Tag Archives: Erol Otus

Necromican, Level 10 And Up!

Necromican, Level 10 And Up

What Do You Mean? Nine’s As High As Spells Go

Nope, These Go To Eleven Twelve

Necromican

Necromican

OK, Boils and Ghouls! The last part of this series covers the seriously munchkin stuff, without the John Kovalic art. For earlier parts of this series, click one of the preceding words, each one takes you to a different part. For this part of this series, keep reading.

This booklet shows off one of the best parts of Old School Gaming — sheer over-the-topness, for when Power Word Kill and Wish just aren’t good enough. If you’re fighting galactic dragons, after all, they’re not! Forget all that Fantasy Fucking Vietnam and “let’s pour water on the floor and see how it pools” crap. In this kind of Old School play, if you wanted to find a pit trap… nah, you never wanted to find a pit trap. You were too busy casting Summoning Of The Black Hole. Not a euphemism.

As usual, this will be a selected subset of the wonderment that lies within, not an exhaustive repetition of the contents.

Tenth Level Spells

Duplication

This spell creates 1-4 duplicates of the caster, without his magic items. It’s not clear if this means that if he’s wearing a magic wizard robe, and nothing underneath it, his duplicates appear with a non-magic version of the same robe, or naked. I suppose it depends on the emotional maturity of the DM and his fellow players. Given the state of gaming culture at the time…

Player 1: Oh, I know! I’ll cast Duplication!
DM: OK, you get (roll) 2 duplicates. They’re naked.
Player 2: (Snorting laugh) Dude, we can see your thingie!
Player 1: Can not! Shut up!
Player 3: Oh, gross! Isn’t your magic user 30 or something? That’s ancient!
Player 2: Yeah, I bet it’s all warty!
Player 1: SHUT UP!

The spell also notes, wisely, that duplicates cannot duplicate themselves. Hey, it was the first thing I thought of, and I guarantee you that line was added after the first time the spell was used in play to create Infinite Magic Users, presumably with infinite warty thingies. (Would “Infinite Warty Thingies” be a good name for a band? Probably not.)

Cube Of Space

This spell create a 10′ by 10′ by 10′ cube around the caster. Each face of the cube is a “portal into deepest outer space”. So, someone shoots an arrow into the cube, it goes into space, and possibly hits a small space-worm, who just says “Oh no, not again.”  Anyone charges at the caster, they’re tossed into space. It’s a one-way trip; the cube can’t be re-entered from the space side. It’s not clear, from the description, if the caster can fire out of the cube or not, which is kind of key. If they can, they can sit there like an artillery unit and blast the crap out of things. If they can’t, this is mostly defensive.

Excellent Prismatic Spray

Roll To See What Drop Off

Roll To See What Drop Off

Why should Gary Gygax be the only one to rip off Jack Vance? This spell is actually closer to the one in the Dying Earth novels than the AD&D spell of nearly the same name. Perhaps that’s why this one is the Excellent Prismatic Spray. (Coming soon: Enterprise Edition Prismatic Spray, Prismatic Spray Lite, Prismatic Spray for Workgroups…) Anyway, you cast this spell at a single target, and it dices him into 1-10 pieces, and you roll on the accompanying chart to see which pieces they are. For non-humanoids, you are instructed to “simply draw charts similar to this one”.

It’s kind of worth noting that there’s no specific rules for the damage done by any part being lopped off, or any other effects. “OK, you’re dead.” “Why?” “You got both your legs chopped off! And your thingie!” “So, I didn’t take any damage.” “Yeah, but you’re totally bleeding everywhere!” “Since when? You never bleed from wounds in D&D. I just have to crawl!” “No, you’re dead!” “Are you still mad about that pizza thing? I told you, I thought you’d taken your slice. Give it a rest, man.” Also, does a roll of 8 mean you lose your fingers? What if you were holding your hands in a different position, because, like, I totally was. My hands were nowhere near that ray.

Maturation

When this spell is cast, the players stop seizing every opportunity to make lame double-entendres and try to reasonably evaluate rules conflicts without rancor or hostility. I seem to have constantly saved against it.

The Jaws Of Set

OK, so, this is awesome. Giant invisible snake jaws appear, biting your enemies for 1-100 points of damage. 100 hit points (remember, this was an era when the largest red dragons had only 88 hit points), moves at double speed, teleports without error, and has AC 2+2, which is AC 0, not AC 4. If you don’t understand why, you’re not Old School. N00b! The summoned jaws last until destroyed, which means, you’ve got invisible jaws that do 1-100 damage and can teleport to any point you wish and go chomp. I wouldn’t memorize any other 10th level spell. Seriously, can you imagine having… wait, how many 10th level spells do you get, anyway? There’s no rules for magic-users in this book, and none of the official D&D books gave you more than 9th level spells, no matter how high level your character was. Sigh. Yet another example of where the local house rules were so internalized the authors forgot to include them.

Eleventh Level Spells

Green Beam

I can only imagine this spell was created by DMs for use against players. It targets a magic item, and de-magics it. To restore the item, you need three simultaneous wishes, each cast by a magic-user, not from a scroll or item. This reeks of the got-you-last one-upmanship that most Monty Haul games reached in their final stages. It was very rare for monsters to have magic items in those days, so this is either DM vs. player or player vs. player magic. As is…

Magic Nullification

Simply nullifies all magic items, weapons, armor, power, and abilities for 1-6 rounds, save for half duration. Again, the main focus here seems to be to let the DM kill a player… I mean, a character… who is wrapped in so many magic items they can’t be easily thwarted.

Call Of The Comet

You call a comet. You designate a landing zone within 240′ of you when you cast it, then skedaddle. 1d6 days later, a comet appears. Based on the roll, it can be anything from pea-sized, doing 1d6, to 100′ feet in diameter, doing 100d6 and leaving a mile-wide crater. (Presumably, it does the damage to everyone within a half mile of the impact point.)

Probably really sucks if you wait six days then get a comet that’s about as impressive as a slingshot pellet.

For the mid-range effects, a standard issue fireball does about as much damage and doesn’t take days to show up. This spell is one of those “But.. but… it’s a comet!” things, where the sheer awesomeness of the concept distracted the designers from the utility of the spell itself.

Mass Insanity

This spell causes 10 x the caster’s level people within a one mile area to go insane, rolling on a chart to determine Paranoia, Schizophrenia, Sexual Perversion (what? No detailed subchart for that? Son, I am disappoint), etc. The description notes that it’s useful for livening up dull little hamlets. (And possibly dull little MacBeths, I suppose. Badum BUM!)

Twelfth Level Spells

The Sorcerer’s Spacecraft

A magical spaceship

Spelljammer, This Ain’t

So, how do you get into space to fight Galactic Dragons? With this, of course, which makes this an amazingly stupid spell to cast. Why give the DM any excuse to throw one of those TPK nightmares at you? Anyway, conjures spaceship, magically controlled flying saucer, top deck is good for cocktail parties which are things the typical D&D player of 1978 may have heard of but would never be invited to, speed is 10 million MPH, which pretty much means it’s limited to in-system travel (kind of surprising, really, you’d think there’d be an FTL drive. Maybe the designers thought that wouldn’t be realistic. You laugh, but I’ve seen far sillier debates).

Genocide

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere! Uhm… no we’re not. This spell kills 10 times the caster’s level in humans. (Only humans? What if I want to destroy the Elven Menace, before they destroy us?) Assuming that casting 12th level spells requires being 24th or 25th level, that’s still only about 250 people. That’s not “genocide”, that’s “a typical summer in Chicago”. There are many less powerful spells that will kill many more people. The spell also notes that “a save results in no effect”. Does this mean each target saves individually? Damn, that’s a lot of rolling.

The Black Forest

This spell conjures ham, pickles, assorted mustards, and… no, wait. This spell creates a square mile of Evil Forest, which is exactly what you need to surround your Evil Wizard Tower. It springs up overnight, and also gives you 1-100 giant spiders, 1-100 evil ents, and 1-100 orcs, all under your control. Nothing in the spell description says it can only be cast in specific locations, so I’d cast it in the heart of a major city. In one night, the entire city is destroyed by the magical trees, and the survivors are hunted down by my spiders, ents, and orcs. Bwahahah! I’ll bet I kill a lot more people than that “genocide” spell does. Oooh, what a misnomer! I’m still pissed at that. Nearly as pissed as I was that time I went into the “Virgin Megastore”. Talk about false advertising! Where was I?

Soul Drain Deflection

This spell lets you pick someone else to be the target of any soul-draining effect cast on you. There’s no indication they need to be willing, or get a saving throw. The possibilities for amusement should be self-evident.

Summoning Of The Black Hole

A black hole is summoned. All in the area are sucked into it, and deposited into deep space, requiring three simultaneously cast wishes to bring them back. Presumably, they also get killed in the process of going through the singularity, though that’s not spelled out. (Argument time!) Those who do make their save are merely compressed to a piece of matter about a millimeter in size. I’d guess you only need a single Wish, or even a bog-standard Resurrection spell, to restore them to life.

And So, It Ends

Thus, we come to the end of the Necromican walkthrough. I really wish Fantasy Art Enterprises had made more books. There are rumors some of them went on to real jobs, or might have met girls, or otherwise were distracted from producing works of singular awesometude. Sic transit gloria mundi.  (“Gloria is ill on the subway on Monday.”)

Oh, and this is for an earlier spell, and I think I may have included it anyway, but, just in case I haven’t, here it is:

Thoth Amon's Organ Request

Thoth Amon’s Organ Request

Necromican, Level 8 And 9

Necromican, Level 8 And 9

Featuring Benign Boots

Necromican

Necromican

Wow. I just checked and realized the last post in this series was written almost a year ago. Fortunately, that wasn’t the last time this site was updated, though it seems that way at times. I’ll try to do better after GenCon. My imaginary audience needs real articles, damn it!

Should I keep y’all in suspense, or should I just jump, right now, to the single best part of this section, and perhaps of the entire book, the illustration for the Benign Boots? Well, unfortunately, I apparently already posted the illustration long before I got here. Also the two articles I mentioned being in progress over a year ago are still in progress. Wow. My laziness astonishes even me.

Ah well, here it is again.

Benign Boots by Erol Otus

Lorraine Williams Still Would Not Have Approved

For those just wandering in from some random link, this article is part of a series looking at the wonderful (that should be read, by the way, without sarcasm or irony, because it is wonderful, in every way, full of wonders) classic old-school, and highly unofficial, supplement, “The Necromican” (note spelling, compare to Lovecraft), produced by Fantasy Art Enterprises in 1979. This was one of two such books they produced, which is a deep pity, as they could have gone on to all manner of greatness. The other was the even more astounding and wondrous Booty And The Beasts.

(You can see the first part of the Necromican review here , the second part here, the third part here, the fourth part here, and the fifth part here.)

Variable Shape Fireball

One of the classic problems with “Let’s pretend” games that don’t come with volumes of rules that resemble calculus textbooks crossed with Sports Illustrated’s Chainmail Swimsuit Issue is the constant arguing and fighting. (“Bang bang! I got you!” “Nuh uh, you couldn’t see me!” “Could too!” “Could not!”). In modern games, these kinds of childish disagreements are resolved objectively using cover and concealment rules. (“Hah! I shot the orc!” “No way, you couldn’t see him!” “Could to!” “Oh yeah? Look. The rules say to draw an imaginary line for any three of four corners which bisects the center of the figure…” “Nuh uh, those rules have been errata’d. You draw a line from the center of one square to the center of the other and if it passes through fewer squares than the average of your Wisdom and BAB you can roll 1d4 and count off counter-clockwise (clockwise in Australia) until you…”)

Yeah. Anyway, back in Ye Olden Dayse, one of the biggest sources of Creative and Imaginative Immersive Roleplaying Not Rollplaying was “Arguing over whether or not the stupid magic-user blasted you with his fireball.” This spell in the Necromican settles that, by allowing the M-U to specify any imaginable shape for his fireball… well, fireblob, really, I guess… so long as it remained contiguous, with the specific and explicitly noted purpose of excluding the MU’s friends, which , I feel obliged to note, did not necessarily mean “all members of his party”. (This particular distinction would one day be reborn with D&D 4e and discussions over who counted as an “ally”. Actually, come to think of it, it still shows up in Pathfinder, as I often need to decide if a particularly dubious NPC counts as an “ally” for purposes of buff spells.)

Monster Analyzer

This spell creates a 10 foot long spiked club and shoves it straight up the monster’s… wait… no, I’ve seen too many movies with ‘clever’ titles. This spell analyzes the monster, revealing hit points, AC, immunities, and so on. Again, it’s interesting that we see an example of the repeated pattern of spells substituting for missing non-spell mechanics, in this case, some means to measure character knowledge of monsters.  (We had two ways to do it. One, the player memorized the Monster Manual, and/or learned by having various characters die, then, through a sort of Akashic memory, having his next character know what killed his previous character, and, two, the DM ruthlessly snarling at you if you showed knowledge your character didn’t have. I don’t remember ever being told to “roll an intelligence check” to determine if my character knew something.) Anyway, this spell might make a lot of sense, but not as an eighth level spell. Even in munchkin games, you did not have high level memorizations to waste on a spell like this. First or second level, sure. It was probably eighth level because “Try to hit the players with a monster they don’t know everything about” was a big part of the meta-game, which was a lot more competitive back then.

Unrequested Ethereal Ejection

This sounds like something you tell your doctor about in strict confidence, and hope he gives you the pills himself rather than making you bring a prescription to your pharmacist. Casting the spell requires the somatic component “Honest, honey, that’s never happened to me before.” Sigh. Well, actually, it sends the target to the ethereal plane, which means it should be called Unrequested Ethereal Insertion, which I’m pretty sure is a Class-D felony that carries a minimum 5 year penalty. The spell gleefully notes that “none of the victim’s accouterments accompany him, so the target appears on the ethereal plane quite naked.”

Benign Boots

You’ve seen the picture, now read about the spell! This spell creates magic boots around your feet. When you die, the boots transport themselves and the corpse onto the astral plane and then run at triple speed to a predesignated place of safety. I’m not sure how much good this would do if you’ve been disintegrated or had your legs sliced off, but that’s what DMs are for, to make these kinds of judgments without needing mounds of tedious special-case rules, and then listen to the players whine about them. I suspect the main use for this spell was to get your body away from your fellow adventurers before they looted your corpse.

Level 9

Gaze Of Cthulhu

This spell gives you the face of Cthulhu, so, everyone around you passes out with fear and wakes up gibbering. (Save for stun.) It’s not 100% clear if the “wakes up gibbering” is permanent, but it’s strongly implied. Notable mostly for the fact that this book was published two years before Call of Cthulhu really brought Lovecraft’s work front-and-center in the RPG world, and a year before TSR’s Deities and Demigods, which is what introduced most of us ignorant young savages to the Elder Gods. In other words, the Lovecraft references in this and B&TB shows they were ahead of the curve.

Hope

Sadly, there is not a corresponding spell called “Change”. Anyway, this spell is “like the wishes granted by genies”, except, instead of saying “I wish…” you say “I hope…”, and there’s a 50% chance of the spell working. Which might be kind of cool, except that, by the time this book came out, the “Wish” spell, which was also 9th level, had been part of D&D lore for years, appearing in Greyhawk in 1976.  There’s no modifiers to the spell that make it superior to Wish, except that Wish will incapacitate you for 2-8 days and this will only do so for 1 day. (So, really, you could play the odds and cast the same Hope every day until you got it. On average, you’ll have less downtime.)

Desolation

This spell kills all non-magical plant life in a one-mile area. The description notes “…this spell would not kill ents, but would destroy the forest they were living in.” Yeah. Yeah. How’d that work out for Saruman? Why not just call this spell “Summon pissed-off trees”?

Perilous Parasite

This is basically a “drain stats” spell, with the nice special effect of creating a parasite inside the victim’s skull and the text notes that said parasite is only detectible by cutting open the victim’s head and looking inside. I’ll take the stat drain, thank you.

Superb Submersible

Ixitxachitl

Ixx-ticks-ack-ittil?

This spell creates a small, magically powered, submarine with a depth ceiling (depth floor?) of 360′ and a duration of four hours, which leads me to wonder how many DMs gleefully sat there while the players dithered and dilly-dallied and counted out their copper pieces before announcing “Spell’s over, you’re 360 feet underwater, and look, here come some Ixit… Ixitch… Ixchitz…. Evil Manta Ray People!”

These guys. Right here.  Or, better yet, any of the horrid undersea things from Booty And The Beasts.

Demon Summoning A

This spell summons one of four demons, statted out in the book. The spell lasts 24 hours, and the demon will vanish at the end of said time, whether it completes the task or not. The demon is obliged to try to complete the task, though, not just hang around and wait for the clock to run out. Anyway, what make this spell interesting is that the type of demon you get is random, and the tasks each can perform are not identical. In other words, you might want a demon to do some particular deed, then get one which can’t do it. So, basically, this spell is for people who want to summon a demon and then decide what to accomplish with it. I guess it might make sense to have a list of tasks, at least one of which is suited to each demon you might summon. Oh, one of the demons, the imaginatively named Dark Demon, requires you to sacrifice the soul of a close friend when it is summoned. So, never summon without your buddy! (Also, have a large supply of ‘close friends’. The problem is, as I see it, that the demon requires genuine sacrifice — you really have to like the guy. So this means finding a lot of people you genuinely care about, and somehow managing to keep genuinely caring about them while knowing they’re all potential demon fodder.)

And Onwards

Now, you might think that with ninth level spells done, we’re done, but oh no! This was the late 1970s, an era when everything went up to Eleven…or in the case of the Necromican, up to Twelve. (Twelth level spells, that is!)

Alma Mater, Sophomore Year

Alma Mater, Sophomore Year

The Return of Biff Muntz

As you may recall, far longer ago than I’d like, I posted Part I of this review and walkthrough,  in which I began generating a character for the RPG “Alma Mater”, published in 1982 by Oracle Games, and best known for its Erol Otus art and serious political incorrectness. Today, we continue with the process of character generation. I had just named my character Biff Muntz, and we were about to see if he had any skills with which he could pay the bills… or, being a bully, get the money to pay the bills from someone else.

As a “Tough”, Biff begins with Dirty Fighting, Driving, Drinking or Drug Use, Intimidation, and any one other skill. Well, first, we’ll go with “Drinking”. Skills in Alma Mater come in levels, and if you have a skill, you start at Level 1 (all other skills begin at level 0). For each level in Drinking, Biff can add (or, optionally, subtract) 1 from his Con when drinking. This also gives me a chance to spike someone’s drink without them knowing about it (a bonus of +1 against their Intelligence, so, 1d10+1 against my target’s Int. Hopefully, Cheerleaders have a low Int.) The more drunk I get, the more my skill in drinking increases; this is one reason to use the skill to lower your effective Con… it makes you get drunk faster and thus get more SP to drink.

There’s a lot of good options for other skills, many of which fit with Biff’s personality: Brewing (to make your own hooch), Illegal Economics (buying and selling illegal items), Coolness (to not show fear), Crudeness (as exemplified by the late, great, John Belushi in Animal House, this is the ability to be so disgusting people are actually revulsed… you know, a College version of AM would be pretty easy to create, especially one which focused on the classic “boobs and beers” films of the late 1970s/early 1980s. Revenge Of The Nerds: The RPG!. But I digress.), Lying, Weapons Knowledge, Forgery… this is a great skill list! But I get to pick one, and only one… hmm…

It’s interesting. Since most of your skills are pre-selected, this choice really matters; it’s one of the most defining elements of your character. To drift even more off-topic for a moment, I believe that whatever aspects of your character really matter ought to have mechanical representation. There’s some who say this is the antithesis of role playing; I disagree completely. If your character is shy, or flirtatious, or drinks heavily, or likes to ride motorcycles, or whatever, there ought to be a codified representation of it in the rules set. So, with that in mind, and looking at the skills, I think Biff is going to pick Coolness for his free skill. Why? Because the higher your Coolness, the better you are at picking up girls. At Level 2 Coolness, for example, you don’t need to roll to ask someone for a date. Biff is starting at level 1, of course, so he’ll need to roll his Courage (CR) to ask a chick out. His CR is 9 and he’ll get a +1 from this skill.

Learning new skills is hard. First, you can only have a maximum of 8 skills. Second, you can’t just gain skills through play, though you can improve them. You only get to check for new skills each September, and you need to roll against your LD (Learning Drive), of which Biff has virtually none. So, barring exceptional luck, Biff will just get better at what he already knows, which is pretty realistic. Biff is likely to end his life as a meth addict living in a trailer park, trying to avoid paying child support and watching the nerds he beat up become internet millionaires. Sucks to be you, Biff.

Rules For School

Now, if someone were to make a game on this theme today, it would be some weird Forgey thing with two-inch wide margins on half-size paper, and all the rules would be things like “Contrast your Angst to the opponent’s Pathos and then write a poem that doesn’t rhyme to describe your feelings and everyone involved reaches a consensus evaluation based on how many Trauma points you wagered in the Drama.” Let’s just say… Alma Mater isn’t like that. It’s a true old school game, and, contrary to what the revisionists would like to claim, that means rules. Oodles of rules. And charts. And tables. And, let me just say this… they are wonderful.

Here, for example, is the table of modifiers for dating:

The chart of dating modifiers for Alma Mater

If I'd hard this in High School, it would have been very useful.

You see all those numbers? You get to cross-index everything and work out all the details. The letters on the top, by the way, mean “Dance”, “Flirt”, “Date Request”, “Date Success”, “Seduction”, and “Love”.  Of course, you need to track things like successful or unsuccessful Flirt attempts, and your chances of going steady (which means you don’t need to roll to request a date, but you do need to roll for date success), are based on tracking a large assortment of modifiers, including your successful dates.

Seduction can’t even be attempted unless you roll against CR-1 (Coolness helps here, heh heh), and s the chance is your (INT+APP)/2, minus the target’s WP if they’re “passively resisting”.  Attempting to seduce a character who is “actively resisting”, the rules helpfully remind us, is also known as “rape”. (If both characters are willing, no seduction roll is needed, but both must roll against CR-1.)

There’s oodles of other rules, too. Rules for throwing a party, rules for drugs… hell, for those interested, here’s what drugs were going for in 1982. (Because I was a total nerd in High School, and still am, I can’t vouch for the quality of research of these rules.).

The Cost Of Illegal Drugs In 1982

If you somehow got here while googling for useful information on the cost of illegal drugs in 1982, I feel sorry for you.

It’s a bit of a nostalgia trip, in a way… no meth, no crack, and PCP was still being used by some people. (That was the terror drug of our era, and, like most such things, the problem was pretty much self-correcting; any drug horrible enough that it might actually be as scary as the usual suspects claim will quickly eliminate its users from the gene pool, which also eliminates the pushers. Much like a virus, if it’s too deadly, it eliminates itself. The biggest risk is all the stupid kids who, knowing adults lie about marijuana, assume they are also lying about the things that really can fuck you up for life, or just end your life.)

The rules, charts, and tables just go on and on, and it would be impossible for me to point out every cool thing there is, from an extensive weapons list that provides modifiers for everything from erasers to meathooks to blowtorches(!?), to the random items you could find on people you beat up (divided by class, so you could roll on the Brain Equipment Chart to see what you took from the local nerd, and so on), to the many fine illustrations, such as this one, for combat:

Chick fight!

This Is What Illustrates "Combat" in Alma Mater. Elmore, Eat Your Heart Out.

Now, that’s an illustration! I’d post the one that accompanies the “Dating” rules, but there are kids reading this blog! (Well, not really. There’s no one reading this blog, but, among my imaginary readers are imaginary kids.)

And In Conclusion…

Well, that’s sort of it, really. The bulk of the game is post char-gen, as it really should be. There’s only a handful of real decision points, again typical of the 1970s and early 1980s. For the most part, your character tended to evolve solely after play, with games like Traveller or Chivalry&Sorcery being notable exceptions. Many games, such as Metamorphosis Alpha, had only one or two decision points to make; everything else was either mandated or random. I think that’s it’s indicative of the time that we’d say “I’m going to roll up a dwarf fighter”, even though we mostly couldn’t control what we got; basically, without rules to let us decide what to play, we either cheated outright or we just kept rolling up one character after another until we got what we wanted.

Sadly, there are no rules for playing RPGs within Alma Mater; the possibility of infinite recursion would have been wonderful.

Alma Mater

Alma Mater

A Review And Walkthrough

Alma Mater is one of the better known obscure role playing games of the early 1980s, and once you’re done parsing that, we can move on. Ready? Good. Published in 1982 by Oracle Games Ltd,  it focused on playing characters in High School. Not mutants, ninjas, aliens, or elves, just boring mundane high school kids… so it was like real life for most of the target audience, except with rules that were explicitly spelled out and clear. Hey, it works for me!

In an era where even a hint of political incorrectness in an RPG will get someone writing an outraged editorial and spark a 500+ page thread on RPG.net (49.9% of the posters will be shrill, self-righteous, holier-than-thou liberals desperately trying to show off their broad-minded commitment to tolerance and diversity by racing to see who can put more people they disagree with on ignore lists (or just get them banned), and 49.9% will be right-wing trolls or apologists who will insist that America is completely free of racism, classism, sexism, and every other -ism, except for violent hate crimes against Christians such as saying “Happy Holidays”, which is just how the Holocaust started, and 0.2% will be people trying to rationally begin with a basic ethical framework and then use that to judge the issue in question, good luck to them),  it’s hard to imagine the kind of era that permitted Alma Mater to even be published. It is filled with offensive stereotypes, art that is basically demeaning to everyone, and an utter lack of apologetic or “kids, don’t try this at home” introductions to any section that deals with anything anyone might find disturbing. To be fair, the authors call this out up-front, and,  perhaps anticipating the growing death of the sense of humor in America, state outright that the game is satirical in nature. (As opposed to the modern invention, the after-the-fact “I was just kidding” excuse so beloved of pundits and politicians today.)

Really, you pretty much just need to look at the cover to know exactly what you’re getting into — in the game, and in this review. If you go beyond this point, you have only yourself, or perhaps Google, to blame.

Cover of Alma Mater RPG

The Cover. You Know What You're Getting Now.

By the way, in 1982, Michael Jackson did not look anything like the guy buying the drugs.

So, having shown you the cover, let’s move on to the article proper, shall we?

Continue reading

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…

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.

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Necromican, Level 5

The Necromican

Level 5

Necromican

Necromican

And so, at long last — and thanks to someone actually asking for it — we get to Level 5 of 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. (BTW, if anyone is in contact with either of those fine gentlemen, please, point them this way, as I’d love any feedback (even “Dude, why are you wasting your time on this stuff we wrote thirty years ago?”) they might wish to offer. (You can see the first part here and the second part here.)

First, though, I need to fulfill a promise. Here is the illustration for the path of the Daemon’s Disk spell, discussed back in the prior article.

The Path of Daemon's Disk

Sucks to be "b"

Fifth Level Spells

Just in case anyone was wondering, a)No, these aren’t all the spells — just some highlights I found amusing/interesting/useful fodder for jokes, and b)They are noted in the order they appeared in the text, “alphabetizing” being the sort of thing done only in later years. You kids with your “indexes” and “layout”! You have it easy!

Opportunity Dispell(sic)

This spell, which lasts apparently indefinitely until needed (Duration: Variable), negates the next spell cast at the mage “as per his ability”,  whatever that means — presumably, it acts like a Dispel (or Dispell) Magic as if cast by the mage. There was a spell like this in Ultima Online; people habitually used extremely weak spells to wreck the wizard’s protection and then used their highest level spells once the one-shot defense was gone.

Disanimate Dead

Otherwise known as “Who needs a cleric?” Well, it only affects skeletons and zombies, and, by 9th level, which is when you’d get this spell, such lowly creatures tended to be inconsequential anyway.

Trap Neutralizer

Otherwise known as “Who needs a thief?” Except, again, you’re wasting a fifth level slot (which could hold cloudkill, fer cryin’ out loud!) , and this was in the days before cheap wands and scrolls, and it only disables the trap for a single round, making it a nice way for the wizard to race ahead with the loot and then let the trap take care of his buddies. It’s how we rolled back then.

Mental Transferrance (sic)

Swap minds with the target, apparently with no saving throw, permanently until dispelled. I wrote something like this up for D&D Third Edition, but it was ninth level and had a few hundred words of detailed rules and limits. This is fifth level and takes up about three lines of large-font courier.

Withering Kiss

This spell allows the mage to kiss someone, aging them 10 years per level. So, assuming a ninth level mage, about ninety years, enough to kill a human or make an elf get a little gray. There’s plenty of interesting fodder here, such as if the mage has to kiss the ogre right on the lips, perhaps with a little tongue, or if a quick peck on the cheek will do. I’m half surprised this spell isn’t limited to female casters, as it seems to draw from the “Girls are scary” meme that permeates an awful lot of the stuff from this era.

Deception Detection

When cast, the mage knows if the answer given to a true or false question he’s asked is true or false… er, that is, if he’s being lied to. It doesn’t tell him the correct answer, and it lends itself to all sort of verbal warfare as the DM and player duel over whether or not a question asked was “true or false”, so the players spends most of his time rephrasing the question to limit the answer to a simple binary, until the spell finally wears out. (For example, “What’s behind that door?” is not a yes/no question, so you might try “Is there a monster behind that door?”, which could then lead to whether something qualifies as a “monster”. Likewise, you could end up with “Yes, there’s a monster behind that door”, but that could mean anything from a 1 HD kobold to a 40 HD dragon. The spell doesn’t provide any knowledge, it’s supposed to be used when you’re questioning someone, and that, of course, leads to whether or not it works when the person being questioned believes they’re telling the truth but they’re wrong.)

Coming soon….ish: Sixth level spells, featuring one of Erol Otus’ best. Illustrations. EVAR.

 

 

 

 

 

Necromican, Level 4

The Necromican

Necromican

Necromican

Level 4

OK, this is, I think, the first real, content-laden article written for the “new” mrlizard.com . (Much like the new boss, it’s pretty much the same as the old boss.) Anyway, we (by which I mean ‘me’, in much the same way that ‘we have to clean out the garage’ means ‘you have to clean out the garage’ in wife-speak)  are continuing our walk through the pages of the Necromican (note, no “nom”, no “con”), the 1979 highly unofficial supplement for Dungeons & Dragons published by Fantasy Art Enterprises. Levels 1-3 were covered here.This section covers level 4. I’m trying to do more, shorter, articles to give this blog the illusion of life. Hmm… if no one sees the illusion of a tree falling in the forest, does it make a sound? Of course not, moron, phantasmal force doesn’t produce sound, you need audible glamer (sic) for that!

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Galactic Dragon

Booty And The Beasts — The Complete Epic Saga

In honor of finally getting content (mostly) moved over, themes set, plugins plugged, and all of that, I am posting a link to the “complete” Booty and the Beasts review/walkthrough — all eight inconsistently named parts!

Creatures Of the Land — Fungus Men, Neutronium Golems, Living Hills, and more!

Creatures Of the Sea — Sonic Fish, Deadly Diatoms, Neptunians, and more!

Creatures of the Air (and Space): — Galactic Dragon!!!! (And more, but, really, the Galactic Dragon is all you need.)

Demons: Queen Of Lust. And some others. But mostly, the Queen of Lust.

Parasites: Spine Crabs, Macrosites, Womb Lice, and, yeah, more!

Robots: Drillbots and Dredbots… and more!

Magical Booty: Gumbos, gumbos, gumbos. And the Wand of the Marrow Squid. And more!

Tech Booty:Lasers, Masers, and the Multi-Eye People of Algol IV. And more!

And as a special bonus… the first part of my review/walkthrough of the Necromican, the companion volume of spells!

Necromican Levels 1-3

Necromican, Part I

The Necromican

Please note the spelling. There’s no “nom” (make your own lolcat joke) and it’s “can”, not “con”. Also, did you ever notice it was “Joo-ib-il-ex” and not “Joo-buh-lex”? This has nothing to do with the Necromican, it’s just a random observation.

Anyway, the Necromican is one of two seriously unofficial Dungeons & Dragons supplements produced by Fantasy Art Enterprises back in 1979, the other being, of course, Booty And The Beasts. (That’s part 1 of, believe it or not, 8. Read all 8 parts. Then get back here. There may be a quiz.) The Necromican is, as you may have guessed, a book of spells, ranging from such simple first level magics as the Spell Of Good Grooming to such puissant (thank you, Gary Gygax, for doing to my vocabulary what McDonalds did to my waistline) thaumaturgies as the 12th level Summoning of the Black Hole. These mighty magics are…

Huh? Yes, 12th level. As I was saying, these spells…

Yes, it was written for “Most Fantasy Role-Playing Games”, and that meant “Dungeons & Dragons”, just as surely as when you hear someone complain about “International Bankers”, what they mean is, “Greedy Jews”.

Yes, the Player’s Handbook only went to ninth level. So what’s your point? The Necromican goes to twelfth level (which makes even the “These go to 11″ joke not work, because these go to twelve). Do you think we were bothered by such trivialities? It was pretty easy to extend the spell chart, following the same pattern, to allow for 10th and higher level spells. How do you think we were supposed to deal with things like the Galactic Dragon? With “Magic Missile”?

Gods! Kids these days.

I think I’ll start with a look at the first level or two of spells. As with the Booty and the Beast articles, I won’t be listing each and every item, just calling out a few I think are particularly interesting.

IMPORTANT WARNING!!!!

Much as the creator of Dilbert has been accused of undermining the Worker’s Revolution by appearing to mock pointy haired bosses but actually is a tool used by the capitalist pigs to divert the rage of the oppressed (and when the guys in IT rise up to rebel, watch out!), I have recently been informed that my purpose in life is to “destroy” old school gaming and that when I write articles such as this, or the B&TB series, I am “denigrating” this style of play by focusing on the “sophomoric” aspects, or, as I would call them, the totally fracking awesome aspects. So if you read this and you are filled with a sudden desire to pitch your old D&D books out the window and go play, I dunno, “My Life With Master” or something, or maybe decide the most fun you could possibly have would be a three hour long argument over how to apply the rules for grappling with multi-armed creatures with reach in D&D 3.x, then it’s clear I’ve succeeded in my fiendish plot and have twisted your mind against anything that comes in a Little Brown Book. On the other hand, if you respond to these articles with “Dude! Where can I get a copy of this?”, then I’ve failed, and will undoubtedly be ordered to report to my secret Illuminati masters for re-assignment.

Remember: I secretly HATE the Necromican, and Booty and the Beasts, and All The Worlds Monsters (haven’t done that one yet, but it’s on the agenda) and the Ready Ref Sheets (ditto) and all the other stuff I’ve carted around with me from when I was an 8th grader in 1978 until now, and I spend 1-2 hours writing these articles, for no pay (I’ve earned about ten bucks from Google ads in three years. Trust me, this is “for no pay”), just to FOOL you into thinking that these books and systems are things which have tremendously influenced me and helped shape my writing style and vision. I am LYING when I say I am still awed and amazed by the breadth of creativity and passion displayed by Gary Gygax and Dave Hargrave (among others, but those two remain the twin ruling gods in my pantheon). My whole purpose in life is to MOCK their work and DESTROY their legacy.

Just so we’re perfectly clear. I would never wish to be dishonest. Oh, wait… according to my stalker critic, I am innately dishonest, so I guess that doesn’t work, either.

Oh well.

Just read on, and I hope you enjoy the article while I POISON YOUR MIND WITH MY LIES!

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