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All The World’s Monsters, Volume 1 Part 2

All The World’s Monsters, Volume I

Part II

Subsection III, Paragraph VII

Whereas the party of the first part….

Welcome back to another installment of the walkthrough of All The World’s Monsters, Volume I, called by some “The Red Book Of The Land Of Oaks”. OK, no one calls it that. I just made that up. Because it’s red. And published in Oakland.

The backstory of this series can be found here. Let’s just get to the monsters. I’m going to get dragged off to do Family Things later and I want to get as much done in the time I have remaining. (Damn, that makes it sound like I’m dying of some horrible disease instead of going out to see a movie and do some shopping.)

Daughter Of Kali: One of a seemingly infinite number of creatures in 70s era games which existed to seduce men, steal their vital bodily fluids, and then kill or abandon them. Uhm, issues, anyone? Loosely based on Indian mythology, as if the name wasn’t a dead giveaway.

Death Angel: Surprisingly, not yet another heavy metal inspired “winged dude with flaming sword and major ‘tude”, this is a giant electric jellyfish. Because of course it is. Because Old School is totally freakin’ awesome like that. Giant electric jellyfish FTW! Credited to Keith Laumer, who is brilliant, and if you haven’t read his “Retief” series, do so.

Demon, Class I, Ice through Demon, Class III, Ice: An assortment of ice demons of various power levels, neatly categorized, classified, stamped, filed, briefed, debriefed, and numbered. A few people… stupid people… like to whine that this trope, highly prevalent in older games and still around in some today, removes “magic” and “wonder”, making everything systemic and ordered. I think this adds tremendous verisimilitude to games. If people live in a world with demons and dragons and daughters of Kali1, such beings will be sorted, ordered, named, and labeled. That’s what humans (and, I presume, elves and dwarves and halflings and sahuagin) do. Sapient beings create conceptual frameworks and reduce things to labels within those frameworks which can be manipulated mentally. (If you have ever read actual books of medieval demonology, you will find they are, in fact, full of this sort of thing, with everything sorted into orders, bands, hierarchies, choruses, and what-not, with very exact numbers (usually of mystical or philosophical significance) of each.)

Dorohime: A jellyfish with a ring of eyes and squid tentacles which is a “petty” devil (although it’s classed as a demon, go figure), that is sometimes employed as a treasure guard by assorted abyssal creatures. When killed, it explodes in a fireball. Things that explode when killed were pretty common.

Dragon, Chrome: Well, of course there have to be new dragons! For every adjective, there must be a dragon! That is the law. This one… well, read it.

Turns Into Any Mechanized Item. Take That, Six-Shot!

I am particularly enamored of the references to high level spells that are not otherwise listed, defined, or explained. (And to keep beating the deceased equine, let us note no mechanics are provided for the “irritation” or “sleepiness” caused by the breath weapon.)

Earth Mole: A “minor sort of earth demon”, filed under “E” for “Earth” instead of “D” for “Demon”, it is an albino mole with pincers and a paralysis gaze.

Ebon Doom: A “demon of the outer darkness”, also filed under “E” for “Ebon” instead of “D” for “Demon, Outer Darkness, Doom, Ebon” the way it should be. (This is what happens when a game predicated on whimsy and wonder is played primarily by the kind of people who, in 1979, were programming computers to store their monsters. People like me, in other words.) Where was I? Oh yes. The Doom, Eb… I mean, Ebon Doom, looks like a “mindless energy field”. As opposed to looking like an intelligent energy field? Huh?

DM: You see a flat black energy field.
Player: Does it look mindless?
DM: It… it’s an energy field. It looks… energy fieldish.
Player: But does it look mindless?
DM: It looks like you’ve spent so much time staring at it trying to figure out if it looks mindless that it attacks with surprise.

Elemental, Cold:

Well, Of Course She's Cold, Dressed Like That

Well, Of Course She’s Cold, Dressed Like That

Evil Shark: Not “Shark, Evil”? Son, I am disappoint. The ghost of a low level evil cleric, it is found at depths of 80 feet, in thin seaweed. Not at 75 feet in thick seaweed! That is the domain of the Evil Crab (aka Crab, Evil, and no, I’m probably not going to stop beating this joke until it too dies and becomes some form of undead sealife), the ghost of a mid level druid! We won’t even discuss what you might find at 90 feet in no seaweed! Your mortal minds cannot grasp the horror!

Ezwal: 2000 lb furry blue carnivores, with six legs. Hates machines, likes other ezwal. Based on a story by A. E. Van Vogt. Has “frost giant strength”. Should have been filed under “Ezwal, Blue”.

Falcon, Fire: See! Someone got it right! It’s a falcon. On fire. Only called out as notable because it fits what’s evolved into a running gag for this installment. Remember my motto: “Mrlizard.com: Free and worth it!”

Fiink: An intelligent.. quoppina? What the smeg is a quoppina? (Back from google.) Ah, it’s a kind of bug things from one of the Retief books. I should have remembered that. However, as a description in a general monster book intended for a wide audience, it’s a bit… lacking. Imagine if a monster was described as “a giant green Puppeteer” and readers didn’t know anything about Niven’s Known Space books. The default mental image would be… interesting.

Flapfrog: This is a giant (“elephant sized”) frog with wings that allow it to glide, but not actually fly. So, wait… if it glides on them, it doesn’t flap them, does it? You don’t flap to glide. This is clearly a glidefrog, and should be under “G”. Or perhaps under “Frog, giant, gliding”. Either works.

Flat: A chameleon-like blanket on the ground, which will disguise itself as whatever it’s lying on and then smother anyone who walks over it. Old School, where everything tried to kill you. Based on a story by Manly Wade Wellman.

Trapper, lurker above, stunjelly…

Comic from badgods.com by the excellent Lore Sjoberg. Go read more.

Gargoyle, Stone: Erm… as opposed to all those gargoyles made of vanilla pudding?

Gelatinous Blue Horror: When a gelatinous cube and a blue pool horror love… er… hate each other very much and try to eat each other, you get this: A blue gelatinous cube. Should be “Gelatinous Horror, Blue”.(Oh, a Blue Pool Horror is a “genetic experiment gone wrong” that looks like… a blue pool of water. )

Geteit Chemosit: Gesundheit! This is an eight foot tall black automaton with three yellow eyes, wielding a “force axe”. If it kills you, it will remove and destroy your brain, “making resurrection impossible”, never mind that an intact brain was not required for such spells. The original raise dead (white box) and raise dead fully (Greyhawk) only discuss time limits, not corpse quality. Later editions added various other limits, but never specifically an intact brain, to my recollection (and I’m feeling too lazy to go haul out my AD&D 1e, 2e, 3e, etc. books to research this for the sake of the 3 or 4 people who might be reading). Also based on an SF story, this is from “Pastel City” (otherwise known as “Virconium”) by M. John Harrison. Unlike most of the various “based on” monsters so far, this is both a story and an author with which I am wholly unfamiliar, but apparently he’s quite well established.

Goblin, Glass: A silicon goblin… siloblin? Something. Anyway, a surprising amount of space is dedicated to its reproductive rituals:

Frankly, Glass Goblin Porn Is Really Kind Of Dull

Frankly, Glass Goblin Porn Is Really Kind Of Dull

Golem (Diamond, Dust, Glass, Gold, Green Slime, Ice, Quicksilver, Radium(!), Tar, Wood): Yeah. Lots-o-golems. Some were referenced or described in the Arduin books; some weren’t. I will pick only one as a sample…

I Googled "Critical Mass Of Radium". Now I'm On A Watch List.

I Googled “Critical Mass Of Radium”. Now I’m On A Watch List.

As it turns out, radium doesn’t have a critical mass, but I think any GM worth his salt would severely punish a magic user who piled up 600 lbs of radium and didn’t think about proper containment… oh, and seriously punish a magic user who did take such precautions, on the grounds it was the use of out-of-character knowledge. That’s how we kicked it, old school! (The player might, in turn, argue that a “Manual of Radium Golem Creation” will include all the necessary safety measures. That argument’s strength is in direct proportion to the quality and quantity of General Tso’s Chicken provided to the GM.)

Gondor: Has no king. Needs no king. Easy walking distance from Mordor, despite the travel advisories. Also, a gondor is “a winged man with thievish capabilities”, which has telepathy that only works on fighters, giving it an AC of 2 when fighting them, but 9 otherwise. How this works when dealing with multi-class or dual-class is not specified, of course. (I’m trying to back-parse the name; if we figure ‘condor’ was part of it, it sort of makes sense, except I can’t link ‘thief with suspiciously specific psychic powers’ to any word starting with ‘g’.)

Gremlin, Gnarled: What has three arms, four legs, cannot see (but has sonar), and attacks elder gods and demons? Uhm, if you have to be told it’s a “gremlin, gnarled”, when it’s kind of there in bold face text, maybe RPGs aren’t the hobby for you. I hear collecting barbed wire is coming back as the next hipster craze. Try that. Oh, it has a pearl which, if placed into a staff, creates a staff of wizardry with 50 charges. (Y’know, a barbed wire golem is a pretty nifty idea, especially if you’re doing a modern era or “Weird West” type game… )

That brings us to the end of the “G”s. Tune in next time, where we will start off with the hairy howler. (If you know what I mean, and I think you do… wink wink, nudge nudge… you know, the nine foot man/baboon crossbreed from “Hiero’s Journey” by Sterling Lanier. Why? What were you thinking of?)

As always, if you like this site, please share it/link to it in appropriate places.

1There is also a “Daughter Of Kali, Elder”. Case closed.

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 1

All The World’s Monsters, Volume I

Edition 2, Printing 3, Act I, Scene 5

Interior, Pit Of Vile Doom. Enter, Two Kobolds

Well, that got off track quickly.

Front Cover For All The World's Monsters

Front Cover For All The World’s Monsters

ATWM (pronounced “At-whem”, which by no small coincidence is also the name of the Dread Underservant of the Elder Lords of Far Gallarik, Realm Of Dreams Twisted And Hopes Devoured) is a collection of monsters originally published in 1979 by Chaosium, based primarily on user submissions and “for use in fantasy role playing campaigns”, as long as they rhymed with “bludgeons and flagons”. I am writing this walkthrough based on the third printing, which is also of the second edition. (I believe it’s the third printing of the book in total, not the third printing of the second edition. Normally, this would be irrelevant fluff, or, in other words, exactly what this website is known for, but when discussing the earliest generations of supplements, things tended to change between printings — see the art changes in Arduin, for example.) I could buy a PDF scan of the original edition on Chaosium’s site and then compare it, but that would involve both money and effort, two things I am loathe to expend under any circumstance.

ATWM (Praise At-whem! Hail At-whem!) is laid out rather oddly. (Granted, it was unusual for gamers at the time to be laid out at all, if you get my drift.) Published in 8 1/2 x 11 format, it’s intended to be read sideways, presumably to accommodate the fact the book was basically printed out on a computer, and, at the time, printers didn’t do “portrait” mode.

Computer? Yes, children. They had computers, and printers, in 1979. They were, admittedly, in the form of giant mechanical monstrosities that filled multiple floors in large, secure, buildings, no more than one to a city, where they were tended to by the Priests Of Babbage, children taken from their parents and raised from birth to feed punch cards to the giant metallic Baals and then read the sacred offerings that spewed forth in cryptic code from1… oh, OK, not that bad. But close. The books represent one of the earliest applications of computers to gaming in the sense of using them as tools to manage and manipulate game information.

Not To Be Confused With The Dessert Ape, Which Is Made Of Chocolate

Not To Be Confused With The Dessert Ape, Which Is Made Of Chocolate

You may notice a familiar name among the credits. Many of Dave’s contributions here are not found in the Arduin volumes, making this a defacto supplement for Arduin. By the way, you have to love the sparseness of Old School text. A few stats and the barest hint of description. “The third eye is hypnotic”. Which means… what? Acts as a charm person? A suggestion? Simply makes the victim stand in place, fascinated, until… they’re damaged? They save? Is there a range? How many people can it affect? But, hey, the lack of any mechanics isn’t a problem, I am told, because “reasonable people” can “just agree” on what it means! Yeah, “reasonable people” always “just agree” on what things mean. It’s clear that the professional diplomats and negotiators who tussle over issues around the world don’t have the social skills, rationality, and willingness to make fair compromises that socially maladjusted 14 year olds do. But I digress. Anyway, three-eyed hypnotic apes are totally awesome.

(Another quick note: The giant ant’s AC is 3 + 1/3rd its hit dice, and “+” means “-“, as you well know. Believe it or not, the shift from descending to ascending AC in D&D 3.0 actually got a lot of people upset.)

Aaaannd another note: A lot of the critters here have a hit die range, making them effective threats at many levels. Oddly, this wasn’t widely adapted by “real” D&D until, yes, third edition. (“D&D 3e — We Finally Notice What’s Been Happening In Game Design Over The Past Twenty Years”).

The editors/archivists are Steve Perrin, a man well known to gamers and still quite active today, and Jeff Pimper, who… isn’t. At least, I don’t know who he is, and, like most people, I believe anything I don’t know can’t possibly be important. Perhaps in some distant future time we’ll have a Star Trek like computer system where I can just enter someone’s name and find out things about them, but that’s not going to happen soon.

For no good reason, here’s the back cover:

Worst. Bear Drawing. Ever.

Worst. Bear Drawing. Ever.

So, my plan here is not to do the kind of insane, line-by-line, “close reading” I did of Arduin, because, well, there’s only one Arduin. I’m going to do what I did w/Booty And The Beasts and Necromican… kind of skim it and highlight a few favorite bits. That might take several articles, or not; it depends on how much strikes me as worth noting, depending on my mood at the exact moment I hit a given page. Mrlizard.com: Where you pay nothing and get your money’s worth!

(If I ever get off my lazy ass and set up a Patreon, I’ll need to change my slogan.)

Ant Man: An unexpected commercial and artistic success that blended humor with “heist movie” tropes, this… no, wait. This is an 8 foot tall, four armed (two have stingers, two have hands) insectoid which is immune to mental spells and “is the dominant life form on it’s (sic) home planet”.

Ape Snake: Sadly, this is not an ape-lamia or the like; it’s an ape with octopus tentacles, included in Arduin as an octorilla. I find the use of “Ape Snake” to be false advertising.  I am going to stat out a proper ape snake, just see if I don’t! Harrumph!

Bagda And Fallowman: While this sounds like a one-season detective show on USA Network, what it actually is are two “Einheriar of the Herlathing”, whose fathers are Toll and Melimbor, respectively. I like knowing who people’s fathers are, don’t you? They seem to be drawn from this book… a lot of things in ATWM (and in early gaming in general) were lifted directly and without acknowledgment from all kind and manner of pulp, books, movies, and comics. We’ll be seeing a lot of that in this article.

Basic: Dragon-like aliens found with mutated humanoid guards. Arch-enemies of the Structured Programming Empire and its fearsome Pass-kaal and Ceeplusplus legions.

Behinder: It sneaks up behind you and… no, not that, you pervert! It paralyzes you and drags you off. It always target the “last in line” by using the mental command “fall behind”.

Bloodbouncer: A combination of stirge, tribble, and superball. Seriously. That’s what it says. When was the last time you encountered a stirge, anyway? They used to be really commonplace, but no one uses them anymore. Go figure.

Carniverous (sic) Typo: Damn, I hope the spelling of the name is intentional. That would be meta.

A Classic "Screw The MU" Critter

A Classic “Screw The MU” Critter

I have to hope the formula for spell failure is, itself, a typo. As written, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but change it to “*” instead of “/” and it does.

Cloud, Silver: A weird mix of power levels in one creature. It has 6 HD but attacks as a 30th level Lord (fighter). It does 1d4 attacks for 2d8+6 each, and when it’s defeated, it simply goes away and leaves behind 1d4 ounces of Dust Of Disappearance.

Corrabus: What has the head of a cobra, the body of a horse, the lower legs of an eagle, and the wings of a dragon? I don’t know, but it’s attacking. Roll for initiative. It can also mate with humans to produce were-corrabi.

Culverin: An animated stovepipe. It spits rocks at you. There is a 25% chance the rock will hit your head and knock you unconscious. No, you don’t get a saving throw. No, it doesn’t matter how many hit points you have. Dude, trust me… if you’re in the kind of game where you are going to be attacked by an animated stovepipe, you are so much better off being unconscious it’s not funny. I had assumed this was something from actual folklore, because no gamer ever came up with anything as weird as the stuff you find in genuine folk tales and legends, but if it is, google is failing to find anything close to it. (Edit: Maybe it’s something from the Silver John stories? Damn, those are awesome. It bugs me because it seems oddly familiar. Of course, that might be because I’ve had this book since 1984 or so, and I might have forgotten I read about it here originally.)

Well, that gets us through “C”. I will either continue this, or take a break and look at “Starchildren”, the game of alien rock stars in the dystopian future of 2073. No, I’m not “making it up”! I have a copy that I probably bought close to when it first came out, around 2002 or so.

1 Hmm, I’ve got a setting idea now… “Steampunk 1999”, where we see the world 150 years after the Analytical Engine revolution…



Road Rebels Part II

Road Rebels Part II

Revenge Of The Moltov(sic) Cocktail

Well, here we are again. For Part I of this, please look here. I am not responsible for any loss of sanity that may result. Just remember this: You only have to read what I wrote, and only once. I had to read much more of it, many times over.

I need to name my character, I suppose. With a total lack of originality, I’m going with Angry Al.

So when last we left Angry Al, he (or me) was trying to figure out how to buy skills. After a lot of time pondering the rules… I still don’t know, 100%. I even gently removed the taped-in errata, surveys, and notes from the inside back cover in the hopes it would be there. Nope. (In the survey, though, the author asks “How do you think [Road Rebels] should be improved (Besides art, correct grammar, riffles (sic), and correct tab settings)?” There’s a level of self awareness there, at least.

I think you primarily get your starting skills via spending generation points (of which I have but 50) on “acquired knowledge”, each of which is… uhm… well, they’re kind of different. Some are cheap and simply grant a generically described ability, such as Street Wise (sic), which provides “good knowledge of gangs, people, where they live, where people go”, etc., for 2 points. On the other hand, there’s “Hand Weapons”, which gives +75 to four hand weapon classes, as well as +75 to all three (left, right and two-handed) parry skills, for 50 points.

The skill system is d100 based, so a +75 is pretty damn impressive, though I haven’t studied combat yet. There may be an “opposed roll” mechanic there, as the “parry” skill implies.

With only 50 generation points to my name, there’s not a lot of options. The best choice, for my character concept, is “Hand Combat”, which costs 42 points and provides +50 to Street Fighting, +75 to punching (R/L), +75 to kicking (R/L), +75 dodge, +50 to Jump, and +50 to catch (R and 2H… not sure what you need to improve left-handed catching.)

That leaves me 8 points. Two go to Street Wise.

I’m kind of tempted to put 3 into Musical Instrument, which will make me, and I quote, “totally awesome at an instrument of the character’s choice”. Sure, why not? Instrument of choice has to be electric guitar, never mind the general lack of outlets.

So, 3 left. Well, might as well go for Hot Wiring, which lets me steal a car in 2d10 rounds, unless it has an alarm. In which case, evidently, I just can’t even try. It strikes me as odd, given the detail of many other areas, that Hot Wiring is simply a “spend the time and you’re done” skill; you’d expect a lot of modifiers for kind of car, quality of tools, and so forth.

But that’s my 50!

As near as I can tell, that’s it for the attributes/skills portion of chargen. Now I guess I buy equipment? There’s no real “step by step guide”. Anyway, I have 1d10 dollars.

I roll a D10: 1.

Well, frak.

The only thing I can buy is a candle. A can of beer is 2 dollars. A cigarette lighter, 5. I’m going to hold on to my money. I mean, not really sure what I could do with a candle.


You may remember I was curious about Condition Levels 4 and 5. They do exist; there’s a notation in one of the paragraphs that, as I speculated, they go into effect as a result of multiple concurrent factors, such as being both heavily encumbered (CL 3) and badly wounded. A perfectly reasonable system. High crunch, but I don’t mind that, and the target audience for the game is self-evidently people who like crunch. The character sheet only shows the modifiers for 1-3, which isn’t too bad, because you can do very little at 4 and nothing at 5 but look around (use perceptive skills).

The Road Goes Ever On…

That’s pretty much it for character generation. If I wanted to fill out the full sheet and plug in all the numbers, I could, but we’re past most of the interesting bits. Someone with a higher social status than I rolled would have a lot more Generation Points to play with, and more money to spend.

All of this takes us up to about page 27 or so. (I say “about” because the chargen rules and other rules are kind of muddled together.) The book is nearly 200 pages long. So what’s in the rest of it?

Combat, mostly. And vehicles. And combat with, on, around, and under vehicles.

Rules for “Maltov Cocktails”, of course. Not to mention kerosine (sic) and diesil(sic) fuels. Four different kinds of paint gun ammo (paint, smoke, explosive, stink). Two different super soaker guns (with acid available for ammo, natch).

And vehicles. Hoo, boy. The author freely admits the vehicle sheets are complicated, because he “can’t design a simple game”. I feel your pain there, buddy. But “complicated” is less of an issue than “cluttered”. These sheets need a lot more space — probably spreading the same data over 2 or 3 pages would be better. The use of proportional fonts means a lot of the tables don’t line up very clearly. Well, see for yourself…

I Regularly Used GURPS 3e VDS, Striker, and Mekton Z. This Is Beyond Any Of Those.

I Regularly Used GURPS 3e VDS, Striker, and Mekton Z. This Is Beyond Any Of Those.

Want more? Armored turrets, oil slicks, smoke screens, nitros (sic) systems, “shitty paint job” (100 dollars), “awesome paint job” (500 dollars), and way, way, more. Rules detail ten levels of road quality and the various factors that allow you to determine them. There are rules for how much damage a vehicle takes when jumping (hitting a bump or ramp, flying through the air, then landing), with the ability to design a vehicle specifically to absorb some of the damage (i.e., a stunt car), and charts that consider both the height of the jump and the type of road surface you land on. There are rules here for all sorts of things I never considered, most of which interact with the design and modification systems. (That’s a compliment, by the way.)

Within the scope of the design space, Road Rebels really tries to include damn near everything. How well do the systems work in play? I have no idea, and no time to start learning them all well enough to test even a basic combat, but there’s little doubt that Mr. Gordon was passionate about his interests and was determined to cover as many setting-appropriate situations as possible.

And all of it is buried under so many basic structural errors that it’s virtually impossible to drag the game framework out of the mire, clean it off, and make it run.

Wait, What?

So I’m looking at the creatures section and I notice that the hit location charts include “Four Legged Creatures with 2 heads”. This table is used only for “Zargonites”, which is “a wolf like creature except it has two heads and is much larger”.

Also included is the Kriton, which are large humans with upward pointing noses, and are “hired assassin’s bounty hunters or businessmen”(sic). It seems to me that a hired assassin employing a bounty hunter is taking outsourcing too far. I mean, if I hire an assassin, I expect them to do their own hunting, not get a kriton to do it! Sheesh.

Then there’s the Labotimizers (sic) who kidnap people, pour acid in their ears to destroy their brains, then send them out to repeat the process.

End Of The Road

That about sums it up. Overall, I’d say Road Rebels is a perfect example of a creator’s reach exceeding their grasp. Given a decent editor and a decent (for the era) desktop publishing/layout program, it might have found some niche success. As is, it vanished without nary a trace… at least, I can find few, if any, references to it. When I google “Road Rebels RPG”, the first part of this article is the third hit, and the second… something I wrote back in 2002(!) on RPG,net. And I even used the same line: “Well, uhm, no one can deny that this game has ‘personality’.” Wow. I totally forgot I wrote that… it was 14 years ago… but given identical inputs (the text of the game) I seem to produce nearly identical outputs. Go figure. Perhaps I have failed the Turing Test.

Next time… who knows? Maybe I’ll go to my pile of weird-ass “indie” games and see what strikes my fancy… (Yeah, I keep threatening). Or I might do “All The World’s Monsters” or this game I’ve got around here somewhere about luchadors.

Road Rebels

Road Rebels

Things The Marines Teach You: Courage, Duty, Honor, Service, Loyalty, And, I Presume, How To Kill A Man 26 Different Ways Using Only A Paperclip

Things The Marines Do Not Teach You: How To Spell “Rifle”


This May Be The Only Page In The Entire Book With No Spelling Or Grammatical Errors

This May Be The Only Page In The Entire Book With No Spelling Or Grammatical Errors

Let me begin with a digression. Wait, is that possible? Can you digress from a path not yet traveled? Am I digressing from the digression I wanted to begin with? Anyway, in the early 1990s, I lived in North Carolina, which had a Hungate’s Hobbies. This was primarily a crafting type hobby store, but unlike most such, it also had a fairly vibrant RPG section. And in that RPG section there was a bargain bin. And in that bargain bin, there were treasures. Such treasures! One of them was Machineguns and Magic, already covered here. (Good lord? 2008? I’ve been writing these unread articles for over eight years? Well, they say that true art is not done for an audience, but for oneself. If so, I am the truest artist of all time!)

Another was Road Rebels.

And so if our digression actually leads directly to our topic, is it a digression?

(Mrlizard.com! Where else can you get feeble attempts at humor mixed with pointless jabs at philosophy? “Oh, 99% of the Internet!” “Shut up! It was a rhetorical question!”)

So. Road Rebels.


It Took Until 1989 For The First Game For Serious Roleplayers To Be Published

It Took Until 1989 For The First Game For Serious Roleplayers To Be Published

The introduction, with its oddly centered text, almost seems like heavy metal lyrics. Hell, the entire game tries to evoke that kind of hard-driving, hard-rocking, attitude. The overlap between metal music and culture, and 70s/80s RPGs, deserves study by someone far more competent than myself. Road Rebels isn’t Metallica; it’s more “garage band that’s totally going to get some gigs once we get a drummer who won’t always flake on us, Karl, and when Joey, he’s our bassist, gets back from military school”. At this stage of my read-through (remember, these are mostly extemporaneous, written as I turn the pages, though this little bit you’re reading now was written on my “editing” pass just before I posted this first bit), I can say there’s some interesting mechanical aspects — high crunch, but I don’t mind that — that hint at possibilities, but these glimmerings are buried under some of the worst grammar, spelling, punctuation, and organization I’ve seen in a published game product. (There’s another one, a very minor league supers game called… uh… I’ll have to find it… I thought it was “Guardians”, but the cover image is wrong (and not the new, “old-school” game by that name released circa 2015,this was from the mid-80s or so)..,. that might give it a run for its money. But I digress.)

My ability to forgive grammatical mistakes in older RPG systems is a function of “How old is it?” and “Are the ideas expressed so awesome they transcend crudeness of form?”

By 1989, a certain level of professionalism was expected. The book itself is not something run off on someone’s home mimeograph machine. It is well bound. It is professionally typeset. Anyone who had the budget to produce a book at this level in the late 80s could have afforded an editor, or at least asked a more-literate friend to look at it.

The ideas within… well, let’s just move on, shall we?

In Which I Wear Out My “(Sic)”

I have to include a few samples of the introductory text. Transcribing this is like copying passages from the Necronomicon, only without the hope that perhaps an Elder God will be summoned and devour me, to end my torment.

“It was the year 2010 when the fires stopped burning. They ceased to burn only when there was nothing left to burn. Nothing but a shattered rain forest and an expanding city.”

“All of The (sic) fuel resources in the gulf had been used up. When their (sic. Also, huh?) fuel ran out so did the worlds (sic) supply lines.”

“All power plants stopped, fuel stations ran out (sic) fuel, and factories were shut down.”

“No country could defend their self.” (sic)

Three hundred years later, “Of the few factories still existing there are only a few people in control of them. Unemployment has reached an all time high.”

This I have learned: Post-apocalyptic wastelands where day-to-day life is a struggle to extract the most meager resources needed for basic survival have unemployment rates.

“With no country and no home, there is only the road.”

Because 300 years after ecological disaster and social collapse, someone is still paving the god damn roads, right?

“After all the toxic waist (sic) dumping, oil tanker spills such as the Exzon (sic) Raldez (sic), and the depleted uranium many of the Earth’s animals have mutated. “

“Many of these creatures consider human’s (sic) inferior. This is possibly due to our white skin where their skin is green or some other color, or that they are just smarter.”

And remember, these are a few sample sentences from a full page of text. You owe me, non-existent audience. You owe me.

My assumption that the author was a high school kid with rich parents who indulged him was undermined on the next pages, where he notes he was a Marine and worked over five years on this.

Look, let me be serious for a moment. I respect anyone who is willing to go out and get shot at so I can continue to sit on my fat Big Mac stuffed ass and write snarky comments about other people’s work. I am, without sarcasm or cynicism, genuinely grateful to all of those “rough men (and women) who stand ready to do violence on [my] behalf”, as Orwell is wrongly credited with saying.

But, you know… you don’t get to be a Marine by people giving you a pass on your actual performance because you tried really hard. So I’ve got to follow the same principle. You get judged on what you do.

“Many roll(sic) playing games are created by a bunch of dead head geeks who care more about making money[1] than a decent game. They have about as much personality as a dried up horse turd. In this game you’ll find a lot of personality. It may be crude or strange but it’s better than dried up horse turds.”

No argument there. This game has personality.

Under some GM advice, he notes “If a person like is allowed to run ramped (sic), it takes much fun out of the game for the other players and they can lose interest in your game an (sic) alarming rate.”

“Fruitcakes Stay Away” reads another header.

“If you’re a weird one and think you might take Road Rebels to the streets please buy (sic) all means don’t play this game.”

Perhaps the weird ones need COMPETENT PSYCHIATRIC HELP.

Trying to actually move on without quoting every other sentence, but I keep getting sidetracked. For instance, low technology towns are described as “… generally ancient ruins that are still inhabited. They are usually dangerous since most of the people are sparsely populated.”

Forcing myself to keep going through all the, uh, personality

The Roads Must Roll… Up Characters

Seven characteristics, roll 4d6 and keep the three highest. Put them where you like. To the author’s credit, the rest of the mechanics are not a generic D&D clone. And I’m not going to ding someone for going with a system and value range that works instead of being different solely to be different. Too much of that coming down the pike a few years after this was published.

The seven characteristics are Happy, Sleepy, Snee… no, sorry. But, damn, wouldn’t that be an interesting idea for… something. Some wacko indie system where your personality or abilities or something are defined by your ranking of the Seven Dwarfs. Healing? Roll your Doc. Resist mind control? Roll Grumpy. Social interaction? Roll over your Bashful. Seriously, there’s something here. And I’m getting distracted again.

Strength, Dexterity, Looks, Constitution, Size, Charisma, Speed.

And it’s rolling time!

Every year, at GenCon, I get a scoop-o-dice at Chessex. Let’s see how they roll….

9,7,15, 11,6,13,12

So, about typical for me. Sheesh.

A six and a seven? Seriously? On best 3 out of 4d6?

(In the Pathfinder game I run, a player rolled two crits on their iterative attack, dealing 112 points of damage to a 105 hit point boss monster. Later, in another encounter, when I was attacking with a powerful 2d6+10 trample, I rolled a ‘2’ for the damage. Twice. Dice hate me.)

Anyway, I need to roll for social class. The rules note that a given RM (Road Master, of course!) may have differing social classes in their game, and that social class can change over time.

21. Peasant. (Other options were Thief, Townsman, Barbarian, Assassin, Road Rebel, Choice, and Choose Two. I’m not sure what that last one means. Do you add together the benefits and penalties for two classes? Pick the best features of each? I don’t see an explanation in the general vicinity of the chart, but there might be one later.

As a Peasant, I have a +10 to picking pockets, despite the text noting that “Peasants are generally not good thieves since they appear very ragged.” I have a +3 to my Constitution, and gear such as inexpensive, ill-fitting clothes and a shopping cart. My weapons may include a mop handle or a screwdriver. My wealth is 1d10 dollars, and I have 50 “generation points”.

Now we get a lot of detail about certain physical skills and how they’re affected by your “condition level”, which is a blend of fatigue and encumbrance… the more tired or burdened you are, the worse your skills are going to be. Nothing wrong with that.

It’s looking like I’ll need to assign my crappy rolls before going much further. Hm.

9,7,15, 11,6,13,12

Strength: 15
Dexterity: 13
Looks: 6
Constitution: 12+3=15
Size: 11
Charisma: 7
Speed: 9

Basically, a brawler with nothing else going for him. Probably badly scarred from all of his fights.

But back to condition level. “To determine a character’s mass per condition level he must first determine his mass. He will then go to the chart on page 25 to determine his mass.” Yeah, I’ll let that sink in for a bit. Then, it will sink in, for a bit, while I let it.

Size 11 means my mass is 75. With a Strength of 15 and a Con of 15, I can carry 2/3rds of my mass at Condition Level 2. (Condition Level 1 is fixed at <10kg.) 2/3rds of 75 is 50.

(The necessary charts and tables are on page 25, while the explanation I’m trying to follow is on page 13.)

Also, the text says there are five condition levels, but then only talks about 1, 2, and 3. There may be more rules for 4 and 5 later on, maybe wounded or something? We’ll see. The three-tier system seems reasonable… CL 1 is “Effectively unencumbered”, carrying <10kg. CL 2 is the assumed norm, carrying more than 10 KG and less than the calculated value, and CL 3 is carrying more than your allowed capacity. What I haven’t found, yet, is how to calculate some of those base numbers… such as “Rounds at Maximum”.

I’ll skip the optional pain factors. This is taking too long as it is.

The weapons sheet is also presented here. It’s pretty darn complex. This doesn’t bug me, per se, if the rules are generally well explained. I know all the cool kids like everything to fit onto a fortune cookie, but I like systems where there’s a lot of differentiation between weapons and other gear, especially if they feed into systems that make it make sense to pick specific weapons for specific tasks. (GURPS rules for reach and space, for example, give an advantage to a guy with a short weapon when he’s “all up in your grill” — it’s hard to get a 6′ sword to swing properly against a target who is in direct physical contact with you. At the same time, trying to close with the guy who has a 6′ sword (and the skill to use it) when all you’ve got is a dagger… well, I digress.) Point is, I’m not going to dis the game a priori for a weapons sheet that’s more detailed than many games’ entire character sheet. We’ll see how it’s actually used, first.

Skills: Recognizing The Unhidden

Skills are grouped into classes; some have different scores for Left, Right, or Two Handed use. Some are impacted by condition level. The rules talk about rolling to increase skills, a mechanic familiar to players of Chaosium’s systems, among others.

Then there’s the skill descriptions. Most are pretty bog-standard so far. And it may be the fact I’m writing this late in day when I’m tired (usually, I set aside time on weekends for this blog, but today, some whim struck me to work on it now), but I’m starting to find the author’s personal style to be almost charming. I mean, I praised Hargrave for it, and the Princeton folks, so why not? (Well, for one, 1989 is not 1977 and standards change.)

For example, under Climb, Mr. Gordon writes “This system will be improved as I learn more about climbing. Please excuse my lack of knowledge.” And, earlier in the paragraph, “Forget those cheesy climbing spikes in other games.” Consider them forgotten.

BTW, the use of “riffle” for “rifle” is endemic; it can’t be blamed on a typo. If there was one word (well, one word not included in Carlin’s famous monologue) I’d expect a Marine to be able to spell, it would be “rifle”. Sigh.

Following a longstanding RPG tradition of “highly variable detail”, while many of the skills include detailed rules and modifiers, “Pick Pockets” is almost mechanics-free, noting only that “This skill should not be blown out of proportion”, and that other skills, such as Hide in Cover or Move Silently may have to be used “in conjunction”. The skills, overall, have the mix of ultra-detailed mechanics and generic “just be reasonable” advice that pretty much defined early gaming.

(Speaking of detail… “Sound Detection” is distinct from “Sound Recognition”, and “Recognize Hidden Object” is distinct from “Recognize Camouflage(sic) Object” and “Recognize Unhidden Object”. Yes, that’s a skill. It’s used to recognize something someone tried, but failed, to hide. Yeah. I had the same reaction. Moving on.

Oh, hey, I opened the book to start working on this again, and found the “rounds at maximum” chart… with my Strength and Con I can go 18 rounds at “maximum effort”, if you know what I mean, and I think you do, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more. If I rest for 12 rounds, I will regain my full “Max Rounds”, but if I rest for 2 rounds, I can regain 3 rounds. The mechanical concept here is actually pretty interesting. It lets you take a brief rest in combat (including, per a note, fighting defensively) to regain 3 rounds of maximum effort, which presents a useful tactical option and a way to model someone who, in the course of an ongoing fight, chooses to take a little time to recover, pulling back for a few rounds before resuming the full-on battle. Most games, in my experience, have either no fatigue/exhaustion type systems, or have a pool which can only be refreshed outside of combat.

Well, I was going to try to figure out my skills, but the exact rules for assigning a starting character’s skills are not clear. I think I’ve found all the relevant bits and bobs, but I’m not sure how to put them together in the right order just yet, so, this article just became a two parter.

[1]Boy, did they choose the wrong profession! Where did people get the idea RPGs are a great way to earn a living? RPG writers are paid less per word than pulp writers of the 1930s… unadjusted for inflation. Let that sink in.


Look Sir! Droids!

Another Ancient Game You Probably Saw Advertised In The Dragon

But Which I Somehow Acquired. No Idea When Or How.

With This Exciting Action Scene On The Cover, How Could Customers Resist?

With This Exciting Action Scene On The Cover, How Could Customers Resist?

It is a little-known fact that FASA’s famous “BattleTech” game was originally released as “Battledroids“, until they got a letter from a certain director reading, in part, “Yousa be a violatin mesa’s trademark on droidsa! Yousa be changin thats quick or bombad lawyers gonna sue you maxibig!” The company assumed the odd phrasing was legalese and did not realize they were privy to a glimpse into the dark future of what was currently a beloved movie franchise, so “Battledroids” became “BattleTech”, and the rest is history.

The game I am discussing, called simply “Droids”, was published two years earlier (in 1982) and never attracted Mr. Lucas’ wrath, as far as I know. Really, the entire preceding paragraph is mostly irrelevant, I just wanted to a)verify that I did, indeed, remember seeing a game called “Battledroids” at the Compleat Strategist in NYC way back when, and, b)Get in some decades-late digs at Jar Jar. (But does Rogue One look awesome, or what? Anyway…)

“What Mission? What Are You Babbling About?”

The basic premise of Droids is that the PCs are droids, a naming convention to be adopted by White Wolf a decade or so later. There are no humans, animals, or other life forms to interact with. It’s droids all the way down.

“I’m Only A Droid, I’m Not Much Good At Telling Stories”

Droids May Be The First Sci-Fi Work To Predict The "Selfie"

Droids May Be The First Sci-Fi Work To Predict The “Selfie”

In the very earliest days of RPGs, the first 2-3 years of their existence, there was a point where the line between “skirmish wargame” and “RPG” was much blurrier than it is now. We, as humans, like to fit things in boxes, to categorize, define, name, and limit, enabling us to mentally manipulate complex clouds of concepts as if they had a single handle we could grab onto. “En Garde” by Game Designer’s Workshop (I think they went on to do some kind of space game) was one example. TSR’s “Warriors Of Mars” was another.

Droids, nearly a decade after D&D’s release, and marketed as an RPG, has some aspects of this. Despite it requiring a Referee and including a “Sample of Play” in typical style, the book consists almost entirely of rules for combat and for creating droids to engage in combat. There’s about a page of material suggesting there might be organized Droid societies, but it’s very sparse. The game provides content for the very core of RPGs: Go somewhere, kill things, take their stuff, but is sparse on the “kill things”. There’s three generic sample NPC droids, and two more in the scenario provided (“raid the abandoned army base”). The “stuff” includes a small list of items not available at character creation, from vacuum cleaner attachments to movie projectors, but it is diverse enough to offer some inspiration for additional goodies.

A post-human world inhabited entirely by abandoned artificial intelligences is a fine setting for adventure, but all the work in bringing this to life, including any mechanics for anything other than combat, would be to the referee.

So What’s In The Book?

A lot of charts, tables, and descriptions of various weapons, power plants, mobility mechanisms, and armor, along with rules for using all of these things, a short scenario, and an appendix with summarized charts.

Look, it’s 1982! This is pretty much what you got!

Also contained: A layout completely reminiscent of Traveller. I’d say they borrowed the same Adobe templates, but this is 1982, and “Adobe templates” back then meant “plans for building homes in the southwest”.

Let’s Get On With It

There’s not any kind of list of archetypes or “typical” droids, or a real sense of what you’re going to do besides “explore ruins, scavenge parts”. The advice on building a droid actually steers you away from archetypes, encouraging you to build well-balanced units. Not bad advice, at all, but RPGs tend to work best when there’s a team of characters with mixed strengths and weaknesses. More relevant for this article, I need an idea, stat.

Somewhere in flipping through it, I saw there were options for gasbags. The idea of a blimpdroid appeals to me greatly. Perhaps it was created originally as a silent spy, able to drift into enemy territory with a minimal signature. It should have some self-defense capacity to take out attackers, and ideally a backup ground-based movement system. In the campaign setting, it would work as a scout/spy, locating places to forage, relying on better armed- and armored- allies to do most of the killing once it brought back the intelligence, but not helpless in a fight.

Can I build it? Let’s see.

I have 20 CP to start with. CP are “Construction Points”, of course. Seriously, you need to be told that? Wow, my imaginary readers are dim.

“PC” is the measure of whether I continue to internalize my oppression by using the human supremacist term “droid”, or if I refer to myself as a post-organic ferro-American. Or, it’s “Power Consumption”, the measure of how much power each of my components eats. Well, why can’t it be both, huh? Don’t force me into your binary categories!

“BP”, or “Bulk Points”, sort of combine hit points and volume on a unit-by-unit basis.

Based on the character sheet provided, I’m going to need a spreadsheet to keep track of things. Damn, it’s been a while since I fired up Excel for RPG purposes. Getting a bit giddy, here.


The first thing I’m asked to spend CP on is transport. There’s a lot of choices, but keeping with my character concept, I’m starting with “Propelled Balloon”. The rules are fairly detailed, including time to inflate or deflate and how far you can fall while it fills. (800 meters, so, it’s pretty much useless if you fall from anything smaller than the Empire State Building.) I’m also taking wheels for my ground transport.

Note that each transport unit can support 100 BP, and different types of transport units can’t be combined. So, if I go over 100 BP, I will need more wheels and balloons.


Not the ability to bribe, blackmail, or intimidate, but rather, arms. There’s only three: Repair, Maintenance, and Lifting. Not sure what the future looks like in terms of BP, PC, CP, etcP, so for now, I’m going for a single Maintenance arm, which can do a little repair and a little lifting.

(You may notice the system does not assume a humanoid default. The droids produced by this game will resemble real-world robots much more than space opera ones. You can probably build a humanoid, but it’s not a baseline and there’s no indication non-humanoid droids suffer any notable disadvantage in terms of interacting with the world.)

I… Have… The… POWER!

OK, right era, wrong genre.

Power units have a negative PC… in essence, they reduce your total power consumption by a certain amount. Power plants are the best (most expensive) and can be overloaded at a risk of explosion. Solar cells are tempting, but I plan to operate at night. (I could combine them with a rechargeable battery, I suppose…) Nah. Going with standard power cells.

Power can be allocated to units on as-needed basis. Assuming I may need to move and pick things up at the same time, I will need 4 units of power, minimum. So that’s 4 cells, which will cost me 4 points. Hmm. Let’s kick that up to 7, to allow for what I suspect weapons and sensors will cost. Or, for 5, I could get a power plant. Hm. Power cells are 4 BP each, while a plant is 9, total. This means, in theory, I can lose a few cells and still have some operating power, but a plant is putting all my eggs in one fusion-powered basket. Hm. Let’s go for plant. If I have CP left over, I might get a cell or a battery for backup.

Coin Detected In Pocket

Or, sensors. For vision, I am going with the most expensive, the tri-camera, which also gives me ranger-like tracking capability. It fits my character concept.

CP are starting to get low. I will skimp on the other sensors, going for the most basic sound and communications gear.

Module DR-1: Kill All Humans

Modules are basically programs. You buy an interface, which, I think, determines how many module you can load at once? Or something? The combat modules are insanely expensive — 10 CP for the lowest-level one. The others ain’t much better. I’ll just pick up an M1 Interface for now, in the hopes of finding a data module later on.

Phased Plasma Rifle In The 40 Watt Range

It Costs How Much?

How About A Pointed Stick?

Seriously, the cheapest weapon is 4 CP. I’ve got like 2.1 left. Time to make some adjustments.

Let’s drop the wheels and go for legs. That frees up just enough CP for an energy cannon and a single 10-shot power pack. Hey, that’s 10 times more attacks than a first level magic user gets!

Other Accessories Sold Seperately

I can’t afford armor, ECM gear, or a spotlight. Sigh.

The Naming Of Names

Well, what should I call it? The game explicitly offers an eclectic naming scheme, noting a droid could be named anything from a string of letters and numbers to a computer or industrial themed name. While it’s a year or two late, relative to the publication date, I will go with LASERBEAK for my character.

LASERBEAK’s greatest weakness, mechanically, is its lack of armor. The guidelines caution against this, but something’s got to give. Hopefully, it can stay out of danger until it can scavenge some. It also has only enough power for 10 shots; an additional power supply is needed.

Here’s the final character summary. It seems appropriate I mostly just needed to copy over part of my Excel sheet…

LASERBEAK. It Seems Appropriate This Game's Character Sheet Is An Excel Screenshot

LASERBEAK. It Seems Appropriate This Game’s Character Sheet Is An Excel Screenshot

Other Thoughts

  • I can’t find any limits on attaching new units. There’s rules on how long it will take, based on bulk, but apparently you can stick anything on you that you wish, limited by bulk relative to your movement capacity.
  • There’s rules for robots, which are non-self-aware machines. They are otherwise like droids.
  • There are also some rules for “experimental” devices which have assorted amusing defects.
  • I would have included rules for droids themselves to have various flaws (especially lingering psychological quirks from their programming), in order to gain bonus CP. The 20 points at chargen is very limiting. Of course, I started off with an expensive concept. Downgrading my camera would have given me enough CP for armor.
  • You’ll note there are no attributes, per se. “Strength” is determined by how much your manipulators can lift, in BP. Beyond that, there’s nothing. All droids are equally agile, intelligent, or charismatic. Constitution? You either have power enough to move, or, you don’t.
  • Indicating the era, the communication options are limited to, in essence, voice. There’s radio and light (blinking lights, which, in the rules, goes v…e…r…y s…l…o…w…l…y), but these just transmit your “voice”. No wifi. While it makes sense a post-apocalyptic setting doesn’t have a lot of internet, you can imagine that some intact buildings would still have an intranet, and any droid civilization would be strongly interconnected.
  • Likewise, no viruses or malware to infect you.
  • While the lack of more cyberpunky tropes is not surprising — Neuromancer is two years in the future! — what does surprise me is the lack of melee weapons! It’s a post apocalyptic wasteland where the droids must survive as best they can… no chainsaws? No tasers, even? Perhaps they were planned for the promised, but never materialized (as far as I know) supplements.
  • As is typical of the era and the design, the low-illustration, high-density text conceals many rules and asides that would, in later years, be more clearly called out. Several paragraphs of this bemoaning the lack of thus-and-such rule, with must sarcasm, had to be culled as I stumbled over a good-enough mention of the “missing” information buried in the tenth sentence of a 20 sentence block of text.
  • Overall, the writing is clean, functional, and clear. It’s not plagued by typos, spelling, and grammatical errors.

That last item sort of sums up my thoughts on the game, and perhaps why it did not ignite any kind of spark that I know of. “Functional” is the watchword of Droids. It offers some tools for a unique (at the time) setting, a post-human post-apocalypse, but does very little to inspire. The text describing the various options is perfectly adequate, and that’s it. The art is decent, but it’s all static images of various droids with no background or action going on. The sample of play consists of Player One and Player Two talking to Referee and… looking at things. Shining lights. Examining a hole in a fence. Yay.

So, that’s Droids. Tune in next time, when I look at… I have no idea. I’ll poke around the bookcases until something catches my eye.

For More Reading…

If you like the idea of AIs in a post-apocalyptic (but not post-human) world, you might enjoy this….

Of Gods And Men

Of Gods And Men

Because It’s Been On My Shelf For Years, And I Want To Know What’s In It

That’s Why

Warning! You May Need COMPETENT PSYCHIATRIC HELP After Reading This!

(An amusing note: I started this in June, 2012. Then I did other stuff. Now I’m finishing it… if I can find my copy of OGAM again… ah, found it. Good.)

(Amusing note 2: It is now 2016. The last edit on this post was 2014. There’s no great special reason for this, no “This is the WORST GAME EVAR” horror. I just get distracted easily.)

Greetings, faithful reader, and welcome to another installment of “Lizard tries to pretend he provides content”. In today’s episode, we look at “Of Gods And Men”, an RPG you’ve never heard of. No, you haven’t. Don’t lie.

“Of Gods And Men” was published in 1991, and it ended up in my collection… uh… I dunno. I think I scarfed it from Gamescape in San Francisco when it drifted from the “Half Off” shelf to the “Got Wobbly Furniture? Look Here For Help!” shelf. Anyway, I happened to glance over at one of my bookcases earlier today, spotted it, and decided “What the hell? Why not?”

I mean, it’s got a picture of a guy playing “Alas, Poor Yorick!” with a fireball on the cover. What could go wrong?

We’ll find out…

Continue reading

KS Hype: Journey To The Center Of The Earth

Just a shout out to a Kickstarter I backed, and think is well worth supporting: Michael Satran’s Journey To The Center Of The Earth.

Romans, dinosaurs, lizard men, wizards, cyborg mole people(!), and probably a lot more! Perfect for any kind of pulpy or superheroic adventure from the 19th century to the 21st. It’s written to support Hero System, Savage Worlds, and Mutants & Masterminds. Check it out.

Disclaimer: There ain’t none. I’m not part of the project, don’t get paid for posting this, and am not getting anything beyond what I paid for in the KickStarter. I have worked with many of the principles before and hope to again, but given how small the tabletop industry is, the odds are good that if there’s an RPG kickstarter worth backing, I’ve probably had some interaction with the folks behind it.

Helm Of The Paleoarchs

Helm Of The Paleoarchs

Life is ancient beyond easy understanding. Before the eldest elves walked the forests, before the great ancestors of the dwarves tunneled deep, before any god any sane being can name had been formed from the swirling protodivine energies of the outer planes, beings lived, thought, and died upon the uncounted material worlds. On occasion, some record of their existence remains…

The Paleoarchs, the “ancient kings”, lived at a time when nothing could live on land, when the surface of the world was a hellish waste. In the great depths, in cities so lost and ancient that not even the sahuagin imagine they existed, dwelled creatures of an utterly alien nature. Little is known of them except what might be inferred from the handful of relics recovered. Such items are found preserved in volcanic rock or layers of sediment from the earliest days of the world, exposed after untold epochs to those who dwell now upon the planet and consider themselves its true inhabitants.

One such item, coveted and feared in equal proportion, is the Helm of the Paleoarchs.

The Helm Of The Paleoarchs

The Helm Of The Paleoarchs

Resembling the desiccated, yet brilliantly polished (no matter how long it lay buried in its prison of stone), exoskeleton of some insect, it is roughly the size of a humanoid skull, and can be used by any creature of small size and up. The underside of the Helm is lined with dozens of segmented tendrils, much like legs, each terminating in a burst of fine cilia. When held by a living being, it feels oddly warm, and the under-legs wriggle slightly. The holder will hear odd sounds, whispers and muttering, and may have momentary glimpses of scenes not easily described or recalled… great cities of unknown shape, formed from gargantuan, partially living, nautiloids and orthocones…. figures like segmented worms standing on their tails, manipulating incomprehensible tools with a half dozen chitinous limbs.

When the helm of the paleoarchs is worn, the writhing under-limbs instantly and irrevocably drill into the skull until they reach the brain, whereupon they explode into thousands of nerve-like fibers that weave throughout the consciousness of the wearer. The effects of donning a helm of the paleoarchs are as follows:

  • Thoughts Beyond Human Understanding: +4 enhancement bonus to intelligence, -4 penalty to charisma. The wearer’s thought processes are much faster and sharper, but their ability to relate to others is severely diminished.
  • Mind Beyond Mortal Control: Whenever the wearer must save against a mind-affecting effect, or an illusion, they may roll twice and take the higher roll.
  • Access The Ancient Library: The wearer is considered trained in all Knowledge skills, but does not gain a bonus. This allows them to make checks against a DC higher than 10 for skills they do not have ranks in.
  • Hidden From The Young World: The wearer is considered to be under nondetection (DC 21 to overcome) at all times. Anyone failing to penetrate the shield must make a DC 21 will save or take 1d4 points of Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma damage. (Roll each independently.)
  • Plumb The Secrets Of Creation: The wearer may, as an immediate action, choose to take 1 point of Wisdom drain and gain the knowledge of any spell they are capable of casting (on their class spell list for their level). The spell replaces a prepared spell of the same level in the caster’s mind. Spells with an expendable material component will not function without that component.

The wearer will never voluntarily seek to remove the helm. If it is involuntarily removed, the wearer will suffer 3d6 points of normal damage and 2d4 points of Intelligence damage as the tendrils are violently ripped out of their skull, taking a goodly amount of grey matter with them. (Outside of combat, a DC 10 Strength check is needed to remove the helm; during combat, a successful disarm maneuver must be performed, bare-handed.)

Aura strong transmutation; CL 11th
Slot head; Price 89,000 gp; Weight 3 lbs.

The Runes Of Doom, Part XII

Demons & Demons

& Demons

& More Demons

How People Ever Got The Idea Roleplaying Was Satanic, I Dunno

Of course, the only people who could believe RPGs were full of authentic demonology (which is kind of like “working homeopathy”) are people who knew absolutely nothing about either RPGs or demonology, and, yup, those are the kind of people who did. The fact is, no medieval Catholic monk, no matter how crazed they might have been after several decades of being monastic, could have, or did, come up with anything as awesome as Dave Hargrave’s creations.

I mean, there’s…

Dagonus: Three-headed (each head has three eyes) dragon with scales of silver and gold, ninety foot wingspan. (Yeah, fit that on your battlemat…) Takes half damage from stoning, which means, uhm, I dunno. Turned half to stone? “Death” magic just rebounds on the caster. Breathes fire or lightning as frequently as every other melee round, three times a day for fire, four for lightning. And he likes to get free-kay with Tiamat… or “the queen of evil dragons”, because no demon is scarier than TSR’s lawyers. (There’s a reason people used to joke TSR stood for “They Sue Regularly”. They did not, however, try to trademark “Nazi”. That one’s an urban legend.)

Gorok: A cross between a lobster and tyrannosaurus. With nine eyes. And it has extra mouths in its pincers so that when you’re grabbed, you’re also eaten. Holy fracking hell. I thought some of the things that crawl out of my imagination and into Excel sheets to be statted out were weird, but I don’t even come close to Dave Hargrave. He is the Amber of high gonzo; everything else is just a distorted shadow.

Groak: Not to be confused with Gorak, above. Groak is a giant frog with a head like a sea anemone. He is the “Lord of Swamps”. His mere touch causes all those below 5HD to go insane with pain, and also goes 6-36 acid damage, which mean the insanity doesn’t last long, as how many people level 4 and below can survive 6d6 damage?

Karong: Winning the award for “demon whose name most resembles a Don Martin sound effect”, he has three eyes, each of which does something different. The red eye burns you, the yellow eye “rots” you, and the green eye turns you into green slime. He is the “Lord of Slimes”, and also of traffic lights. (I may have made that part up…) He can telekinetically “throw” one of his “pets” (any of a number of slimes) up to 60′. Oh, and lastly, he has a “vampire like” charm, so perhaps he’ll be the love interest in a YA novel soon.

Kavring: Speaking of “vampire like charm”, this 10′ tall winged humanoid made of solid ruby also has it. Fitting the “ruby” theme, he has a plethora of fire powers, including a burning aura, flames shooting from his fingertips, polymorphing into a pheonix, etc. His favorite food is hobbit meat, and have I mentioned that I love these odd little asides? I want to know what his favorite classical composer is, too, and if he was a polearm, what kind of polearm would he be? (Myself? Glaive-guisarme, of course. What other possibility is there?)

Moloch: An actual demon, more or less. (I’m aware many of the others have names drawn from mythology; I’m too damn lazy to bother looking up which ones, precisely, and how much they differ from their source media.) He is a fire demon “13 1/2 feet tall”. Exactly 13 feet, 6 inches? Or is he really only 13 feet, 5 3/4 inches? These things matter! Continuing the theme of demonic rivalry (which is only sensible, really), he is the arch enemy of ABADDON. (Hey, it’s ALL CAPS in the text, who am I to argue?) His favorite foods? Roast unicorn and virgin elf maiden. (No one in fantasy worlds ever seems to want virgin men, for some reason. (Well, in the real world, too. Has any woman ever said “You know what really turns me on? Guys who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing in the sack.”?)) He can also burn/melt a path through solid rock at 5’/minute, so, if you’re dumb enough to summon him, do it on the lowest floor of your wizard’s tower, not the top, or you’ll have a big hole going all the way to the basement in short order.

Nagandas: Winner of the “Demon whose name sounds the most like a slang term for testicles”, as in, “Damn, that soccer ball hit me right in the nagandas!”. Also, something really wonky happens with the layout here:

With A 33 Foot Long Sticky Triple Tongue, If The Demon Thing Doesn't Work Out, He's Got A Career In Anime.

With A 33 Foot Long Sticky Triple Tongue, If The Demon Thing Doesn’t Work Out, He’s Got A Career In Anime.

I cannot tell if the idea of a demon sticking its tail in its mouth and whirling into a hell spiral is awesome or ridiculous.

Nanta: Voted most like to be confused with a fruit drink completely and totally massacre you. I normally try to avoid just posting big block scans, esp. one after the other, but there’s no way to just summarize this bastard.

He Is So Tough, People Attacking Him Need A Different Mechanic

He Is So Tough, People Attacking Him Need A Different Mechanic

Let’s just look at some of the highlights, here… and I don’t mean the kind with Goofus and Gallant.

  • He is only hit on “double zero”. So to attack him, you just roll percentile dice? With no modifiers? A peasant and a 50th level Paladin both have the same odds? Not sure.
  • Most forms of damage actually heal him.
  • Magik (sic) weapons do double damage, which is great, but they lose one “plus” per round and then disintegrate.
  • But to get close enough to hit him with a magic weapon, you will “fade out”. There’s no save or HD limit; you just vanish unless “rescued”, and then you’re undead. It seems to me this is exploitable if you want to become a spectre.
  • Attack Value:”???”. Really? “???”? Two decades before Everquest and three decades before WoW, Dave Hargrave pioneered the “this creature is so far out of your league you can’t even measure how far out of your league it is” metric.
  • No mention of specific casting ability, but I guess that’s covered by “???”.
  • Nothing about his favorite food or his “pets” or what he claims to be “lord of”. I guess he’s just too awesome to have such petty concerns.

Phroalgoea: A much more normal creature, just a 10′ tall silver-scaled winged humanoid, who can shoot deadly spines which are covered with a poison that turns orcs and elves to silver. Because, poisons turning you to silver are totally a thing. He is the lord of golems, which isn’t a typical thing for a demon to be lord of, what with the whole “golems are mindless servitors who don’t really worship anything or make bargains”, but, you know, why the frak not? Maybe he taught mankind the art of golem-making for his own purposes. He enjoys dwarf or gnome meat, animates statues, and controls non magical weapons “if allowed to concentrate”. Good luck arguing with the DM over precisely what “distracts” a demon.

Ralkul: Pals around with 6-48 mummies, 40% of which will be fireproof… sorry, all you people who learned fire kills mummies. (This was very typical of the time… monster has weakness X. Players learn it. DM introduces some version of the monster lacking this weakness. It’s kind of like how antibiotic-resistant bacteria evolve.) Anyway, Ralkul is warped and knobby old dude with one eye, elephant ears, and four arms. (He can also appear as a woman, a skeleton, or as a giant flaming skull with wings.) He is the demon king of age and corruption, and his odor is so vile that creatures of 1+1 Hit Dice (and if you think that’s “2 hit dice”, boy, have you not been paying attention…) die instantly, while others suffer various ill effects depending on their general level. He loves “rotted and putrid meat”, but isn’t picky about what species it was from.

Shabbaleth: We have a “dragon” theme going here. Also an “elf” theme. And a “gold” theme. Putting that all together, you have a giant golden “being” with a dragon’s head, four purple eyes, wings, and a tail, who sometimes appears as an elf in golden armor. He is the lord of “reptiles” but not wyverns, dragons, etc., never mind the fact he can breathe dragon fire ten times a day. In fact, he is the enemy of all dragons. He also has the by-now-expected “vampire-like charm”. He and URANDOS (to be covered in the next article) are pals, which is a nice change to the boilerplate “and his arch-foe is THISGUY” in many of the others.

The Runes Of Doom, Part X

Here! Are! Your! Dragons!

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

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

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

Dragons, Assorted Varieties

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

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

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

    No Funny Caption. This Is Awesome.

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

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

Things That Are Not Dragons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hail Hydra!

Hail Hydra!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snow Golem: “Looks: obvious”.

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

Star Spyder

So… Anyone For Settlers Of Catan?

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

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

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

Yeah, These Guys Basically Suck.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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