Possibly Extermabots, Or Maybe Maleks
Something Just Shading Away From Trademark, Like “Balor” or “Treant”
And The Usual Rambling Dissertation On Gaming History. Just Scroll Down For The Good Stuff.
Those of you following this blog (hah!) might dimly recall I adapted Daleks for D&D 4e a long while back.I had planned to add more, but, surprise! I started a project I didn’t finish! That never happens to me! And, for some reason, I decided to return to the concept, moving backwards in time, which is appropriate, given the source of my inspiration. (I am willing to write up a Pathfinder or Starfinder version, if anyone’s interested.)
I suppose part of my reason for doing this article is that I’ve been doing a lot of reviews/walkthroughs/commentary on 70s gaming stuff again, as well as statting up two monsters in AD&D style (the bedbug and the blitzroom), so that’s what my subconscious has been churning on.
Looking at the 1970s material, you see that it’s a huge grab-bag of random cultural influences that were swarming around the nascent RPG “scene” of the time. I like to notice conflicts, factions, trends, points of division that lead to separate branches of development, different schools of thought. One thing to note is that most of the zeitgeist originally tapped for early RPG material was literary, specifically, classic pulp sword&sorcery, along with Lovecraftian horror, with a layer of late-60s “new wave” SF. This tells us who the early gamers were and what subcultures they were coming from. Back then, RPGs were not established enough to be the entry point for their own culture; they were add-ons to pre-existing cultures. At first, they represented a schism in miniature wargaming between the historical grognards and those experimenting with fantasy rules and worldbuilding. (You can see a logical evolution from “re-enact historical battles” to “model hypothetical battles based on real-world possibilities, such as what if Napoleon attacked (someplace he didn’t, but could have) instead of (someplace he actually did)” to “create imaginary settings to fight in so we can set up our own terms for battles” to “let’s add in some dragons and wizards”.)
It was the latter stage, of course, that triggered the schism between the old hobby and the new. D&D represented an original game concept (albeit primitive and shackled with evolutionary relics, the archaeopteryx of gaming), distinct from “fantastic medieval wargames”, regardless of what the box said. (Neither “roleplaying” nor “dungeon master” appear in the first rules.) This new game type found its player base not amongst the grumbling grognards (see also: shrimp scampi), but among science fiction fandom.
And, in turn, that fandom was also undergoing schisms (which surely never happened before and will never happen again), primarily between “literary” fans and “media” fans, and by “media”, we mean “Trekkies”, and by “Trekkies”, we mean “those terrible people who haven’t been reading our favorite authors for forty years and don’t know the difference between Astounding Stories and Amazing Stories, the peasants!” (It got worse when Star Wars came out, as Star Wars was everything literary SF fans had been trying to claim SF wasn’t: Fun, exciting, and relatable. I mean, erm, shallow, unscientific, and kiddified. Real science fiction films should be dour, depressing, and dystopian, as shown in Rollerball and Silent Running.
The nature of fan and semi-pro material created for RPGs in the late 70s is surprisingly sparse when it comes to TV and movie influences. There’s only occasional references to phasers, lightsabers, or cylons… and virtually nothing (in the American creations, I can’t speak for European material) drawn from overseas media, as both UK SF and Japanese manga/anime were barely beginning to be available in the US. When D&D split off from the wargaming branch of the evolutionary tree of gaming, it found a fertile niche among the literary SF fans, and would not spread widely to media fans for several years.
This shows in other ways: The first wave of new gaming systems focused heavily on more complex and complete rules, endless tables, abstruse technical terms, and other mechanics-heavy innovations that appealed to the kind of people drawn to literary SF at the time, often engineers, programmers, and scientists. (The “All The World’s Monsters” books were produced from a computer database. In the late 1970s. If you don’t understand how unusual that is, you’re probably too young to be reading this. But, hey, you’ve come this far, might as well go on.)
Meanwhile, the media side of SF fandom was busy pumping (wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more) out Kirk/Spock slashfic, and creating shared universe fanzines where characters created by different writers all interacted in interlocking stories. In an alternate world, gaming might have taken root there first, and the rise of “storytelling” games focused more on character and plot than on hit points and armor class would have happened earlier. Whether this is a utopian or dystopian alternate history is left as an exercise for the reader.
All of which is my typically roundabout and bass-ackwards way of pointing out why we didn’t see a lot of faux-daleks and pseudo-cybermen and quasi-sontarans running around Arduin, but plenty of not-quite-Elrics and almost-Conans and “Freddie And The Off-White Ratter”.
But it needn’t have necessarily been so… some minor distortions to the timeline, and I might have found something like this in one of the many third-party supplements I collected…
FREQUENCY: Very Rare
NO. APPEARING: 1-4, 10-100+ in lair
ARMOR CLASS: -5
HIT DICE: 12
% IN LAIR: 50%
TREASURE TYPE: U (see below)
NO. OF ATTACKS: 1
DAMAGE/ATTACK: Special, see below
SPECIAL ATTACKS: Death Ray
SPECIAL DEFENSES: +3 or better weapon to hit, plus see below
MAGIC RESISTANCE: Standard, see below
ALIGNMENT: Lawful Evil
PSlONlC ABILITY: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes: Special, see below
Daloids are terrifying creatures that live only to conquer, enslave, or eliminate all other life across time and space. They resemble metallic, tapering and slightly angular cylinders, with a freely-rotating turret (bearing a single “eyestalk”) for a head, and two appendages: One a narrow gun barrel, the other a plunger-like manipulator arm.
While often mistaken for robots, in truth, the Daloid is a heavily armed, well-defended, life-support system for a bloblike mutant creature known as an oilad. They were once humanoid species, until a terrible nuclear war on their homeworld caused cataclysmic physical degeneration, so that none could live outside their metal shells. Inside their armored casing, though, they are practically immortal, consumed with nothing but hatred for every other living thing.
Daloids are armed with a devastating weapon, usually called, with great accuracy, a death ray. Each round, they may choose to fire it in individual or area mode. If aimed at an individual within 12″, the Daloid makes a normal attack roll. If it hits, any target with 5 or fewer hit dice dies instantly, no save. All others must make two simultaneous saves against death magic. (Any bonuses or penalties apply equally to both saves.)
If both saves succeed, the target takes a mere 8d6 damage.
If one save fails, the target is dead.
If both saves fail, the target is disintegrated. No body remains for raise dead.
In area mode, all targets within a 6″ cone take 6d6 damage, save vs. breath weapon for half. (Targets with 3 or fewer hit dice die instantly, instead.)
Daloids are well-protected against all environmental effects. Fire, cold, lightning, acid, and similar types of energy always do half damage against them. (If there is a save for half, they take 1/4 damage) The shell’s life support system filters all poisons and diseases, rendering them immune to any such attacks. (It is possible an isolated sage or forgotten tome of ancient lore might contain the secret to a toxic gas or pernicious plague which can slip past those defenses to destroy the creature living within. Of course, Daloids are known to plant rumors of such things to lure the heroes who seek them into deadly traps.)
They are, for some reason, not protected against sonic attacks. Not only do they take full damage from such attacks, they must also save vs. spell or act as if under the effect of confusion for 1d4 turns. This fact is not widely known, and players acting on this knowledge without an in-character explanation for how they learned it might discover they are facing a previously unknown type of “upgraded” Daloid, one which is immune to (or perhaps even healed by!) sonic damage. Serves the cheating bastards right, don’t you agree?
Due to their complex array of sensors, daloids get a +4 on all saves vs. illusions of any type. They are likewise highly resistant (+2) to any kind of charm, suggestion, sleep, or other enchantment-type magic.
Daloids lack legs, which would make it seem as if they can be stopped by the simple expedient of running up the stairs. Sadly, this has two problems:
- The Daloid death ray can do 10d6 damage to all inanimate objects, which will quickly level most buildings. (This is a special, third mode of the ray, and is rarely used in combat.)
- Daloids encountered outside their lairs (which are well-supplied with ramps and elevators) have been equipped with the ability to cast levitate at will, but with the added power to slowly move forward while levitating (speed: 2″). They cannot attack while using this power, which does at least enable a chance for their enemies to flee.(Many have noted the wisest strategy for dealing with Daloids is to run away.)
The only manipulator a Daloid possesses is a limb strongly resembling a bathroom plunger, making them the subject of many jokes – perhaps because those who become aware of the power of this appendage rarely survive to disabuse anyone of the notion that it’s harmless. First, it is capable of bending and flexing so as to provide full dexterity, at least as agile as a human hand. Second, if in melee range of a target, it can make an attack roll (in lieu of the death ray), trying to grab at the head/face (remember, if someone is not wearing a helmet, their head is AC 10!). If it hits, the target is immobilized (a bend bars/lift gates roll is needed to break free). On the next round, the Daloid may drain all knowledge and information from the victim, learning everything they know, or, it may choose to crush their captive’s head like an overripe melon, causing instant death. (It may do both, over two turns, but it must do the knowledge-draining first. One cannot drain a brain that has been crushed like an overripe melon.) It can fire its death ray while a victim is held, but at a -2 to hit (or a +2 to saves when it uses area mode).
Finally, anyone using psionic powers on a Daloid will find that contacting a mind so twisted, warped, and alien is intensely painful. They will suffer as if the Daloid had used a Psionic Blast attack against them, with an effective Psionic Strength of 100. This is not a conscious ability of the Daloid and nothing can reduce its effective Psionic Strength, nor can the Daloid be psionically attacked except as per Table IV.C in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
(There are rumors of mutant Daloids – yes, mutated mutants – who do have psionic powers, which would make them truly terrifying. The exact specification of these possibly non-existent creatures is left as an exercise for the Dungeon Master’s creativity and sadism (two qualities that anyone worthy of that esteemed mantle must possess in abundance!).
Daloids In The Campaign World
Daloids have invented (some argue, stole) technology allowing them to travel through time, space, and relative dimensions. This technology can be unreliable (or perhaps they don’t understand it very well), and as a consequence, some groups of Daloids may find themselves stranded on the campaign world with no way to leave, due to the lack of ultra-tech industry in a typical fantasy milieu. In such a circumstance, they would generally set about enslaving the population and jump-starting an industrial revolution, rather than simply killing everyone in sight. (They will do this once their goals are complete; the idea Daloids might need anyone, even slaves, for the long term is anathema.) If a very small group is involved, they will work mostly behind the scenes, using humanoid agents as their catspaws. Such agents will be promised any reward they ask for, but the Daloids will have no intention of paying once their work is done, and will kill even a useful hireling if they become too demanding or contrary. (They maintain their underlings’ loyalty during ongoing operations by providing some rewards, but anyone expecting a “big payoff” is in for a painful, but short, disappointment.)
Daloid “treasure” usually consists of gems (actually, high-tech power crystals used for focusing beam weapons or creating strange time and space warping technologies) and “magic items”, which are technological devices that function similarly to magical ones, such as a “wand of fire” that’s a laser rifle, or a “rope of climbing” that’s a strand of hypertensile polymer fitted with a voice-activated gravitic grapple. (Or, the DM can decide the Daloids have collected actual magic, and are studying it to figure out how this “unknown technology” works. This could lead to them capturing magic-users to interrogate.)
While all Daloids follow roughly the same pattern, there are countless potential variants, with additional weapons, unexpected tools and devices, or special equipment. There may be flying Daloids, Daloids equipped with non-lethal weapons such as electrified nets or “stun rays” (save vs. spell or fall unconscious), or truly bizarre creations such a Daloid’s torso and head welded onto a hill giant’s body. The only invariant is the Daloid “personality”: A merciless conqueror whose only emotion is hatred towards anything different than itself.
Designer’s Notes: I am pulling some ideas from later iterations of daleks, which means this isn’t quite a “what if they were adapted by 1970s gamers” writeup. For a “purer” version, eliminate the brain drain/overripe melon powers of the plunger and the possibility of levitation.