Tag Archives: monster

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.


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?


  • 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.




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-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

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.

Gelatinous Cube, Glacial

Gelatinous Cube, Glacial

In honor of the Winter Is Coming Blog Carnival, I’ve decided to try to a)post more often (hah!), and, b)post winter/cold/ice related stuff, as my fancy is struck. No promises on either frequency or content; been there, done that. For all you guys know, this could be my last post ever. We’ll see. (Note: I wrote that first paragraph on 11/04/2012. What day was this posted?)

So, for starters, let’s take one of the classic monsters, the gelatinous cube, and try some frozen variants. This is going to be a bit of an exercise in extemporanea, wherein I will “think out loud” on the page, as I try to work out what to do with this concept. This allows you to peer into the mind of the artist. Gaze not into the abyss, yadda yadda.

So. Cold gelatinous cube. “Ice Cube”, but that’s too obvious, even for me. Hm. Here’s problem one: The thing about cold, the thing is, about cold, is that it’s cold. Frozen. Stiff. Pretty much the antithesis of “gelatinous”. Sure, you can postulate the freezing point of Cube is much lower than that of water, and we might go with that, but as I ponder it… can a non-gelatinous gelatinous cube be interesting? Hmm…

Cold. Solid cube. Ice cube. Can’t absorb things, except very slowly. Like licking a street sign. Except it’s a street sign that wants to eat you. It can absorb on contact, slowly. Warmth of bodies thaws its outer surface. You get stuck, then drawn in as your own body heat softens the cube so it can feed. Hm. What else does ice do? Shatter. Hitting it causes smaller fragments or shards to fly off. Form their own monster. Hmmm. Clear. Gelatinous cubes are already clear, but arctic thoughts. Sun. Light. Refractions. Snowblindness. Cube shimmer in the sun, blinding aura, dazzling, hard to look at.

OK, that’s enough traits to work with.

Let’s see. Let’s do an “across the ages” thing here. I’ve done it for spells. Why not for monsters?


AD&D First Edition

MOVE: 4“
% IN LAIR: Nil
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 2-8+1-4 Cold
SPECIAL ATTACKS: Paralyzation, refraction, surprise on a 1-4
SIZE: L (10’ cube)

Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

Glacial Gelatinous Cubes are found only in the frozen regions of the planet, or in dungeons which are kept magically super-cold. They are much more solid than their oozier brethren. Due to this, when they hit an adventurer and paralyze him, damage begins on the first turn following the attack, as it takes time for the stricken victim to be drawn inwards.

Glacial cubes are even harder to spot than others of their kind, as they blend perfectly with the semi-transparent ice of their home regions. If encountered in daylight, the cube may instinctively make a refractive attack instead of its normal attack, causing all within 20 feet to make a saving throw against breath weapon or be blinded for 1d4 turns. It may do this only once per day.

Glacial cubes have the same treasure types as other gelatinous cubes.

Glacial gelatinous cubes can be hit by all forms of weapons, but bladed weapons do only half damage. Blunt weapons do normal damage, but on each hit, there is a 25% chance that a shard of the cube will be knocked free. This shard makes an immediate attack as a 3HD monster on a random character within 10 feet of the cube. If the attack hits, the target takes 1d6 damage and must make a saving throw vs. paralysis or be paralyzed for 1d4 turns, during which time the embedded shard will do a further 1d6 damage per turn unless it is somehow removed. Anyone killed in this fashion will become a glacial cube within 2d6 rounds after death, having but 1/4 the hit points of a standard glacial cube, but otherwise identical.

Glacial gelatinous cubes take normal damage from fire, and cold attacks heal them for half the damage they would otherwise do. Electricity, fear, holds, paralyzation,  polymorph, and sleep based attacks have no effect on glacial gelatinous cubes.

It is rumored that white dragons of the smarter sort will sometimes (10% chance) keep glacial cubes as guardians, scattering them around their lairs to ward off intruders.


(For those who care, which is to say, no one, I am using PF instead of D&D 3.x because my monster spreadsheet has been rewritten for PF.)

Glacial Cube
Large Ooze (Cold)
Hit Dice: 6d10+48 (96 Hit Points)
Initiative: -5 Dex
Speed: 15 feet (3 squares)
Armor Class: 14(-1 Size -5 Dex+10 Natural) touch 4; flat-footed 14
Base Attack/Grapple: +4/+10
Attack: Slam +6 (1d6+1d6 cold)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./10 ft.
Special Attacks: Engulf, Paralysis, Refraction, Shards
Special Qualities: Transparent
Immunities: Electricity, Cold, Ooze Traits
Saves: Fort +10,Ref -3,Will -3
Abilities: Str 14, Dex 1, Con 26, Int 0, Wis 1 ,Cha 1
Environment: Any Cold
Organization: Solitary
Challenge Rating: 4
Treasure: Incidental
Alignment: Neutral

The glacial cube is a cousin of the more common underground gelatinous cube, one which has adapted itself to life under conditions of extreme cold. It is much more solid than the normal gelatinous cube, which provides it with some measure of increased defense, reflected in both its Armor Class and its Hit Points. It also has several other distinctive traits which can catch unwary adventurers by surprise. Unless noted, it is otherwise identical to the gelatinous cube.

Acid (Ex): The glacial cube’s acid does not harm metal, stone, or ice.

Engulf(Ex): The glacial cube has a solid surface, and cannot easily engulf moving prey. However, the body heat of paralyzed victims melts its outer surface, at which point, it can ingest them. As a full round action, it can engulf a single Medium or small creature which is adjacent to it and paralyzed. There is no save. Engulfed creatures are subject to the cube’s paralysis and acid, gain the pinned condition, are in danger of suffocating, and are trapped within its body until they are no longer pinned. This ability does not affect creatures with the cold subtype.

Paralysis (Ex): A glacial gelatinous cube secretes an anesthetizing slime. A target hit by a cube’s melee or engulf attack must succeed on a DC 21 Fortitude save or be paralyzed for 3d6 rounds. The cube can automatically engulf a paralyzed opponent. The save DC is Constitution-based.

Refraction (Ex): As a standard action, a glacial cube exposed to sunlight or bright light can instinctively form its internal substance into crystalline patterns that emit a blinding light. All those within a 30′ radius burst centered on the cube must make a Reflex save (DC 21) or be dazzled for 2d6 rounds. This save is Constitution based.

Shards (Ex): When the glacial cube is struck by a weapon which does crushing damage, it sends for small shards of its frozen substance. If it is critically hit by such a weapon, it produces 1d4+1 shard. Each shard makes an attack on a random creature within 10′ of the cube, at a +6 attack bonus. If it hits, it does 1d8 piercing damage, and it will do 1d6 cold and acid damage for the next 1d4+1 rounds (A DC 15 Heal check will remove the shard). Any creature killed while the shard is in place will reform in 2d6 rounds as a small glacial cube (apply the “young” template to the glacial cube)

Transparent (Ex): The glacial cube is even harder to spot than its dungeon-dwelling kin. A DC 20 Perception check is needed to notice one when in its natural habitat among ice cliffs and snowdrifts. Anyone more than 15 feet away has a 50% miss chance for aimed spells or attacks. Faerie fire, glitterdust, and similar spells render this effect moot, but invisibility purgeor the like do not, for the same reason they don’t make glass windows opaque.

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition

Ah, 4e. The easiest version to design monsters for, hitting a good balance between the “finger in the wind” 1e/2e rules and the “IRS Tax Auditors Give Up” 3.x/PF rules. Well, it would be nice if there were more formal support for non-combat abilities or integration with the rules for PCs, but, you can’t have everything.

Because 4e makes it so easy to run simple monsters on the fly, the shard effect for the 4e version produces minions, which makes it tactically more interesting, in my opinion.

Glacial Cube

Level 7 Elite Brute

Large natural beast (ooze, cold)

XP 600

HP 194; Bloodied 97

AC 21; Fortitude 20; Reflex 17; Will 18

Speed 3

Immune gaze, cold; Resist 10 acid

Saving Throws +2; Action Points 1

Initiative +5

Perception +5

Tremorsense 5

A glacial cube is invisible until seen (Perception DC 25) or until it attacks. Creatures that fail to notice the glacial cube might walk into it. if this occurs, the cube attacks (+13 vs. Fortitude; Hit: Target is immobilized, save ends.)
Standard Actions
m Slam • At-Will
Attack: +12 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 2d6 + 3 damage, and the target is immobilized (save ends).
M Engulf (acid, cold) • At-Will
Effect: The gelatinous cube engulfs one or two Medium or smaller targets who are immobilized and adjacent to it.; The target is grabbed and pulled into the cube’s space; the target is dazed and takes ongoing 10 acid and cold damage until it escapes the grab. A creature that escapes the grab shifts to a square of its choosing adjacent to the cube. The cube can move normally while creatures are engulfed within it.
C Refractive Burst (radiant) • Encounter
Requirements: Must be in sunlight or in bright light.
Attack: Close Burst 5 (All sighted creatures in burst.); +8 vs. Reflex
Hit: 1d10 + 7 radiant damage, and target is blinded (save ends).
Triggered Actions
Shardspawn • Recharge 4 5 6
Trigger: The cube is struck by a blunt weapon, such as a mace, club, or hammer.
Effect (Immediate Reaction): The cube creates a cubeshard within any adjacent square. This does not grant extra XP. No more than two cubeshards can exist at any one time.
Skills Stealth +10
Str 15 (+5) Dex 15 (+5) Wis 14 (+5)
Con 17 (+6) Int 2 (–1) Cha 2 (–1)
Alignment unaligned     Languages
Glacial Shard

Level 6 Minion

Small natural beast (ooze, cold)

XP 63

HP 1; a missed attack never damages a minion

AC 20; Fortitude 18; Reflex 19; Will 17

Speed 6

Initiative +6

Perception +3

Glacial shards are small and easy to miss against ice and snow. If in such an environment, they have +2 to all defenses against ranged attacks originating more than 2 squares away, unless the attacker is not relying on normal vision.
Standard Actions
m Shard Slash (acid, cold) • At-Will
Attack: +11 vs. AC
Hit: 5 cold and acid damage.
M Embedding Shard (acid, cold) • Encounter
Attack: +11 vs. AC
Hit: 5 cold and acid damage, and the glacial shard is destroyed. The target takes 5 ongoing cold and acid damage (save ends). If this kills the target, it dissolves and becomes a glacial shard, which will attempt to flee the area.
Skills Stealth +11
Str 4 (+0) Dex 16 (+6) Wis 10 (+3)
Con 12 (+4) Int 1 (–2) Cha 10 (+3)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

I could add some more author’s notes here, but the fact is, I had this whole thing done EXCEPT for the shard minion, and that took me over two weeks to get around to doing (and only about an hour to do it, including fighting with Adventure Tools because it corrupted my saved monster file), and I don’t want to procrastinate any more.

Ghosts, Spectres, Wights

So there’s a new article over on WOTC about the art for undead. I had some comments to make, and I’m feeling egotistical enough that I think they might be interesting reading. (If you don’t click the link, the writing below won’t make a lot of sense.)

The ghost as shown looks hostile and not particularly human (living). It doesn’t fit the description. I’d prefer something with more detail and color — albeit faded and washed out — and just a hint of transparency. When we say someone looks “haunted” or has a “haunting expression”, it tends to imply sadness, distance, melancholy, a sense of a mood of loss and wasting. I see ghosts as fragments of source code left executing when the program has crashed, stuck in a loop, unable to get outside the boundaries of their mind (and a physical location as well). If pushed too hard (by overly inquisitive PCs), their sad loss becomes maddened rage, and they attack, with the damage they do physical or metaphysical based on various factors.

If specters are the victims of violent death, each should show clear signs of it — a perpetually bleeding wound, hideous burns, etc. They may “shift” over time, morphing from a seemingly healthy, but translucent, figure that resembles them before the incident, to a “freshly mutilated corpse” that shows them at the time of their death.

Wights should be, in my mind, those tied to the world by material things (as opposed to ghosts, who are tied by psychological things). You know how “you can’t take it with you”? Wights wouldn’t leave it behind. They are bound to the wealth in their tombs, and their appearance should be that of once-luxurious clothing, weapons, or armor, in rags.

I do not consider any of the art here exceptionally strong or evocative (sorry…), and the key weakness is the same — they’re all impersonal. Becoming a ghost, specter, or wight requires an emotion so strong that it is literally more powerful than death. This can be broadly categorized (personal loss, violent death, greed), but it will still manifest uniquely in each person. We should be able to tell a story about a ghost from seeing her picture. We should be able to imagine what she lost or why binds her here.

For the specter, the same thing — we ought to know how he died, and his clothing, gear, etc might give clues to what caused someone to kill him so violently (or it might not he could be the innocent victim of a madman — but that’s a story hook, too.). For the wight, again — we should see “That was a rich merchant; that was an arrogant noblewoman.” Make them people — dead people, but people who, in life had something so important to them that it allowed them to give the finger to Death.



More Earth Delta Critters

Slowly, painfully, Earth Delta inches towards the revised goal of being complete for levels 1-20, as I fill out the last of the level 16 monsters and plod on towards level 17! I will be honest — I’m not entirely happy with the Blightburn. It went through a whole lot of revisions and changes while sitting in the Monster Builder, and it still isn’t what I want it to be, even for a first pass. I’ve got a really clear mental image, but it’s hard to come up with the right mix of powers that are fun, playable, and fit the creature’s role. I mean, it doesn’t completely suck, or I wouldn’t be posting it at all, but I know it can be better.

One Of The Main Inspirations for Earth Delta

Part of it is the issue of role, one of the 4e hobgoblins of my little mind, in that I tend to think more in terms of “This is this, you know, thing, right, and it lives in this world, right, and so, it does this and this and the other, because, you know, that’s what this thing does.” The “role” it fills, if any, flows from its nature. 4e, however, inverts that: Nature flows from role. (It’s worth noting that the developers… including those who cheerleaded (cheerled?) “Role first!” in the run-up to 4e, have now done a perfect 180 for 5e, which I heartily applaud, but it would be nice if they explained how they came to recognize their sins and did a little Maoist self-criticism. Not going to happen, I know. Wait, where was I?) So I started with soldier, but the problem is that soldiers are best in groups, and while there are solo soldiers, most of what makes a soldier “soldier-y” is his ability to draw attacks and act as a defender, pointless in a solo. (“You’re marked, you get a -2 to attack anyone but him.” “You see anyone else on the battlefield?”) I then went with controller, but the power mix isn’t “gelling” properly. The easy out is brute — brutes are trivial to design as solos — but I have enough brutes and I wanted to get more variety. So, the Pyrefly Blightburn is still, pardon the pun, half-baked. The basic Pyrefly, I think, works well. I keep getting ideas to do a “Vampyrefly”, and the way in which Blight thematically damages healing surges certainly makes that plausible. The blightburn is halfway there, as it is, and maybe I need to shove it all the way there… or do the blightburn as an elite soldier, and the Vampyrefly as the solo controller, beginning fresh… hmmm…

Yes, I actually do just think and type what I’m thinking, word for word, literally.

In other news, I’ve also been working on my favorite on/off project, Stellar Warriors, which is back to being Pathfinder based. A little work on classes (mostly just changing flavor text) and weapons (two, two kinds of high-tech whips! Ah ha ha!), and, uhm, something else, don’t recall what. Bugger.

Anyway, the critters!


Possibly related distantly to the thermite, pyreflies are man-size or larger insects commonly found in areas with high background radiation. They strongly resemble giant wasps, but their abdomen is grossly distended and glows with a brilliant, slightly sickening, energy. They can channel this energy into narrow beams, or trigger eruptions of brilliant light. When badly wounded, they respond by igniting the region around them, hoping to incinerate their attackers.



Level 17 Artillery

Medium natural mutant beast (insect)

XP 1,600

HP 126; Bloodied 63AC 29; Fortitude 28; Reflex 30; Will 29

Speed 4, fly 10

Resist 10 fire; Vulnerability 10 cold

Initiative +15

Perception +12

O Glow • Aura 5
The pyrefly’s aura is a region of bright light. It produces dim light in a further 5 squares, for a total illuminated area of 10 squares (5 bright, 5 dim).
O Brilliant Radiance • Aura 1
Any non-blind creature within the pyrefly’s aura is considered to be blind unless they have appropriate countermeasures, such as Resist (Radiant), sunglasses, and so on.
Standard Actions
R Tailbolt (radiant, fire) • At-Will
Attack: 20; +23 vs. AC
Hit: 2d10 + 14 fire and radiant damage.
A Flare (fire, radiant) • Recharge 4 5 6
Attack: Area 3 (All creatures in blast); +21 vs. AC
Hit: 3d6 + 9 fire and radiant damage, and targets are blinded (save ends).
m Tail Smash (fire) • At-Will
Attack: +22 vs. AC
Hit: 2d8 + 12 fire damage.
C Immolation Burst (fire, radiant) • Encounter must be bloodied
Attack: Close Burst 3 (All creatures in burst); +21 vs. Reflex
Hit: 4d6 + 9 fire and radiant damage, and target is blinded (save ends) and takes ongoing 10 fire (save ends). In addition, the entire area of the attack becomes a zone which does 10 fire damage to any creature entering the zone or starting their turn there. This zone lasts until the end of the encounter.
Str 15 (+10) Dex 24 (+15) Wis 18 (+12)
Con 18 (+12) Int 2 (+4) Cha 21 (+13)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

This is a typical adult pyrefly. It will normally be encountered with others of its kind, or share a feeding area with creatures also comfortable in the radioactive zones. Pyreflies are primarily nectar-eaters, and have evolved to eat the highly radioactive nectar and saps of the plants that live in the same ruins they do; it is this mix of highly irradiated organic chemicals which give them their abilities. Creatures which are generally resistant to the pyrefly’s abilities often hunt or feed in the same areas, using the pyreflies as de facto bodyguards.

Common Mutations

Some pyreflies have wings which channel the same eerily glowing radioactive luminescence that fills their abdomen. When viewed through the crystalline exoskeleton that forms the wings themselves, the light takes on shimmering, rainbow hues which have a sort of psychic resonance with most organic life. Pyreflies will often use this ability when closely surrounded or threatened, giving them ample opportunity to retreat and blast their enemies, or just fly away unharmed.


C Hypnotic Wings (radiant, charm) • Encounter
Attack: Close Burst 5 (All non-blind enemies in area); +18 vs. Will
Hit: Creatures are Immobilized and Dazed (save ends both).

Pyrefly Blightburn

Pyrefly Blightburn

Level 16 Solo Controller

Huge natural mutant beast (blightspawn, insect)

XP 7,000

HP 628; Bloodied 314AC 30; Fortitude 29; Reflex 27; Will 28

Speed 6

Immune blight; Resist 10 fire; Vulnerability 10 cold

Saving Throws +5; Action Points 2

Initiative +10

Perception +12

Tremorsense 10

O Sickening Aura • Aura 3
Any non-blightspawn in the aura only regain half the normal hit points from any healing powers. In addition, this aura provides dim light.
Bleeding Blight
When the Pyrefly Blighburn is bloodied, it gains the Bleeding Blight power. See below.
Standard Actions
m Bite (blight, fire) • At-Will
Attack: Reach 2; +21 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8 + 11 blight and fire damage, and ongoing 10 blight and fire damage (save ends).
m Tail Slap (blight, fire) • At-Will
Attack: +21 vs. AC
Hit: 4d6 + 5 blight and fire damage, and the target is knocked prone.
M Pyrelash • At-Will
Effect: The pyrefly blightburn may make up to 3 melee basic attacks against any targets in range, dividing the attacks among legal targets as desired. If all 3 attacks miss, Blighted Burst immediately recharges.
C Blighted Burst (blight, fire) • Recharge
Attack: Close Burst 5 (All creatures in burst); +19 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 3d6 + 8 blight and fire damage, and ongoing 10 blight damage and weakened (save ends both).
Miss: Half damage, and creatures hits are weakened (save ends).
Minor Actions
Stunted Flight • At-Will
Effect: The Pyrefly Blightburn gains a Fly speed of 10 until the end of its next turn.
A Burning Blightspit (blight, fire, zone) • Recharge 4 5 6
Effect: Area Burst 1; This creates a zone of blighted, burning, terrain. Any creature entering the area, or starting their turn there, takes 10 blight and fire damage. Any creature which ends their turn there loses a healing surge. The zone lasts until the end of the encounter or until the pyrefly blightburn creates a different zone.
Blightfeeding (healing) • At-Will
Effect: (Any creature within 2 squares of the Pyrefly Blightburn that is taking ongoing blight damage.); The target creature stops taking damage, and the Pyrefly Blightburn heals 10 hit points.
Triggered Actions
Bleeding Blight (blight, fire) • At-Will
Trigger: The Pyrefly Blightburn takes damage from a melee attack.
Attack (Immediate Reaction): +19 vs. Reflex
Hit: 3d6 + 4 blight and fire damage. .
Str 24 (+15) Dex 15 (+10) Wis 18 (+12)
Con 21 (+13) Int 2 (+4) Cha 21 (+13)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

Pyrefly Blightburns are bloated, hideous creatures, resembling their smaller kin in general outline only. Normally landbound, with shriveled wings, they have a charred black-and-grey exoskeleton and sunken, hollow, pits for eyes. Their abdomen continues to throb with a strange, swirling, miasmic glow, and beneath their ashen flesh, there are occasional sparks of actinic energy. They exist without much purpose, wandering the blight-infused ruins, leaving radioactive fire and crumbling, dead, ground in their wake. When they sense life that is untainted by the blight, they attack with a mindless fury.

Prairie Lobsters

Prairie Lobsters

Since semi-regular updates of this site are generally considered a sign of the apocalypse, it is only fitting that I continue with more snippets from my apocalyptic RPG, Earth Delta, which is intended for use with Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition, and damn straight that awkward phrasing is there mostly to get google to be aware this site sort of exists.

Since a major chunk of “completing paragon tier” is “finishing the monster list”, that’s where I’ve been putting a lot of my attention. I’d been contemplating some sort of mutant lobster for a while, and then, suddenly, the phrase “prairie lobster” popped into my head, and I rolled with it.

Some design notes: Mostly, these are intended as “baseline” critters — the kind of bog-standard things you need at various levels to fill niches. Exotically powered and specialized monsters are way cool, but if everything is an insane pile of custom one-off mechanics, the game becomes unplayable. At the same time, I want to try to make them feel right for their nature and not be trivial reskins of any other creature. So the prairie lobster doesn’t mark, per se; it grabs you, and if you stop struggling against it for an instant (to attack something else), it gives you a little extra pinch. Its ability to grab and hold two targets, coupled with its size and reach, lets it do a lot to make enemies choose to take it down first.

The riding lobster was actually where my mind first started; I just had this image of a cowboy type, rolling a cigarette as the sun set in the west, while his armored and clawed mount plodded along. The yunguns are there because you can always use some more minions, and I like “ecologies”, where different creatures in the same category can have roles that make a kind of sense, even if what we’re discussing is horse-sized lobsters that have decided to live like buffalo. It’s not how ridiculous your premise is that matters; it’s how you play out the consequences. I also like the image of swarms of lobsters, about the size of large dogs, bounding playfully around the prairies, tearing random passers-by to pieces with their claws.

You will note I resisted the urge to give them Vulnerability 10 butter.

(As with a lot of this “Preview” stuff, this is hot off the presses, literally created only a few minutes before posting, and may be even more typo-riddled and unbalanced than my usual stuff, to the extent that’s even possible.)

It’s my hope that I’ll post a PDF addendum to this article, that will have the critters more properly formatted; for now, you’ll need to make do with what WordPress does to Word.



Lobsters are tough and ill-tempered critters, while also being notably delicious. Their giant fighting claws make them naturally threatening, especially when increased dramatically in size and given the ability to confront man more directly, whether in the ruined cities that line the coastal regions, or wandering the great plains… hey, man, this game has flying grizzly bears with laser eyes. You can deal with prairie lobsters.

Prairie Lobsters

Much like the hoppertank, prairie lobsters are oversized arthropods who have undergone dramatic transformations in lifestyle. They are found in many of the fertile grassy plains of the world, especially the Purple Plains and the Ghostgrass Expanses. They are primarily omnivorous grazers, devouring many types of grass and the insects and other creatures that live on them, but they can and will eat larger prey if they catch it. They are especially good at rooting out smaller burrowing animals, and if a herd moves into cultivated land, it can be devastating if they are not driven off. They compete with hoppertanks for many of the same feeding grounds, and if the hoppertanks’ greater mobility fails them, they will be torn apart and devoured with gusto.

Some prairie lobsters have been captured young and trained as mounts; see “Mounts”.

Prairie Lobster Adult

Prairie Lobster Adult

Level 15 Soldier

Large natural beast (mutant, arthropod)

XP 1,200

HP 148; Bloodied 74AC 32; Fortitude 28; Reflex 27; Will 24Speed 5Resist 10 cold

Initiative +12

Perception +10

Low-Light Vision

Standard Actions
m Pincers • At-Will
Requirements: Must have less than two targets grabbed.
Attack: Reach 2; +20 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8 + 7 damage.
Grabbing Pincers • At-Will
Requirements: Must have less than 2 targets grabbed.
Attack: Reach 2; +20 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8 + 7 damage, and target is grabbed until escape or until the lobster lets them go. The prairie lobster can grab up to two targets. While grabbed, if the target makes an attack that does not include the prairie lobster, it takes 10 points of damage as an immediate interrupt.
M Squeeze • At-Will
Attack: (Make a separate attack against each grabbed target.); +19 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 2d8 + 7 damage, and ongoing 5 damage (save ends). If the target is already taking ongoing damage from this attack, it increases to ongoing 10 damage (save ends).
Triggered Actions
M Fury of Clacks • Encounter
Trigger: When first bloodied.
Effect (Immediate Reaction): The prairie lobster adult makes a pincer attack against all non-prairie lobsters in range (Reach 2). It will drop anyone it has grabbed prior to doing so as part of this action.
Skills Endurance +17
Str 26 (+15) Dex 17 (+10) Wis 17 (+10)
Con 20 (+12) Int 1 (+2) Cha 14 (+9)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

Adult prairie lobsters (it is nigh-impossible for anyone who isn’t an expert to tell male from female, and no one cares too much) travel the plains in herds of ten to twenty, usually surrounded by a small cloud of leaping, clattering “yunguns” whom they will try to protect from predators. Prairie lobsters are quite aggressive towards all other species, and will snap and make threatening displays at any creature that gets too close; if this does not work, a few of them will dash forward from the herd to dispatch the enemy. When badly injured, they tend to go mad, lashing out at everything in sight that isn’t a prairie lobster.

Prairie Lobster Yungun

Prairie Lobster Yunguns

Level 14 Minion Skirmisher

Small natural beast (mutant, arthropod)

XP 250

HP 1; a missed attack never damages a minionAC 31; Fortitude 26; Reflex 31; Will 22Speed 8

Initiative +17

Perception +9

Low-Light Vision

Group Attack
If a yungun has damaged the target this round, the pincer attack does +2 damage.
Standard Actions
m Pincers • At-Will
Attack: +19 vs. AC
Hit: 9 damage and see “Group Attack”.
Free Actions
Skittersnap • Encounter
Effect: The prairie lobster yungun may shift 2 squares after making a pincer attack.
Skills Acrobatics +20
Str 17 (+10) Dex 26 (+15) Wis 14 (+9)
Con 20 (+12) Int 1 (+2) Cha 14 (+9)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

Yunguns (no one is quite sure of the derivation of the word; some scholars feel it comes from the language of the Eastern Dragons, who, it is said, had great influence on the Merkan lands) are immature prairie lobsters, and usually travel with the herds, protected by their elders. Active, curious, and playful, they often explore in small groups, bounding and leaping across the amethyst waves of grain that cover much of the Central Merkan Plains. Their shells are remarkably hard, and an unwary traveler who finds himself surrounded may be torn to bloody gobbets by their claws. They are also extremely tasty when grilled over a fire, so everyone from wastelanders to armies of the Beast Legions on the march eagerly hunt them if they have wandered too far from their protective pack.

Riding Lobster

Riding Lobster

Level 14 Soldier

Large natural beast (mutant, arthropod, mount)

XP 1,000

HP 140; Bloodied 70AC 30; Fortitude 26; Reflex 26; Will 23Speed 7Resist  cold

Initiative +12

Perception +10

Low-Light Vision

Scary Mount
When mounted by a trained rider of 14th level or higher, the riding lobster grants a +2 to Intimidate checks made by that rider.
Standard Actions
m Pincers • At-Will
Attack: Reach 2; +19 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8 + 6 damage.
Hold ’em, Boy! (mount) • At-Will
Requirements: Must not be grabbing a creature.
Attack: Reach 2; +19 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8 + 7 damage, and target is grabbed until escape or until the lobster lets them go. The grabbed target grants combat advantage to a rider of 14th level or higher mounted on the Riding Lobster.
M Squeeze • At-Will
Attack: (One grabbed target.); +17 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 2d8 + 6 damage, and ongoing 5 damage (save ends). If the target is already taking ongoing damage from this attack, it increases to ongoing 10 damage (save ends).
Skills Endurance +17
Str 26 (+15) Dex 17 (+10) Wis 17 (+10)
Con 20 (+12) Int 2 (+3) Cha 14 (+9)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

Riding lobsters are prairie lobsters trained from hatching to serve as mounts. They are fed a special diet that makes them slightly smaller and much faster than their kin, at the cost of shrinking one of their claws to virtual uselessness. While most range in color from dark green to olive green, a few scholars have found that feeding selected plants to them while young can change this coloration, producing brightly colored individuals who can be very distinctive. Some bloodger knights are known to have them bred in colors matching their personal heraldry, as have some Beast Legion commanders.

Riding lobsters almost never have additional mutations.

Common Mutations

Hypnotic Shell: Some prairie lobster adults have shells which ripple in coruscating colors. This unusual effect increases in speed and intensity when the prairie lobster is in combat, and it can be hard to look away. So… pretty…. It gains the following attack.

Minor Actions
C Hypnotic Shell (charm) • Recharge 6
Attack: (All non-prairie lobsters in burst.); +4 vs. Will
Hit: Target grants combat advantage to all enemies (save ends). While this condition persists, the prairie lobster can slide one affected target one square as a free action on the start of its turn. .

Venomclaw: A few prairie lobsters have evolved poison sacks in their claws. When they squeeze a target, they also inject a poison that causes partial paralysis, making it especially difficult to escape the beast’s claws or to flee far if they do.

When a target is hit by the prairie lobster’s squeeze attack, it is slowed and suffers a -4 to Athletics and Acrobatics checks (save ends both). This is a poison effect. This is a different saving throw than the ongoing damage.




The tagline of this site is “Old School Attitude, Modern Rules”. (Not, as some would have it, “Updates on a roll of 18+ on 2D10”) A big part of the feel of “Old School” is “Anything that’s cool is included”, and “cool” usually meant whatever was in the movies or at the top of the nerd reading list for that week. Dungeons & Dragons campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s were full of wookies and kzinti, phasers and lightsabers, aliens and predators, ninjas and more ninjas. A lot of that great and glorious wahooness has been lost in recent decades, or is brought back only so that it can be snickered at with a superior attitude and/or played purely for laughs (see the execrable “Castle Greyhawk” module published by TSR for AD&D 2e, as repugnant an attempt to piss on Gary’s legacy as I can imagine).

Me, I prefer unironic, unexamined, embrasure of the 14 year old within. Since Doctor Who hadn’t made it across the pond in most of the early era of D&D, or was sneered at by the kind of Very Serious Fans who might have heard of it (if they watched anything British, it would be Blake’s Seven), there was very little inclusion of Dr. Who material in things like Arduin or All The World’s Monsters. So, we set the gaming TARDIS to take the “That which is cool, rules” attitude of the 1970s and merge it, via a chronal transpacial rift in idea space, with the mechanics of the 2010s, and I present the first of several Daleks, statted for 4e. (There will be at least one solo “Dalek Commander”, and probably a non-elite, maybe two, but I wanted to get one mid-range “model” out first.)