Author Archives: Lizard

A Villain Team?

A Terrifying Trio

So this crawled into my head as a villain team for some supers game I’ll never run.

Caught in an undersea volcanic explosion, a scuba diver was mutated into a hideous lava covered monstrosity with giant pincers in place of hands, and extracts revenge on the world as the ROCK LOBSTER!

A martial artist was banned from competition when their mutant power to become two-dimensional manifested unexpectedly… with their career destroyed, they turned to crime as the PAPER TIGER!

An explosion embedded shards of lethal metal in the skin of an ordinary dockworker, while granting them superhuman speed, and the world fears the razor-sharp, lightning-fast crimes of RUNS WITH SCISSORS!

This is the kind of thing that always gets me nasty notes from my editors…

Droids

Look Sir! Droids!

Another Ancient Game You Probably Saw Advertised In The Dragon

But Which I Somehow Acquired. No Idea When Or How.

With This Exciting Action Scene On The Cover, How Could Customers Resist?

With This Exciting Action Scene On The Cover, How Could Customers Resist?

It is a little-known fact that FASA’s famous “BattleTech” game was originally released as “Battledroids“, until they got a letter from a certain director reading, in part, “Yousa be a violatin mesa’s trademark on droidsa! Yousa be changin thats quick or bombad lawyers gonna sue you maxibig!” The company assumed the odd phrasing was legalese and did not realize they were privy to a glimpse into the dark future of what was currently a beloved movie franchise, so “Battledroids” became “BattleTech”, and the rest is history.

The game I am discussing, called simply “Droids”, was published two years earlier (in 1982) and never attracted Mr. Lucas’ wrath, as far as I know. Really, the entire preceding paragraph is mostly irrelevant, I just wanted to a)verify that I did, indeed, remember seeing a game called “Battledroids” at the Compleat Strategist in NYC way back when, and, b)Get in some decades-late digs at Jar Jar. (But does Rogue One look awesome, or what? Anyway…)

“What Mission? What Are You Babbling About?”

The basic premise of Droids is that the PCs are droids, a naming convention to be adopted by White Wolf a decade or so later. There are no humans, animals, or other life forms to interact with. It’s droids all the way down.

“I’m Only A Droid, I’m Not Much Good At Telling Stories”

Droids May Be The First Sci-Fi Work To Predict The "Selfie"

Droids May Be The First Sci-Fi Work To Predict The “Selfie”

In the very earliest days of RPGs, the first 2-3 years of their existence, there was a point where the line between “skirmish wargame” and “RPG” was much blurrier than it is now. We, as humans, like to fit things in boxes, to categorize, define, name, and limit, enabling us to mentally manipulate complex clouds of concepts as if they had a single handle we could grab onto. “En Garde” by Game Designer’s Workshop (I think they went on to do some kind of space game) was one example. TSR’s “Warriors Of Mars” was another.

Droids, nearly a decade after D&D’s release, and marketed as an RPG, has some aspects of this. Despite it requiring a Referee and including a “Sample of Play” in typical style, the book consists almost entirely of rules for combat and for creating droids to engage in combat. There’s about a page of material suggesting there might be organized Droid societies, but it’s very sparse. The game provides content for the very core of RPGs: Go somewhere, kill things, take their stuff, but is sparse on the “kill things”. There’s three generic sample NPC droids, and two more in the scenario provided (“raid the abandoned army base”). The “stuff” includes a small list of items not available at character creation, from vacuum cleaner attachments to movie projectors, but it is diverse enough to offer some inspiration for additional goodies.

A post-human world inhabited entirely by abandoned artificial intelligences is a fine setting for adventure, but all the work in bringing this to life, including any mechanics for anything other than combat, would be to the referee.

So What’s In The Book?

A lot of charts, tables, and descriptions of various weapons, power plants, mobility mechanisms, and armor, along with rules for using all of these things, a short scenario, and an appendix with summarized charts.

Look, it’s 1982! This is pretty much what you got!

Also contained: A layout completely reminiscent of Traveller. I’d say they borrowed the same Adobe templates, but this is 1982, and “Adobe templates” back then meant “plans for building homes in the southwest”.

Let’s Get On With It

There’s not any kind of list of archetypes or “typical” droids, or a real sense of what you’re going to do besides “explore ruins, scavenge parts”. The advice on building a droid actually steers you away from archetypes, encouraging you to build well-balanced units. Not bad advice, at all, but RPGs tend to work best when there’s a team of characters with mixed strengths and weaknesses. More relevant for this article, I need an idea, stat.

Somewhere in flipping through it, I saw there were options for gasbags. The idea of a blimpdroid appeals to me greatly. Perhaps it was created originally as a silent spy, able to drift into enemy territory with a minimal signature. It should have some self-defense capacity to take out attackers, and ideally a backup ground-based movement system. In the campaign setting, it would work as a scout/spy, locating places to forage, relying on better armed- and armored- allies to do most of the killing once it brought back the intelligence, but not helpless in a fight.

Can I build it? Let’s see.

I have 20 CP to start with. CP are “Construction Points”, of course. Seriously, you need to be told that? Wow, my imaginary readers are dim.

“PC” is the measure of whether I continue to internalize my oppression by using the human supremacist term “droid”, or if I refer to myself as a post-organic ferro-American. Or, it’s “Power Consumption”, the measure of how much power each of my components eats. Well, why can’t it be both, huh? Don’t force me into your binary categories!

“BP”, or “Bulk Points”, sort of combine hit points and volume on a unit-by-unit basis.

Based on the character sheet provided, I’m going to need a spreadsheet to keep track of things. Damn, it’s been a while since I fired up Excel for RPG purposes. Getting a bit giddy, here.

Transport

The first thing I’m asked to spend CP on is transport. There’s a lot of choices, but keeping with my character concept, I’m starting with “Propelled Balloon”. The rules are fairly detailed, including time to inflate or deflate and how far you can fall while it fills. (800 meters, so, it’s pretty much useless if you fall from anything smaller than the Empire State Building.) I’m also taking wheels for my ground transport.

Note that each transport unit can support 100 BP, and different types of transport units can’t be combined. So, if I go over 100 BP, I will need more wheels and balloons.

Manipulation

Not the ability to bribe, blackmail, or intimidate, but rather, arms. There’s only three: Repair, Maintenance, and Lifting. Not sure what the future looks like in terms of BP, PC, CP, etcP, so for now, I’m going for a single Maintenance arm, which can do a little repair and a little lifting.

(You may notice the system does not assume a humanoid default. The droids produced by this game will resemble real-world robots much more than space opera ones. You can probably build a humanoid, but it’s not a baseline and there’s no indication non-humanoid droids suffer any notable disadvantage in terms of interacting with the world.)

I… Have… The… POWER!

OK, right era, wrong genre.

Power units have a negative PC… in essence, they reduce your total power consumption by a certain amount. Power plants are the best (most expensive) and can be overloaded at a risk of explosion. Solar cells are tempting, but I plan to operate at night. (I could combine them with a rechargeable battery, I suppose…) Nah. Going with standard power cells.

Power can be allocated to units on as-needed basis. Assuming I may need to move and pick things up at the same time, I will need 4 units of power, minimum. So that’s 4 cells, which will cost me 4 points. Hmm. Let’s kick that up to 7, to allow for what I suspect weapons and sensors will cost. Or, for 5, I could get a power plant. Hm. Power cells are 4 BP each, while a plant is 9, total. This means, in theory, I can lose a few cells and still have some operating power, but a plant is putting all my eggs in one fusion-powered basket. Hm. Let’s go for plant. If I have CP left over, I might get a cell or a battery for backup.

Coin Detected In Pocket

Or, sensors. For vision, I am going with the most expensive, the tri-camera, which also gives me ranger-like tracking capability. It fits my character concept.

CP are starting to get low. I will skimp on the other sensors, going for the most basic sound and communications gear.

Module DR-1: Kill All Humans

Modules are basically programs. You buy an interface, which, I think, determines how many module you can load at once? Or something? The combat modules are insanely expensive — 10 CP for the lowest-level one. The others ain’t much better. I’ll just pick up an M1 Interface for now, in the hopes of finding a data module later on.

Phased Plasma Rifle In The 40 Watt Range

It Costs How Much?

How About A Pointed Stick?

Seriously, the cheapest weapon is 4 CP. I’ve got like 2.1 left. Time to make some adjustments.

Let’s drop the wheels and go for legs. That frees up just enough CP for an energy cannon and a single 10-shot power pack. Hey, that’s 10 times more attacks than a first level magic user gets!

Other Accessories Sold Seperately

I can’t afford armor, ECM gear, or a spotlight. Sigh.

The Naming Of Names

Well, what should I call it? The game explicitly offers an eclectic naming scheme, noting a droid could be named anything from a string of letters and numbers to a computer or industrial themed name. While it’s a year or two late, relative to the publication date, I will go with LASERBEAK for my character.

LASERBEAK’s greatest weakness, mechanically, is its lack of armor. The guidelines caution against this, but something’s got to give. Hopefully, it can stay out of danger until it can scavenge some. It also has only enough power for 10 shots; an additional power supply is needed.

Here’s the final character summary. It seems appropriate I mostly just needed to copy over part of my Excel sheet…

LASERBEAK. It Seems Appropriate This Game's Character Sheet Is An Excel Screenshot

LASERBEAK. It Seems Appropriate This Game’s Character Sheet Is An Excel Screenshot

Other Thoughts

  • I can’t find any limits on attaching new units. There’s rules on how long it will take, based on bulk, but apparently you can stick anything on you that you wish, limited by bulk relative to your movement capacity.
  • There’s rules for robots, which are non-self-aware machines. They are otherwise like droids.
  • There are also some rules for “experimental” devices which have assorted amusing defects.
  • I would have included rules for droids themselves to have various flaws (especially lingering psychological quirks from their programming), in order to gain bonus CP. The 20 points at chargen is very limiting. Of course, I started off with an expensive concept. Downgrading my camera would have given me enough CP for armor.
  • You’ll note there are no attributes, per se. “Strength” is determined by how much your manipulators can lift, in BP. Beyond that, there’s nothing. All droids are equally agile, intelligent, or charismatic. Constitution? You either have power enough to move, or, you don’t.
  • Indicating the era, the communication options are limited to, in essence, voice. There’s radio and light (blinking lights, which, in the rules, goes v…e…r…y s…l…o…w…l…y), but these just transmit your “voice”. No wifi. While it makes sense a post-apocalyptic setting doesn’t have a lot of internet, you can imagine that some intact buildings would still have an intranet, and any droid civilization would be strongly interconnected.
  • Likewise, no viruses or malware to infect you.
  • While the lack of more cyberpunky tropes is not surprising — Neuromancer is two years in the future! — what does surprise me is the lack of melee weapons! It’s a post apocalyptic wasteland where the droids must survive as best they can… no chainsaws? No tasers, even? Perhaps they were planned for the promised, but never materialized (as far as I know) supplements.
  • As is typical of the era and the design, the low-illustration, high-density text conceals many rules and asides that would, in later years, be more clearly called out. Several paragraphs of this bemoaning the lack of thus-and-such rule, with must sarcasm, had to be culled as I stumbled over a good-enough mention of the “missing” information buried in the tenth sentence of a 20 sentence block of text.
  • Overall, the writing is clean, functional, and clear. It’s not plagued by typos, spelling, and grammatical errors.

That last item sort of sums up my thoughts on the game, and perhaps why it did not ignite any kind of spark that I know of. “Functional” is the watchword of Droids. It offers some tools for a unique (at the time) setting, a post-human post-apocalypse, but does very little to inspire. The text describing the various options is perfectly adequate, and that’s it. The art is decent, but it’s all static images of various droids with no background or action going on. The sample of play consists of Player One and Player Two talking to Referee and… looking at things. Shining lights. Examining a hole in a fence. Yay.

So, that’s Droids. Tune in next time, when I look at… I have no idea. I’ll poke around the bookcases until something catches my eye.

For More Reading…

If you like the idea of AIs in a post-apocalyptic (but not post-human) world, you might enjoy this….

Sharknado: Pre-Release Playtest Comments

A generic "west coast" city. The final game may include a second city map.

A generic “west coast” city. The final game may include a second “East Coast” city map.

EDIT: Kickstarter is now live!

One of the things I’ve found to be a lot of fun at GenCon is hot anime cosplayers spending all my money playtesting games! “Double Exposure” (which, IIRC, began long ago and far away as a group running LARPs in Piers Anthony’s “Phaze” setting) runs a regular hall-o-playtests, where a dozen or more games run on a two hour cycle: You get a ticket, you are given a number, when the guy whose microphone doesn’t work quite right says something that sounds like your number, you go up, and see which games have open slots for that session.

I show up, not knowing what to expect, and see there’s a Sharknado game.

IT MUST BE MINE!

Fortunately, I got in. And I had enough fun I found when they were running demos outside the playtest hall and signed up for one of those, too. So I have played two full games of the pre-Kickstarter version. The rules and design are in “late flux” stage; they’re refining, but the core seems pretty solid. Playtest components are placeholders (a single generic shark photo for the shark cards, instead of unique illustrations for each, etc.) but it’s pretty well along.

First, I asked if they had the license. You’d be surprised (if you know nothing about humanity) at how many people are very far along in the development of a game tied to an IP and who have no idea you need the IP holder’s permission. I’ve even met a few who think the IP holder is going to pay THEM for designing this awesome game to promote their property. (Perhaps I will design a game called “Too Stupid To Live”, something like CAH…)

Yes, they did. Good.

The game is a cooperative race against time. A sharknado is threatening the city, and the players (running various characters with different abilities and strengths) must stop it. There’s at least three scenarios (I played in two), and probably more. There’s difficulty scaling for each scenario, as well.

Sharknado - Mia

I found a laser chainsaw. Your argument is irrelevant.

The sharknado runs according to specific rules, governing its direction, how many sharks it spits out, and so on. During the playtest, one of the designers “ran” the sharknado, like a GM, but that’s not needed. It’s purely mechanical.

Players manage action tokens, reroll tokens, permanent and “single use” equipment, and wounds. If your current character dies (which happens often), you just pick a new one from the stack. Pity about all the cool gear you scavenged.

I found great armor and weapons... then I took a sharknado to the face. And legs. And arms.

I found great armor and weapons (after this picture was taken)… then I took a sharknado to the knee. And torso. And head. And arms.

There are some very nice balancing elements. Players in the same hex can cooperate, share gear, use special abilities (like healing) on each other… but if the sharknado enters that hex, all players in it die. Instantly. There are usually multiple goals to achieve to win a scenario… any one goal is easier if everyone works together, but this could mean there’s no time to reach other goal points on the map. So there’s motive to stick close, and motive to split up.

By design, Sharknado is highly random — the designer referred to it as “Ameritrash”, by contrast with the European style of low- or non- random games. In the two games I played, victories were won by complex application of resource management and careful timing of each player’s turn and actions (each player spends action points, but can do so in an interwoven fashion, with one player spending some points to move into a hex, another player handing him an item, and then spending more points to do something else), but each was won at the last possible turn, and a single die roll could have foiled it all.

It feels like one of the movies. It’s random, violent, bloody, ridiculous, and fun. I will be backing the Kickstarter when it goes live.

PS: Yes, I asked before taking the pictures. I also asked if posting the pictures in public fora would be OK.

Of Gods And Men

Of Gods And Men

Because It’s Been On My Shelf For Years, And I Want To Know What’s In It

That’s Why

Warning! You May Need COMPETENT PSYCHIATRIC HELP After Reading This!

(An amusing note: I started this in June, 2012. Then I did other stuff. Now I’m finishing it… if I can find my copy of OGAM again… ah, found it. Good.)

(Amusing note 2: It is now 2016. The last edit on this post was 2014. There’s no great special reason for this, no “This is the WORST GAME EVAR” horror. I just get distracted easily.)

Greetings, faithful reader, and welcome to another installment of “Lizard tries to pretend he provides content”. In today’s episode, we look at “Of Gods And Men”, an RPG you’ve never heard of. No, you haven’t. Don’t lie.

“Of Gods And Men” was published in 1991, and it ended up in my collection… uh… I dunno. I think I scarfed it from Gamescape in San Francisco when it drifted from the “Half Off” shelf to the “Got Wobbly Furniture? Look Here For Help!” shelf. Anyway, I happened to glance over at one of my bookcases earlier today, spotted it, and decided “What the hell? Why not?”

I mean, it’s got a picture of a guy playing “Alas, Poor Yorick!” with a fireball on the cover. What could go wrong?

We’ll find out…

Continue reading

Shark, Three Headed

Shark, 3-Headed, 3-Versions

Inspired by cinema…

Pathfinder Version

Three Headed Shark

The sight of a great white’s fin breaking the water is fearsome enough, but then the creature’s three heads appear briefly above the surface, turning this way and that in ceaseless rage…

Three Headed Shark CR 13
N Huge magical beast (aquatic)
Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft., keen scent, low-light vision; Perception +14


Defense


AC 27, touch 9, flat-footed 26 (+1 Dex, +18 natural, -2 size)
hp 189 (18d10+90)
Fort +17, Ref +12, Will +10
DR 5/magic; Immune fear


Offense

Speed 10 ft., swim 40 ft.
Melee 3 bites +25 (1d12+8/19-20/x3)
Space 15 ft.; Reach 15 ft.
Special Attacks rend (2 jaws, 2d8+12)


Statistics


Str 26, Dex 12, Con 18, Int 2, Wis 14, Cha 10
Base Atk +18; CMB +28; CMD 39 (can’t be tripped)
Feats Bleeding Critical, Combat Reflexes, Critical Focus, Great Fortitude, Improved Critical (bite), Iron Will, Power Attack, Toughness, Weapon Focus (bite)
Skills Acrobatics +5 (-3 to jump), Intimidate +6, Perception +14, Swim +21
SQ devouring bite, ferocity, hero points, land survival, leaping bite, regenerate head


Special Abilities


Devouring Bite (Ex) The three-headed shark ignores half the hardness of any material it attempts to bite through. It can easily tear through the wooden hull of a warship, the stone walls of a seaside fortress, or even the iron plates of a gnomish submersible.
Ferocity (Ex) Fights without penalty even while disabled or dying.
Keen Scent (Ex) The creature can notice other creatures by scent in a 180-foot radius underwater and can detect blood in the water at ranges of up to a mile.
Land Survival (Ex) The three-headed shark can survive for up to 10 minutes outside of water before it begins to take damage.
Leaping Bite (Ex) If it starts its turn in the water, the three-headed shark can leap up to 40 feet horizontally and 20 vertically as a full-round action, and can make a single bite attack at the end of the leap.
Regenerate Head (Ex) A sunder attack with a slashing weapon that does damage equal to 1 1/2 times the three-headed shark’s hit dice will remove one of its heads, depriving it of a bite attack… momentarily. In 1d4 rounds, three new, smaller, heads will appear in place of the missing head. These heads have a reach of 5′ and attack as secondary natural weapons (-5 to the normal head attack bonus), doing 1d8+4 damage.


Ecology


Environment any ocean
Organization solitary or pair
Treasure standard (in stomach)

Three-headed sharks are spawned in regions with large amounts of magical pollution — the bay of a city with a large alchemist’s guild, the site of a sea battle with many spellcasters involved, or near planar rifts. They are vicious creatures which attack without provocation or even hunger… they will tear prey to pieces and then leave the remains behind. A common tactic is to come up beneath a boat and tear the hull to shreds, then feast on the sailors trapped in the rapidly-sinking remains.

Terrifyingly, some sahuagin have found ways to tame and ride these monstrosities. Only their most elite, particularly rangers and druids, can master these nightmare creatures. When seen, it is usually at the forefront of a massive army.

Most three-headed sharks are mutations of great whites, but other species, primarily hammerheads and makos, have been spotted. Rumors of a mythic three-headed shark the size of a megalodon remain, thankfully, only rumors.


Design Notes

Done with the help of Hero Labs, so blame them for math errors. The damage is high for its CR, but it’s supposed to be. As with a lot of mid-level and up creatures in Pathfinder, you run a real risk of the encounter being nerfed by a failed Will save (less risk with Reflex or Fortitude, though it’s always there.) GMs might want to add “+4 vs. mind-affecting effects”. I left that out of the “official” version because my “Gygaxian naturalism” opposed it, but if you use this thing, it’s your campaign, run it your way!

Please note: The bites have a x3 critical multiplier.

Please also note: I created the charcharodoom about 12 years ago, long before this movie, or the prequel (Two Headed Shark Attack, of course!) came out.

There's two kinds of people who see things like this in their heads: Game designers and serial killers. I'm the kind that pays less. Hint: It's the first one.

There’s two kinds of people who see things like this in their heads: Game designers and serial killers. I’m the kind that pays less. Hint: It’s the first one.

Arduinish Version

SHARK, THREE-HEADED This thing makes Jaws look like a goldfish! HD 10+2 to 15+2, AC 2+2 to 2+4. Number 1-3. Speed 18 water, 2 ground. %liar too stupid to. ATTACKS 3 bites 3d8+8 each, teeth act like sword of sharpness. Looks: 30′ long great White Shark with three heads! Sense of smell can detect any living thing in 184 feet or twice that if bleeding, doesn’t need light to attack. If a head is cut off, three smaller heads appear in 1d4 rounds, each attacks as if 4 HD less and does 1/2 damage. Can leap out of water for up to 40 feet (20 feet up) and then bite. Survives out of water for up to 10 mins. before starting to “drown”. 100% immune to fear, charm, etc., they live only to EAT and EAT and EAT. Sometimes tamed by EVIL mermen as riding beasts. Oh, and they have the “steel bite” that chews through anything less hard than adamantine (up to 6″ thick per round).

(Does anyone know enough CSS to tell me how to tighten the space for the monospaced font?)

Design Notes

Design? Please, this is old school! Even the stat block format changed from monster to monster.. the order, format, and inclusion of any attribute was random. So I just went with what felt right. I tried to make sure I got all the most important things: AC, hit dice, and damage/attack.

AD&D Version

FREQUENCY: Very Rare
NO. APPEARING: 1
ARMOR CLASS: -1
MOVE: 2″//24″
HIT DICE: 14-16
% IN LAIR: 25%
TREASURE TYPE: Q (in stomach)
NO. OF ATTACKS: 3
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 3-12
SPECIAL ATTACKS: Rending and see below
SPECIAL DEFENSES: See below
MAGIC RESISTANCE: Standard
INTELLIGENCE: Animal
ALIGNMENT: Neutral
SIZE: L
PSlONlC ABILITY: nil
Attack/Defense Modes: nil

Three-headed sharks are thankfully rare mutations that sometimes appear in areas with magical pollution, such as runoff from an alchemist’s lab. They can attack up to three targets per round, but if they hit one target with two or more bites, they will rend it (like an ape) for an additional 2-16 points of damage.

If they are in water, they can leap out of it up to 4″ and make a single bite attack when they land. They can survive up to 10 minutes in air before suffering any ill effects, are immune to fear, and can chew through non-magical material at 1″/round.

If a “20” is rolled when attacking with a two-handed bladed weapon, a head will be severed. In 1d4 rounds, three tiny heads will regenerate. Each attacks as a creature with 4 fewer hit dice and does 1d6 points of damage. These heads do not regenerate.

They normally look like great white sharks of the largest size, with three heads. Representatives of other species, such as makos or hammerheads, have been reported. Fearful sailors have claimed that in the deepest ocean, a three-headed megalodon exists, but this is surely nonsense.

Design Notes

AD&D hints at a strict formality of design, with a clean and consistent layout… but it’s mostly an illusion. Hit dice, damage, special abilities, etc., were all assigned in a “whatever seems to work” fashion, and many creatures had “one off” mechanics… only apes have the “rending” power, for instance. I used sharks and bulettes as my main guideposts for setting the numbers, but I mostly just winged it.

KS Hype: Journey To The Center Of The Earth

Just a shout out to a Kickstarter I backed, and think is well worth supporting: Michael Satran’s Journey To The Center Of The Earth.

Romans, dinosaurs, lizard men, wizards, cyborg mole people(!), and probably a lot more! Perfect for any kind of pulpy or superheroic adventure from the 19th century to the 21st. It’s written to support Hero System, Savage Worlds, and Mutants & Masterminds. Check it out.

Disclaimer: There ain’t none. I’m not part of the project, don’t get paid for posting this, and am not getting anything beyond what I paid for in the KickStarter. I have worked with many of the principles before and hope to again, but given how small the tabletop industry is, the odds are good that if there’s an RPG kickstarter worth backing, I’ve probably had some interaction with the folks behind it.

The Devil And Captain Alistair

The Devil And Captain Alistair

There was smoke, and fire, and sparks. The main screen’s display had fractured into blocks of random colors; only a handful of secondary and tertiary displays, still getting feeds from the few surviving external sensors, showed anything useful… though how useful the knowledge that the three ‘Revelation’ class light cruisers that had opened fire on them were still there was anyone’s guess.

Three blinking red dots, moving inexorably towards a small yellow circle. That’s what the TTD — the tertiary tactical display — showed. In a moment, a plague of purple specks would blossom across the screen, a swarm of symbolic gnats. They would sweep over the helpless yellow circle, and it… and the humans who dwelled within it… would vanish, as would the display itself.

Captain Alistair braced for the inevitable. And kept bracing. It took him some time to notice no time was passing. The TTD was frozen, as was everyone around him. Sparks hung in the air like fireflies in amber. Weapons Officer Buhari hovered in place, the blood from her shrapnel-inflicted wounds forming fascinatingly frozen arcs, twisted in flight from their expected paths by the now-paralyzed flickering of the grav plates. Nothing moved, except him.

And the newcomer.

Tetrapoid, Alistair thought. Same general body plan as Terrans, Clavarians, and two dozen other Alliance species. Crimson skin, like someone from the northern continents of Balar, but with only two eyes. Small horns, too symmetrical for a Melikor.

The Captain sighed. “I’m authorized for first contact protocol, but Lt. Tangier is much better at it than I am.” He gestured towards the lieutenant, who remained suspended in time, midway through painful recoil from an electric discharge. “However, even if you freed him from whatever you’ve done, I don’t think he’ll be in any condition to talk.” Alistair looked again at the unmoving tactical display, focusing on the text declaring 3.93 seconds remained until impact. “Not that we’d have much time for conversation, anyway.”

The stranger smiled, showing teeth that came to sharp points. Probably an obligate carnivore, thought Alistair. Pack based behavioral patterns? No, no, don’t make assumptions. Rule one of first contact. Assume nothing.

The stranger laughed. “Oh, we have all the time we could ever need. Eternity, if it comes to that.”

Suddenly, all the bits and pieces clicked together.

“Oh,” said Alistair, nodding. “Oh, alright. I see.”

“Do not be alarmed by my appearance. I assure you, despite your culture’s myths, I am no supernatural entity. My species is ancient, and we have travelled far. When we encountered your world centuries ago, it…”

“Yeah, yeah.” Alistair gestured impatiently. “q2They assumed you were evil because you were different, feared your advanced technology, turned you into legends, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.”

The stranger sputtered, momentarily thrown off script, but rallied. “Yes… something like that. But I… my people… are of a benevolent nature. I saw the danger you were in and created a polymorphic stasis field so we could talk.”

“Bull.”

“What?”

“You’re not any kind of hyper-advanced alien species.” Unconsciously, Alistair imitated the tone and gestures of most Academy lecturers. “You are, in fact, a supernatural entity, and not a benevolent one.”

The stranger’s smile remained, but it had a distinct edge to it now. He attempted a world-weary air of disappointment. “I had thought that by now your species would have outgrown such superstitions.”

“We have. We’ve also learned that when you encounter new information, you have to rethink your conclusions. All of this…” he gestured, encompassing the paralyzed tableau that surrounded them… “is not the product of any science.”

“Such arrogance, to presume your knowledge represents all that can be done!”

Alistair waved dismissively. “Yes, yes, you’ve got the patter right. But look. If we’re in a field of frozen time, how can I talk to you?”

“There’s an aura around you that creates a zone of normal chrono….”

“Nonsense. The vibrations of my voice couldn’t pass through the time-stopped space between us. And how can I see? Any photons in this ‘aura’ would have been absorbed by my body in a fraction of a second, and no new ones could flow through. And when I exhale, how does my breath escape? No, no, not buying it, not for a second. What’s going on here can’t be explained by any kind of technology, no matter how advanced… it’s woefully inconsistent and implausible.”

The intruder frowned. “That’s a fairly deep understanding. I’m more used to people taking it at face value.”

Captain Alistair snorted. “Temporal physics is mandatory for anyone on command track at the Academy. Do you know how many time rifts, chronal warps, paradox vortexes, and tachyon storms the average fleet captain encounters in their career? More than half the admiralty are their own grandparents.”

With a sigh of acceptance, and the hint of genuine amusement creeping under the wholly false smile he still wore, the other continued. “Very well. You’re correct. I am the literal, supernatural, devil.”

 

Alistair sat on the arm of the command chair. “Now that we have that out of the way, what’s the deal? Come on, I don’t have all…” He shrugged. “Well, I guess I do.”

 

“I am capable of destroying your enemies.”

“And, what? You’ll get my… my soul?” Alistair still had trouble accepting such a concept might be meaningful, but he tried to control his skepticism.

“Oh, nothing so dramatic. I will just need… a service done.”

“What, precisely?”

“Oh, that’s to be determined. At some point, perhaps soon, perhaps not, I will demand a task of you… and you will perform it, without question.” Something about his tone made Alistair think the being meant it literally — when the service was asked, he would comply, no matter his desires at the moment.

“You have to give me more than that… will it violate my ethics? Cause me to kill innocents? Bring harm to the Alliance?”

The stranger looked at him oddly. “You didn’t ask if I’d make you harm yourself… your body, not your principles.”

Alistair pointed to the frozen explosions, the paralyzed readouts showing death seconds away. “If I reject your offer, I’m guaranteed death. If I accept, even if your price is eventually my life, I still come out ahead on that score. But what makes my life meaningful isn’t my heart beating… it’s what I believe in, what I stand for. Gaining mere existence at the cost of who I am, what makes me me… that’s a poor bargain.”

The stranger shook his head, a grim confidence etching his features. “No terms. I can ask for anything, anytime.”

“One order, and one only?”

“That’s all I’ll need.”

“And my crew?”

“What about them?”

“They’ll live? This isn’t something where you destroy everything that’s not me?”

“Really, you’re a fleet captain, and not a lawyer?”

“Ever see the Alliance Fleet Manual Of Regulations?”

“Fine. No. No tricks, no loopholes. Agree to my terms, and those cruisers will simply explode. An internal failure in their antimatter containment, to be precise. Eventually, it will be traced to a simple data entry error propagated to the local fleet.”

Two thoughts formed at once and collided in Alistair’s brain. From the wreckage of their neural crash, a plan emerged.

“Very well. Let’s do this. I will obey one command from you, and only one.”

Unceremoniously, time’s arrow resumed its flight.

The explosions completed. Bodies finished their arcs across the bridge. Flames erupted from  ruined panels, the screech of alarms filled the smoky air, and on the tactical display, three red dots vanished, leaving a yellow circle, battered but intact.

The bridge was filled with the chaos of confused chatter, the moans of the injured, the expressions of rage and horror as people found their friends dead or dying. Alistair ignored it all and left.

“Captain’s quarters,” he told the elevator, as he tapped his personal comm system off. There would be time to explain later or… there wouldn’t be. Either way, his duty to the Alliance and to his ship would be fulfilled.

“Where are you going?” the intruder asked. Captain Alistair was fairly sure no one else was capable of perceiving it; he’d seen people reacting to his sudden departure, but no one had said a word about the crimson-skinned newcomer in their midst.

Alistair didn’t answer. He found the question useful, though. Whatever else, the creature didn’t seem to be able to read thoughts.

The door opened into a small, but comfortable, lounge area, at the center of the senior officer’s deck. The top staff would constantly meet and interact here during the course of their disparate daily duties; it aided informal communication and information exchange, or so the Alliance psych people claimed. Alistair went directly to his door and commanded it to open. The automated security systems failed to ask about the being following him.

His room was a disaster. The rapid flickering of the grav plates in the initial assault had caused all the furniture to fall sideways, then up, then finally back down again as the internal repair systems kicked in. He moved through the clutter without acknowledging it, or the being behind him, still talking.

“Shouldn’t you be with your crew? Making inspiring speeches to the injured, prioritizing repairs, calling in some message to your command?”

“Every one of those jobs can be handled by someone else. I have great confidence in the ability of my crew to get along without me.” He tapped a case permanently affixed to one wall, and spoke. “Happy weasels rarely eat pineapples.”

A panel opened. He took the gun, and set it to maximum power, wide beam.

“Ah, I suppose you’d feel obliged to try destroying me. It won’t work,” the creature said.

Alistair turned the gun toward his face, aiming it slightly upwards. His brain wouldn’t be there by the time the nerves in his fingers reported the message that they’d pulled the trigger.

That had the desired effect: It startled the intruder.

“Stop that nonsense! Put down the gun!”

Alistair did so, smiling, though the memory of the feeling an instant before… the total loss of volition as his body obeyed unquestioningly… would haunt him for years.

“As agreed, I obey your command. That was the only one you get, remember.”

The thing turned an interesting shade of slightly paler red.

Alistair looked at it. “We’re done here. I’m guessing your ability to stick around in this continuum has some sort of limit, or we’d have a lot more information about your kind… even if it was just the shape of the giant hole in our understanding of the universe.”

It vanished. Alistair was both disappointed, and worried, that it didn’t swear vengeance or promise to return.

He returned the gun to the case, and went back to the bridge. Now, there would be time to make explanations to the crew… and reports to Alliance Command. He sighed at the thought of the latter. He had no idea how many forms he’d need to fill out to explain this.

***

“And that, fellow officers of the Alliance, is how I earned the Silver Pentagram.”

There was a mix of laughter (as expressed by the different species gathered around the table) and applause (ditto).

Pleasing Wavelength Refracted, a creature of smooth crystal planes and softly pulsing inner lights, spoke, or at least, generated sound somehow. “Silver? What does it take to earn the Gold?”

Alistair shrugged. “I hope I don’t find out. So, your turn.” He gestured at the medal formed from three broken gears. “What’s that one?”

The colors inside the body of the officer opposite him shifted subtly to shades of lavender and yellow, a smile of pride — if you knew how to read it. “Ah, Order Of Babbage, Three Gears. You see, there was a world ruled by a mad artificial intelligence…”

The rest of the table laughed derisively. “Oh, who here hasn’t run into a half dozen of those? We don’t get medals for scutwork!”

The crystalline being good-naturedly signaled for silence. “Now, now… you know the Alliance doesn’t hand these out easily. This was rather different…”


Author’s Notes

This is one of those things that kind of crawled into my head one day and refused to leave. Mostly, I wanted to rant about how badly Star Trek handled “time stop” fields in the episodes where they’ve used them, and so, following Larry Niven’s “Draco Tavern” series, I decided to wrap my rant in some fiction. Also, if super-advanced alien beings can pretend to be supernatural entities, why can’t supernatural entities pretend to be super-advanced alien beings? Fair’s fair!

The Runes Of Doom, Part XIII

Demons

And Nobles

And Maybe Highwaymen, If I Get To Them

Actually, Everything. I Get To Everything. It’s Over. This Is The End… Frak. How Did That Happen?

I Mean, I Don’t Finish Things. I Don’t. That’s Like, My Thing. Not Finishing.

A few days ago, I finished scanning “The Runes Of Doom”. (The smart thing would have been to scan the entire book at once, but scanning is boring, so I do a handful of pages at a go, enough for the next article or two, then procrastinate doing the rest, which is why articles are often late.) So it’s sort of an end of an era, or the beginning of the end of an era, or the beginning of the end of the first era if I move on to either other Arduin books or some of the rest of my immense pile of 70s-era gaming supplements. But it’s something, dammit!

When I wrote the above, I didn’t expect this article to close out the series, or at least the original trilogy. But it does. Whoa. I’m going to pondering this for a while. INTPs don’t normally complete things unless there’s a boss and a deadline and a paycheck involved.

The Last Of The Demons Of The “Arduin Cycle”

Sl’yth: The “living manifestation of Evil and and nightmare”, Sl’yth is so foul and vile to look upon that all under tenth level (or eighth level for clerics) run in terror merely upon seeing it… if they save (written as “if save is hit”, which is perfectly understandable in context, but it’s an odd construction, nonetheless). If they don’t save, they just die of fright. In case it wasn’t clear, Dave goes on to write “Totally indescribably ugly. UGH!”. Sigh. Lookism was so prevalent back then, in those unenlightened times. It attacks with either beams or bursts of sound, and all 8th level and below “(even Clerics)” who smell it must save vs. poison or take damage and flee in sick panic, which is nasty. (I mean, nauseated and panicked? Wow.) It can extend a… my copy of the book is actually missing a letter here, it looks like “palp”… to attack. Ah, smeg it, this needs to be seen in full…

Have To Love The "Oh, And..." Style Of Writing

Have To Love The “Oh, And…” Style Of Writing

Tel-Kroath: A 13′ tall, eyeless/wingless glass giant. It’s pointed out that it’s wingless, because the default assumption is, naturally, that 13′ tall giants do have wings. I presume it has a scorpion tail, though, because it does not say it is tailless. And horns, because it does not say it is hornless. And tusks, because…. OK, that horse is dead enough. Ah, but when he flies, fans of radiant light spread out from his body, like, erm, wings. His touch turns people to glass (as per petrification, but this is vitrification), and every three turns he can shoot an eyebeam to do the same thing.

Thangumokk: An eyeless, winged (ah-hah!), scaled, tailed, copper-colored 12′ tall humanoid. When angered, his color becomes “molten”. He spits acid, breathes poison gas, and carries around “green slime grenades”. His touch paralyzes “hobbits, kobbits, kobolds, and goblins”, which implies that it somehow interacts with the gene for “shortness”. In what may be my favorite bit of characterization of demons, he enjoys appearing as a mangy dog or scruffy stray alley cat, presumably to lure in prey. His favorite food is “hobbit, etc.”, which sounds like a 90s mall store. (“Muffy and Mitzie and me are going to go down to Hobbit, Etc., ’cause there’s a cute guy working in the stockroom!”) He is the “Patron Demon of all Goblin kind”.

Thymorg: “Looks: Purple, leathery, lumpy, warty skin, stooped, 9 1/2′ tall,3-eyed (yellow) that cause confusion to anyone gazing into them within 10′ of him.” You wanna know what else causes confusion? That sentence! Well, it’s not a sentence, really, it’s more a string of words. His main attack is turning into a gaseous cloud that eats life levels. He wears the “Eye of Agamat” (cough, cough) which allows him to gaze anywhere in whichever universe he’s in. And, because we haven’t had one of these in a while, he’s the arch-enemy of BRYGHAUL.

Urandos: “Generally man-shaped”, except for the giant bat wings, three eyes, and “crinkly tin-foil” skin. He’s got an “ice” theme going. Accompanied by ice demons, appears as a polar bear or “a warrior maiden with silver hair and eyes”, and so on. He is the arch-enemy of AMON-RA. He creates ice javelins that he can throw “very accurately”, which means he gets a bonus of… erm.. I mean, it allows him to ignore… uh… no, wait, he can attack even targets that are… uh… look, he’s very accurate, OK?

Vathakk:

I've Probably Made Enough Tentacle/Japanese Schoolgirl Jokes By Now

As the “God of all Trolls”, he is clearly the Patron Demon of the Internet

Consider: As the “god of all Trolls”, he will appear 90% of the time if asked. Ninety percent??? Do trolls know this? If so, I would never, ever, ever, take on a troll in Arduin! You’d have a ninety percent chance of ending up facing a friggin’ 16 HD demon!

I’m also going to repeat my boilerplate rant about how so many creatures in early D&D and related had different AC for different body parts but no hit location rules.

Vorcas: Like “orcas”, but with a “v”. It has eight taloned (that’s eight of them, each with talons) “feet/clawed hands” and three shark-like fins running down its back, culminating in a sting ray tail with a red stinger. Topping this off, literally, is a shark-like head with emerald teeth, which can bite for 5-50 points of damage. Favorite food: Sea elf. He is constantly at war with NAGANDAS but a mysterious and unnamed “friend” keeps intervening to prevent Nagandas from winning.

That’s the end of the demons… so here’s a black scorpion.

Please Note The Size Of The Rider And Mount....

Please Note The Size Of The Rider And Mount….

And The Rest

The remainder of the book, from page 78 to page 94, consists of lists: Noble Familys (sic) of Arduin, Most Wanted Highwaymen of Arduin, Denizens Of The “Under Cities” Of Arduin, etc. This leads to an interesting conundrum. There’s really not too much to comment on or call out; there’s a ton of interesting little snippets here, but it’s pure background detail.

The most important thing I can say about it is, like the lists of coins and precious stones back in Welcome To Skull Tower, it served to greatly inspire me, as a teen, in terms of worldbuilding and thinking beyond the dungeon. Reading these lists, you get a great sense of how much there could be to create in a world, how many aspects of it there were to consider. Simply seeing the possibilities was enough to get me thinking about what I may have missed or what I could fill in.

So I’m going to show a few samples, to convey the feeling, tone, and style, and hope they’re as inspirational to others as they were to me, way back when. (Of course, it’s a very different world… books detailing every minor noble house of Westeros or the backstory of each and every creature seen in the Mos Eisley Cantina are best sellers now. It’s taken for granted that media set in fantastic worlds will show only a fraction of what’s been created as backdrop for those worlds. This was not the case in the 1970s. Tolkien’s worldbuilding was considered a unique exception, and was used as a justification for “serious” people to study and comment on the Lord Of The Rings novels, when they would otherwise dismiss anything not involving depressed middle-aged rich people bemoaning the fact they were depressed, middle-aged, and rich as “not really literature”.)

Nobles Of Arduin

Weirdling?

Weirdling?

This is the sort of thing I loved playing with… I created (in notebooks, and in early databases on PCs, that I wrote myself in BASIC or Pascal, without realizing I was, in fact, creating a database… go figure!) templates of a similar nature, where I could fill out things like “House Colors” and “Sigils” (because I could spell), without going into more detail. I figured I could always go back and flesh it out later. I still do that. It helps create the illusion of a wider world; no one need to know how much of it has been really thought out and how much is just a cool-sounding name that you came up with. (Does anyone really believe that, in 1976, when George Lucas wrote the screenplay for Star Wars, that he knew, at the moment he had Leia say, “Years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars”, that he had any idea it was going to involve long-necked aliens and Boba Fett’s dad? Especially since Boba Fett didn’t originate until well after Star Wars was out in theaters?)

Highwaymen Of Arduin

Well, Highwaypersons, Actually.

Yay, Equality!

1/2 Orc-Dwarf Druid? Anticipating 3.0 Again!

1/2 Orc-Dwarf Druid? Anticipating 3.0 Again!

It’s unfortunate that even by Arduin standards, this list is marred by spelling and other issues… “Gruesam”? “Cannible”?… because this is a truly remarkable collection of highly distinct characters, albeit compressed into virtually statless form. I mean, at best, it mentions “magik” weapons or armor, no specifics as to bonuses or other enchantment.

And when it comes to inspiration, things like this taught me to think about NPCs in terms beyond “fourth level fighting-man”, but to give them visual distinctiveness and defining personality traits and quirks. And that, in turn, feeds into my love of the kinds of systems I prefer — high detail, high-crunch, systems such as GURPS, Hero, or Pathfinder. Why? Because I want the mechanics of a character to be as rich and deep as the description. I want to make characters who live up to their imagery in play, who aren’t just some fluff text laid on the generic statistics of a “fourth level fighting-man”.

Denizens Of The Undercities

Most of my comments on the highwaypersons apply here; a brief sample to show you what they were like:

There's A Lot Of Defrocking Going On. Giggity.

There’s A Lot Of Defrocking Going On. Giggity.

At the time, I thought “undercities” was a term for “dungeons”, but later I started wondering if it meant, more literally, underground portions of the city… something between a dungeon adventure and a city adventure, a region sort-of citylike but more lawless and wild, hidden away beneath the more “civilized” realm above, yet still more orderly than the truly unexplored dungeons below.

And here’s some haggorym. Haggorym are, if I recall correctly, caveman-hobgoblin crossbreeds. Try not to think about it too much. We won’t even discuss kobbitts.

Got To Love The Club-Stake That One Guy Is Holding

Got To Love The Club-Stake That One Guy Is Holding

Notable Characters Of The Arduinian Cycle

Seriously? “Cycle” Again? Did Hargrave Take Some Kind Of Course In Mythology About The Time This Was Written, Or What? Sheesh.

One THIRD Elf???

One THIRD Elf???

Man, assuming these are actual PCs… oh wow… just reading the names makes you wonder what kind of astounding wonderment went on at Dave’s table, in between the ten thousand ways you could die before you even finished rolling your stats. (Oh, wait… that was Traveller.)

And speaking of fun ways to die… my favorite Arduin beastie of all time. This either inspired GRRM to create something very similar in “Tuf Voyaging”, or, it was inspired by them… the overlap in timelines is complicated, and GRRM was an RPGer who moved in the same circles Dave Hargrave did, so, who knows?

Otherwise Known As "Every Morning About 5 AM".

Otherwise Known As “Every Morning About 5 AM”.

The Tribes Of Arduin

Huh. I totally forgot this was in here. This was something I never really imitated, I guess. Most of my games were/are set in highly “civilized” (ideally, decadent) regions, because I have a thing for cities, ruins, etc.

Wild Hobbits, A Decade Before Dark Sun

Wild Hobbits, A Decade Before Dark Sun

Recorded Areas Of Treasure And Death Within The Arduinian Borders

(Remember, Arduin Is Only About 200 Miles Or So Across…)

(You Can’t Kick A Rock Without Revealing A Dungeon Entrance)

The Abbey On Spider Isle Is Spider Infested. Good To Know.

The Abbey On Spider Isle Is Spider Infested. Good To Know.

OK, time for some serious nerdsquee here. I mean, c’mon, look at this stuff! “An entrance to the Great Worm Road”. You cannot read that and not want to know more about the “Great Worm Road”, not if you have any soul at all. A city literally eaten by the hordes of Hell??? The last known citadel of the Kthoi? The Cavern Of The Time Lords, sealed by the Rune Weavers “with spell and fear”? Holy frak, these are awesome. What was TSR offering at the time? “Hey, uh, want to go kill some, uh, hill giants or something? They’re, uh, big. Biggish. Hill giants. Yeah. Go get ’em.” (Took a while before they got to cool stuff like “Queen Of The Demonweb Pits”.)

They’re Called “Random Encounters”, Not “Statistically Probable Encounters”

The very last page is a random encounter chart. Sort of. It determines type of encounter (patrol, normal animal, monster) and “reaction” (A flat D12 roll, ranging from “flee in terror” to “ambush”, which can lead to some oddities based on what the encounter actually is… “Hmm, you encounter ‘Local Populace’… let’s see, I’ll roll over here on this chart not actually included in the books, and I get ‘Peaceful Pottery Merchants’ and the reaction roll is ‘Advance aggressively to fight, no chance of running’. Hmm. So how much damage does a hurled vase do, anyway?”

Afterword

Lo, There Shall Be An Ending!

Lo, There Shall Be An Ending!

Afterafter Word

So, that’s the end of the trilogy. I’m probably going to switch gears for a little bit… this is the longest, most regular, thing I’ve done on this blog. I also need to get back to some fiction writing. (Got a sequel to write.) I’ve got a partially done walkthrough of an obscure 90s game, “Of Gods And Men”, that’s been languishing in the “Drafts” folder for over two years now, too. Might get that done. Who knows? As usual, I’ve got a dozen or more projects waiting for some vague attempt at focus and completion. We’ll see what happens. Always in motion, the future is.

Trying to come up with something uplifting, meaningful, and pompous here, probably involving roads, or maybe some twaddle about how the spark of inspiration finds fertile kindling in the drought-stricken undergrowth of the parched brain, but nothing’s coming. Whatever. I hope people enjoyed this expedition through the tangled jungles of nostalgia.

Helm Of The Paleoarchs

Helm Of The Paleoarchs

Life is ancient beyond easy understanding. Before the eldest elves walked the forests, before the great ancestors of the dwarves tunneled deep, before any god any sane being can name had been formed from the swirling protodivine energies of the outer planes, beings lived, thought, and died upon the uncounted material worlds. On occasion, some record of their existence remains…

The Paleoarchs, the “ancient kings”, lived at a time when nothing could live on land, when the surface of the world was a hellish waste. In the great depths, in cities so lost and ancient that not even the sahuagin imagine they existed, dwelled creatures of an utterly alien nature. Little is known of them except what might be inferred from the handful of relics recovered. Such items are found preserved in volcanic rock or layers of sediment from the earliest days of the world, exposed after untold epochs to those who dwell now upon the planet and consider themselves its true inhabitants.

One such item, coveted and feared in equal proportion, is the Helm of the Paleoarchs.

The Helm Of The Paleoarchs

The Helm Of The Paleoarchs

Resembling the desiccated, yet brilliantly polished (no matter how long it lay buried in its prison of stone), exoskeleton of some insect, it is roughly the size of a humanoid skull, and can be used by any creature of small size and up. The underside of the Helm is lined with dozens of segmented tendrils, much like legs, each terminating in a burst of fine cilia. When held by a living being, it feels oddly warm, and the under-legs wriggle slightly. The holder will hear odd sounds, whispers and muttering, and may have momentary glimpses of scenes not easily described or recalled… great cities of unknown shape, formed from gargantuan, partially living, nautiloids and orthocones…. figures like segmented worms standing on their tails, manipulating incomprehensible tools with a half dozen chitinous limbs.

When the helm of the paleoarchs is worn, the writhing under-limbs instantly and irrevocably drill into the skull until they reach the brain, whereupon they explode into thousands of nerve-like fibers that weave throughout the consciousness of the wearer. The effects of donning a helm of the paleoarchs are as follows:

  • Thoughts Beyond Human Understanding: +4 enhancement bonus to intelligence, -4 penalty to charisma. The wearer’s thought processes are much faster and sharper, but their ability to relate to others is severely diminished.
  • Mind Beyond Mortal Control: Whenever the wearer must save against a mind-affecting effect, or an illusion, they may roll twice and take the higher roll.
  • Access The Ancient Library: The wearer is considered trained in all Knowledge skills, but does not gain a bonus. This allows them to make checks against a DC higher than 10 for skills they do not have ranks in.
  • Hidden From The Young World: The wearer is considered to be under nondetection (DC 21 to overcome) at all times. Anyone failing to penetrate the shield must make a DC 21 will save or take 1d4 points of Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma damage. (Roll each independently.)
  • Plumb The Secrets Of Creation: The wearer may, as an immediate action, choose to take 1 point of Wisdom drain and gain the knowledge of any spell they are capable of casting (on their class spell list for their level). The spell replaces a prepared spell of the same level in the caster’s mind. Spells with an expendable material component will not function without that component.

The wearer will never voluntarily seek to remove the helm. If it is involuntarily removed, the wearer will suffer 3d6 points of normal damage and 2d4 points of Intelligence damage as the tendrils are violently ripped out of their skull, taking a goodly amount of grey matter with them. (Outside of combat, a DC 10 Strength check is needed to remove the helm; during combat, a successful disarm maneuver must be performed, bare-handed.)

Aura strong transmutation; CL 11th
Slot head; Price 89,000 gp; Weight 3 lbs.

The Runes Of Doom, Part XII

Demons & Demons

& Demons

& More Demons

How People Ever Got The Idea Roleplaying Was Satanic, I Dunno

Of course, the only people who could believe RPGs were full of authentic demonology (which is kind of like “working homeopathy”) are people who knew absolutely nothing about either RPGs or demonology, and, yup, those are the kind of people who did. The fact is, no medieval Catholic monk, no matter how crazed they might have been after several decades of being monastic, could have, or did, come up with anything as awesome as Dave Hargrave’s creations.

I mean, there’s…

Dagonus: Three-headed (each head has three eyes) dragon with scales of silver and gold, ninety foot wingspan. (Yeah, fit that on your battlemat…) Takes half damage from stoning, which means, uhm, I dunno. Turned half to stone? “Death” magic just rebounds on the caster. Breathes fire or lightning as frequently as every other melee round, three times a day for fire, four for lightning. And he likes to get free-kay with Tiamat… or “the queen of evil dragons”, because no demon is scarier than TSR’s lawyers. (There’s a reason people used to joke TSR stood for “They Sue Regularly”. They did not, however, try to trademark “Nazi”. That one’s an urban legend.)

Gorok: A cross between a lobster and tyrannosaurus. With nine eyes. And it has extra mouths in its pincers so that when you’re grabbed, you’re also eaten. Holy fracking hell. I thought some of the things that crawl out of my imagination and into Excel sheets to be statted out were weird, but I don’t even come close to Dave Hargrave. He is the Amber of high gonzo; everything else is just a distorted shadow.

Groak: Not to be confused with Gorak, above. Groak is a giant frog with a head like a sea anemone. He is the “Lord of Swamps”. His mere touch causes all those below 5HD to go insane with pain, and also goes 6-36 acid damage, which mean the insanity doesn’t last long, as how many people level 4 and below can survive 6d6 damage?

Karong: Winning the award for “demon whose name most resembles a Don Martin sound effect”, he has three eyes, each of which does something different. The red eye burns you, the yellow eye “rots” you, and the green eye turns you into green slime. He is the “Lord of Slimes”, and also of traffic lights. (I may have made that part up…) He can telekinetically “throw” one of his “pets” (any of a number of slimes) up to 60′. Oh, and lastly, he has a “vampire like” charm, so perhaps he’ll be the love interest in a YA novel soon.

Kavring: Speaking of “vampire like charm”, this 10′ tall winged humanoid made of solid ruby also has it. Fitting the “ruby” theme, he has a plethora of fire powers, including a burning aura, flames shooting from his fingertips, polymorphing into a pheonix, etc. His favorite food is hobbit meat, and have I mentioned that I love these odd little asides? I want to know what his favorite classical composer is, too, and if he was a polearm, what kind of polearm would he be? (Myself? Glaive-guisarme, of course. What other possibility is there?)

Moloch: An actual demon, more or less. (I’m aware many of the others have names drawn from mythology; I’m too damn lazy to bother looking up which ones, precisely, and how much they differ from their source media.) He is a fire demon “13 1/2 feet tall”. Exactly 13 feet, 6 inches? Or is he really only 13 feet, 5 3/4 inches? These things matter! Continuing the theme of demonic rivalry (which is only sensible, really), he is the arch enemy of ABADDON. (Hey, it’s ALL CAPS in the text, who am I to argue?) His favorite foods? Roast unicorn and virgin elf maiden. (No one in fantasy worlds ever seems to want virgin men, for some reason. (Well, in the real world, too. Has any woman ever said “You know what really turns me on? Guys who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing in the sack.”?)) He can also burn/melt a path through solid rock at 5’/minute, so, if you’re dumb enough to summon him, do it on the lowest floor of your wizard’s tower, not the top, or you’ll have a big hole going all the way to the basement in short order.

Nagandas: Winner of the “Demon whose name sounds the most like a slang term for testicles”, as in, “Damn, that soccer ball hit me right in the nagandas!”. Also, something really wonky happens with the layout here:

With A 33 Foot Long Sticky Triple Tongue, If The Demon Thing Doesn't Work Out, He's Got A Career In Anime.

With A 33 Foot Long Sticky Triple Tongue, If The Demon Thing Doesn’t Work Out, He’s Got A Career In Anime.

I cannot tell if the idea of a demon sticking its tail in its mouth and whirling into a hell spiral is awesome or ridiculous.

Nanta: Voted most like to be confused with a fruit drink completely and totally massacre you. I normally try to avoid just posting big block scans, esp. one after the other, but there’s no way to just summarize this bastard.

He Is So Tough, People Attacking Him Need A Different Mechanic

He Is So Tough, People Attacking Him Need A Different Mechanic

Let’s just look at some of the highlights, here… and I don’t mean the kind with Goofus and Gallant.

  • He is only hit on “double zero”. So to attack him, you just roll percentile dice? With no modifiers? A peasant and a 50th level Paladin both have the same odds? Not sure.
  • Most forms of damage actually heal him.
  • Magik (sic) weapons do double damage, which is great, but they lose one “plus” per round and then disintegrate.
  • But to get close enough to hit him with a magic weapon, you will “fade out”. There’s no save or HD limit; you just vanish unless “rescued”, and then you’re undead. It seems to me this is exploitable if you want to become a spectre.
  • Attack Value:”???”. Really? “???”? Two decades before Everquest and three decades before WoW, Dave Hargrave pioneered the “this creature is so far out of your league you can’t even measure how far out of your league it is” metric.
  • No mention of specific casting ability, but I guess that’s covered by “???”.
  • Nothing about his favorite food or his “pets” or what he claims to be “lord of”. I guess he’s just too awesome to have such petty concerns.

Phroalgoea: A much more normal creature, just a 10′ tall silver-scaled winged humanoid, who can shoot deadly spines which are covered with a poison that turns orcs and elves to silver. Because, poisons turning you to silver are totally a thing. He is the lord of golems, which isn’t a typical thing for a demon to be lord of, what with the whole “golems are mindless servitors who don’t really worship anything or make bargains”, but, you know, why the frak not? Maybe he taught mankind the art of golem-making for his own purposes. He enjoys dwarf or gnome meat, animates statues, and controls non magical weapons “if allowed to concentrate”. Good luck arguing with the DM over precisely what “distracts” a demon.

Ralkul: Pals around with 6-48 mummies, 40% of which will be fireproof… sorry, all you people who learned fire kills mummies. (This was very typical of the time… monster has weakness X. Players learn it. DM introduces some version of the monster lacking this weakness. It’s kind of like how antibiotic-resistant bacteria evolve.) Anyway, Ralkul is warped and knobby old dude with one eye, elephant ears, and four arms. (He can also appear as a woman, a skeleton, or as a giant flaming skull with wings.) He is the demon king of age and corruption, and his odor is so vile that creatures of 1+1 Hit Dice (and if you think that’s “2 hit dice”, boy, have you not been paying attention…) die instantly, while others suffer various ill effects depending on their general level. He loves “rotted and putrid meat”, but isn’t picky about what species it was from.

Shabbaleth: We have a “dragon” theme going here. Also an “elf” theme. And a “gold” theme. Putting that all together, you have a giant golden “being” with a dragon’s head, four purple eyes, wings, and a tail, who sometimes appears as an elf in golden armor. He is the lord of “reptiles” but not wyverns, dragons, etc., never mind the fact he can breathe dragon fire ten times a day. In fact, he is the enemy of all dragons. He also has the by-now-expected “vampire-like charm”. He and URANDOS (to be covered in the next article) are pals, which is a nice change to the boilerplate “and his arch-foe is THISGUY” in many of the others.