces of "Good" try to protect from the natural order of domination.

Best of all, of course, is defeating those forces directly, but they tend to be strong. Thus, gnolls often ally with evil priests and magic-users as well as other bands of gnolls (where a victory often descends into a new battle over the spoils).

In between such larger-scale engagements, most gnoll bands content themselves with a semi-nomadic existence despoiling one area and then moving onto the next.

Gnolls are decent swimmers.

Females and Young

There are normally no females or young on board the ship. The Evermore's "true" lair will be d100 miles from any given encounter and there will be found a fairly wretched collection of 118 females and 398 young living in a cave (1-85) or ruined village (86-00). The settlement is guarded by 12 hyenas.

If the distance from the ship is 2 miles or less, then the ship is anchored or beached near the home base.

If encountered at sea, there is a 5% chance that the gnolls are engaged in moving home and the females and young are on board. This is a dangerous time as the ship is over-loaded and slow. Additionally, if there is a panic on board and all the non-combatants run to the top deck to escape something there is a 60% chance the ship will capsize, sinking in 2d10 minutes.

4 The Evermore

4.1 General description

The Evermore is a 150' medium galley with three banks of oars arranged on two levels, with three decks. The rowing deck is divided into two. The lower rowing bank, mounted directly on the deck itself, has seats for 50 rowers who work two oars each. The upper rowing bank (just seats mounted higher than the lower oars) has seating for 100 rowers who work one oar each, 50-per-side. This upper part of the rowing cabin is slightly wider than the lower but it's still a tight fit for the large gnolls and in an emergency very few would be able to escape before the ship went down (say, 2d20).

Below the rowing deck is a hold/ballast area running the length of the ship with head-clearance of about 5', making it difficult for the adult gnolls to move about in.

Above the heads of the upper bank of rowers is the main fighting deck, a large flat area almost devoid of features except the mast, a long box for stowing the mast and yardarm, and a few points around the edge where ropes can be attached to help stabilise the mast and sails. There is otherwise no rail of any kind, making the ship look rather like a small aircraft carrier. The mast must be stowed in its box before ramming or there is a 50% chance it will break.

The rear part of the fighting deck is a cabin area and above that a poop deck from which the long steerboard is operated and the captain on duty (the chief, one of his bodyguards, or Ælfhun) commands the ship. In combat, the chief will always take over here unless incapacitated. There is a mounting here for a long-gone ballista which could be used again, but generally it is used by archers either to make attacks on distance boats or to fire down onto the main fighting deck or at an adjacent ship to support the gnolls during a boarding attempt.

At the front of the fighting deck is the catapult, and below that the ship is equipped with a bronze ram.

The ship has 9 hull points. As it is square-rigged (and not very well under the gnolls' standard of seamanship), the ship can not sail into the wind at all and loses speed rapidly once travelling at more than 60° away from the wind direction (broad-reach, for Sid Meier's Pirates! fans).

A year of being managed by blood-thirsty gnoll pirates has taken its toll on the Evermore and it presents a shabby, motley appearance. The fighting deck in particular is covered with rust-red stains that have never been sanded away. The cabin at the rear, under the poop-deck, is a complete shambles where the chief and any off-duty bodyguards throw themselves down for sleep from time to time on masses of old clothes and horsehair that was probably either a mattress or perhaps an actual horse. The other gnolls tend to sleep on deck if it is night, or along the floor of the rowing deck during the day. The starboard locker's door lock is broken (so I suppose it's not a locker anymore) and so all the really important treasure is kept in the port locker. Neither locker has any windows or portholes, of course, but the captain's cabin has glass-less openings just big enough for an enterprising (and fairly slim) halfling to fit through.

At the bow, under the catapult, is a small hold. In one corner is a cage where the captives are held when they're not working as slaves or being eaten. Ammunition for the catapult is also stored here in the form of 1' diameter stone balls weighing about 90lbs each. During ship-to-ship combat, or bombardment, one of the gnolls will stand down here, passing the balls up through an opening as they are needed. This is one of the few places where the gnolls' height is a bonus on what is otherwise quite a cramped vertical environment for them.

4.2 Scales

Note that it may be that combat will be going on at more than one scale: a ship is attacking other ships while struggles between crew and boarders is ongoing.

In such cases, just keep a separate "battle board" at the so-called "indoor" scale for the combat on-board and the main playing area for the ship-to-ship stuff.


The ship is a foot long and 2" wide at this scale. Use this for combat which is restricted to the ship.

Since all units on the board will represent individuals, scale area of effect to 1"=10'.


The ship is 4" long and half an inch wide. Use for ship to ship combat and scale areas of effect to 1"=10yds.

1"=1 furlong (8"=1 mile)

The ship is only two tenths of an inch long at this scale and all ships should be marked by counters rather than scaled cutouts. Use for ship chases, and very long range attacks using spells and missile weapons, which have a limit of about 1" to 1½" range at this scale.

4.3 Naval Combat

The light catapult does 4 hull damage per hit. Each gnoll counts as 1½ crew when manning the catapult which normally needs at least 4 men to handle it.

When overloaded, in addition to slower movement and the risk of panic, treat all winds as one level higher for purposes of difficulties. If the wind is "hurricane" already then use that column but roll every turn instead of every hour.

Note that the movement rates given here are intended to harmonise with the DMG; they do not stand up to scrutiny in the light of modern research (for example, maximum oar speeds are much too high).

4.4 Deck Plans. Everyone Loves Deck Plans

I've created several files for use with this encounter.

Firstly, a key map as a pdf which is not to any particular scale and just labels the various parts of the boat. I've not put the oars in; it looked too cluttered.

Secondly, a png file which, if printed at 300dpi on A3 should come out at one inch to 10 feet (1 inch to 1", in other words). If you want to print this on A4 then probably the best thing to do is to print it at 600dpi which will make the scale of the output 1 inch equal to 20', and so you can easily half the range of things. If this is all a bit much, just print it out whatever size you want and use the grid. The grid has three meshes on it: 10', 5', and 1'.

Finally, the same png file without the grid if you're the sort of DM that requires magic user players to call their ranges by looking at the map.

You might want to cut the poop deck out and place it over the cabin and lockers underneath until such times as the players get in there.

Movement per round, 1"=10yards

Mode MV Overloaded
Maximum oar 24" 10"
Maximum sail 24" 12"
Normal oar 15" 6"
Normal sail 15" 8"

The catapult has a range of 30" at this scale, and the gnolls great bows 24". The catapult has a minimum range of 15".

The catapult has a fire rate of 1/4 at this scale.

Movement per turn, 1"=1 furlong (8 furlongs=1 mile)

Mode MV Overloaded
Maximum oar 10" 5"
Maximum sail 10" 4"
Normal oar 7" 2"
Normal sail 7" 3"

The catapult and bows have a range of just 1" at this scale. The catapult can not be fired at targets within ½" (or within the same hex if using 1fl hexes).

The catapult can be simulated at this time scale using the following table:

CL 0 1 2 3
0-1 1-88 89-00    
2 1-78 79-97 98-00  
3 1-69 70-95 96-00  
4 1-61 62-91 92-99 00
5 1-54 55-78 79-97 98-00
6 1-47 48-83 84-96 97-00
7 1-42 43-78 79-94 95-00
8 1-37 38-74 75-92 93-00
9 1-32 33-69 70-90 91-00
10 1-29 30-64 65-87 88-00
11 1-25 26-60 61-84 85-00
12 1-22 23-56 57-81 82-00
13 1-20 21-52 53-78 79-00
14 1-17 18-48 49-74 75-00
15 1-15 16-44 45-71 72-00
16 1-14 15-41 41-68 69-00
17+ 1-12 13-37 38-64 65-00

The numbers down the left are the effective combat level of the captain of the catapult. Initially, this is the captain's own combat level and is subject to a non-proficiency penalty. So, if the captain is a 7th level cleric her initial CL is 7 if proficient in catapult combat, or 4 if not. The current gnoll captain of the catapult is CL 5.

Roll 1d100 and look across the row for the effective CL to find the number of hits on target. So, for the gnoll with his CL 5, a roll of 55 to 78 indicates a single hit while a 98 or higher indicates three.

See DMG p109 for various modifiers to CL (e.g., +2 for firing on a stationary medium-sized ship).

Spell AoE and range should be divided by 22 (or 20; it doesn't make much difference).

Movement per Day

Mode Miles Overloaded
Maximum sail 100 50
Normal oar 30 12
Normal sail 60 30

5 Scenario Seeds

5.1 Rumours

  1. A demon is prowling the coast, wiping out whole villages while laughing horribly.
  2. A ghost ship is sailing silently in the night.
  3. Were-sharks are active nearby, mostly by night.
  4. Shipping has been disrupted d100 miles from here and a large reward has been posted for anyone who solves the problem.
  5. A man pretending to be a merchant transforms into a demon once the deal is struck.
  6. Maniacal laughter was heard by fishermen two nights ago; today, they started pulling up bodies in their nets.
  7. Sharks have been seen near the coast recently.
  8. A Cooshe is attacking isolated fishing villages for some reason.
  9. A well-armed ship is ramming merchant ships and galleys passing through a nearby strait.
  10. A ship manned by gnolls is preying on ships nearby.
  11. Rocks are falling from the sky and sinking ships at night. Beware shooting stars (speaker tries to sell "anti-rockfall" amulet for 10gp; will take 1gp since they're made of tin in a mould for about 3cp).
  12. The revenant of a rich elf has been seen in market towns. He wanders the streets in the remains of his rich clothing, asks questions and leaves. Within the week, the town is burnt to the ground.
  13. A half-elf is travelling in the area. He seems down on his luck and unarmed but anyone who crosses him is found cut to ribbons soon after.
  14. Gnoll raiders have been attacking from the sea a lot recently.
  15. Bands of gnoll raiders have been attacking towns and villages recently (if asked, the speaker makes no particular association with the sea and says that some attacks happened miles inland, which is true).
  16. The merchants' guild has declared a peninsula off-limits.
  17. The ship Evermore which was reported sunk six months ago has been seen under oar travelling (roll for random direction).
  18. A group of giggling sirens are attacking ships nearby.
  19. A black dragon has taken human form and is building up a horde by tricking merchants into meetings and then killing them.
  20. The price of fish has rocketed along the nearby coast.

Most of these could be traced to the Evermore, some could be unrelated, and some just plain bollocks.

5.2 Encounters

These encounters can either be added into your normal random encounter mechanism for any area the Evermore is active in, or they could be used as introductory material if you want to run the ship as a set adventure. Each serves as a sort of prelude to the main action (or clues, if running a sandbox).

  1. The party come across a lynching of a badly wounded gnoll from the Evermore.
  2. The party see a merchant ship being attacked by the Evermore 1d3 miles from shore. Over the course of an hour, if the party watch, the merchant ship is boarded, those on board thrown to the sharks or dragged off in chains, and the ship torched. The Evermore then turns under oar-power and departs for the horizon.
  3. A small raiding party looking for food (i.e., no prisoners!). 20 gnolls, 2 armed with bows, lead by one of the leaders (roll d10).
  4. A small raiding party looking for information. As above, but four carry nets. Interrogation will take place onboard and will be "robust". They're looking for information about the local area: merchants, patrols, town defences and so on.
  5. A burning village. A group of 1d6 small raiding parties as above departed 1d10-1 hours ago (0 means they're still there). The flames eliminate any chance of the PC party being surprised and will initially be seen from 1d8 miles away (modify by terrain).
  6. A major raiding party. 1d4+2 times the small party, plus Ælfhun on their way to (1-3) or from (4-6) a raid. If returning to the ship there will be 2d8 prisoners. Encounter distance as per DMG p49, and surprise is a possibility, although the gnolls will only surprise 1 in 8 if encountered on their return journey to the size and general rambunctiousness of the group after another successful attack.

5.3 Patrons

Generally speaking, any money accepted from a patron only counts towards experience if the party succeed in the requested mission or simply steal the cash. Attempting a mission and failing nets only cash and bruises.

  1. The merchant's guild approaches the PCs with the offer of 10gp per day per party member to investigate and neutralise a pirate ship which has been attacking shipping. They will pay a month in advance (300gp per PC) and will not require the return of anything on the ship (i.e., the PCs can keep any loot onboard). If the ship can be captured, they will pay 1500gp "salvage". They could be bartered up to twice this if the ship is in decent nick and not, for example, burnt and full of holes.
  2. A berserker warlord (9th level) and two berserker super-heroes ask the party to join them in seeking out a sword which they have reason to believe was used in a recent massacre. The warlord has an amulet which neutralises the curse on Founder allowing it to be released from its owner. Their intent is to destroy the sword; they have no interest either way in Ælfhun's survival or death.
  3. A sage approaches the party. He is interested in cursed items and thinks he has traced clues of the existence of a cursed berserking sword in the reports of recent atrocities. He offers 2,000gp for its capture and delivery to his laboratory. He has prepared a wand of paralyzation with 20 charges which he will lend to the party so that they can capture the user alive without risking taking the curse on themselves. The sage is neutral evil but everything he tells the party is true.
  4. A witness seeks out the party after escaping a gnoll raid. She has no reward to offer but her father, a carpenter, was captured alive.
  5. A half-orc agent is in town looking for mercenaries for a "dirty" job. Pay is a gold piece a day plus a share of loot gathered. A reaction roll of 75+ will raise the pay to 1gp per level per day. The hired party will join with a band of orcs intent on destroying the Evermore. The size of the band should be at least 40 but can vary upwards depending on whether the DM and players have any interest in small-scale battles.
  6. An woodelf-woman contacts the party. She offers a 5000gp reward for the safe capture of her long-lost son Ælfhun. She knows a little bit about his whereabouts due to divinations cast by her tribe's shaman. She knows a great deal about his activities due to investigations by druids and rangers over the last two years. Ælfhun will not be co-operative even (especially) if his mother's name is used.

Naturally, any area where the Evermore has struck will have bounties posted from the local lords and barons who wish the tax-producing peace to be resumed. These run from 100 to 2000gp (1d20x100). There will be no more than one bounty in a 24 mile radius (4 6-mile hexes). Since bounties are claimed after success, they will normally count towards xp.

5.4 Endgame

If the PCs hear of the gnolls but do not investigate further then in the following spring, local leaders will mount a major response and may well hire "special talent" such as PCs. Hire will consist simply in covering the PCs' costs until the gnolls are found and wiped out, at which point active help will be paid out at a rate of 100gp per level per character and a flat 200gp per henchman or hireling. Refusal to help will be remembered.

If the players join the expedition then the most charismatic character will be put in charge with ties going to the highest level fighter or cleric if possible, followed by magic users.

If the players do not join, then the expedition will destroy the Evermore on a 1-75, and drive it more than 200 miles off on 76+.