Tag Archives: old school

This Is A Sacred Relic

Playing at the World: Gary Gygax’s 1973 D&D Working Draft.

All I can say is, “Holy Frak.” I am going to be poring over this site. These are some of the earliest proto-D&D fragments, the Dead Sea Scrolls of gaming history. Just wow.

Necromican, Level 10 And Up!

Necromican, Level 10 And Up

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

Nope, These Go To Eleven Twelve

Necromican

Necromican

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

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

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

Tenth Level Spells

Duplication

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

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

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

Cube Of Space

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

Excellent Prismatic Spray

Roll To See What Drop Off

Roll To See What Drop Off

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

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

Maturation

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

The Jaws Of Set

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

Eleventh Level Spells

Green Beam

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

Magic Nullification

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

Call Of The Comet

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

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

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

Mass Insanity

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

Twelfth Level Spells

The Sorcerer’s Spacecraft

A magical spaceship

Spelljammer, This Ain’t

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

Genocide

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

The Black Forest

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

Soul Drain Deflection

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

Summoning Of The Black Hole

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

And So, It Ends

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

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

Thoth Amon's Organ Request

Thoth Amon’s Organ Request

Quick Link: Cool Star Rovers minis!

Since a comment on an old article may be missed by both my fans, here’s a link to awesome Not Star Wars Really They’re Not Honest Mr. Lucas Don’t Sue Us minis for Star Rovers!

Monopoly & D&D

OK, this is going to be very brief, because every second of spare time I have is devoted to looking at cute cat gifs on Buzzfeed writing Rogue Planet.

I’ve commented, often, that the perception of AD&D as being “rules light” has more to do with how many of the rules are ignored, vs. what playing the rules would actually be like. D&D 3e, and its successors, didn’t so much add in “restrictions” as provide rules for actions that were generally playable and well-integrated into the system. (As a simple comparison, using the unarmed combat rules in AD&D required information that, in many cases, the system didn’t provide — such as whether the hobgoblin you’re fighting was wearing a nasal helmet or not. No, I am not making that up. Go check your AD&D 1e DMG.)

Over time, the conflation of “how we played AD&D” with “how AD&D was actually written” has become so great that some people a)Get outraged when I point out, with quotes and page references, that they’re wrong, and b)Insist, and I swear upon whatever shreds of honor and self-esteem I have left that this is a near-virtual paraphrase, not in any way a distortion of meaning, “Playing AD&D by the rules was contrary to the rules.”.

Anyway, there’s a moment of faux-outrage going on over at Gizmodo over some new edition of Monopoly. What’s interesting and relevant is the comments thread, where there’s a debate over whether you collect rent while in jail. Many people insisted, loudly, that you don’t, and that anyone who says otherwise “playing wrong”. Sorry, no. Other way around. The RAW for Monopoly have always said you collect rent while in Jail. Not collecting rent in Jail is a house rule so common, people have confused it with the real rules, which they never read. The game is taught mostly by oral tradition, just like D&D was back in Ye Olde Dayse.

Before I discovered D&D, I was a big Monopoly fan. I bought books on Monopoly strategy — yes, they existed — and memorized various tables on the odds of landing on different squares. (Boardwalk/Park Place are for suckers. The violet-tan-red sequence is the best intersection of probability and ROI.) I took great delight in bringing up the letter of the rules when dealing with those who didn’t know them. (For example, other than in the early game, there’s no good reason to “get out of Jail” early — having three turns where there’s no risk of landing on someone else’s property, while you still collect rent, is great. Remember that, and get some sucker to pay you good money for your GOOJF card.)

Anyway, my point, such as it is, is how the same patterns of behavior assert themselves in countless contexts. People rarely verify their memory against source documents, and often act irrationally when confronted with the conflict — as if being human is a moral failing. The human brain evolved for a much more soft-edged world than ours. Our storage and retrieval mechanisms are “good enough”, because there’s rapidly diminishing returns in increasing accuracy at the cost of speed and storage space. Human memory is very fallible, and the more you reference a distorted memory, the more reinforced the neural pattern that contains it becomes. I suspect that people’s often hostile reaction to being shown that they’re wrong is due to the brain, in essence, protecting its investment in false information. It’s spent a lot of energy digging those neural channels, and to be told that it needs to tear them all up and start over triggers a “double down” reaction. (This is also why, the more implausible and ridiculous something gets, from conspiracy theories to Nigerian scammers to Ponzi schemes, the more fervently people believe. The brain, much like a con artist caught in a lie, can’t just admit the lie, and so frantically piles on one lie after another — except that it’s itself it’s lying to.)

Humanity is badly broken, and there’s no patch forthcoming.

The human brain is bugged.

Patch is not yet available. Please check back.

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

GELATINOUS CUBE, GLACIAL
FREQUENCY: Rare
NO. APPEARING: I
ARMOR CLASS: 5
MOVE: 4“
HIT DICE: 6
% IN LAIR: Nil
TREASURE TYPE: See below
NO. OF ATTACKS: 1
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 2-8+1-4 Cold
SPECIAL ATTACKS: Paralyzation, refraction, surprise on a 1-4
SPECIAL DEFENSES: See below
MAGIC RESISTANCE: See below
INTELLIGENCE: Non-
ALIGNMENT: Neutral
SIZE: L (10’ cube)
PSlONlC ABILITY: Nil

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.

Pathfinder

(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

Traits
Translucent
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

Traits
Translucent
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.

A Spell For All Time: Acidic Mouth

A Spell For All Time: Acidic Mouth

Dungeons And Dragons Original  Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons  First Edition Dungeons And Dragons Third  Edition Dungeons & Dragons Fourth  Edition

Prior Articles In This Series

Inspired by some guy who was ranting on RPG.net about something. Look, I can’t be expected to remember trivial details like “who said it” and “what was the context”. Anyway…

This is the third in a series of articles showing how the same spell concept can iterate across generations. The first two were created by randomly rolling terms from a sourcebook. This one was, as noted above, inspired by RPG.net. I suppose I could do a whole bunch of those… “Induce Nerdrage”, “Unbias Moderator (Enchantment, Mind Affecting, Yeah Good Luck With That)”, “Greater Topic Drift”, “Celestial Banhammer”… uhm… wait, where was I again?

(Yes, it’s another iteration of Lizard going off an unrelated rant that has nothing to do with the subject at hand, and then pretending he’s talking out loud, not sitting at a keyboard using an editor, which means, he could just edit out stuff he knows is stupid and irrelevant, but he doesn’t, because he thinks it’s funny to pretend he is just writing this into a live feed and so can’t go back and correct things, which he self-evidently can, because he just fixed three typos. This is Overused Internet “Humor” Cliche #781.)

So. Acidic Magic Mouth.Don’t look for some kind of meta-reference in the name; the poster was talking about the limitations of the D&D magic system (basically, he wants Mage: The Ascension, and there’s nothing wrong with M:TA that 10,000 screaming White Wolf fanboys haven’t already written about at great length, but it’s not D&D), and he said something like “What if I want a magic mouth that spits acid?”, which struck me as pretty darn cool. So, here it is, dude whose name I’ve forgotten. In four versions.

Dungeons and Dragons, Original  Edition

Original D&D (“Brown/White Box” + Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry)

(As published in The Dragon’s Review Of Dungeon Strategy, Issue 21, “The Magical Mouths Of Mourdlane The Magical”)

Third Level

Mourdlane’s Acidic Mouth: This spell functions exactly as does magic mouth (Greyhawk, p. 22), and the magic-user must have that spell inscribed in their book to be able to learn this one. In addition to the normal functions of the mouth, this one can spit a gout of acid doing 4-24 points of damage to all creatures within 10′ of the mouth. It can do this either on a specific condition (“When a man in armor approaches”), or if a word is not spoken within 1 round of it delivering its message (often, this is a riddle or “What’s the password?”). It can be made permanent by using permanent spell, otherwise, it acts as a normal magic mouth.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,  First Edition

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition

(As published in “Unearthed Arcana II”)

Acidic Mouth (Alteration/Conjuration)
Level: 4

Components: V, S, M

Range: Special

Casting Time: 2 segments

Duration: Special

Saving Throw: 1/2

Area of Effect: One object

In most ways, this spell is identical to magic mouth (Player’s Handbook), in regards to the limitations placed on the number of words spoken, how far the mouth can detect beings, what sort of information it can glean about those beings, and so forth. Indeed, this spell is presented in most magic-user’s books as supplemental to the aforementioned dweomer, and so that spell is required to be scribed in the same book as this in order for the caster to properly memorize it.

Acidic Mouth differs in that a second condition, pursuant to all the same limitations as the first, may be placed upon it, and if this second condition is met, the mouth disgorges a spew of caustic acid, striking all in a 20′ cone in front of it and doing 4d6 points of damage (save vs. magic for 1/2 damage). The second condition may be dependent upon a response or reaction to what the mouth says, or it may be triggered without the mouth speaking. Any conditional response must occur within one round of the speech.

The material component for this spell is a bit of honeycomb and a fresh lemon.

Note To Dungeon Masters: Be strict about the time limits of response. A stopwatch or egg timer can be a useful adjunct to this spell. The acid will burst within one round, so those asked a riddle must respond quickly, without undue chatter and consultation among the group. This can be a useful lesson for those sorts of players who dawdle and dilly-dally over the smallest thing. Also note that their screams of anguish as the caustic fluids eat into their skin may attract wandering monsters.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition

There was no version of this spell in AD&D 2e, as Lorraine Williams felt it lent itself to vomit jokes, which might offend someone, somewhere, somehow.

Dungeons & Dragons Third  Edition

Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition, Revised

(As published in “Arcanum Obscurum”, 2007)

Magic Mouth, Mourdlane’s Acidic

School:  Illusion (Glamer)/Conjuration

Level: Assassin 3, Bard 3, Wizard/Sorcerer 3

Casting Time: One standard action

Components: V, S, M (a comb of honey and a fresh lemon)

Range: Close (25 ft.+5 ft./2 levels)

Target: One creature or object

Duration: Permanent until discharged.

Saving Throw: Will negates (object), also Reflex half (see below)

Spell Resistance: Yes (object), No (acid, see below)

This spell is a variant that builds upon magic mouth (q.v.), and if this spell is prepared (or known to a spontaneous caster), they can choose to cast it as a simple magic mouth, as well. All of the normal rules for determining what may trigger the mouth, as described in the base spell, apply. However, there is a secondary trigger that can be added which, if tripped, will cause the mouth to shoot forth a burst of acid doing 6d6 damage, in a 30 foot cone, originating from the mouth’s square. This trigger may be “Fails to hear a specific word after delivering its message”, which is usually a riddle of some sort. However, it is often the case that the need to speak a word or take an action, such as making a particular sign with one’s hands, is not specified by the mouth; those who are “supposed” to be in the area will simply know what to do. The maximum delay between finishing the message and making a response is three rounds; at this point, the mouth will make the attack. Note that the trigger does not have to relate to the message at all; an acidic mouth can be set to speak its message if “any dwarf approaches within 20 feet” and to shoot acid if “any orc or goblin approaches within 10 feet”, for example.

A spellcraft check (DC 18) can determine if a given magic mouth is of the standard or acidic variety. A use magic device check (DC 25) can cause the mouth to perceive the trigger for spitting acid is either passed or failed, depending on the skill user’s choice.

This spell may be made permanent with a permanency spell.

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth  Edition

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition

As published in Arcane Heroes, 2014

Acidic Mouth

The mouth set into the stone chuckles as the wrong password is given, then spews forth a great wave of acid at the unfortunate adventurers!

Level: 3

Component Cost: 50 gp

Category: Warding

Market Price: 125 gp

Time: 5 minutes, see below.

Key Skill: Arcana

Duration: Until discharged

This ritual must be performed within one hour of performing a Magic Mouth ritual, and on the same object or surface. When completed, the caster can choose a second condition which will, if met, cause the mouth to make an attack (see below for the exact parameters). The second condition may be set to trigger after the mouth has spoken, up to a maximum of three rounds later — this is often done to cause the mouth to ask a riddle, and it will spit acid “if the riddle is not answered correctly”. However, any otherwise legal condition is permissible, including spitting acid without speaking the message, if the two conditions do not overlap.

Arcana Roll Attack
<=8 None. The ritual fails. All components are lost. Really, this should never happen. What kind of schmuck doesn’t have at least a +9 Arcana if they’re casting a ritual in the first place, huh? I mean, you get 5 for training, plus your Intelligence bonus, + 1/2 level, right?
9-12 Close Blast 2, +5 vs. Reflex, 2d6 Acid, Ongoing 2 acid (save ends)
13-20 Close Blast 3, +6 vs. Reflex, 3d6 Acid, Ongoing 3 acid (save ends)
21+ Close Blast 3, +7 vs. Reflex, 3d8 Acid, Ongoing 5 acid (save ends)

 

 

 

On a miss, the acid does half damage and no ongoing. The DM should note the attack roll and damage of any such mouth placed as a trap.

Hackmaster 5e, Part II

Hackmaster Part II: Khan Strikes The Chamber Of Secrets Back

When Last We Left Our Intrepid Hero Protagonist…

OK! Welcome to Part II of my Hackmaster 5e character creation walkthrough! Now with more exclamation points! For those of you who missed Part I, it’s here. So, click the underlined part back there. Unless you’ve got your browser set funky so you can’t see links, in which case, you’re on your own.

Anyway, I had just finished adjusting my stats, and I was going to spend those lovely BPs I’d been hoarding. I had 59 left.

Step 7: Priors And Particulars

Oh, this isn’t about spending BPs. It’s about how much you weigh, that sort of thing. There’s some excellent advice in this section about how to use your background and history to create a rich and full character for roleplaying. Nah, I’m just messin’ with ya. There’s some excellent advice in this section about how to use your background and history to pull some sort of life-saving bullshit out of your ass (hmmm… that’s a disturbing mental image) when you really have to.

Age: I’m a human mage, so, my starting age is 25+1d6p. I roll a 5, so, 30.

Height: 71 inches.

Weight: “Unlike inferior games that utilize an uncorrelated table to determine a character’s body weight…” I just had to copy that in. See, that’s attitude. That’s old school. (I just picked up Chivalry & Sorcery Sourcebook I, circa 1980, and it contained a long rant about “other game designers” (i.e., Gary Gygax) who abused mythology and lore when creating their substandard and inaccurate monsters, blahdy blahdy blah. That’s part of what the OSR is missing. There was none of this ‘if everyone’s having fun, it’s all good’ attitude back then. The gaming community was, if anything, even more fractious and self-righteous in the late 1970s/early 1980s than it is now. We didn’t need no Internet to be assholes back then. But I digress.) Anyway, first I roll for my BMI, which turns out to be 21. The I multiply this by my height in inches, so, 1491. Then I scold my cat for pawing all my dice off my desk and sticking his orange butt in front of my screen. He’s actually scooping dice out of the plastic container so he can roll them onto the floor, where I can step on them and do the Dance Of The Spastic Cat Owner. I love my children. I divide 1491 by 703.. no that, can’t be right. Oh, I multiply BMI by height squared. Stop it, Rocket. Daddy can’t see the screen when you do that. OK, there we go. I weigh 150 lbs.

Handedness: I assume two, but who knows? Yeah, that was pushing it. Right handed. Oddly, half-orcs have an 80 percent chance to be left handed, perhaps because they’re sinister.

Birth: I have a 1-in-10 chance of being illegitimate. I’m not. Both my parents are still alive. My father was indifferent to me (-2 BP) but my mother loved and nurtured me (+2 BP).

Siblings: I have 6 siblings, 4 sisters and 2 brothers, but three of them are dead. So, two surviving sisters and 1 surviving brother. None of them are twins of me. Of the four of us, I’m third-born. I’m also the second-born son, so, not an heir. I have, thus, an older sister and brother, and a younger sister. I now roll 2d12 (Why? Why not?) and add the Morale modifier (+1) from my Charisma, to see how much they like/dislike me.

  • Older Sister: Argumentative, can’t get along.
  • Older Brother: Very close.
  • Younger Sister: Ditto.

 I Can Spendz Bild Pointz Naow?

Yes! Can spendz!

Sorry. I was just reading the Fark Caturday thread. Now, where was I? Ah, yes. Build pointz… er.. points. As I recall, I had 59 BP left. I now go to Chapter 8, Quirks And Flaws, or “How To Be An Annoying Prat At The Game Table And Then Justify It With ‘But I’m Just Playing My Character!'”.

Quirks are mental/personality issues, while Flaws are physical detriments. That’s a nice distinction, and more flavorful than “Mental Disads” and “Physical Disads”, for example.

If I cherry-pick what’s wrong with me, I earn fewer BPs, but I have a lot more control over my character. Screw that. I’m going whoring for BPs. I can spend a BP to re-roll, as often as I like, until I run out. With 59 BPs to blow through, I shouldn’t be saddled with anything so crippling my character is unplayable as a mage.

Random rolls on the chart are D1000. Yes, 1000. Hey, this allows a really high level of granularity, which I love. It means there are, in theory, quirks/flaws that will be in less than 1% of the player base (unless the chart has no ranges less than 10, of course). I need to write down which die is read as what… OK, the dark brown one is the “ones”, the light ten one is the “tens”, and the speckled one is the “hundreds”.

You get full BPs for the first quirk/flaw rolled, then -5 for each additional one, cumulative. This means that you could theoretically end up losing BPs while still being saddled with the drawbacks. Greed is punished in Hackmaster.

A roll of 156 gives me “Clean Freak”. Basically, I am the Felix Unger, or perhaps Adrian Monk, of mages. I go into panic attacks if I am forced to enter sewers. While this is a little problematic for an adventurer, it sounds like it would be a lot of fun to play. Also, the “metagaming” section notes I must begin each game session with a pristine character sheet. Heh.

So, do I want to go again, at a -5 penalty to the BPs? Sure, why not?

582 gives me Spendthrift. I spend my money as soon as I get it. This nets me 20 BP, -5 for the second quirk, so, 15. I think I’ll stop there. That’s an additional 23 BPs, on top of my 59, for 82, total.

Now, I purchase Skills, Talents, and Proficiencies, or STPs, not to be confused with STDs. I hope.

Weapon Proficiencies

As a mage, I can purchase any weapon proficiency, but at double cost, except for staff and dagger. While it might make sense to invest in melee for emergencies, each point in this area is a point I’m not spending on things that could help me avoid melee in the first place, so I will go for a minimal proficiency in dagger, which costs me 2 BP. 80 left. I will also pick up crossbow, at double cost, for 4 BP, so, 76 left.

Other

As a mage, I get the Magical Transcription proficiency for free. And… huh. You know, this character doesn’t have a name, yet. He needs a name. Coracinus Nelumbo, I think, or “Corac” for short. There we go. He also gets a free purchase of Arcane Lore and two purchases of literacy in my native language.

Maintenance/Upkeep, for 5 BP. As a neat freak constantly polishing my staff (heh heh), this makes sense. 71 left.

Style Sense (home region): 2 BP. I know how what’s in this year, and what’s not. I look classy. 69 left.

Combat Casting: This allows me full defense when casting in melee, something that’s quite vital. It’s 30 BP, but that’s part of why I’ve hoarded them. 39 left.

Diminish Spell Fatigue, which lets me recover from casting more quickly, also looks good, but it’s another 20 BP. Let’s see what skills cost, first, then get back here.

Appraisal (Books, Maps, Scrolls): 2 BP gets me my Intelligence score (15)+my mastery die roll (d12p, for 7, +2 for my intelligence), or 23. I’ll spend another 2BP for another roll of the mastery die, a 3, +2 again, so, 28.4 BP spent, down to 35 BP.

Arcane Lore: I get the first purchase for free, and my mastery die roll is an 8, +2 for Intelligence, so, 25. A second purchase would be 10 more BP. Let’s get back to this, too.

Let’s see…

  • Astrology (2 BP) (Score ends up being 23)
  • Escape Artist (4 BP) (Score 21)
  • Hiding (6 BP) (Score 26)
  • Literacy (2 levels free, plus a third for 4 BP) (Score 47 — I rolled a 12 on the mastery die, which got me another roll.)
  • Monster Lore (5 BP) (Score 27)
  • Riddling (4 BP) (Score 23)

That leaves me with 10 BP left. I can save it, or get that other rank in Arcane Lore. Let’s go for it. Mastery die is 6, +2 for my high Intelligence, so 8, added to my existing score of 25, gives me 33.

That’s it for STPs.

Hit Points

Hit points are based on my Constitution (8), my size bonus (10), and my class Hit Die roll (D4 roll, I roll a 1. Yeah, that seems familiar.), for a total of 19 HP.

Other Numbers

My Base Attack is based on my Intelligence and Dexterity, which gives me a +4 (Go back to the first part of this article to see why!). My Base Initiative is +2, which is bad (the higher the number, the slower you act), and my Base Defense is also +2, which is better than nothing (high numbers are good for defense).

I have 45 sp to spend on stuff.

And So…

We’re done!

With 19 hp to my name, I can take a small amount of damage — a goblin with a crossbow does 2d6p, for example.

While I’ve got some mildly useful spells, the only one with even a marginal combat application is Phantom Irritation, which is a “debuff” — it gives the target a -2 to his Attack rolls. Not useless, but hardly a Nuclear Winter Fireball.

It should be noted that the combat rules, which are straightforward but not simplistic or abstract, are demonstrated through a comic-strip sequence featuring the Knight Of The Dinner Table stupidly goading BA into unleashing more monsters on them. It’s probably one of the best examples of combat I’ve seen, because it goes through every step, roll, and calculation in action, and does so in a way that’s fun and amusing to read. If I’m not mistaken, it actually continues the story from Hackmaster Basic, which used the same method.

As I said in the first part, this Hackmaster, while not as over-the-top gonzo as the prior edition, still retains a lot of humor. It’s just less in-your-face. You have to read the spell text, quirk and flaw descriptions, and so on, to find all the jokes and asides. (You can also tell, by reading some of the full text, what kinds of lame-ass exploits players attempted to get away with, and how they were smacked down by their GM.)

In conclusion? Unlike a lot of the more dubious games I perform this process on, there’s not a lot of head scratching, “what were they thinking?” moments, at least not for this particular character. Characters begin with mediocre skills and abilities, but that’s by explicit, called-out, design. There’s no disconnect between the promised game and what the mechanics deliver, and that’s a really good thing. I do admit I miss a lot of the “gonzo” of HM 4e, even if some of it was forced in by mandate; the wider range of races available, the more outre class choices, and so on, were a lot of fun. Mechanically, there’s not much that can stop you from adding such things in. Casters, in general, are very toned down in HM 5e. You have incredibly potent spells at high level, true, but you don’t get a lot of spells to cast at any one time, and the road to high level is going to be a very long slog, indeed.

Also, there’s no Game Master’s Guide yet for Hackmaster, and given that it took several years from Hackmaster Basic for the PHB to come out, I’m not betting on the GMG being at GenCon 2013. There’s a lot of material in the PHB that refers to the GMG, too. This brings back something truly old-school — it took three years for the three core AD&D books to come out. Yes, kids, three years. We made do. We cobbled together rules from OD&D and Holmes Basic and Dragon articles and Arduin. We also walked twenty miles to the game store, barefoot, and uphill, both ways. Through blizzards in summer and winter. So get offa my lawn!

Hackmaster 5e

Hackmaster 5e

This ain’t your father’s Hackmaster.

The original Hackmaster was based on AD&D 1e and 2e, put through a psychedelic blender and cranked up to 11. The only mechanics from that version that really remain in this one were the ones they added to the older game — percentiles for all stats and a working skill system. Gone are gummy bear golems, leperchauns (note spelling), and most (though by no means all) of the other stuff mandated by contract so no one would notice that, under the jokes, was a pretty workable evolution of older D&D, one which might have easily been AD&D 3e in another universe.

This Hackmaster has core mechanics rather unlike those of any edition of D&D, save that there’s a D20 involved and you still have basically 3-18 stats. 1 second combat turns, active defense rolls, and a spell point system are clear departures from the classic game. Mechanically, there’s almost nothing old-school about it. (Unless one defines “old school” as “anything that isn’t exactly like D&D 3.5 or 4e”.) The designers of Hackmaster 5e are aware that the last 35-odd years of game design have happened.

What Hackmaster retains of Old School, gloriously and wondrously so, is the attitude. My lack of God, this book drips with attitude. It knows what Old School really means: Kicking ass and taking names, so you can go back and kick the asses of people you didn’t get a chance to before. It also recognizes the rightful and proper relationship of players and Gamesmasters: The former kneel, grovel, and crawl before the almighty and unforgiving gaze of the latter.

Page 9. Paragraph 2: “In Hackmaster, any rule ambiguity related to character creation and PC powers is construed against the player character.”

Yeah! Viking Hat FTW! VIKING HAT FOREVER!

It is made clear over and over in the rules: This game isn’t about mollycoddling your PC to godhood because he’s so special and wonderful. You begin as a worthless shlump and you might survive to be someone, someday, but you probably won’t. Instead of “Everyone’s a winner!”, the attitude of Hackmaster is, as the Demotivational poster says…

For Every Winner, There Are Dozens Of Losers

For Every PC Who Lives, There Are Dozens Who Don’t.

No gamer worth his dicebag can resist a challenge like that. Hackmaster dares you to confront it.

But does it work? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out. At least, we’re here to roll up a character.

Continue reading

Necromican, Level 8 And 9

Necromican, Level 8 And 9

Featuring Benign Boots

Necromican

Necromican

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

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

Ah well, here it is again.

Benign Boots by Erol Otus

Lorraine Williams Still Would Not Have Approved

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

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

Variable Shape Fireball

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

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

Monster Analyzer

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

Unrequested Ethereal Ejection

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

Benign Boots

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

Level 9

Gaze Of Cthulhu

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

Hope

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

Desolation

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

Perilous Parasite

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

Superb Submersible

Ixitxachitl

Ixx-ticks-ack-ittil?

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

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

Demon Summoning A

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

And Onwards

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

Cyborg Commando 2.0 MOAR CAPS

CYBORG COMMANDO

The Epic Saga Continues

CAPS STILL NOT OPTIONAL

Welcome back! I know, even for me, this was a long time between updates, but I’ve been:

Roll Activity
01-30 Ranting on the D&D Next boards
31-80 Ranting on the SWTOR boards
81-85 Actually playing SWTOR
86-90 Working on fiction for my writer’s club
91 Working on Stellar Warriors
92-95 Being distracted by funny cats on the Internet
96-00 Looking at porn Studying new coding techniques.

So, now that that’s been established… back to creating a CYBORG COMMANDO!

When we last left our intrepid CYBORG COMMANDO, he, or possibly she, was void and formless. I hoped to find some inspiration in the book for a character idea, but what I found was inspiration as to how not to write a core rulebook. The book is filled with endless details on how the cyborgs work, down to things like the precise angle of rotation of the neck and the alloy composition of various body parts and the fact your head is actually almost completely hollow and..

Oh, yeah. Your brain is in your chest. Your head… well…

The head of a CYBORG COMMANDO

You could smuggle drugs in there. Seriously.

Yeah. It’s kind of interesting that one of the leading forms of real-world nanotech now is “lab on a chip” technology, which puts all sorts of chemical analysis functionality onto a microchip, leading towards real-life tricorders. Back in the 1980s, of course, we thought you’d need to hollow out your head to do this sort of thing.

There’s a lot of really weird details in the rules, and it takes up a lot of the rules, except, it’s not really “rules”, is it? Most of this would be called “fluff”, and fluff can be good, but it’s not fluff that inspires you or gives you an idea what the world is like, it’s fluff that shows the writer probably got a degree in mechanical engineering and this is his first chance to use it. For example, we learn the Yield Strength of the frame of a CYBORG COMMANDO is 8,047 T/m2. I have no idea what that means. Is it useful in-game, in any way? No, because there’s no rules anywhere that turn “Yield Strength” into some kind of mechanic you can use to decide if your CYBORG COMMANDO is crushed by a truck or whatever. “Ten times stronger than steel!”, if technically imprecise, provides a reader with an idea, a mental image, a conception, of how tough a CYBORG COMMANDO is. “Yield strength”, for the bulk of readers, who presumably don’t know the “yield strength” of common items you find in your home and office, tells you nothing. Even in a freeform, GM-decides, make-shit-up kind of rules system (which CYBORG COMMANDO is and isn’t, and in all the worst ways), it’s a useless piece of information, because it doesn’t give the GM any assistance in making a ruling. The book is filled with stuff like this, page on page on page, and there aren’t many pages in total.

Sure, background is great, and having a little fluff to help define and ground the technology of the game is very useful — but you could cut the amount of text dedicated to this by, literally, 90%, and convey just as much useful, setting-defining, information. (Then there’s things that provide information not even used in the setting, like a page of math, detailed formulas, for hyperspace travel times, when there’s no space travel in the game. If there was a plan for future expansion with rules for space travel,  that’s where this should have gone.)

I still haven’t gone on to developing my character, have I? The above rant is a partial excuse for why it took so long to get to this point… trying to find something to hook into. Even games I’ve been unimpressed with, or which were mechanically very simple, gave me more ideas for “what kind of character can you be” than CYBORG COMMANDO does. I will be first in line to laugh at White Wolf’s purple prose, shallowly stereotyped splats, and labored emo first person narratives with light-gray text on slightly-less-light-gray backgrounds and moire pattern watermarks, but there’s no way that, by the time you’re ready to fill in the dots on your character sheet in a White Wolf game, you don’t have a lot of ideas for what kind of people exist in the game world, what you can be, what kind of k3wl p0w3rz… I mean, angst-filled personal dramas… you get based on what you pick, etc.  CYBORG COMMANDO gives you about as much inspiration as picking “Player A” or “Player B” in an 8-bit arcade game.

Even the skill list isn’t much of a help, as it’s written like a college course catalog… without any course descriptions.

Seriously.

The CYBORG COMMANDO skills list

"I'm going to major in Medieval English, and then join OWS."

However, this isn’t the worst thing. There are two worst things. Yes, two. Each is more worst than the other. That’s more worst than you’ll find at Octoberfest in Chicago. The two worst things about the skills are: First Worst, almost none of them are described. No, not even a single line of description — the rules helpfully explain there wasn’t room for such useless trivia as “What do the skills do”, we had to have space for the populations of dozens of cities (because it’s important to know that Caernarfon has 12,280 people, and that Cullera has 12,335), hyperspace travel formulas, and to tell you that the Xenoborgs lost 14 colonels in their invasion. You know, I gave Star Rovers a lot of good-natured ribbing over the fact there were no space travel rules, but even if I felt the rules they included instead were of secondary importance, they were at least rules. You could use them in a game. Should asteroid mining have been booted to make room for space travel? Sure, probably, but you wouldn’t stare at the asteroid mining rules in stark incomprehension and ask “Why is this even here at all? What purpose does it serve?” The other first-worst thing is that the skills are often referred to by number. How much information is gained by writing “attempts a skill check in the area of Physical Sciences (56o)”? The “560” doesn’t help you quickly find the non-existent skill description… it just wastes space.

(A few skills are described, mostly the “Psychogenic” and combat-related ones.)

Anyway, to acquire skills, I spend SP to purchase Fields, which are skills ending in multiples of 10, not Areas (which end in single digits) or Categories (ending in 00). This is the Basic game; you get more flexibility in the Advanced game, but I’m not going there unless someone pays me.

So, I have 30 Skill Points. That’s… uhm… not a lot. I mean, a whole lot of not a lot. How about 10 in 220, “Unarmed Combat”, which gives me 10 in “Occidental Combat” and “Oriental Combat”, the two Areas that are in that Field. (Somewhere, Steve Long is weeping.) That leaves me 20.

Well, 10 more in Personal Weapons. That makes me equally skilled with everything from 231 Ancient Bladed Melee Weapons (including agricultural tools) to 237 Artillery. (“Can you handle a howitzer?” “Why, sure, I used to cut down wheat with a sickle on my farm back home!”) (I should cut CYBORG COMMANDO some kind of break here, since this is “basic” character generation and many games have nothing but a “combat” stat, especially games of this era. But I’m just not in a forgiving mood right now.)

I’ll put 5 in Personal Arts 410, since that gives me access to 411 Error Avoidance, which covers “Karma & Fate” and “Serendipity”. And the last 5, I dump into 630 Criminal Activity, since almost everything under it seems vaguely useful… though with only 5 points, I’ll probably suck at it. Due to the lack of skill descriptions, it’s unclear if 634 Sex Related Crime covers “running a prostitution ring” or “committing sexual assault and getting away with it”. I guess that’s the sort of thing you need to argue with your GM about. OTOH, there’s no indication that CYBORG COMMANDOs are, ahem, “fully functional”, so it may be moot. A pity. Given the style of the the rest of the book, one might expect something like “The synthesteel duraplas pseudopenis of the CC unit is 19.8 cm in length and is covered with TextuWeave Quasiskin that transmits simulated neural responses at a rate of 10.94 megagigs per kilounit. It can be set to vibrate at 500 RPM.”

Yes, I went there. What, you expected class, decorum, or good taste? Did you read my Alma Mater review?

And so…. I’m done. My nameless CYBORG COMMANDO is ready to go kick some ass. Or get his ass kicked, since from what I can tell, I have a ten percent chance of hitting someone. No, wait…. after several minutes of studying the mind-numbingly confusing graphs, it seems I have a 27% chance of rolling 10 or less using the d10x system. Wow, that’s intuitive. (Also, raising my skill from 10 to 11 is meaningless, because you can’t roll an 11 on d10x. You have to raise it to 12 to see any gain.)

And in conclusion…  I’ve got to find something better for my next article. I have nearly 3000 game books in my collection. This can’t be hard. Synnibarr. Synnibarr should be fun. Unless someone wants to send me a copy of that game where you play flower penis vampires. That could also be fun.