Tag Archives: monster

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.

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.

The Runes Of Doom, Part X

Here! Are! Your! Dragons!

Also: Got 99 Problems And a Drich Is 98 Of Them

Continuing the walkthrough of the original Arduin Trilogy. Prior bits are here, and you might also enjoy this. Today, more monsters.

As always, if you enjoy this series, please share links on appropriate forums and social media. Thanks.

Dragons, Assorted Varieties

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any monster category distinguished by adjectives is in want of more adjectives, out to the limits of sanity and beyond. So it most surely is with dragons. Even though there were ten types by the time of Greyhawk (and two singular entities), that in no way slowed the progression. Some sought to find implied niches (I love the psionic, neutral, gem dragons a lot), while others just grabbed a Sherwin-Williams catalog and stuck the word “dragon” after every entry.

The Arduin dragons follow the latter strategy. Dave Hargrave’s imagination was far too chaotic, broad, and ever-churning to be constrained by structural frameworks. We have no fewer than seven new dragons in The Runes Of Doom:

  • Dragon, Black And White (Striped): Not to confused with Dragon, Black And White (Spotted), of course. It has purple, pupil-less, eyes, and the tail splits “halfway down”. It can “breath”(sic) two cold blasts and two acid sprays per day, is 75% cold/acid proof and 50% fire proof, but takes +20% damage from thunderbolts. It enjoys eating hobbits, walks on the beach, and romantic dinners (if hobbits are on the menu).
  • Dragon, Ice: “Wait,” you cry. “We already have cold-themed dragons! They’re called white dragons!” Ah, but these are ice dragons, which are “translucent blue-white (like ice)” in hue, with eyes “like deepest space”. They breathe liquid oxygen, causing you to “freeze solid” or take damage based on the dragon’s size. (I’m guessing this means “You freeze solid on a failed save and take damage otherwise.”)
  • Dragon, Rainbow: Sadly, not also known as the Castro Street Dragon. indeed, it’s not really much of a rainbow, being only a rather mundane red dragon with white stripes and three blue heads. (Thus, it is also known — seriously, this time — as the Blue Headed Dragon.) Each head can shoot one bolt of fire, cold, or electricity per day (one of each type, per head, or nine breath attacks, total). Also, one spell per head every five minutes, which is problematic when Arduin uses 6 second rounds… let’s face it, for all practical porpoises, and impractical dolphins, it’s going to get one spell/head in a typical combat. They like elves. No word on how they feel about pina coladas or taking walks in the rain.
  • Dragon, Shadow:
    No Funny Caption. This Is Awesome.

    No Funny Caption. This Is Awesome.

    A dragon-shaped mass of shifting shadows with madness-inducing prismatic eyes, which breathes black, roiling, fog, killing all the low-HD types and blasting 13 life life levels out of the rest? Whose claws cause your flesh to rot off until you die, barring clerical healing? Plus the ability to cast up to eighth level spells, and the only thing that stops it regenerating is technological damage? Daaaaayummmm. This deserves to be written up for a more modern system. (One note: Many creatures in Arduin have some form of “Can cast Y spells of up to X level per day”… which is fine… but hard to integrate with Arduin’s mana point system, which is key to the effects of many spells, in that they have ranges, targets, or duration based on how much mana is put into it. I’ll go reread the mana rules. Maybe this is addressed.)

  • Sun Dragon: Two words: Napalm Breath.
  • Violet Dragon: This is one of my favorites, for the visuals, if nothing else… lightning crackles along its spine, and it breathes ionized, electrically charged gas. And speaking of writing things up in modern systems… probably ought to update this to PF, too.
  • Yellow Dragon: An “Eastern Dragon” (not an “Easter Dragon”, though I admit the concept has possibilities…), which is (surprise) bright yellow. Its breath weapon is a cloud of gas causing blindness, nausea, vertigo, and muscle spasms (fatal if save is failed; 3-18 damage if it is made). Furthermore, it creates a magnetic field around itself that can deflect all iron and steel weapons. Because, why wouldn’t an Asian-themed yellow dragon that breathes toxic gas have magnetic powers?

Things That Are Not Dragons

Driches: Druid (Or “anti-cleric”… that’s what we used to call evil clerics, back in the day…) liches. A very interesting concept given barely a sentence or two of description. You could do a hell of a lot with a druid-lich as the lord of a dark and twisted forest, full of undead treants and the like.

Fool’s Bane: Continuing the very important D&D tradition of “things that look like other things”.

"You see a black lion standing on a basalt floor in front of an ebony statue."

“You see a black lion standing on a basalt floor in front of an ebony statue.”

This is why true old-school players tend to be hyper-paranoid. You young punk kids today, you mostly just meet mimics that look like chests. If you ever meet a doppelganger, it’s part of some big complex plot with “role playing” and “diplomacy”. (Hint: It’s the vizier. It’s always the vizier.) Back in my day, the entire dungeon wanted to kill you. The floor? Trapper. The ceiling? Lurker above, coated with piercers. The walls? Stunjelly. The curtains? Sheet phantoms. The old sack in the corner? Bag of devouring.

Great White Owl:“Looks: giant white owl.” It it “quite intelligent” and enjoys eating kobolds and goblins, but sometimes eats hobbits “by mistake”. Yeah. And I’m supposed to be on a diet, but I sometimes get General Tso’s Chicken instead of steamed tofu “by mistake”.

Hyclops: They’ve got a wolf head, three legs, four arms, and are immune to psychic powers. They get 1-6 (roll each round) attacks per turn. Either this is something from some obscure real-world myth (the most insane monsters often are), or Dave was experimenting with random design tables.

Hydra, Black and Red and Hydra, Black and White:

Hail Hydra!

Hail Hydra!

Seems to me there’s at least as much room for additional hydras as there is for dragons. See also Shydra, below. Then run. Damn, that thing’s nasty!

Khorb: Headless giant with an eye ray that causes confusion. Wait, how does it have an eye ray if it’s headless? I think the eye is in the center of its chest, though this isn’t actually stated. Oh, and it eats you with the mouth on top of its torso. It hates orcs. Orcs aren’t too fond of it, either.

Morqs: Started off really funny, then executive meddling sent it into a death spiral of serious fail in the second season. Also, they attack like ogres, regenerate like trolls, and fight until dead like zombies. And they have no eyes and track targets by sound. And they’re androids.

Oront: “Tri-horned form of minotaur?” Question mark is in original. I like that. It’s almost as if Dave is observing the world of Arduin and making notes on what he sees. Hell, it’s how I do a lot of my creating… I let my mind drift until I see an interesting scene, then describe it.

Rippler: An “ameboid looking beast” that slithers along the ceiling, dropping down to smother its prey in “3-5 melees”. It has no other attacks. Please note this is different from how the Blue Gunky smothers you. Ah, Old School. Not only did everything have its own mechanic, you often had multiple mechanics for the same general effect or action.

Shydra: Just read it. Wow. Sometimes I am in awe of the things that crawled out of Dave’s imagination.

So...Not A Hydra With Social Anxiety Disorder, Then?

So…Not A Hydra With Social Anxiety Disorder, Then?

And remember, five heads is the minimum for hydra-types. Unless Agent Coulson is around.

Sky Scorpion: It’s a giant golden scorpion. That flies. And has two stingers. And regenerates when hit by lightning. And has “spaced armor”. And when it poisons you, you lose immunity to your own internal chemistry, so your stomach acids dissolve you. Just another day in Arduin.

Snow Golem: “Looks: obvious”.

Star Spyder:“%liar: unknown”. See my comment on the Oront.

Star Spyder

So… Anyone For Settlers Of Catan?

I mean… hell… this thing is… with the radiation mouth… and the teleporting… and the “psychic charm”… when you consider the relatively low power of Arduin PCs… wow. So, people survived Dave’s games?

Ta’Vreen: Aliens from another dimension. They, like the Argalanthi, hate Thaelestra.

Thaelastra: Hated by Ta’Vreen and Argalanthi… with good reason.

Yeah, These Guys Basically Suck.

Yeah, These Guys Basically Suck. Kill ‘Em All.

Thralls: The “gladiators” of the Thaelastra, who wear golden “collars of obedience” that will strange the wearer on command. They “can be anyone”.

Thrukk: “Attacks: Immune to this dimension’s magic!” Not sure how you attack someone with “I’m immune to your magic”, but, OK. (Ah, they also have technological weapons.) They look like “bears with hands”. Support your right to arm bears! Formerly slaves of the Ta’Vreen, “they HATE them!”. It’s worth noting these tiny drabbles of flavor text I’m providing with various monster listing are virtually all there is… no 64 page “Player’s Guide To Thrukk” out there. Back in the day, we took it and ran with it. Just the tiniest hints of backstory or relationship could spawn a dozen great ideas.

X:

"Y" and "Z" Are Rumored To Be Even Nastier

“Y” and “Z” Are Rumored To Be Even Nastier

That’s mostly it for this week. To be honest, this section was so full of goodies it was hard to force myself to pick only the best… almost all of them had some interesting or unique aspect worth commenting on.

Next time: Elementals! Lesser Demons! Greater Demons! Pages and pages and pages of Greater Demons!

 

The Runes Of Doom, Part IX

We Can Worship Like The Druids

Running Naked Through The Wuids

Drinking Strange Fermented Fluids

And Also Cover Hell Spirals And Technos And Whatever Else I Get To

(Which Turns Out To Be New Monsters)

Hey, I actually got comments on my two prior articles, and not of the “I am most expectorantly fumigated with clarity over your postblogs, with much reciprocity will I obviate the contrafibularities” variety. So I look forward to stunned silence in the future, because I can’t have nice things. Anyway, druids.

Druids entered D&D early. They began life as just a “monster” type in Greyhawk (the supplement, not the gazeteer):

The Dinosaurs Came Later

The Dinosaurs Came Later

BTW, I have both cats helping me write this. Wait, now they’re fighting over the faint traces of chicken grease left from breakfast. And Rocket, despite his negative size modifier to CMD vs. Toaster, emerges victorious. See, reading these articles is just like watching me on Twitch. A constant stream of useless extemporanea that fluffs my word count so that I… wait, I don’t get paid by the word for these… I don’t get paid at all! Back to druids.

By the time of Eldritch Wizardry, druids became a core PC class, whose power levels have fluctuated wildly over the years. Druids were the first official class to be strongly tied to a cultural archetype1. This intrigues me. They weren’t really a part of the common cultural gestalt (I love using fancy academic words I don’t really understand) of the game’s formative era. Could The Wicker Man have been an influence? Or maybe they were a part of the cultural morass surrounding the origin of D&D, just not a part that reached me, a young teen in the rural wastes of New Jersey. (And by “rural wastes”, I mean “densely populated middle class suburbs”.)

The actual Arduin incarnation of the druid was discussed earlier. Despite Dave’s proclamations to the contrary, the earliest Arduin books were clearly intended as supplements to Duother roleplaying gamesons, and so, druid spells were included from the start… and to the finish, at least of the original trilogy, which brings us to…

May The Blessings Of Dramamine Be Upon Ye

May The Blessings Of Dramamine Be Upon Ye

This is a good example of something I’ve discussed at tedious length before, and will now discuss again: Ability delivery mechanisms. What we’ve got here, boils and ghouls, is something that isn’t actually a spell… but there was no other mechanic to use to give this ability to some druids, but not all. There weren’t feats, skills, ‘talent picks’, or any other such things, so, spells would have to do.

Milnahr’s Minor Ritual For Detecting All That Which Lives: Outlines all living things with pale green “St. Elmo’s Fire”. (I am not sure if this includes invisible creatures; if so, it’s a cheap and effective way to nullify that ability.) If used on a single, targeted, creature, the druid rolls percentage dice to find out how “aware” they are of it (“what it eats, etc.”). The problems of figuring out what being 38% “aware” of a creature vs. 61% “aware” are left as an exercise for the reader.

Yalnwyn’s Spell Of The Mystik Moons (Lesser): Awesome name, right? What the spell does is summon three spheres (red, white, and blue, for some reason) which bump, trip, and otherwise “harass” the target. So..

Player: “I cast Yalnwyn’s Spell Of The Mystik Moons (Lesser) at the orc!”
DM: “OK. Your balls begin banging against the orc’s face. He tries to bite your balls.”
Player: “Hey!”
DM: “He swats them away, but they keep coming back. The orc just can’t escape your balls.”
Player: “Shut up!”
DM: “One of the other orcs tries to help, but can’t keep a good grip on your balls.”
Player: “This is because I didn’t help pay for the Chinese food last week, isn’t it?”

The spell description actually says “balls”, not “orbs”, “spheres”, or “immature and painfully obvious double entendre”. There’s no actual mechanics, the target is just “harassed”, leading to many discussions on exactly what are the combat effects of being harassed by a druid’s balls?

I’ll stop now.

Larissa’s Singing Sands Of Time Spell: Summons a whirling dust devil that makes a melodious whistling sounds, and ages the target 10 years (5 if they save). Sucks if you’re a human, but virtually all other races (per The Arduin Grimoire) have ridiculously long lifespans, and no, that’s not a euphemism.

Druach’s Spell Of The Infinite Insect: Causes the nearest insects (1, +1 for every three levels over that required for use) to grow in size to match the caster’s own hit dice. The newly enlarged (but not actually infinite) insect will fight for, carry, etc., the caster, except 5% of the time, when it is “wild” and will, I presume, attack instead. Probably worth the risks. Since both the number of giant insects and the hit dice of each scale with level, this is a damn useful spell, especially since the mana cost does not go up.

Ovore’s Spell Of The Mystik Moons (Greater): “Same as lesser but balls have the density of stone.” G’night everybody!

Never Bring A Wand To A Laser Fight

With spells done, we go on to “techno magik”. No actual rules, per se, just a half-page essay about why technology is totally cool in a fantasy universe… the ignorant peasants will consider a laser pistol to be a wand of fire, and blueprints to be mystic runes. There was, even in those early days, a constant culture clash over genre bounds and what was and wasn’t “realistic” or “believable”, and, just as it is now, and just as it shall ever be, everyone had a completely subjective, personal, and emotional opinion which they were convinced was objectively correct and the only one which any decent human being would espouse. If your female dwarves don’t have beards, you’re not playing D&D!

Here’s a techno fighting a valpyr.

The Sheer Awesome Perfection Of This Image Cannot Be Overstated

The Sheer Awesome Perfection Of This Image Cannot Be Overstated

Hell Spirals

Roger Zelazny Isn’t As Litigious As Tolkien, Right?

I Mean, Seriously, It's Not Like Anyone's Going To Make An Amber RPG Or Anything.

I Mean, Seriously, It’s Not Like Anyone’s Going To Make An Amber RPG Or Anything.

The higher level you are, the better the odds of you completing the spiral, albeit with a greater risk of encountering “a denizen of limbo or other such nasty thingy”. Failure may kill you, dump you in a random hell, or cause you to go insane. Being awarded a “You Tried Your Best!” ribbon is not an option. Sorry, millennials.

Blue Gunkies And Crunch Beetles, Part Of This Delicious Breakfast

(Not The Delicious Part)

Without further ado… monsters.

Argalanthi: 12 to 18 foot long armored bug people from outer space. Not to be confused with phraints, whom they admire, nor with thaelestra, whom they detest. They use flamethrowers, which they hold in the tentacles that surround their jaws.

Black Lion: “Looks: like a giant black lion.” OK, then.

Blue Wind: A “living fog of shadows” that kills you by smothering (1 round per point of Con to do it). It also does 4-24 points of cold damage while you’re inside it (with the new hit point rules, discussed earlier, this will surely kill you long before it it smothers you), and “10 turns after contact all victims become its host”. Even if you’re not dead yet, are feeling much better, and want to go for a walk? And what does “become its host” mean?

Blue Gunky:

Significantly More Deadly Than The Green Gloopy, But Not As Feared As The Red Glorky

Significantly More Deadly Than The Green Gloopy, But Not As Feared As The Red Glorky

Immune to “venom, fear, confusion, stoning, etc.” Et cetera? Uhm… there’s about a gazillion different types of damage in the D&D-esque games, “Et cetera” doesn’t cut it! Level “1 per 50 points”. So a 200 point gunky is considered a fourth level monster… that takes 200 points of damage to kill, attacks twice per turn for 18 points per attack (in addition to draining 12 hit points/round) and drains attributes.  Oh, and it gets stronger as it kills you. I suspect Dave brought this out when a player seriously annoyed him.

Boomers: Giant mottled red and black acid-spitting frogs that explode in a fireball that does twice their hit dice in damage when you kill them. “Things that explode when you kill them” are a major part of the ecology of any good D&D world.

Choke Weed: A plant that produces clouds of choking pollen that is particularly nasty for hobbitts (sic), but doesn’t bother orcs. Burning it “doubles its effectiveness”, leading me to think that orcs should grow fields of this around their strongholds, then ignite it when the nassssty hobbitsesss attack them.

Crunch Beetle:

"Verticle Crush" Would Be A Good Name For A Band

“Verticle Crush” Would Be A Good Name For A Band

I enjoy the weird specificity of the “20% chance T-bolts will richochet off its chiten”.

And that’s enough for this week, folks. Next time… more monsters, including seven types of dragons!

Samurai and ninja both showed up early on in Strategic Review and The Dragon, but didn’t become “real” until Oriental Adventures.

The Runes Of Doom, Part IV

The Runes Of Doom, Part IV

Deodanths, Saurigs, and Phraints

Takei

(You See What I Did There…)

Last week, I noted that much of the material was a rehash of existing classes for “most other roleplaying games”, part of Dave Hargrave’s gradual evolution of Arduin from a supplement to a stand-alone system, a migration not to be completed for a long, long, time. (And by the time it was done, it had mutated far beyond its roots). This week, we look at a few things very much not found in the default assumptions of the setting zeitgeist of the era.

Undead Hybrid Elves… From The Future!

Loosely based (sort of like the relationship of “Total Recall” to “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”) on Jack Vance’s deodands, the deodanths of Arduin are “an evolutionary hybrid of ‘undead’ Elven kind and some ‘other’ dark and unknown ‘thing'”. Legend claims they are “lost time travellers from eons in the future”, where “the suns are dieing”. (Spellcheck suggests “dieting”.)

They have a “vampire-like” ability to charm/hypnotize opponents, which “requires concentration, seldom found in combat”. That’s cool. Let’s see, this ability has a range of… uhm… and the actual effects are… hmm… and the degree of concentration needed is… erm… and it can be used as frequently as.. well. Basically, it’s tossed out there with no mechanics at all, which might be acceptable (given the tenor of the age, also the soprano) for monsters, but this is in the section entitled “Deodanths As Player Characters”, which means abilities do need a little definition. I went back to the Arduin Grimoire, where they have a monster listing. Nothing there about mind control powers, but it does say they’re 50% magic resistant. Perhaps “vampire-like” means “use whatever rules you use for vampires, don’t worry if they don’t make sense for a first level fighter”? That’s my guess.

Doesn’t matter. They’re awesome even if you can’t use them to mind-control the entire dungeon at once. They are brilliant tacticians either as “sole(sic) warriors in sword to sword melee’s(sic)” or as “Star Corsairs par excellance in spaceship to spaceship battles”. Because those happen a lot in high fantasy — why else would you have a spell to summon spaceships? Duh! (And if you think I’m against mixing Swords & Starships… and wouldn’t that be a great name for a retro-RPG? Hmmm… it’s not like I don’t have enough ongoing, incomplete, projects currently1… you haven’t read most of my stuff. Genre purists can bite me. Or, perhaps, I am a genre purist, and recognize that D&D is not a rules system, it is a genre, and that genre is “Fahfrd, Merlin, John Carter, Batman, and Elric team up to fight Dracula, Sauron, and Darth Vader (and their zombie ninja minions) in the Hollow Earth. While riding dragons. Cyborg dragons. Cyborg dragon wizards!” (/me begins singing “Ultimate Showdown“)

They generally eat their prisoners, being “omniverous”(sic), but those they don’t eat, they torture, sometimes for up to a decade. So, probably not suited for Paladins, is that the message I’m getting here?

In addition to being undead elf hybrid vampires from the future, they can jump in time! They can time-skip 1-3 melee rounds forward, 1/day per level, at a cost of one point of Con, Agi, Str, and Dexterity each time, each of which takes five hours (not contiguous!) to restore.

They also jump in space —  20-30 feet horizontally, 15 feet vertically, and hate elves for “historical reasons”. (See the Skull Tower walkthrough for more on that!)

I got your Fantasy Fucking Vietnam right here, pal. Along with your “waaaah! Modern games are like video games!” cliche. Back in the real old school, we had, as player character options, time-skipping high-jumping undead hybrid elf vampires from the future! But, yeah, you go ahead and play your dwarf fighter whose highest stat is a 12, because that’s “roleplaying, not rollplaying”. Go on. Have fun with that, Groin, son of Loin, or whatever your name is. I’ve got to go kill a star spyder(sic) with my deodanth. (We’ll get to star spyders, and much, much, more, when we do monsters… but that’s a ways in the future, I’m afraid.)

We also had…

Vulcan Mantis-Men From Outer Space!

No secret, here: Phraints are one of my favorite races. They’re visually distinctive, they have a cool backstory, and they actually fit in pretty well in a sword-and-sorcery world.

My Money's On The Phraint

My Money’s On The Phraint

Phraints are born into a caste system, as follows:

Phraint Gandhi Tried To Ban The Caste System, But It Pesisted

Phraint Gandhi Tried To Ban The Caste System, But It Persisted

There are also Black Phraints, who, with very minor technological aid, can survive in hard vacuum, and who shoot off monomolecular edged shuriken. Imagine a boarding party of them landing on the hull of your spaceship! Pack extra underwear! But on Arduin, they’re extinct, as the supporting technology to create them no longer exists.

Phraints are perfectly logical and unemotional, which is why they try to conquer the universe. It’s obvious they’re superior and should rule, so the illogical lesser races ought to just accept it. They don’t, which proves they’re illogical and inferior. “Tautology” is a class skill for Phraints.

They can stand motionless, waiting in ambush, for up to three days, drink pureed horse meat for fun, and get totally plastered off the juice of the Red Lotus. They also leap as well as deodanths, leading to spectacular battles between the two races, which make the most extreme wire-fu fight scenes look like a sedate chess match.

Sheldon Cooper Plays Nothing Else

Sheldon Cooper Plays Nothing Else

Yeah, it’s a real roleplaying stretch for someone like me to play a character with no understanding of emotion or normal human interaction. Really exercises the old acting chops, y’know, getting into a mindset completely alien to my own and viewing the world through a lens utterly antithetical to my normal perceptions.

Savage Lizard-Men From The Forgotten Past!

OK, compared to undead elf vampire time-hoppers from the future and insect men from outer space, lizard men, even when called “saurigs”, are kind of… meh. Still, a lot more interesting than wood elf, tree elf, root elf, leaf elf, branch elf, twig elf… (though ‘root elf’ does have potential…).

Saurigs are descended from “the dread reptilian Kthoi”, who ruled the world some 600,000 years previously… and ideas such as this, of a scope and scale orders of magnitude beyond the limits of human history, found fertile ground in my adolescent mind, and let’s not juxtapose ‘fertile’ and ‘adolescent’ ever again, OK? One of the interesting aspects of this whole exercise is seeing where a lot of my personal inspiration comes from, decades after I forgot the source.

After the tactical sadism of the deodanths, and the imperialist logic of the phraints, it’s nice to know the saurigs were bred as mindless killing machines. After the fall of the Kthoi, they divided into two groups — the tailed swamp saurigs and the tailless desert saurigs. (The delicious dessert saurigs were eaten into extinction.) After untold ages, they have achieved a modicum of sophistication, existing as tribal bands, which occasionally play gigs down at the oasis.

Desert saurigs are valued as mercenaries; swamp saurigs are valued as luggage. OK, it doesn’t say that exactly, but although the swamp-dwellers are larger and stronger, they are undisciplined and savage, and are thus of little worth as soldiers. However, you can get 1d4 suitcases of medium size out of one, with enough left over for 1d6+3 belts, and OK, I’ll drop it for now.

Keeping up the trend of “everyone hates everyone”, the saurigs hate the phraints — desert saurigs because “they took er jerbs!” (i.e., they compete for mercenary contracts) and swamp saurigs because… no, I’m not going to make another luggage joke… because phraints consider saurig eggs a delicacy for baby phraints to nom on. No, that’s not a joke. That’s in there. So, you kind of have to feel a little bit for the saurigs getting slaughtered on the cover of the Arduin Grimoire. They could have been like the horta, avenging their fallen young. So it goes.

And In Conclusion…

Next week, we dive deep into assorted variant mechanics and rules, presented in the usual orderly, logical, fashion, where each idea builds on the previous in a coherent and sensible manner.

My apologies to anyone whose sarcasm detector blew out reading that.

1:Do you know there are people out there afraid someone is going to “steal their ideas”? That would be like stealing paper clips when you live in a house built out of paper clips, that you use mostly to store your supply of paper clips that constantly expands, no matter what you do.

Welcome to Skull Tower, Part XII

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XII

Monsters From Ali-Loraii To Zoomers

Also, From Bigglies To Tarrakks

It Looks Like He Had Two Pages Of Monsters In Alphabetical Order, Then Added Another Two Pages In a Slightly Different Style

Bah! Genius Does Not Care For Mortal Conceptions Of ‘Layout’ And ‘Design’! Genius Creates Its Own Order!

Welcome back to anyone actually reading these! This week, we look at monsters… may or may not get through them all, we’ll see. (Edit: We did! It took two days of writing time, but, we did!)

As is typical for the time, these creatures have detailed backstories, complex cultures, and are carefully woven into their environment in a way that enriches immersion in what Tolkien called a “secondary world”.

Also, I’m a Nigerian Prince and I wish to smuggle 20 million dollars into your country.

The Monsters

Ali-Loraii: A cloud of golden light that sounds like wind chimes and smells “like honey and almonds”. This is important. Certainly, there are other clouds of golden light that sound like wind chimes and smell like something else.

DM: There’s a cloud of golden light approaching you. You hear the sound of wind chimes.
Foolish Player: Ali-Loraii. No problem, they’re easy to kill. We use a sonic attack.
Wise Player: Wait, you fool! What does it smell like?
DM: (Sighing, annoyed at Wise Player’s wisdom) Like cinnamon and walnuts.
Wise Player: A-ha! This is the rare and majestic pseudo Ali-Loraii. It gains hit points from sonic damage! I use a lightning bolt on it!

Yes, Ali-Loraii take damage from sonic and stoning. They also shoot laser beams (in the ethereal and astral planes, as well as in the material).

Bubble Men: These are transparent humanoid creatures fill with gas. (“You mean, like Fred when he’s been eating at Taco Bell?”) They have no attacks except a “self destruct burst”. The text describes the three types of colored gas they may be filled with (explosive, poison, or sleep) and its effects, but, I notice now, never actually says what bursts them. As a player back in the 1970s, I didn’t even think to ask. Obviously, they burst when attacked. Duh. Now, I wonder if there could be more. Does any damage, even the most minimal, burst them? They have 1+2 Hit Dice… maybe you need to do fatal damage to them? They have no other attacks, so, they just stand there until they explode? Are they an actual species, or something from some alien plane, or a kind of golem? The damage they do — 8d6 explosion, for example — makes them a mid-level threat, at least. (Now I wonder, even more… do all the other bubble men in an area take damage when one of their own explodes, setting off a cataclysmic chain reaction? Wow, that would be nasty in any kind of enclosed area where the players would all be in range… kind of like being around Fred when he’s been eating at Taco Bell.)

These are sort of one-trick ponies, if ponies were transparent and filled with explosive gas, something Ken White at Popehat might consider. Since they have no other attacks, they can be mostly ignored, leading to an arms race of DMs finding ways to make them non-ignorable and players finding ways around it.

Player: Fine, they’re blocking the door? I just shove one out of the way, doing no damage.
DM:That picture you drew of your character has him wearing spiked armor…

Black Wind: There’s a really cool picture of it in the third book, “The Runes Of Doom”. Remind me to include it when we get there. (See how I avoided another “Fred tends to be flatulent” joke? Hm. Remind me to include that when we get to Book 3, too.)

Gryflisk: There’s a really cool picture of it in the first book. Just not the first book I used as my primary source, the other first book after Erol Otus was declared to be an un-person. So, here it is. Also: Those of you who think the picture of the monster ought to be, y’know, somewhere near the rules/description of the monster… you are blind, ignorant, fools who are trapped in linear time and two dimensional thinking!

Wrong Book Or Not, This Picture Is Totally Awesome On Every Possible Level

Wrong Book Or Not, This Picture Is Totally Awesome On Every Possible Level

Oh, as if you couldn’t tell from the name, it’s a griffon/basilisk hybrid. See the dude being turned to stone while the hobbit is being turned into an appetizer?

Haggorym: A crossbreed of goblins and neanderthals. Hey, both species live in caves, there’s lots of long cold winters… no need to be judgmental. I think there’s a picture of them in Book 3, too.

Moondogs:

Serves You Right For Being Smart!

Serves You Right For Being Smart!

“A true symbiosis born in evil and horror!” Damn, I love that line.

Is it just me, or does it sound like Dave Hargrave was inspired by those statues outside the better sort of Chinese restaurant? (A statue out front indicates a roughly 25% increase in price (and a 99% decrease in the chance of dysentery) over ‘Mr. Wong’s Eggroll Palace’. It is known.)

Pybra: A python cobra… erm, python/scorpion … so why isn’t it a pypion?… hybrid. With rubies (Real rubies. Valuable.) for eyes. That spits venom. And particularly enjoys the taste of hobbits and kobbits. (An awful lot of species have a thing for hobbits. Makes you wonder how they survived.)

Sluggoth: Not shoggoth. They’re vampire maggots except they’re not undead and… oh, here.

Note: They Do Not Smell Like Honey And Almonds

Note: They Do Not Smell Like Honey And Almonds

These things, as described, are grade-a nightmare fuel, that’s for damn sure. I love the tiny hints of backstory. The ‘lesser demon’ saving roll charts are in the Arduin Grimoire, in case you were wondering. I assume the ‘writhing mass of bloodsucking leeches’ is in addition to the insects they command.

Vampusa: These are “nothing more than vampire medusas”. You know, run of the mill stuff. They also had a picture in AG I. The laws of time and space mean nothing, do you hear? Nothing! The original was in the prior article; here’s the revised version:

Yup, That's A Vampusa, All Right

Yup, That’s A Vampusa, All Right

They are often accompanied by moondogs.

Valpyr: Silver balrogs which burn in the astral and ethereal planes, allowing them to damage creatures normally immune to fire. They are also often accompanied by moondogs. You know, I’m starting to think Dave really liked his moondogs.

Windigo: A whirling air-elemental type thing. Pun on ‘wendigo’, obviously. Hey, I came up with the hellephant and dolphiend, who am I to judge? (Those who enjoy such things are invited to look at my own Earth Delta, as the monster book is full of Thermites, the Knights Of The Jade Eye, Acid Ants, Maul Rats, and so on.)

Yaanth: It’s a cross between a bear and an otter, and it’s got three eyes, and it’s got silver fangs, and its saliva can paralyze you, and it’s as smart as a six year kid, and what the hell was Dave Hargrave smoking? Moving on…

Shock Bones:

"Ha ha, look how they run when I create a monster solely to undermine their core mechanic!"

“Ha ha, look how they run when I create a monster solely to undermine their core mechanic!”

These are pretty cool and easily adapted to modern systems. Was “Dirty Harry” a PC or an NPC? Are there any non-mad Technos? I love that there’s a little detail like “chalk covers the wire”, because you just know someone would whine that they should have noticed it!

Also note that the name is not in italics. This marks the point in the book — the last entry on a page and the first not in alphabetical order — where Dave apparently decided to just start adding more monsters in a slightly different format.

(A Page Of Monsters)

Because That’s The Header On The Next Page In The Book

Bigglies: Hippo-sized St. Bernards with silver-based blood (instead of copper based like most mammals (???)… seriously, it says that, then notes “in this universe” (presumably, the one Dave Hargrave, and less presumably, the rest of us, live(d) in) “mammals have iron based blood”. The “Arduin mammals, except for giant St. Bernards, have copper based blood” didn’t seem to come up again, so I have no idea what’s up with that, as the kids say. They’re named after Clint Bigglestone, a game designer and, I’m guessing, a friend or player of Dave’s. There’s a lot of crossover between Dave’s circle and what would eventually become Chaosium… names like Steve Perrin and Greg Stafford are commonly dropped.

Chaeronyx: A cross between a centaur and a medusa. Man, medusae in Arduin get bizz-ay, don’t they? Of course, you have to keep the lights off. Sadly, they do not appear to travel with moon dogs.

Curiously, This Image Appeared On The Same Page As The Courtesan Class

Curiously, This Image Appeared On The Same Page As The Courtesan Class

Kill Kittens: These are tiny little adorable kittens with steel hard fangs and fatal poison that attack in swarms and kill you, hence, the name. They are also illustrated in another book. Perhaps more interestingly, they may have inspired George R. R. Martin, as something very, very, similar appears in his 1985 story, “The Plague Star”. While many ideas are spontaneously generated among multiple creators (please don’t get me started on my classic rant about “Why your ideas ain’t worth shit, so don’t worry about people ‘stealing’ them”), let me note that a)GRRM includes lots of gaming and comic book shout-outs in his work, b)The Wild Cards books were inspired by a game of Superworld that GRRM ran for his friends back in the day, and c)Superworld was published by many of the same people who played w/Dave Hargrave, so there was clearly a lot of overlap. However, anyone trying to verify this will distract him from finishing the next ASOIAF book, so, don’t do it!

(More Monsters)

Because That’s The Header On The Next Page

Perrinites: These are “with apologies to Steve Perrin”, and are basically hippies. Humanoids with flowers where their hair should be, they can control plants, see through the eyes of birds, and exude paralyzing sap. They like to trick orcs into wandering into the deep woods to be devoured by the Perrinites’ friends, the bears. The stat information (HD, AC, etc) is oddly in the middle of the description, between paragraphs.

Actually, now that I look a bit more closely, all the monsters in the “(A Page of Monsters)” and “(More Monsters)” sections have their stats scattered willy-nilly through the descriptive text, while the monsters on the prior pages followed a more uniform format of “Name, Stats1, Description”. I’d love some of the backstory of how the Arduin books were constructed… I mean, the literal process by which the raw material of Dave’s notes were laid out and turned into these bundles of wonder and madness.

Especially when you consider that the…

Tarrakk: … (the very last monster) is laid out much like the creatures on the prior two pages: Name in italics, followed by stats, but with %Liar (see my earlier article for more on this) added in, something not included in most of the other entries. Oh, what is a Tarrakk, you ask? It’s a cross between a dragon and a horned toad that can (once per day) (italics in original) shoot its 6-60 spear-like spiny scales in all directions, each of which hits “like a light catapult”. (It also breathes fire, of course, up to three times a day, but only every four melee rounds, except when alternate side of the street parking rules are in effect.)

And So…

We come to the end of this section. Next time, we delve into several pages of pure mechanics… some of Dave’s house rules and glimpses into the evolving Arduin system. Again, if you enjoy these articles, please share links on appropriate networks… I really suck at self-promotion.


 

1: Granted, the names of the stats and the order they were presented in varied a bit even on the more “organized” pages… sometimes it was “Speed”, sometimes “Move”, etc. It looks like it switched from “Speed” to “Move” halfway through the alphabetized list… as if Dave typed up some of the monsters one day, then went back and typed the rest, but changed his mind/got confused over what term to use as he transcribed his notes. Believe me, I’ve been there. There’s nothing more annoying, as a writer, to realize you changed a character’s name halfway through the book, or, even worse, transposed two characters so the guy who was killed a page back is now the guy fleeing down the hall, while the guy who’d originally been fleeing down the hall is lying dead in the other room. Across the decades, and the boundaries between life and death, I feel a connection.

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VII

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VII

The Charts Go Ever, Ever, On

This week’s ‘short article’ excuse: I went to go see a movie with my wife. I have a life, you know! (Still stuck in a holding pattern on the move closer to work. If we get one of the houses we want, I’ll have a 2-minute commute, and since there’s absolutely nothing worth going to, seeing, or doing in the area, I’ll have a lot more time to write these articles.)

We continue our rampage through the price lists of the Multiversal Trading Company, and I continue to go “neener neener” to the Old School Revisionists who like to claim “magic item shops” and a mechanistic, X GP for Y Power approach to magic was somehow added due to “video game Diablo Warcraft kiddies” some time around the turn of the century. I will also continue being stunned and amazed by the sheer breadth of creativity, imagination, and mad genius that Dave Hargrave evinced in this tome, and likewise continue making cheap jokes at the expense of a much greater creator than I could ever hope to be when I stumble on some of the oddities, confusions, and contradictions that abound.

Wands, Rings, Amulets… First Floor. Cloaks, Clothing, Menswear, Third Floor.

The Wand Chooses The Wizard... Bullshit! The Wizard Chooses The Wand, Including How Many Charges It Has

The Wand Chooses The Wizard… Bullshit! The Wizard Chooses The Wand, Including How Many Charges It Has

“How much for one ring to rule them all?”
“That depends, Sir. Do you want it to be able to find them?”

Now, you may notice a few things, looking at the above:

  • Helms cost a whole lot more than anything else. There’s a very good reason for this. Helms were among the very few magic items that fighting-men… erm… fighters… could generally use. And a helm of teleport would be an incredible boon to a fighter, enabling him to skedaddle as needed, and it was needed a lot.
  • The other prices have less obvious rationales. It’s not clear why wands, which can you carry an infinite number of (given a sufficient number of bags of holding), are cheaper than rings, when you could only wear two. (Wands could be knocked from your hands more easily, I suppose).
  • I suppose jewelry is anything not a ring or amulet? Earring, bracer, exotic piercing…
  • An “offensive power” could be “magic missile” or “Power Word: Kill”, all for the same price? This looks like an obvious loophole and I can’t believe Dave’s players didn’t exploit it.
  • It seems as if, in general, ‘detect’ abilities cost more. I can only infer that, like a lot of older games, a great deal of emphasis was placed on hiding treasure and/or setting up ambushes, making the ability to spy out hidden items or hidden enemies exceptionally useful.

Mr. Humphries, Are You Free?

I’m Free!

Then Show This Gentleman Something In An Iron Golem.

Don't Worry About The Length Of The Arms... They'll Ride Up With Wear

Don’t Worry About The Length Of The Arms… They’ll Ride Up With Wear

OK, here we go… at the time, D&D had exactly four golems… iron, stone, flesh, and clay. This remained pretty standard for a while… unlike dragons, there wasn’t much of an ‘official’ impulse to expand the golem types. (In general, almost any type of monster with an adjective begs for expansion… if you’ve got hill giants and stone giants, why not forest giants and magma giant?)

But in Arduin, the golems went up to 11. Actually, I think there’s 15 there. But anyway… this little list is a perfect example of what Arduin means to me.. an outpouring of concepts without a lot of detailed explanation. OK, without any explanation. It inspired you to add meaning to names, to figure out exactly how a ‘shadow golem’ worked. And what the hell is ‘orichalcum’, anyway? I didn’t know then… I’m not sure I know now. But it was worth more than gold or adamantine!

The idea of a speaking, flying, hasted green slime golem really appeals to me.

Scrolls? Just Past The Elevators, To Your Left.

Well, This One Has A Level Cost, At Least

Well, This One Has A Level Cost, At Least

This is an interesting table, not least of which because it includes a concept still not common in modern incarnation of D&D or Pathfinder… resistances for scrolls! This may be because modern games rarely include targeting magic items on a one-by-one basis; there’s nothing in the current iteration of fireball that specifies your items need to save. In the old days, however, it was assumed that anything that damaged you might damage your items, and scrolls, in particular, were especially fragile. This often led to debates about scroll cases, and precisely where on your person a scroll was stored, and “OK, fine, your scroll is in a lead-lined ivory scroll tube inside a steel scroll carrying case… now explain how you got it out in the six seconds you had before the orc raced across the room to cleave your head in.” (Another reason Dave Hargrave deserves major praise for inventing the 6-second combat round 13 years early… the amount of bullshit a player could claim they could do in one minute was simply ridiculous. A six second round cut down the possibilities considerably.)

I am not sure what “self protecting” means. Does the scroll, sensing an incoming acid attack, tear itself from its owner’s hands and burrow into the backpack, huddling behind a backup suit of +2 chain mail?

We conclude this sub-section with two important things.

First, Dave Hargrave reminds us that he’s just sharing his world — and your world is your own, to do with as you please.

Seriously, This Can't Be Emphasized Enough

Seriously, This Can’t Be Emphasized Enough

Second, as promised, the second to last bit of Erol Otus art to be found in the original trilogy:

"The Terror, Yet Only A Baby!"

“The Terror, Yet Only A Baby!”

Next week… with luck, more time and a longer piece. I’m hoping, maybe, to clear through the price lists. There’s two lists coming up that had a profound influence on my sense of what a fantasy world could be.

Arduin Grimoire, Part XV

Arduin Grimoire, Part XV (And Final)

Air Sharks and Doomguards, and Hell Stars, Oh My!

And Demon Lore

And The 21 Planes Of Hell!

And We’re Done!

As we finally drift towards the end of the first book, we go out on a high note, probably F sharp. (Is that a high note? I don’t actually know anything about music, so my pun might fall flat. Get it? Flat? Sigh. Enjoy the veal, and don’t forget to tip your waiter.)

But seriously, folks: Monsters. Three pages of them, for 16 in all. Yes, you could fit 16 monsters onto three (half size) pages back then, because we didn’t need a lot of ‘background’ or ‘details’, we had imagination! Also, very small type.

Air Shark

Screw your land sharks! We’ve got air sharks!

I'm a shaaaark

I’m a shaaaark!

Key points on the general layout:

  • Hit Dice come in ranges, which is even better than pints, unless you’re a hobbit. I covered this an article or two back, so, go dredge it up for yourself. Point is, it was a real innovation for the time.
  • I discussed %liar (vs. %lair) a while back, too.
  • I have no idea why AC is ‘5+2’ instead of ‘3’. And if you don’t know how 5+2=3 for Armor Class, you are not Old School.
  • I’m not sure if you were supposed to roll for speed, or scale it to the hit dice.
  • It was cool they had a Dex score, but I’m not sure how it was applied. I don’t remember actually ever using it in play.
  • Damage also scales. 8-80???? Remember, boils and ghouls, at the time, a huge ancient red dragon had 88 hit points, and Lolth, a verifiable goddess, had 66.
  • Oh, I do so wish someone in one of my games had shot a flaming arrow at one.

Here’s others of interest:

  • Blue Bellower: Giant blue rhinoceros beetle that emits a nauseating gas when wounded, and has a 50% chance of having lightning bounce off its shell, and produces a bellow that has a 35% chance to deafen targets for 1-6 turns.
  • Doomguard: Perhaps my absolute favorite critter from this book, because I keep using them in games, in various guises. They’re animated suits of plate armor that can teleport and must “literally be dismembered” to stop. No word on if they inform you that “It’s just a flesh wound!” when injured.
  • Grey Horror: Scorpion/Spider hybrid whose poison paralyzes most creatures but dissolves hobbits at 3-18 points/turn. Why hobbits? Why not hobbits?
  • Hell Maiden: Skull-headed Valkyries who ride hell horses (which are, for the record, also described). Despite having skulls for heads and riding undead horses, they’re not undead. They do have a ‘%liar’ of 90%, though, so perhaps they’re lying about not being undead?
  • Holy Freakin' Hell, You Can Encounter Up To SIX Of These Bastiches???

    Holy Freakin’ Hell, You Can Encounter Up To SIX Of These Bastiches???

    Ibathene: Nuff said. OK, it’s not up to Galactic Dragon status, but still… and if you look back at Part XIV, you’ll note there’s a 1-in-20 chance of a random trap dumping you on one of these. Erm.. or not. Huh. Another difference between editions. Where it says “purple worm” there, later editions say “ibathene”. Also, on the treasure tables, they replaced “pizza oven” with “machine gun”.

  • Knoblin: Kobold/Goblin/Bat hybrids. Because the world needs as many low-HD humanoids as it can get. Like the Ibathene, and like many other monsters of this era, it had different AC for different body part — normally 6, wings were 8. This is not, in itself, remotely problematic. What is problematic (and lest anyone be confused, this applies to D&D and AD&D itself, and is not a jibe at Dave, for he’s guilty here of nothing more than cargo cult game design, a sin most everyone in this era committed), is that there were never any official or integrated rules for targeting body parts. Do you just say “I’m aiming for the wings?” Do you randomly determine which body part is being hit, and then use that body part’s AC? Is there a penalty? Does it make sense for there to be a penalty since the whole point is to aim for the lower-AC body part? If you miss, do you hit the body? There were as many answers as there were gaming groups, and the answer depended on the DM’s ideas about combat, his/her interest in making house rules, and how much Chinese food had been made available.
  • Kobbits: Kobold/Hobbit crossbreeds. Rule 34 just exploded. Next!
  • Phraint: Phraints are awesome. They’re mantis people. There’s one on the cover of the later edition; you can see the scan on the main Arduin page. They’re covered in detail in Book 3, the Runes of Doom, which, if I follow the same rate of posting, we’ll be getting to in about 15-20 weeks.
  • Skyray: One-eyed, flying, manta-rays which explode into a cloud of spores when they die, “seeding” all in the cloud as their “host”, with, and I quote “predictable result” in 1-3 months.
  • Thermite: Glowing red-yellow giant warrior termites, that do 1-8 points of fire damage on a touch. Well, my subconscious stole that for Earth Delta. I should have known I wasn’t clever enough to come up with that on my own.
  • Thunderbunnies: While it sounds like the name of a strip club, these are actually insane, “foam mouthed”, jack rabbits that travel in great herds “like land piranhas”.
  • Golems: Can you ever have enough golems? Of course not, duh! We get gold, silver, orichalcum, adamantine, mithral, shadow, and light. A while back, inspired by an entry in, I think, Welcome To Skull Tower, I statted out a green slime golem.

Demon Lore

Stuff Your Heavy Metal Albums Never Taught You

We now have a page of rules about demons, numbered with roman numerals, because why not, and with many underlines to show emphasis.

  • You need to be the same level as a demon to conjure it, and your chance of controlling it is only 10%, which increases very slowly as your level exceeds its. Also, for greater demons, this number is halved. Sucks to be you.
  • Demons hate everything, including their own kind (75% of attacking).
  • Demons just dissipate back to hell when killed, and they also regenerate like trolls, presumably by registering new Twitter accounts. Lesser demons, however, can be killed by phasers and nuclear bombs, and the mere fact that sentence exists makes me very, very, happy.
  • Only dragons and other demons can damage demons, but medusas (only, not gorgons or basilisks) can stone them. Elementals and efreet do half damage; golems, one-quarter damage. I want to be in a game where the issue of golem-on-demon combat comes up.
  • 50th level Patriarchs have a 5% chance to turn away greater demons (+1% per level).
  • The main purpose of demons is to flip out and kill people.
  • Demons are mammals.
  • Demon attacks and saving throws are rolled as if they had double their hit dice, e.g., a 6 hit die demon attacks and saves as a 12 hit die monster. Combine this with their regeneration and other powers, and it amazes me any character in Dave’s games ever made it to fifth level, never mind fiftieth!

Here’s a Rock Demon vs. a Storm Demon. You’re welcome.

It May Be Possible To Create A More Awesome Image Than This, But I Doubt It

It May Be Possible To Create A More Awesome Image Than This, But I Doubt It

The Planes Of Hell

Not To Be Confused With The Plains Of Hell, Which Are Called “Nebraska”

Seriously, Have You Ever Driven Through Nebraska?

Now we have a listing of Planes of Hell, which feature the usual medieval imagery like tidally-locked worlds with superheated argon atmospheres, or dying suns and pools of liquid mercury, or radioactive vacuum worlds dotted with h-bomb craters, or…

Wait, what?

The “21 planes of Hell” in the Arduin-verse are, it seems, hellish sci-fi worlds, which is really cool (even if most of them just kill you instantly) but totally way out in… it’s not even left field, it’s out of the ballpark, down the street, and eating pizza at a hole in the wall pizzeria. Other than the fact the inhabitants are listed as various sorts of demons (which might as well be mutants or aliens, really), there’s virtually no connection between any conception of “hell” I’ve ever heard of. I mean, did Dante ever cover a planet “burned with energy weapons in an interstellar war”?

The 20th plane of hell has an ocher sky, four coppery moons, and billowy fungus forests. Also, star demons.

The 21st level of hell, home to the greater demons (which are noted as mutations, BTW) is filled with bombed-out cities and “dark red mutated seas”, also, kaleidoscope skies and an evilly blue glowing moon.

I would love to hear the backstory behind how these vividly strange worlds become the “hell” of Arduin…

Some Demons

We now get an assortment of “lesser” demons. I’m just going to include one typical example. I shudder to imagine what “greater” demon stats might have looked like; I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t think they were ever included in the other books.

Pay Close Attention To How Many Life Levels This Thing Can Drain In One Melee Round

Pay Close Attention To How Many Life Levels This Thing Can Drain In One Melee Round

I also like how it can leap 33′ in a round… again, a number perfectly suited to no mapping system ever used.

And In Conclusion…

Dave ends by saying “The overland and dungeon maps on the next two pages are provided for your interest and enjoyment”, which is nice… but there’s only a dungeon map. As I commented regarding a similar omission in the Princecon III handbook, it’s hard to find a more perfectly zen summary of the essence of old-school supplements. How many days of game time does it take to cross a missing map, grasshopper?

Next Time…

We delve into “Welcome to Skull Tower”. A lot of people have covered/reviewed/dissected the Arduin Grimoire, but far less attention has been paid to the later volumes of the trilogy. This should be fun…

Arduin Grimoire, Part XIV

Arduin Grimoire, Part XIV

Mists and Maladies

And Traps

(And Coneheads)

OK, another short one… this time, my excuse is having to remote in to work to make up for time I missed, since I’m a contractor and have to bill by the hour. But I am determined to be regular about my posting… as I age, regularity becomes very important. Ask Wilford Brimley. (“Who?” ask all the kids in the audience.) The encounter tables are pretty much what you’d expect — roll some dice and see what shows up to kill the players. Even so, this being Arduin, there are some hidden gems (1% chance of spotting, guarded by a poison trap with a -4 save, of course).

Consume Mass Quantities!

Consume Mass Quantities!

Please note a few things: First, you could easily encounter huge numbers of creatures in a single go. This may have been due to the original “number appearing” in “Monsters & Treasures”, but those figures were based on outdoor encounters in the “hex crawl” mode, where you might stumble on an encampment of 300 orcs. Buried later in “The Underworld & Wilderness Adventure” are rules for determining the number of creatures encountered in a dungeon, and they are utterly incomprehensible. Here, let me show you:

From OD&D, Not Arduin

From OD&D, Not Arduin

I sometimes give Dave Hargrave grief for leaving out key elements or data, but nothing in Arduin approaches this level of inscrutability.

So, anyway, that’s why you could run into 36 hobgoblins or 32 coneheads…

Wait, what? Coneheads?

Given the date of publication, and the fact they’re not listed in the new monster section, I have to assume they are, in fact, referring to the Saturday Night Live creatures.

Yeah, These Guys

Hey, why not! (The lack of stats in the book is Yet Another Indicator that the Grimoire was literally pieced together from Dave’s personal notes and writings; he may have simply forgotten to remove that entry from the encounter table.)

Anyway, that’s that. We’ll be covering the monsters themselves, soon.

Before that, though — Mists!

Old School Gaming: Even The Air Wanted To Kill You

We now get to the “random fog and mist generation chart”, because of course when you kick down a door in a dungeon, each room might have its own atmosphere… evidently, all those kickable, rotted wooden doors formed airtight seals. Go figure.

Smells Like Teen Spirit...Whoops, Misread That. Smells Like Dragon Shit.

Smells Like Teen Spirit…Whoops, Misread That. Smells Like Dragon Shit.

Presumably, you rolled randomly on each column. There’s a footnote stating that this chart allows dungeon rooms to have weird and random effects “without annotating the map”. In short, this chart is there to let the DM screw with the players without the pretense of “wandering monsters”, and without any foreknowledge of what might happen. Just decide a room has a mist, and roll some dice… like this…

20: Ever-changing color
9: Sulfur smell.
4: Visibility, 7 feet, which works perfectly well with absolutely no mapping scale known to humanity. “The orc is in this hex, but you can’t see him.” “Why not?” “Well, the front of the hex is five feet away, but the back is ten feet away, and he’s staying towards the back.”
3: Sounds of combat.
13: Intense Incapacitating Itching. I see Dave, like myself, got regular paychecks from the American Alliteration Association.

But suppose simply flooding the room with random gasses wasn’t enough? (Insert your own “The DM shouldn’t have made chili for game night” joke here.) And suppose you failed to insert a trap in every single map square? Well, that’s OK. There’s a random trap chart, too.

Hot Oatmeal?

Hot Oatmeal?

Note:

  • Most of these don’t have damage listed. Presumably, the exact effects of falling into a mechanical grinder or being smashed against the ceiling are up to the tender mercies of the “Umpire”. (The term “DM” was still one of many floating around; “Umpire”, “Referee”, “Judge”, or “You Bastard” were also common.)
  • The notes (not shown) indicate a 10% chance per level of spears being poisoned.
  • They also note that “monster rooms” have level-appropriate monsters, and that occupied spider webs are particularly fun.
  • Please note that a fall into molten lava is always fatal, even if, and I’m talking to you, Bob, you’re wearing +1 leather. (Relevant portion begins 40 seconds in.)
  • Random Gender Changing was, like, a thing back then. Naturally, when it occurred, it was used to explore issues of sexism, socially constrained gender roles, and intersectional feminist issues from a multicultural perspective that recognized alternative ways of knowing and encouraged the removal of binary identity concepts.
  • Magic floors disappear 1-10 seconds after the first person has walked on them, so that many people can be trapped at once. Good luck figuring that out by pouring water on the floor and seeing how it pools.

And, alluding to alliteration…

Most Malignant & Malefic Miseries Known

Seriously, That’s What The Section Is Called

Why Would I Lie If Money Isn’t Involved?

(And Trust Me, It Isn’t)

So the air hasn’t killed you, nor has the hot oatmeal. What’s left?

Only everyone’s favorite horseman of the apocalypse, plague!

There’s no particular rules for catching these diseases, or curing them. They just do horrible things to you, until they don’t. A few selections:

  • The Scarlet Screaming Sickness: No damage, but the pain is so bad there’s a 10% chance per day the victim will go insane, and it lasts 5-10 days.
  • The Melting Sickness: You “melt” 10% per day, and it lasts 1-10 days, so if lasts 10 days, you’re dead. Otherwise, you just look molten — full wish to cure.
  • Steaming Death: Body moisture boils off you in the form of steam, causing you to die, always, looking a withered apple in 10 hours.
  • The Bursting Sickness: The victim continually burps and passes gas (ah, the maturity of the age…), until he explodes like “an overripe grape” in 4-6 hours, and dies.
  • The Withering Wakefulness: The victim can’t sleep and ages 3 years per day. This lasts 3-30 days, and there’s a 7% chance per day past 10 of insanity from sleeplessness.

So, unless you’ve got a cleric with Cure Disease handy, you’re basically screwed.

Next time, monsters. In the meanwhile, here’s a tryvern.

Three-Headed Wyvern. Tryvern. Of Course.

Three-Headed Wyvern. Tryvern. Of Course.

 

V-Borgs

V-Borg

Well, as a late sign of the apocalypse, or an early sign of the next one, here’s an Earth Delta update! As always, this is a “fresh off the grill” version, not particularly edited or tweaked.


 

V-Borg

V-Borgs, or “Vehicle Cyborgs”, are hideous, blightspawned abominations that fuse partially-living beings with the remnants of vehicles. It’s often theorized that they were the pilots or crew of the craft when they were destroyed, and the combination of blight energies and the vehicle’s self-repair nanobot swarms fused them together. There are countless varieties, many which barely resemble their original forms; over the centuries since the Cataclysm, they have slowly changed and adapted. While not mindless, their motivations are alien and seemingly mad; as far as most who encounter them are concerned, they strike out blindly. Some of them have found their way to the Annihilation Army, while others have been recruited to factions of Turing’s Children.

The transition to V-Borg was hideously painful, and most V-Borgs remain in a state of anguish. This can wax and wane over time; a V-Borg might be rational for a few hours, days, or weeks, then suddenly be consumed by torment and turn violent.

V-Borg Monowheel Gunner

V-Borg Monowheel Gunner

Level 18 Artillery

Medium natural animate (blightspawn, cyborg)

XP 2,000

HP 136; Bloodied 68

AC 29; Fortitude 30; Reflex 32; Will 29

Speed 8

Immune blight, poison, disease; Vulnerability 10 radiant, 10 lightning

Initiative +18

Perception +17

Darkvision, Tremorsense 10

Traits
Monowheel
The Monowheel Gunner gets to save twice when an effect would knock it prone, or once if no such save is normally allowed. However, once knocked prone, it must use all of its actions in a turn to stand. This does not apply to external effects of powers which allow it to stand. In addition, the Monowheel Gunner’s maximum climb speed is 1, due to its lack of legs.
Standard Actions
r Machinegun (weapon) • At-Will
Attack: 20; +25 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8 + 13.
C Spray Fire (weapon) • At-Will
Attack: Close Blast 5 (All creatures in blast); +25 vs. AC
Hit: 3d6 + 9.
C Wild Spray (weapon) • Recharge 4 5 6
Attack: Close Burst 3 (All creatures in blast); +23 vs. AC
Hit: 2d10 + 6.
R Line In The Sand (weapon) • Encounter
Effect: Line 8 within 15. The nearest square must be at least two squares from the Monowheel Gunner. (Any creature which crosses the line); Whenever an enemy enters a square that is part of the line, the Monowheel Gunner may make a machinegun attack on the triggering creature as an immediate reaction.
Sustain Minor: The line is sustained. While sustained, the Monowheel Gunner must remain within 15 squares of any square in the line. If it moves (voluntarily or otherwise) more than this distance from any square in the line, this power ends immediately.
Move Actions
Overrun • At-Will
Effect: The Monowheel Gunner can move through any square occupied by an enemy of Medium size or less. This movement provokes opportunity attacks as normal. A critical hit on such an attack will end movement.
Skills Acrobatics +23, Stealth +23
Str 19 (+13) Dex 28 (+18) Wis 16 (+12)
Con 22 (+15) Int 10 (+9) Cha 13 (+10)
Alignment chaotic evil     Languages Binary, Ancient

The monowheel gunner resembles a decaying humanoid torso, interlaced with corroded (yet still functioning) mechanical parts, balanced atop a gyroscopic wheel. Rapid-fire fully-automatic weapons are mounted on both arms; ammunition appears to be endless, possibly synthesized from scavenged materials and stored internally, sufficient to last through any single battle.

Monowheels often roam in packs, speeding across open areas and attacking any living creature they see. It appears they view this as a sport, with complex rules, and the packs often wear identifying tokens, such as scraps of cloth of a particular color, or the skull of a specific animal. Other monowheels will appear with mixed groups of V-Borgs, other Blightspawn, or more rarely wholly unrelated allies.

Their internal balance systems are very effective, allowing them to move over broken and irregular terrain with no more difficulty than a biped.


Design Notes: The idea of the Monowheels as “sports teams” is one of those things that wandered into my brain while I was writing. I was trying to find an interesting hook or concept beyond, “They like to shoot things”, and suddenly the notion of them moving in patterns, wheeling and spinning and criss-crossing as they hunted down some humanoids, competing to kill them or drive them to some goal, according to some set of rules and limits only they perceived, jumped into my mind.