Tag Archives: weird

Earth Delta Pathfinder

I haven’t posted an update for a while. It’s been a mix of the usual — family and other related tasks on weekends — and the unusual, namely, working on a long-form project instead of on an article series.

To wit:

A work very much in progress…

No promises, mind you. I’m an infamous procrastinator and starter of projects never finished. But I have 4300-odd words written (some of them very odd indeed…), and some of the design issues that kept me from starting, I’ve resolved.

Focusing, initially, on mutations, and how to best model the “winged grizzly bear with laser eyes” as a starting PC in a system where characters should be front-loaded and classes define most of the key mechanical abilities a character should have. I’m happy enough with the baseline system and balancing to be working on defining lots of mutations w/out fearing I’ll need to rewrite them all completely.

Also thinking about classes, in general. I don’t want magic to be core; if you want to add it, fine, and I might include “science and sorcery” as an option, but the central game is “science fantasy” in the older sense of the word, meaning “stuff that really doesn’t make a whole lot of logical sense but which draws on tropes and themes from science”.

So, we’ll see how it goes.



Or Does It Work Better As Zom-Bees?

Not Sure.

OK, let me get this out of the way early: I am 99.99% sure that I am not the first person to stumble on this particular horrid pun and make a monster out of it. I am likewise certain that the interpretation of the pun leads to a fairly narrow band of mechanics, and most such other creations will be similar to mine. I have never claimed an excess of originality. All I can offer is that I have not, recently, directly researched, looked up, or copied any existing creatures by this name; if I encountered them in the past and it’s been festering in my subconscious for years or decades, I don’t know. Almost by definition, if I go and look through my ridiculously large collection of RPG materials (seriously, I’ve got over 3000 books cataloged, and that doesn’t include magazines like Dragon and Space Gamer) to see if I’ve read this before, I’ll corrupt my chance to create the critter based on my current inspiration. So what you get is “original” in the sense I am not consciously copying, imitating, or reimagining a specific implementation of the idea. The idea is surely not original (I may have hit on it on my own, but as I said, surely others have, or, I may have read it a long time ago and it just re-bubbled to the surface of my mind), and the odds are good I will not have a particularly unique spin on the idea.

So my introduction is ~250 words telling you, the reader, you’re about to encounter unoriginal and derivative material. I really need to work on my marketing skills.

Anyway… zombees. Or zom-bees. Still can’t decide.

Zombees (CR3, XP 800)

The buzzing sound is discordant, setting your teeth on edge. Then the swarm becomes visible, a grey cloud of tiny, rotting, bodies.
NE Diminutive Undead (Swarm)
Init +0; Senses darkvision 60 ft, scent; Perception +1

AC 14 (+4 size), touch 14, flat-footed 14
hp 34 (4d12+8)
Fort +6, Ref +6, Will +1
Defensive Abilities swarm traits, immune (weapon damage)

Speed 10 ft., fly 40 ft (average)
Melee swarm (1d6 + distraction)
Special Attack consume, create spawn, defoliate

Base Statistics
Str 2, Dex 14, Con –, Int –, Wis 12, Cha 14
Base Atk +4; CMB –; CMD
Feats ability focus (distraction)

Consume (Ex) : Against helpless or nauseated targets, the zombees do 2d6 damage.
Create Spawn (Su): Any creature killed by zombees rises as a beehive zombie (see below) in 1d4 days. Such spawn are not controlled by the original swarm in any way.
Defoliate (Su): The zombees do double damage to plants — including normal, inanimate, crops and flowers. A zombee swarm can transform a fertile field into mounds of rotting vegetation in but a few hours. As such, the sighting of a swarm will inspire many farming communities to collect what little coin they may have in order to lure a few adventurers into the fray.

Environment any non-arctic, non-aquatic, non-desert
solitary, pair, comb (3–6 swarms), colony (7–12 swarms)

Negative energy tends to seep into the world. The plants and flowers around haunted or accursed places, such as profaned graveyards and the sites of particularly heinous battles involving undead or necromancy, can absorb traces of this energy… which can then pass into the creatures that feed on them. One particular manifestation is the undead bee swarm, sometimes referred to be the more grim-humored of sages as “zombees”. (Despite the name, they are not actually zombies for game purposes and any abilities specifically targeting zombies are not effective. Likewise, they are considered to be undead, not vermin.)

Design Notes

I used the Backer’s Preview of the Talented Bestiary from Rogue Genius Games to stat out the zombees. As such, it may differ in small ways from one built with the core PF rules.

Beehive Zombie

The shambling thing is clearly undead… but the cloud of buzzing insects surrounding the rotting flesh are not flies, and from the gaping wounds in its body drips a pallid yellowish muck.

Beehive Zombie    CR 1
XP 400
Beehive zombie
NE Medium undead
Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +1
Aura stinging aura (DC 12)


AC 13, touch 11, flat-footed 12 (+1 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 16 (3d8+3)
Fort +2, Ref +2, Will +4
Immune undead traits


Speed 30 ft.
Melee unarmed strike +5 (1d3+3 nonlethal) or
slam +5 (1d6+4)


Str 16, Dex 12, Con —, Int —, Wis 12, Cha 12
Base Atk +2; CMB +5; CMD 16
SQ sticky innards

Special Abilities

Sticky Innards (DC 12) (Su) The body of a beehive zombie is filled with a foul mockery of honey. Any creature scoring a successful melee attack must make a DC 12 Reflex save or be entangled by a spray of gloppy zombie-syrup. The DC to escape from the entangle is 12. This save is CHA-based.
Stinging Aura (DC 12) (Su) Any creature adjacent to the beehive zombie at the start of their turn must make a Fortitude save (DC 12) or be sickened for one round. This save is CHA-based.
Undead Traits Undead have many immunities.


Environment any non-arctic, non-aquatic, non-desert
solitary, pair, plague (3-5), hive (6-10)

Beehive zombies are created when a humanoid is killed by zombee swarm. They look much like other zombies, except that they have tumor-like growths on their bodies which are small beehives (filled with undead bees, of course), and they continually bleed a yellowish “honey” that is indescribably foul-smelling. (Anyone stupid enough to consume it will take 1d6 damage and be nauseated for 1d6 rounds. It loses potency 4 rounds after being removed from the creature, crystallizing into dust. Depraved necromancers and certain perverse chefs might pay up to 5 gold pieces for a pouch of this dust.)

Within a week after spawning, a beehive zombie will collapse and then explode, creating a new zombee swarm.

Design Notes

This one I did w/Hero Lab.

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 2 Part 5

All The World’s Monsters, Volume II, Part V

Scrubbing Bubbles

Yes, From The Commercial

What Do You Mean, “What Commercial”?

Get Off My Interwebz, You Damn Punk Kids!

Will you follow me into fire? Into storm? Into darkness? Into death? Into many-tailed giant armadillos? Into killer potatoes? Into telepathic blue panthers? Into, in other words, the further depths of All The World’s Monsters, Volume 2? 


Scourgetail: A gorilla-sized armadillo with six tails that, for some reason, breathes lightning (as an attack), disdains magic, and might be armed with technological items.

Scrubbing Bubble: OK, so let’s get this out of the way. This commercial was played incessantly in the time period when All The World’s Monsters was being compiled and created.

And so…

Seriously. They Were Smoking Some Primo Stuff Back in the 70s.

They mostly stay in hiding, except when the object they are charged with maintaining has become dirty. Then they swarm out to clean the item, and attack anything dirty or filthy in the vicinity… you know, like PCs.

Scrubble: A giant, insane scrubbing bubble. Do you need to know more? No, I didn’t think so.

Sheem Battle Spider: I know these were mentioned in the writeup of something else, but I am far too lazy to go and look right now. Anyway, giant mechanical spiders with assorted weapons. They come in six “Marks”, that is, Mark I Sheem Battle Spider, Mark II Sheem Battle Spider, and so on, with appropriately varying hit dice, weapon damage, and attacks/round. The casual blending of sci-fi and fantasy tropes is one of the hallmarks of old school, so it’s always funny to hear gamers 20 years younger than me whine the lack of genre purity in “new” games. Dude/Dudette… haul out your copy of “Blackmoor” and check out the treasure lists for “Temple Of The Frog”. Oh, wait. You don’t have “Blackmoor”. Because you’re a damn punk kid that doesn’t know shit about old school gaming except what you read on the Internet. Now, let me just adjust my belt onion, and I’ll go yell at some clouds.

Smoke Creature: A creature of pure, living smoke that is commonly found on not-so-deserted islands where it acts mysterious and inexplicable until the last season, where it’s revealed to be… uh… did we ever get and real closure on that? God damn it, Nolan, if you pull that same shit on Westworld, by my pretty pink bonnet, I will end you. Huh? What? Yes, there really is a “smoke creature” in the book. It strangles you. With smoke. Next!

Sparkflail: A rhino-sized warthog with a tentacle instead of a nose. Said tentacle can either drain 1-4 levels(!) or do 8d6 lightning damage. I’m sure, by now, you can guess who created it. Here’s a hint: Rhymes with “Shmint Shmigglestone”.

Stardust Potato: If I just transcribed it, you wouldn’t believe it.

I’ll Bet They Make Excellent Fries

Swamp Thing: As per the comic book, from the Len Wein/Berni Wrightson days. So, no psychedelic fruit as treasure, no profound ecological messages, just a… swamp thing. A muck encrusted mockery of a man. Interestingly, the shambling mound of AD&D strongly resembles the Man-Thing from Marvel, which was created roughly concurrently with DC’s Swamp Thing.


Timewasp: A giant wasp which can cast “Timestop” three times a day. It paralyzes dragons and lays its eggs in them. I’m not entirely sure how much the “timestop” really adds to the concept, except for making it a bit more deadly, but I guess they felt “giant wasp” was already done, so, this is a giant wasp that stops time. Works for me!

Trimouth: A horse-sized three-headed dog with mithril fur and Vulcan logic and you already know who came up with it, right?


Ugly: Every chaotic evil magic user’s hunchbacked assistant. Seriously. It comes in three sizes (3’2, 5’1, and 7’9), is always hunchbacked, and has a 50% chance of getting any order wrong. (“Abby… someone.”) It will act as a sixth level thief/fifth level assassin. It’s not clear if this is actually a race, or just a way to represent a common archetype in the absence of gaming systems that would allow them to be “built” as a human with a certain set of skills and abilities.


Vader: Given that this is the late 1970s, the creators are all big geeks, and the book is full of things borrowed from the sci-fi and fantasy of the era, I hardly have to tell you that a Vader is a blue-furred telepathic panther with two antennae that can transmute its body into any element it has had contact with, right? Didn’t think so. Kind of obvious from the name, really.


Wafflebanger: There are no words. But there is a screenshot.

Clearly Conceived After One Too Many Wallbangers

Wall Of Darkness: I’m not really sure what to say about this. It’s a wall of darkness which fills the corridor, is 1′ to 30′ thick “depending on age” (though no rules for age are given), and it kills/destroys everything it touches. It’s immune to all damage. It can, barely, be the subject of charm monster, though there’s so many caveats and drawbacks it’s hardly worth it. It has an armor class of -26(!) and 8,575 hit points, at a time when greater gods capped out at 300 or so… not that AC and HP mean anything when the creature is effectively beyond harm. It’s hard to figure out the real purpose of this… a puzzle for players to overcome? There aren’t many obvious solutions beyond “teleport around it”, and that’s so obvious it’s not much of a puzzle…  either you have access to teleport, or you don’t. In effect, it’s not really a monster, it’s a plot device, stripped from whatever plot is was originally part of.

Wandering Minstrel Eye: A completely harmless (no attacks at all, no special effects, no reactions to being attacked) giant eyeball which announces its presence by singing “A wandering minstrel eye”. Yes, really.

Wandering Monster Eye: Identical to the wandering minstrel eye, except that it can do a whopping 1d8 damage with its whip-like tail (optic nerve, I guess). Clearly, it’s intended to confuse players so they don’t know which they’re encountering. Unfortunately, since there’s no downside to attacking the harmless one (thought it is considered “bad form” and “chaotic” to do so, all that means in practice is that the Paladin can’t strike the first blow), and the “dangerous” one isn’t particularly deadly or interesting, the players will simply slaughter any singing eyeballs they encounter, with no consequences for this behavior. (Compare to the gas spore/beholder problem, where attacking a gas spore recklessly is dangerous, and, likewise, treating a beholder as if it were a much-less-deadly gas spore is also dangerous. For “trick” monsters to work, there have to be risks to an incorrect identification of either. (Hitting a gas spore with the kind of alpha strike you’d use on a beholder is a huge waste of resources, but wasting a melee round to “size up” a beholder in case it’s a gas spore effectively gives it an extra round of life, during which it can do all manner of things.)

Whoosh: Onomatopoeia monster for the win! (How many articles did you read this week that used “onomatopoeia”? Not many, I warrant! It’s a 60 lb crab that whooshes from the surf onto the shore, attacks, and then whooshes back again. A surprisingly sane creation from the prolific Mr. Bigglestone, as it’s not a crab/dachshund hybrid with a manticore’s tail that shoots spikes made of frozen starlight, or something. (My spell checker suggests “romantic’s” for “manticore’s”. Make of that what you will.)

Worm, Blind: Wait, are there non-blind worms? Anyway, blind worms are the mortal enemies of colony ghouls.


Yellow Door Creature: Far less perverse than its cousin, the green door creature, this is yet another “monster” whose main purpose is to deprive PCs of magical resources, and which would be better represented as a trap/dungeon feature than as a “monster”. The mechanics of it are rather complex; here you go:

“The Following Things Are Immune, Unless They’re Not”

The Conclusion

An observation: While the books are full of things borrowed (with or without attribution) from the SF media of the day, it is overwhelmingly from books, with a smaller portion from comics, and few, if any, from movies and TV. This says a lot about the makeup of gamers of the time. This may surprise modern folks, but back in the 70s, TV and film sci-fi was not held in high regard by “real” SF fans, and comic books were poor cousins, at best. As RPGs grew their own culture, splitting off from historical wargaming, the social pool it drew from was SF fandom, a strongly literature-oriented group. “Star Trek” caused a massive surge in media SF fandom, and ultimately changed the overall makeup of the culture. While in the late 1970s, the tidal surge was already sweeping fandom as a whole, these books, and gaming fandom in general, was made up of people who were more hard-core and who started in fandom several years earlier, thus being somewhat behind that curve.

You can learn a lot about a culture by studying its tentacled warthogs.

So, that’s it for Volume 2. I may or may not proceed directly to Volume 3, whether or not I pass “Go” or collect $200.00. I’ve got a multitude of other projects burbling, some online, some not. We’ll see.


Starchildren Part II

Starchildren, Part II

Sex, Drugs, And Rock & Rolling Dice

Except… I Think You Use Cards In This?

Wow, There Goes That Headline Right Down The Pipes

OK. As we saw in our previous episode, aliens who though the 1970s were actually cool came to Earth in the 2070s, only to find an oppressive police state, which they are now trying to take down via the power of rock! Having spent all of the prior article going over the background, it is now time to create a character.

Be Ye Human, Or Be Ye Bishounen Alien Rocker?

First, we must choose our species. Because the point of these articles is to explore game systems, I’m going to go with Starchild, as that will give me access to the k00l p0werz…. erm, I mean, let me experiment with the full mechanics. Yeah.

As a Starchild, I get three “Backgrounds” (Humans get four.) There’s no specific rule limiting backgrounds by race, but “Businessman” and “Cop”, for example, don’t seem very appropriate to an alien with two years experience on Earth.

In many similar systems, “Performer” would be a catch-all for any kind of creative type, but, fitting the genre, Starchildren gives us Drummer, Bassist, Keyboardist, and Frontman backgrounds, among others. I like “Drummer”, as they’re described as being surly and belligerent (no stereotyping here, no sir!). The Drummer’s skills include “Percussion”, “Bludgeon”, and “Intimidate”.

Q: What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians?
A: A Drummer

Fitting with that default personality, I pick “Badass” for my second background. It is recommended that Badasses also take “Scrapper” to provide the combat skills needed to back up the bluster, so I’ll go for that.

Each background has 5 skills, which are ranked with on at 9, two at 7, and two at 5. The mechanics that give meaning to these ranks are not yet specified. If you don’t want to take all five skills, you can trade them for “Edges”.


Badass: Endure, Guts, Impress, Intimidate, Negotiate
Drummer: Bludgeon, Endurance, Intimidate, Percussion, Repair (Instrument)
Scrapper: Bludgeon, Brawl, Dodge, Slash, Throw

“Endure” is evidently a synonym for “Endurance”, probably a holdover from an earlier rules edit.

You can burn off one of your skill picks to raise the rank of another skill. This can be done when there are duplicate skills, (Such as Bludgeon, for me), or if you just don’t particularly want a skill or your character concept requires a higher starting rank.

I am strongly tempted to leave “Percussion” as my lowest-ranked skill, as it creates a kind of interesting concept… the drummer who is, in fact, not really good at drumming, but who is kept around by the band because he is really good at hitting people… which, in the grim future of the 21st century, is pretty useful.

So let’s see…

Presenting Thrash Beatnik

I’ll start with Bludgeon from Drummer at 9, then drop Endurance 9 from Badass to raise it to 10 and then use the Bludgeon I get from Scrapper to raise it to 11, losing my 9 from there, as well. That’s the highest a starting skill can get. I’m going to track which skills come from which background. Hopefully, I get it all correct.

Bludgeon: Jack (11) (Scrapper 9, Drummer 9, Endurance (Badass) 9)
Intimidate: 7 (Badass)
Brawl: 7 (Scrapper)
Endurance: 7 (Drummer)
Guts: 7 (Badass)
Dodge: 7 (Scrapper)
Percussion: 7 (Drummer) (I ended up not being able to drop it to 5, but now I can’t remember why. But here it is.)
Slash: 5 (Scrapper)
Throw: 5 (Scrapper)
Impress: 5 (Badass)
Repair (Instrument): 5 (Drummer)

Intimidate 5 (Drummer)
Negotiate 5 (Badass)

I didn’t spend one of my possible “Intimidate” skills in the hope of getting an Edge. Likewise, I dropped off Negotiate. I figure my character… who I am starting to think of as “Thrash Beatnik”… uses “Intimidate” as “Negotiate”. This gives me two unspent ranks for “Edges”.

Q. What does a drummer use for birth control?
A: His personality

Attributes, or, I Got Jack

There are eight attributes, four mental and four physical. Each pair is keyed a suit from a set of playing cards.

  • Diamonds: Presence and Appearance
  • Hearts: Wit and Speed
  • Spades: Perception and Agility
  • Clubs: Will and Body

I can assign ranks from a pool of Jack, 10, 8, 7,7,7,6,5. These are ordered highest to lowest, so, in Starchildren, “I got Jack” is actually a good thing. Starchildren are +2 ranks to Presence and Appearance, but -2 to Body and Will. This runs contrary to my concept of Thrash as a brawler, but, everything is relative, I guess. For a starchild, he’s a fighter.

So, Body gets Jack (as it were), which is downgraded to 9.
I’ll put 10 in Agility.
8 goes to Presence, +2 for 10.
7 into Will, -2 for 5.
Another 7 into Speed.
My last 7 into Perception.
6 for Wit
5 for Appearance, +2 =7.

So I end up like:
Presence: 10
Wit: 6
Perception: 7
Will: 5
Appearance: 7
Speed: 7
Agility: 10
Body: 9

Secondary Attributes, Or, There’s No Kill Like Overkill!

Now, secondary attributes:
My Speed is 7, so, I have 3 Action Cards, and my Movement is 4 walking/8 running.
My Body is 9, so my Trauma Threshold is 15, my Injury Threshold is 19, my Blackout Threshold is 39, and my Overkill Threshold 53.

Any game which includes an “Overkill Threshold” gets bonus points from me.

Q. What’s the difference between a government bond and a drummer?
A. Government bonds eventually mature and earn money.

Edges: I simply skipped two skill to get Edges. I dropped 2 5-rank skills.

I can get Feared, which gives me 1 Advantage Card for tests of a skill selected from a short, logical list. I pick “Intimidate”. For my other 5-rank, I select “Street Contacts”.

I also pick the Disadvantage “Usual Suspects” for 7. I can put this 7 into a skill or buy an edge with it. I will use it to buy “Flex”, which is a “Mojo”, or alien talent. Flex governs abilities related to altering ones own body, which seems like a good thing for someone like Thrash to have, even if most Starchildren just use it to give themselves magenta hair and rainbow spiral eyes like they were Pottersues.

Rocking Out

That’s basically it for character generation. It is worth at least mentioning the mechanics, though. As noted, they rely on playing cards. Except that the Ace is the low card, and Kings and Queens are reversed. Jokers are the wild card, and get +2 to kill Batman.

Everyone starts with a Hand of 5 cards, except The Man, who gets 7.

And here’s where it kind of gets tricky. Skill and Attributes each have suits. So, let’s go back to Thrash. Thrash has Jack in Brawl (yeah, I’m never going to get tired of that joke). The character sheet shows that Brawl is a “Clubs” skill, but it’s governed by Agility, which is a “Spades” skill.

If the card played matches the Trump suit for an attribute or skill, the value is equal to the rank of that attribute or skill. If it doesn’t match, it’s a “null” suit, so the value is your rank -3.

Then, The Man draws a number of cards equal to the difficulty of the test. The Man decides how difficult the test is, running from 1-5. Hopefully, examples are given. The Man then plays one of the cards they drew against you. If your score beats the card they played, you succeed. The rules note that The Man is not obliged to play the highest card they drew; they might give you a break. This provides an element of “sanctioned” GM fudging into the game; how much this appeals to you depends on how you feel about the Player/GM relationship in general. (It occurs to me that the harder the test, the more leeway The Man has to cheat… for an easy test, they draw only one card and so must play it, good or bad.) Nonetheless, the default assumption underlying the mechanics is that most of the time, the dice… erm… cards will fall where they may.

There’s also special rules for “really easy” tests, where The Man draws only one card, and the value on that card is reduced.

The Man and the player reveal their cards concurrently. If the player fails their test, they can “burn” a card, which gives them the value of that card on its face, regardless of the suit.

I don’t know how well this works in actual play, but it sounds like a decent enough system.

Opposed tests require that The Man play a card from his hand, and in this case, the suit matters. The Man is basically playing a hand for an NPC… sorry, an MC. The Man can also burn a card, just as a PC can.

Then, there’s “Boosts” and “Crashes”, or what more mundane, less rockin’, systems might call “critical successes and failures”, based on the degree of difference between the player’s card and The Man’s.

And there’s Advantage Cards. Thrash’s “Feared” Edge gives him one Advantage card when Intimidating something. This is essentially an extra card drawn when using that particular skill. Likewise, “Difficulty” cards are Advantage Cards granted to an opponent, either The Man or a fellow PC.

Finally, there’s “The Twist”. Twists are a form of metagame mechanics, akin to “bennies”, “hero points”, “action dice”, etc., allowing the player to gain bonuses, draw a new card, and so on.

Glam-Rock Alien Elvis Has Left The Building

And, that’s it for chargen and something of the mechanics. While it’s definitely odd, it’s not bad… there are no blatantly broken mechanics[1], pages of grammar/spelling/punctuation errors, or eye-bleedingly self-indulgent page layouts, despite this being a setting that could justify them. Other than the initial three chapter slog through setting material, it doesn’t hit too many of my eye-roll triggers. The art is a bit crude, hearkening back to some of the classic work from This Guy I Know (I miss his stuff in modern games), but it’s an effort from a tiny independent company which was trying to put out a hardcover book about alien rock stars at the peak of the D20 boom. No budget for art is forgivable.

If I ever see this being run at GenCon, I’ll sign up for it.

[1]Caveat: I haven’t actually played the game, and the interactions of the various systems outline above do not lend themselves to intuitive analysis of the actual odds of success or failure in casual play.


Starchildren : Velvet Generation

In The Grim Darkness Of The Third Millennium There Is Only Rock!

And/Or Roll!

And Judging From A Random Illustration, Jobs At McDonalds. Grim, Tyrannical, Oppressive, McDonalds.

So, Nothing New, Then?
I Dunno. Maybe The Burgers Are Made From Orphans, Or Something.


We’re (that’s me and my helper cats, who, at the moment, are actually helping by virtue of not being here) taking a break from RPGs produced in the 1970s to look at a game produced in the early 2000s that uses the cultural tropes of the 1970s for a game set in the 2070s. Got it? Good. Now, does the chalice from the palace have the pellet with the poison? No, that’s the flagon with the dragon.

The commentary in the Acknowledgments page informs us that although the game contains references to sex, drugs, and rock&roll, “XIG Games does not officially endorse any such activities except under guidance of a competent professional”. Oh, and the game contains a subliminal message when played backwards. So you start with characters getting wiped in a TPK and end by rolling them up?

I’m going to take the tongue-in-cheekness of the Acknowledgments into account when reading.

It Was Thirty Years Ago Today About 70 Years From When This Was Published

The introduction informs us that the world was changed when the first Starchildren came to Earth in 2071, and that we will join the action in 2073. Not bad — there’s enough time for the setting to establish itself, but not a huge amount of history to learn or hard-coded backstory for the part of the timeline the PCs are a part of. The Ministry of Music has begun “a terrifying crackdown on illegal and subversive rock music”. Damn, Voldemort must be back in charge. We are also introduced to the “Blue Army”, a violent splinter faction of Starchildren, and “the Osterberg Institute”, the “paranoid and xenophobic” scientists whose paranoia and xenophobia is based on nothing more than the fact aliens have landed, disguised themselves as humans, and started a mass movement to undermine the government. What a flimsy pretext! What are you gonna do? Haters gonna’ hate.

Working For The Man

Actually, The Man does all the work. That’s this game’s version of the GM. By the 2000s, the 90s trend of coming up with funky names for common parts of RPGs was dying like disco (see, this is a game about music, so, I made a music reference), but, much like the old man in Monty Python And The Holy Grail, it wasn’t dead yet. NPCs are “The Man’s character”, or “MC”. At least PCs are still PCs.

And I Want To Be A Paperback Writer…

“Chapters Two through Four of this book help bring the setting to life, and are written from the points of view of people who lived through it.”

In other words, I’ve got to slog through three chapters of fiction before I get to start creating a character. #FML.

Do you people appreciate what I do for you? The sacrifices I make? I could be losing another game of Civ VI, but noooooo, I’m reading this. Feh.

Part I

Our game published in real 2003 about a fictional 2073  that is inspired by the culture of real 2073 begins with excerpts from a book written in fictional 2091 about fictional 2073. There will be a quiz later. I’m going to try to summarize so we can get to the core of creating a character while still having some context as to what I’m creating.

In the 2040s, psychologists and sociologists decided that rock & roll was dangerous and subversive. I guess Tipper Gore won in the long run. The 2040s were an era of depression following a long war, class conflict, and economic despair, where the masses were desperate for simple solutions and the promise of a coming utopia following the removal of negative influences and dangerous ideas. Hm. Sounds familiar.

In 2047, violence erupted at a Times Square protest, and music was blamed. Within two years, music became a “controlled substance” in most of the world. The motto of the time was “Don’t insulate, isolate!”, meaning, instead of just tuning out or walking away if you heard something you didn’t like, all “negative influence” needed to be purged. Hmm. So, Tipper Gore and today’s campus activists won. Damn. This is one hell of a dystopia, I tell you what.

Various international bodies eventually merged into the global International Culture Correction and Control, or ICCC. The Ministry of Music (MoM) became known to the rebels as “Mad Mother”.  All unapproved items (i.e., anything anyone would want) became illegal contraband. If Grampa didn’t remember to toss out his old Justin Bieber CDs, it was curtains for him.

The music industry was reduced to peddling “New music”: Muzak on steroids, or maybe on sleeping pills — utterly bland, featureless, drivel. Radio was even worse… aw… that’s cute. In 2003, people believe radio would still exist in 2073. Thus, an era began of bootleg music, exploiting the vast demand for which there was no longer any legal supply. Capitalism, people. Ka-ching!

(Oh, the most popular legal entertainment is pinball… without any of the fancier modern features. Also, badminton and bowling. Kill me now.)

The “Rock Resistance” began in 2070 in New York City, at first a disorganized rabble that was regularly beaten up by the cops. They inspired copycats, and the movement started to spread. “Luckily, the Rock Resistance soon became Velvet, thanks to the dazzling inspiration and leadership of the Starchildren.”

Part II

The next chapter is in the form of a recording made by an undercover member of the ministry of music, with only the target’s side of the conversation recorded. This creates the illusion they are describing the world’s setting to you, the reader. Again, I’m mostly going to try to summarize enough to put what follows in context.

A reminder: I write these things linearly and extemporaneously, page by page. So when I finally get to chargen, I may end up backtracking.

A sidebar notes that in 2073, using a BBS(!) or the “increasingly risky internet” is a bad way to share music. Tangible media includes a 2″ disk which can store several days worth of high quality data, a data chip “about the size of a quarter”, or good ol’ vinyl. The term “tape” is used to refer to any musical media whatsoever, although no one uses actual tape.

“Dives” are where illegal musicians perform; “Record managers” are basically pimps (so, nothing’s changed), bribing cops and arranging gigs. Many have other illegal interests on the side.

Lots of various drugs, color coded for your convenience: Whitepills, Graypills, Blackpills, Redpills, etc.

We then get about two pages of details about how Velvet is organized and maintained, using a kind of ad-hoc networks assembled via portable servers and routers, along with a lot of what old folks like me call “sneakernet”.

We are also introduced to the concept of “Blackholes”: Starchildren, or something like them, working for the Ministry. And, as noted earlier, the Blue Army, the violent splinter faction of Velvet.

Part III

In which we finally get some background on the Starchildren. Yay. This takes the form of an interview with “Stainless Pakistan”, set in 2078. Trying to distill out the key points.

  • They (Starchildren) don’t “really distinguish between the sexes”.
  • Sex and food, as humans understand them, are “really alien”. Good lord, don’t get them mixed up.
  • Sex is for fun, but not how they reproduce.
  • They can’t get humans pregnant, they use clouds of spores that look like floating glitter.
  • They learned about Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc., on their way to Earth.
  • They’d get away with their alien appearance by saying they were from France… I mean, “from somewhere else”.
  • They know little about their own homeworld; they were coming to Earth because it would be a better place.
  • They were really pissed when they arrived expecting the free-love 1970s and got the totalitarian 2070s. Like most immigrants, the reality of the promised land turned out to be far worse than the fantasy, but it was too late to pack up and go home.
  • No word on if the government of the time planned to build a wall and make the Starchildren pay for it.
  • They only live to about 40, and are impressed by humans’ long lifespans of 70+. This is a nice twist from the immortal aliens lamenting that humans come and go so quickly you can’t get to know them. It also reinforces the youth/rebellion nature of the setting.
  • Their “landing pods” decayed very rapidly in Earth’s atmosphere, rusting to junk in a few weeks.
  • Also, humans are physically stronger and have higher endurance. Again, a welcome change from the “better than you at everything” aliens that dominate the genre, and it’s good to see mechanics and backstory that reinforce the bishounen archetype that defines the particular musical genre that inspired the game. (Well, I’m assuming there will be mechanics. I will be… irked… if the rules do not match the setting. “Does what it says on the tin” is one of my cardinal rules of game design. If X is supposed to be good at Y, the game mechanics better make that happen.
  • There have been several references to “The Humanity Campaign”, which seems to be some sort of xenophobic genocide, but I haven’t seen it well defined yet… or I missed it on my first read. I’ll check back later.
  • The “Blackholes” were a clique aboard the ship; their parents had some disagreement with the parents of the Starchildren before Stainless Pakistan was born.

OK, the text gets more text-y at this point, and so will I.It all started in 1972, when radio and TV signals from Earth reached a world “billions of light years away” — they acknowledge the impossibility of this, but there’s no in-world explanation for the phenomenon. The transmissions lasted only five years… again, no explanation why… but transformed the alien world.

Enraptured by Earth music, they built a generation ship and set out for a fifty year journey. Those born on the ship would become the Starchildren, naturally.

They originally planned to arrive in a public display, but after seeing what Earth had become, made multiple clandestine landings in various wildnerness areas, then set out to the big cities, instruments in tow.

Their bodies are mostly human-seeming, but these are not their native species’ form… that is unknown, even to them. They have an unearthly mien to them, being pale, slightly blue, and unusually thin. They can also perform minor alterations to their form, to look more human, or to create cosmetic changes to skin tone, hair length and color, or fingernails. The very skilled can use this ability to heal wounds.There are no Starchild country musicians.

And so we get to Chapter 5… page 37 out of 124… before the chargen starts. I think we’ll do that in Part II.

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 1 Part 3

All The World’s Monsters, Volume I

Part III

In 3-D!

Note: Not Actually In 3-D

Here we are again, continuing our expedition through the marvels, mysteries, and mayonnaise [[Note:Come up with something else that begins with ‘m’ before this is posted]] of “All The World’s Monsters”. Parts I and II can be found here and here. Part IV can be found here.

Hairy Howler: Not “Howler, Hairy”? Yeah, yeah, we beat that joke to death already. But that which is dead can never die! Anyway, as stated last week, this is a nine foot tall man-baboon hybrid… a maboon?… inspired by Hiero’s Journey by Sterling Lanier, which you should have read if you ever played Gamma World. It sometimes uses a meat cleaver as a weapon, with a +4 to hit and +5 to damage. Whoa.

Heffalump: An elephant-sized centipede “immune to lightning, fire, and spoken spells”. Known to prey on bears and young pigs. Sometimes accompanied by woozles. (Are there woozles in this book? (flip flip flip) No. No, there are not. For shame.)

The above video is clearly an inaccurate presentation.

Horned Bellower: A man sized, one horned, flying purple people… no, I mean, triceratops. Well, if it has one horn, it’s a monoceratops, isn’t it? Oh, it regenerates like a troll. And the horn is vorpal. And it detects treasure. With the horn. I’d say “You can’t make this shit up”, but, there’s the proof, in black and white. Someone surely did make it up.

Hound (Death, Hades, Night, Phase, Rock): I’ve discussed the tendency to create dragons, golems, and giants of every possible adjective… but hounds are kind of new. There’s generally only one or two new variants on “puppy” in most monster books, and they usually have some kind of sonic attack, because dog. Wolf. Howl. Trust me on this. When you’re charged with making up 12-14 monsters a day to meet a deadline, you’re not going to dig too deep in the idea mine. As soon as you get a concept you can hang a bunch of hit points and attack bonuses on, you run with it. But in this case… erm… these cases… the sonic stuff is skipped. The Hades Hound is a three-headed hell hound that breathes acid and chlorine in addition to flame. The Phase Hound is what happens when a hell hound and a phase spider love each other very much.

Icegrunt: A furry white boulder that breathes cold. Yeah. That’s what I said.

Jubal Cain:

A Flying Tablecloth With A 60 Inch Tongue. This Is The Next Big Internet Meme.

A Flying Tablecloth With A 60 Inch Tongue. This Is The Next Big Internet Meme.

Not Sure I Like The Dark Knight's New Costume

Not Sure I Like The Dark Knight’s New Costume

Killwing: It uses “microwave sound” to attack. What’s that? A really annoying “ding” that goes off every ten seconds no matter how much you scream from across the room “Shut up, you damn machine, I know the food is cooked!”?

Kobold: What’s this, you ask? Kobolds? No adjectives? Why are they even in a book of weird and wonderful creatures? They’re just core monsters!

Ah, but this is the edited Gilespie-Blacow-Slimax kobold.

The what?

Yeah. It sounds like something from the edges of physics, doesn’t it? “Well, you see, if you imagine the universe as a twelve-dimensional matrix of Gilespie-Blacow-Slimax conjugations, you can see that…”

But here it is. You make sense of it.

I Believe There's Three Of Them Guarding An Einstein Rosen Bridge Across The Uncanny Valley

I Believe There’s Three Of Them Guarding An Einstein-Rosen Bridge Across The Uncanny Valley

Lemming, Giant: If it bites you, you are infected with a “Death Wish” poison that will make you hunt down and kill those punks that tortured, raped, and killed your wife and daughter.

Libear: A “lion-bear-centaur”. It has the same chance of hugging as a werebear; nothing specifies the chances of kissing, fondling, or oral sex.

Longlicker: Giggity. Well, maybe not. It’s a giant sized anteater with a thirty foot tongue that “can impale its victims”, doing double damage. Naturally, no mechanic or percentage chance is provided for this. I am curious as to how this might play out in the afterlife.

“Oh, I died fighting Orcus to save the soul of the One True King of the Dwarves.”
“I perished holding a bridge against an army of trolls, allowing the villagers to flee to safety.”
“I was impaled on a thirty foot tongue.”
“Dude! Isn’t that how we’d all like to go? High-five!”

Minogon: A gorgon/minotaur crossbreed. Wasn’t this in one of the Arduin books? That wouldn’t be odd, per se, there’s a lot of crossover of contributors and no one claimed exclusivity to the critters in ATWM — nor could they, given how many are “based on” copyrighted works.  Well, if it was, I didn’t comment on it, having just wasted 10 minutes googling my own site for “medusa” and “gorgon”.

Morse: A mutated cross between a moose and a horse, with low-level telepathy which it can use to communicate simple messages using dots and dashes. (OK, that part’s not true. But the telepathy is.) Once more, Hiero’s Journey. Trust me, you’ll want a telepathic moose for your PC after you read it.

Nerve Flayer: It is “totally indescribable” but gorilla-sized. Anyone meeting its gaze will lose 1-3 life levels (and back then, level loss was nasty). Its claws also do lightning damage if both hit. If it kills someone with the lightning, it will dimension door back home and eat the corpse.

Nightstalker: An intrepid reporter who hunted down supernatural entities about 20 years before public tastes changed enough to make this sort of thing popular. Also, a “black velvet baboon” that will follow the party and attack at an opportune moment, e.g., just after combat.

Orgoyle: A creature whose diamond-patterned fur is greatly sought after by tailors and weavers, it has been hunted nearly to extinction and… no, wait. That’s the argyle. The orgoyle is an ogre/gargoyle crossbreed. That’s kind of cool, actually. Not necessarily as a full species, but as a unique individual in tribe of ogres or the result of yet another mad wizard’s experiment. Or, possibly, the nurtured, cared-for, and emotionally happy result of a love that was forbidden but could not be contained!

Panther: The hereditary enemy of dragons, it possesses a breath weapon which… dragons are immune to. Charles Darwin weeps. That’s kind of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer gaining superhuman speed, agility, and endurance, except when she’s fighting vampires. Please note this isn’t the “Panther, Anti-Draconic” or “Panther, Drakebane”, or anything… it’s just a panther. With a breath weapon. Here, read it:

Like Dragons, Panthers Are Color-Coded For Your Convenience

Like Dragons, Panthers Are Color-Coded For Your Convenience

Pegasone: Sorry for two scans in a row, but this is easier read than described.

Phase Wing: A killwing (see above) with phase spider powers. Because, why not? Why not a phase spider with three heads, and each head has a different breath weapon, and it’s got ten legs instead of eight, and when it bites you, you turn to stone? Hey, that’s kind of cool. Going to write that up.

Plink Plant: “Like many other plants, it detects body warmth within 60 feet.” Man, my science class’ section on botany left out all the cool stuff!

Quelt: What do you get when cross a crab with a World War I helmet? I dunno, but it’s killing me!

This May Be More Embarrassing Than Getting Killed By A Longlicker

This May Be More Embarrassing Than Getting Killed By A Longlicker

And that seems like a good place to stop for today. At this rate, the next part should be the last of Volume I. Please be sure to spread links to here around, like a virulent plague infesting the Internet.


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.

The Runes Of Doom, Part IV

The Runes Of Doom, Part IV

Deodanths, Saurigs, and Phraints


(You See What I Did There…)

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

Undead Hybrid Elves… From The Future!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We also had…

Vulcan Mantis-Men From Outer Space!

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

My Money's On The Phraint

My Money’s On The Phraint

Phraints are born into a caste system, as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

Sheldon Cooper Plays Nothing Else

Sheldon Cooper Plays Nothing Else

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

Savage Lizard-Men From The Forgotten Past!

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

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

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

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

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

And In Conclusion…

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

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

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

Welcome to Skull Tower, Part XII

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XII

Monsters From Ali-Loraii To Zoomers

Also, From Bigglies To Tarrakks

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

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

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

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

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

The Monsters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Serves You Right For Being Smart!

Serves You Right For Being Smart!

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

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

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

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

Note: They Do Not Smell Like Honey And Almonds

Note: They Do Not Smell Like Honey And Almonds

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

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

Yup, That's A Vampusa, All Right

Yup, That’s A Vampusa, All Right

They are often accompanied by moondogs.

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

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

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

Shock Bones:

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

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

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

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

(A Page Of Monsters)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(More Monsters)

Because That’s The Header On The Next Page

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

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

Especially when you consider that the…

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

And So…

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


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

Morno Lives!

So, in my most recent post, I mentioned the art of Morno, aka Brad Schenk, whom I rated as “pretty good”. As it turns out, he’s still around, still drawing, and I’ve actually used some of his stuff for my own nefarious porpoises, such  as the Pulpomizer!

I had, of course, no idea of the connection. So, this is a pretty awesome discovery, and thanks to imredave for bringing it to my attention.