Monthly Archives: August 2011

Necromican, Level 7

The Necromican

Level 7

Featuring An Illustration Not Nearly As Awesome As The Benign Boots, Sorry

And Also No Boobies. Boy, This Is Gonna Suck

Necromican

Necromican

And so, I continue my review of the Necromican (note: Not Necronomicon), a classic late 1970s supplement for Dungeons & Dragons published by Fantasy Art Enterprises, and featuring some great gonzo art by Erol Otus, and great gonzo ideas by, I assume, both Erol Otus and Paul Reiche III. This is the fifth such article.

(You can see the first part here , the second part here, and the third part here, and the fourth part here.)

Seventh Level Spells

Ah, now we’re getting to the good stuff, the high-powered stuff, they stuff you probably would never see unless you started at high level or your DM was really lenient about letting you sell magic items for gold and then getting the gold as XP. As usual, this is a sampling of spells from the given level, presented in the order I read them in — “alphabetizing” being a new-fangled concept the game designers of the 1970s were pretty sure would never catch on, just like “indexes”, which are still clearly mistrusted by most game publishers.

Oh, by the way…. if you think the fact I’m hitting seventh level spells means this interminable series is about to terminable… er… terminate… let me inform you that, in the 1970s, our unofficial spells went up to eleven. No, wait. They went up to twelve. Yes, folks, there are twelve levels of spells in this tome. We’re barely past the halfway point. Bwahahah!

Sense Drain

This potent dweomer allows the caster to perceive the location of any drain, outlet, gutter, funnel, or… no, wait. Sorry. It drains “1-6″ senses, randomly determined (save to drain 1-3 senses). So, it’s possible to lose more senses if you save (as written, you roll 1d6 if they save or 1d3 if they don’t, so you can roll a ‘1’ if they save and a ‘3’ if they don’t; it should be implemented as ‘roll 1d6; if they save, they lose half as many senses’), and, because of the randomness (after determining how many senses you drain, you then roll on a chart to see which senses they are), you can easily cost a creature only his sense of taste or smell, which might be useful in very rare circumstances, but, most of the time, not. When you realize that “Cause Blindness” is a mere third level spell, it’s hard to see anyone wasting a 7th level slot on this. Oh, the sixth sense? That would be “psychic”, which might mean “the creature loses all psionic abilities, on the off chance it has any”, or it might mean darn near anything else. (Granted, even a 1-in-6 chance to totally shut down a mind flayer might be worth it.)

The Legions Of Acheron

You know, when I was a wee lad, the only “Legion” I’d ever heard of was the Legion of Superheroes, which caused me to be very confused when people talked about Legionnaire’s Disease, because I read that issue and Supergirl cured it by destroying her evil red kryptonite double. This has nothing to do with this spell, which seems fairly useless for seventh level. It allows you to summon 1d6 3-hit die undead, +1d6 for each level over that needed to cast the spell… which means you’ll get maybe a handful of dice extra if you’re lucky and the campaign lasts that long. Except… the spell lasts until the undead are dispelled or destroyed, and there’s nothing which says you can’t keep casting it, so long as there are enough bodies. Further, the hit dice of the undead are not based on the hit dice of the bodies they are made from. So:

  1. Go to first level of dungeon.
  2. Slaughter every kobold there.
  3. Cast this spell multiple times, until every 1/2 hit die kobold is now a 3 hit die undead.
  4. Profit!

There are those who would sneer in disgust and point out the spell isn’t “meant” to be used that way and a player shouldn’t “wreck the story” by being, you know, clever and creative and actually thinking like someone who lives in the game world and is going to use every tool at his disposal. Such people can bite me.

Spell Of Forlorn Encystment

So, which is worse: E. Gary Gygax ripping this spell off from Jack Vance, but calling it “Imprisonment” on the off chance no one would notice he was ripping it off, or the fact the writers of the Necromican didn’t know this spell was already in the PHB under that name? Except that the AD&D spell was a 9th level spell with a touch range, and this is a 7th level spell with a 120 foot range, making it a lot better. It was not until the 2000s and the OGL that we’d see, again, the problem of unofficial supplements with spells either grossly underpowered compared to ‘official’ analogues, or grossly overpowered, leading to some amazing cherry-picking if your DM lets you use them. (Of course, during the 2e era, and to some extent 3e, different writers and editors of ‘official’ books often had similar of identical abilities at wildly varying levels of power, because never in the history of D&D has there been any kind of meta-system for powers, class abilities, spells, feats, monsters, etc. It just goes with the territory.)

Leprosy

“This ensorcellment causes the victim to immediately fall completely apart, save to one limb.” That is the full spell description. That is awesome. “Save to one limb.” If I had to summarize the design ethos of the time in four words, those would be it. If I had to summarize the design ethos of the time in one word, it would be “Dude!”.

An illustration from the Necromican

Just In Case You Didn't Know What 'Gyration' Meant

Phandaal’s Gyration

One more spell borrowed, literally, from The Dying Earth, but, oddly enough, this is not one EGG saw fit to include in D&D, though I’m not sure why, since it’s pretty darn nifty. When cast, it causes the victim to… well, look at the picture. If the victim fails his save, you can make him spin (in mid-air, to be clear) about five feet off the ground, and increase the speed of the gyration until his limbs and head go flying in every direction. If he succeeds, he spins for 1d6 rounds and then goes flying off in a random direction. The spell description says that if he fails his save, the victim can be spun for as long as the caster likes.  It suddenly occurs to me that you could have quite an industrial revolution by attaching some sort of cogs and gears and rods and things to a carefully aligned row of spinning victims, perhaps using them to power mills when there’s no convenient waterfall or wind. If the caster stuck around, he could speed up or slow down their rotation as needed for the task at hand. (“Dammit, Scotty! I need more power!” “Captain, if make ‘em spin any more, their heads are gonna go flyin’ off!” “No excuses, Scotty! This wheat must be ground!”) You could position them over vats of thin gruel, so, on each spin, they could gulp a little food down or something. It has possibilities…

Captain Future And The Space Emperor!

Captain Future!

And The Space Emperor! 

As you may recall, yesterday… yes, folks, I am actually writing “tomorrow” what I said I would… (EDIT: As you can tell, it didn’t get finished until a few days later) as opposed to a week or a month later… we discussed Captain Future, The Wizard Of Science, and his partners — Grag the indestructible robot! Otho, the incredible android! And the Brain, bodiless super-genius! And, frankly, if reading those prior sentences doesn’t  spur some kind of thrill in you, get ye gone from my blogge, for ye are no true-borne gamyr!

Anyway. Today, we shall look at the first Captain Future novel, “Captain Future And The Space Emperor!” It opens with the revelation that Earthmen are being transformed into ravenous, prehistoric, creatures, by some sort of “atavism plague” that rapidly degenerates them back to their ancestral form, and somewhere, a biologist is crying. No matter! Ignore the sobbing scientist! Let’s be fair, the idea was at least vaguely new and sort of plausible (and by ‘plausible’, I mean, ‘a lot fewer lay people knew enough about science to know what bullshit it was, but no real biologist of the time would buy it’) back in 1940; when Star Trek did it more than 50 years later, it was utterly unforgivable.

In any event, when disaster strikes the System, the call goes out for Captain Future! And Captain Future answer the call, in his mighty spaceship, the Comet! Please note the lack of cadillac fins. This was due, in part, to the ability of the The Comet to disguise itself as a comet, by producing a blazing particle aura around it, thus avoiding all suspicion, for when the evil villains would peer out of their space windows, they would see nothing but a mere comet, which was not moving in accordance with any Newtonian trajectory, was not on any charts, and whose blazing tail was evident even if it was very far from the sun, which is what causes comets to have tails in the first place! Captain Future's Spaceship, The Comet

And so, Captain Future sets off! The plague has begun on Jupiter, and is due to someone calling himself “The Space Emperor”. Jupiter is a world “whose vast jungles and great oceans were largely unexplored”.

An aside. In this novel, Captain Future mentions prior adventures, such as capturing the “Lords Of Power”. Yet, this is the first novel in the series, and the character did not appear in prior stories. He begins as an established hero; no “origin story” required, except a quick background. Compare to modern heroic media, where it’s vital to spend endless hours detailing everything the hero has done and then having almost no story left to tell. The monomyth is, ironically enough, killing modern mythmaking.

Oh, the Great Red Spot on Jupiter? That’s actually the Fire Sea, a great radioactive volcanic cauldron. Also, only the upper layers of Jupiter’s atmosphere are methane and ammonia; beneath the clouds, it is a mostly Earthlike world of continents and oceans, inhabited by Jovians, green, hairless, flippered beings. Oh, the Jovians, previously peaceful, are being stirred up against the humans who have settled on Jupiter by the aforementioned Space Emperor.

Before landing on Jupiter, though, Captain Future is ambushed in space! He forces the attacking ship down on Callisto (which, of course, has a breathable atmosphere.. I think the only object of any note to not have a breathable atmosphere is Earth’s moon). Callisto is inhabited by crystalline life forms that can attack end envelop their prey. Using them as a threat, Captain Future wheedles confessions from the vile miscreants, and they describe the Space Emperor as an armor-suited figure who “does things no human could do!”

Further, only a few people could have known Captain Future was heading to Jupiter. This sets up a plot that is repeated in the other two novels I have read — early on, Captain Future realizes the mysterious villain of the novel is one of a set of people, and spends most of the rest of the story narrowing the list of suspects. Also, in each of the three novels, the villain is somehow using, manipulating, or controlling a native race for his own ends. What saves these stories from tedium is that beneath the repetitive plot structure (which I have to assume is varied eventually, given how many Captain Future novels there were!), there is endless invention and awesome spectacle — like the Crawling Crystals Of Callisto! (They’re not called that in the book, just to be clear… but isn’t that a cool name? Wouldn’t you buy a novel called “The Crawling Crystals Of Callisto!”? I would.)

Otho disguises himself as one of the capture henchmen. He can soften and mold his plastic flesh almost without limit, which is useful.  This allows him to find out when and where the Space Emperor will be contacting his Jovian allies, but when Captain Future goes to capture him, he discovers that the Space Emperor is immaterial! He cannot be attacked, captured, or harmed! (Here, interestingly, follows some conversations that show more attention to science… or at least verisimilitude… than is seen in other media, for example, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Having concluded that the Space Emperor is vibrating at a frequency higher than that of ordinary matter, the issues of this — such as how does he breathe, and why the planet’s gravity doesn’t suck him into the core — are brought up and addressed, or at least listed as mysteries which must be solved, and which eventually are.)

While on Jupiter, we also meet two recurring characters: Ezra Gurney, the crusty old Marshall of the Planet Police, and Joan Randall, Planet Police Secret Agent and theoretical love interest. I say “theoretical” because, while she is female, and only such in the novels I’ve read thus far, and is positioned, trope-wise, to be Captain Future’s girlfriend, or at least Unstated Sexual Tension Friend (as is often the case in serial fiction), as of the three and a half novels I’ve read, Captain Future has less sex drive than a toaster, and while he is filled with Manly Fury when Joan is captured (on average, 14.6 times per novel), he has just as much Manly Fury when it happens to Grag, Otho, or the Brain. Joan’s own emotional state is limited to an occasional wide-eyed stare at the handsome Captain Future. I have to wonder if, back in the early 1940s, there was an underground of fanfic that tapped out hard-core porn on manual typewriters, and if the early fans of “scientifiction” were sexually aware enough to even contemplate what a shape-shifting android like Otho or an unstoppable powerhouse like Grag could do in the sack. Not really sure what you’d do with the Brain. Don’t want to think about it. PS: If you do a GIS on Captain Future with safe surf off, you WILL find porn — this is the internet, after all — but it’s based on the 1970s anime series, as are most of the images.

There is quite a bit going on, a lot of last-minute escapes, derring do, cunning plans, and some really awful “friendly banter” between Grag and Otho. Really, it may be simply the cultural distance… we live in a somewhat more restrained era… but a lot of what’s supposed to be playful interaction between friends, among all the Futuremen, often comes across of my modern ears as unduly harsh. It may also be that Edmond Hamilton’s skill at dialogue, at least in these early novels, is far less than his skill at imagining wondrous worlds and settings. At that, at least, he excels — especially when you remember most of this hadn’t been done before. He is quite good at evoking the feeling of a world with a handful of sentences, using a relatively sparse number of words to create a rugged Jupiter mining town or the eerie surface of Callisto. The raw energy and excitement of the story allows Captain Future to leap over great gaping holes in characterization.

Ultimately, we learn the Space Emperor is posing as “The Last Ancient”, a member of the near-mythical race of “super-civilized” beings who inhabited Jupiter long ago. Of course, he is a fraud, an Earthman who found some of the Ancient’s advanced technology, and he has duped the Jovians into following his scheme.  Captain Future defeats him, naturally, by outwitting him. (This is another common theme — Captain Future uses science against his foes. The ethos of the Captain Future novels is clear: Science is not evil, humans are. Even the atavism plague the Space Emperor is using had a benign origin — it was intended to let the Ancients study the evolution of species for the sake of pure knowledge. There is nothing, at least thus far, in the Captain Future novels that is of the “Things man was not meant to know” category — just things which should be kept out of the hands of the evil and the unscrupulous.)

Gaming Captain Future

From a gaming perspective, the universe of Captain Future is amazingly rich. Obviously, GURPS Tales Of The Solar Patrol, with the background suitably altered, is a great starting point, but any system that supports pulpy sci-fi action is good. The System is a great setting because of its size and population. Virtually every world is inhabited or inhabitable,  and even the long-settled worlds are home to countless mysteries, lost cities, forgotten races, and strange artifacts. Most of the worlds have a frontier feel to them — you can draw off the gold rush, of course, but also the settlement of the American West (complete with angry natives) , Australia during its penal colony days, or the English colonies in Hong Kong and India. The novels either ignore issues of imperialism and exploitation, or portray native dissent against the interlopers from Earth as something exploited by evil humans for their own gain, but there’s no reason to keep it that way, especially if the players will be unable to accept the status quo. (It ought to be noted that, in other novels, it’s made clear many of the aliens have equal status to humans — we meet Martian and Jovian businessmen, for example, who have considerable wealth and power in the System, so that there’s evidently some degree of equality going on. Except, of course, for women. It may seem fairly progressive to have Joan Randall be a Planet Police Special Agent instead of a nurse or a secretary, but, as of halfway through the fourth book, you’re left wondering how she ever got the job, as she seems to have no function except to be kidnapped or to stand there while Captain Future delivers some exposition.)

Despite the advanced weapons, combat is often quite physical, and one of the most common tropes is attacks by strange alien beasts who are conveniently immune to conventional super-weapons. Most characters in a Captain Future game would do well to know some fisticuffs and knifeplay. At the same time, actually advancing the plot requires deductions, fact-finding, and especially SCIENCE! Intellectual skills should be a big part of the game, but characters will tend to be ludicrously skilled generalists rather than realistic specialists.

Captain Future!

Captain Future!

And The Futuremen!

Part I: Who Is Captain Future?

It is extremely easy, in this age of pastiches, homages, parodies, deconstructions, and reconstructions, to lose sight of the source of things. We are a world of second handers and third handers. This is the age of the mash-up. Quite honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that — the only difference between someone writing Twilight fanfic and William Shakespeare is that Shakespeare occasionally got laid. I have said many times that originality is overrated, in that, ninety nine times out of a hundred, someone’s “original” idea is an idea smarter people long ago thought of and realized was crap.
But…

It’s still important to know what you’re mashing up, plagiarizing, homaging, and deconstructing. There is something vital about the earliest works of any genre, the point in the evolution of creativity where a new style or category of art split from its ancestral roots. One reason I love 1970s RPGs is that they are mostly examples of this era, of what I’ve termed the Burgess Shale — the period of explosive innovation when people still don’t know what works and what doesn’t.

So we come, finally, to Captain Future. My editor at PCWorld would have fits at how much I ramble before getting to the point, but, hey, no one is paying me for this, so I can write it my way, which means, filled with Adderall (I have a prescription, just to be clear) fueled digressions and clarifications. Like that one.

I know what you’re thinking. (You’re thinking, “I wonder if they’ve posted anything new at trannymidgetsinbondage.com since the last time I looked.”) “Wait, Lizard was talking about getting away from parodies and pastiches and going back to the source, and there’s no way something called ‘Captain Future’ was published with a straight face.” You’re wrong, wholly imaginary audience! Not only was it published with a straight face, it was played completely straight, with any humor, or attempts thereof, coming from some banter between an android and a robot that was more forced than Michael Jackson’s wedding night. To judge from the letters page, the audience at the time saw nothing remotely risible about it, either, and took it for exactly what it was. (If you either don’t know what ‘risible’ means, or you can’t glark it from context, this probably isn’t the web page for you, and you probably got here because google saw my line about trannymidgetsinbondage.com. )

So who, or what, is Captain Future?

Here’s where we put the page break!

Continue reading

Necromican, Level 6

The Necromican

Level 6

Featuring What May Be The Best Piece Of Erol Otus Art Ever

At Least, Excluding Those That Show Boobies

Because Boobies>Everything
Necromican

Necromican

I’ve got two long 4e articles in draft mode — one on armor and endurance, one on population demographics — both hovering at the ‘90% done’ level (which means, about 10% of the way done for anything I’d expect people to pay for, but remember my unofficial motto:”Mrlizard.com — free and worth it!”), but I’m not finishing them right now. Instead, I am continuing my walk through the dire and dread pages of the Necromican (note: Not Necronomicon), a classic late 1970s supplement for Dungeons & Dragons published by Fantasy Art Enterprises, and featuring some great gonzo art by Erol Otus, and great gonzo ideas by, I assume, both Erol Otus and Paul Reiche III. (You can see the first part here , the second part here, and the third part here.) The late 1970s were a great time for role playing game supplements, full of the insane energy of a new medium defining itself — the burgess shale of the gaming era, a collection of strange and bizarre experiments, perhaps matched, briefly, by the first year or two of D20 supplements, which gave us “Broncosaurus Rex”, perhaps the only game set on a distant planet filled with semi-sapient dinosaurs in an alternate history where the Confederacy won the Civil War.

This has nothing to do with the Necromican, though. It’s just where my mind happened to wander.

(No one is selling the Necromican at Amazon, so I linked to the Necronomicon instead. There’s also a “real” (snicker) Necronomicon, and what’s scary/hilarious is that you can click a button to “Look Inside!”. How much San loss is that?

OK, the spells. As usual, this is not all the sixth level spells, just a sampling of the most interesting, in my wholly subjective opinion.

Continue reading

Back To Not-Basics

Over on RPG.net, I got sucked into a debate instead of doing what I wanted to do this morning, which was write the next part of the Necromican series. So, I decided to share with you some of that debate, because I think it’s worth sharing to some extent, and because I like to at least pretend I keep this site updated.

First, I wrote this:

People don’t want to play a game branded as “Dungeons & Dragons”. They want to play D&D, whatever that might mean to them. There’s zillions of other rules systems out there; people stick to D&D because it delivers what they want, not because of what it’s named. Change what it delivers, and people will find another rules system (however named) that does give them the gameplay they’ve come to expect from “Dungeons & Dragons”. WOTC has already learned, painfully, that the brand name is not enough. Reading the L&L columns, I think Mike Mearls is still grossly misreading the audience — if 4e was less than it could have been due to overestimating the size of the CharOp fringe, “4e++” looks to be undermined due to overestimating the OSR fringe — but at least he’s TRYING to read the audience, and that’s a damn good sign.

(It ought to be noted that reading the audience and slavishly obeying the loudest voices is not the same thing. Brad McQuaid rather famously said, “The players don’t know what they want”, and to a large extent, he was right. While it applies more to MMOs than RPGs due to many obvious factors, there’s a point where you need to tell the audience to sit down and shut up — but to do this, you need to know even better than they do what really drives the play experience.)

4e delivers, probably, the best rendition of the ‘core experience’ of D&D than any prior edition, but players don’t play just for the core, but for the… uhm… not core… and groups differ wildly in which non-core experiences they like best. By focusing on the core to the near total exclusion of all other activities, they drove off, or at least underwhelmed, a huge swath of players. Given the choice between “Perfect core and nothing else” and “Core experience is 80% of what it could be, but everything else is there”, many people deliberately chose less-optimal core play in order to also get the non-core play. (I chose to ignore the rules advice and run 4e my way, bringing in the non-core experiences I desired, in many ways aided by how little work I needed to do get the core experience to work well. Without having to prep 4 hours for a fight that will last 30 seconds thanks to save-or-die, I had 4 hours to do both mechanical and non-mechanical worldbuilding. But that’s another thread.)

Then someone asked:

So what ‘core sacred cows’ would WOTC want to put in to ‘attract back’ the Pathfinder/3.5/retro fans (the ones, that is, who left. Some people are happily playing both 4e and others)?

It is, as you say, a very subjective thing … but WOTC would still need to make a decision on what to include in a ‘back to basics’ as suggested by Daztur.

So what would WOTC need to include (or exclude)?

To which I replied (and this is really the important part, as it sort of sums up what D&D is for me, and what ethos guides the stuff I make for myself):

Back to basics isn’t the solution. Back to basics is the PROBLEM.

If you look at a lot of net activity in the late 1990s, you will find a mountain of huge, detailed “netbooks” for running D&D in every setting imaginable, or over-detailing the most trivial aspects of the rules. When 3.0 came out, the designers recognized and acknowledged that people liked playing D&D for everything (whether OR NOT it worked, whether OR NOT it was the best system), and so encouraged this, with broad rules covering a wide range of activities, ray guns on the weapon lists, and, of course, the OGL/SRD, which was intended to let people keep playing D&D whether or not they wanted to play cowboys, vampires, or wookies. Please don’t tell me how much the D20 Modern rules sucked or how “system matters”; the point is, people DID use D&D for everything, WOTC recognized that fact, and WOTC set out to give people a “D&D for everything”, and it worked — people bought it, used it, and played it.

4e was the back-to-basics. “Kick down the door, kill the monster, get the treasure, NEXT!” It turned it up to 11, giving us all the cool action movie stunts and epic battles we wanted but that the rules tended to cover poorly or not at all. It just chucked everything ELSE out the window, everything that gave you a reason to be kicking down the door in the first place. The game advice strongly encouraged “getting to the fun”, which meant “having a combat encounter” (or a skill challenge, but the skill challenge rules were mathematically broken in the first release), and everything else was trivial.

So what do I suggest? Screw “back to basics”. Give us rules for everything. Running baronies. Sailing ships. Firing muskets. Large races. Small races. Races without boobies. (OK, that’s pushing it… gotta have dem boobies, even on the lizard-people and the crystal people.) Researching spells. Getting drunk. Dickering over copper pieces. Killing gods. Killing gods by using a mass accelerator to fling copper pieces at near-C velocities at them. You want a “modular rules set”? Fine, I like that. I like it a lot, without sarcasm. But don’t just give us “Basic Combat Module”, “Advanced Combat Module”, and “Players Of A Weird Hybrid Of Star Fleet Battles Where They Use Advanced Squad Leader For Boarding Actions Will Be Terrified By The Complexity Of These Rules Combat Module”. Give us “Basic Kingdoms” and “Advanced Kingdoms” and “Henry Kissinger Presents:Kingdoms”. Give us more, not less, cutomizability, and trust us to be smart enough to know if we’re building a sucky character.

(If I was smart, I’d be linking to 4e or Pathfinder at Amazon in the vague hope of making enough from this website, in a year, to buy a Big Mac. But, no, I link to two products I like, but which are only relevant because I used them in a lame joke about excess complexity. I am not smart.)


D&D is, or should support, a 2 hit point wizard scrambling to buy enough bat guano for his spells, and a party of 54th level Paladin/Assassins who think Deities&Demigods is a monster manual. After nearly 40 years, that’s what D&D is. The SAME GROUP may not play at both ends of this spectrum… but both groups think they’re playing “D&D”, and that what’s D&D ought to give them.

Stinging Orca

Well, I’m leaving for GenCon in a bit, which means either I won’t be posting anything or I’ll be posting a lot — how’s that for boolean? I’ll be using my laptop, which has become frustratingly sluggish, and I’m not sure my passwords are up to date on it, and, anyway, if I’m lucky, I won’t have time, since if we’re away from home my wife doesn’t need to worry about how much noise she’s making I’ll be too busy gaming.

So, in yet another desperate attempt to pretend this is an ongoing concern and not another “cobweb site”, here’s more stuff from the yes-I’m-still-working-on-it Earth Delta, namely, killer whales. With legs. And tentacles. You know, the normal stuff.

Landwhale, Stinging Orca

Landwhale, Stinging Orca

Level 16 Brute

Huge natural mutant beast (mutant, mammal)

XP 1,400

HP 191; Bloodied 96

AC 28; Fortitude 29; Reflex 27; Will 26

Speed 7, swim 8

Resist 5 weapon; Resist 10 against blunt weapons; Resist 10 cold; Vulnerability 10 fire

Initiative +13

Perception +17

Low-Light Vision

Traits
Six-Legged
It is hard to knock a stinging orca prone. Whenever an effect would knock it prone (including a successful save to avoid being moved into dangerous terrain), it may roll a save to remain standing. If any power or effect allows it to “save or fall prone”, it may roll twice and take the higher result.
Squat Legs
The Stinging Orca cannot jump.
Standard Actions
m Bite • At-Will
Attack: Reach 1; +21 vs. AC; +2 bonus to attack rolls against prone or immobilized targets.
Hit: 3d10 + 10 damage.
M Paralytic Tentacles • Recharge 3 4 5 6
Attack: Reach 3 (One or two creatures in reach); +20 vs. Reflex
Hit: 2d8 + 9 damage, and target is immobilized (save ends). .
Move Actions
Trample • Encounter
Attack: +18 vs. Fortitude; The stinging orca moves its speed; it may move through squares occupied by medium or smaller creatures, doing damage as detailed below. It may use this power in place of a charge, as a standard action, if desired. (It will then bite at the end of the charge, as expected.)
Hit: 2d12 + 10 and target is knocked prone.
Miss: Half damage and push target one square.
Triggered Actions
C Tail Swipe • Encounter
Trigger: The stinging orca is bloodied.
Attack (Immediate Reaction): Close Burst 1 (All enemies in burst.); +19 vs. Reflex
Hit: 3d8 + 7 damage, and push target 1d4 squares. .
Skills Athletics +18
Str 21 (+13) Dex 21 (+13) Wis 19 (+12)
Con 21 (+13) Int 6 (+6) Cha 18 (+12)
Alignment unaligned     Languages Common, Growl

Stinging orcas are found mostly in sub-arctic climates, where winters are long and there are many herd animals to hunt. Extreme hunger might drive some pods to attack communities, which can be extremely dangerous; an angry pod of full-grown “black stingers”, as they’re sometimes called, can quite literally flatten a poorly-walled stronghold in minutes.

Stinging orcas have the basic body design of their aquatic ancestors, but they run on six strong, stubby, legs, and two long, ever-whipping tendrils emerge from their backs, just behind the shoulders. These tendrils exude a paralytic venom which leaves their prey helpless and easily devoured.

While less intelligent than humans, stinging orcas are still sapient and they will fight with cunning. A common tactic is for one to bowl over enemies and let his fellows move in on the downed targets while he goes after the object of his charge. They are cooperative hunters and will use their tendrils on each other’s chosen prey, and they will show no mercy when it comes to protecting the young of the pod.

Despite their ferocity and relatively low intellects, it is often possible to deal peaceably with the orcas, especially if there are offers of freshly killed meat. They are a gregarious and communicative lot, though, so news of untrustworthy dealings will spread across thousands of miles with remarkable speed.

Stinging orca blubber can be rendered down into oil by use of the Skin and Gut technique; this yields oil worth 9000 gp per whale, in 10 medium units. (See the treasure section in the Core Rules). Obviously, barrels or other containers are needed to haul it back. Rendering a stinging whale in this way makes it impossible to gather ingredients for consumables using the same technique; it’s one or the other.

Design Notes

A fairly standard baseline creature, with a minor twist, namely, the displacer beast style tentacles. I’m playing around with Traits more; a lot of the detail for creatures that 3.5 handled by subtypes or feat choices can be lost in 4e, if you don’t make the effort to put it back, and I’m starting to make that effort (I may go back and spruce up older creatures when I’m done with paragon tier, as that will be a good way to also fix typos, correct inconsistencies, and so on.)

Rereading the critter now, it occurs me this would make a great mount; I will need to write up a version of that. Perhaps it will be ridden by squid-people or shark-men or something.