Friday, December 22, 2017

Beastie: the furious Fallen One

What's this, two beasties in the same week? Merry Christmas! Or, maybe, considering the content of this post merry Krampusnacht. I want to thank you so much for taking the time to read this blog. These beasties posts tend to be among the most popular, and I do enjoy drawing them and designing their stats. I'm thinking in the New Year of being more regular about posting lots more nasty little critters to challenge your characters with.

A lot of times these beasties start out as rough drawings in my sketchbook. This one I'd inked quite a while back, but it really wasn't up to par. While developing Beasties II this entry used that art. When it came time to post this mean little bastard I couldn't bring myself to post that old art, so I redrew, inked and colored him. Here it is five in the morning on the west coast and I'm about to hit the publish button. I hope you like.

Fallid Einn (Fallen One)
HD 8
AC 22
Atk 3-16
Save 11
Move 12/ fly 18
CL/XP 12/800
Special: control lesser demons, insanity field, immune to non-magical weapons

The depths of the abyss will occasionally spew forth a monstrosity known as a fallen one called Fallid Einn in the elder tongue. These are unfortunate creatures that have fallen so deep into the darkness and chaos that they have gone beyond madness to a level of insanity inconceivable to the sane mind. Their only thought is of slaughter and vengeance at all times.

Any demon of lesser HD within sight of a Fallen One will immediately succumb to its utter and complete control. If there is good cause the game master may allow the creature to make a Save to resist a command.

A fallen one radiates a field of insanity. All within a 20' radius must make a Save or be affected. Opponents who succumb will have difficulty focusing and coordinating with allies and also suffer -2 to all attacks. Other demons will go into a berserker rage having +2 on all attacks, but suffering a -1 penalty to AC.

Fallen ones usually attack in hordes. It is not unusual to see groups of 10-40 all intent on murder.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Beastie of the Week: the egregious Egren

HD 5+1
AC 14
Atk by weapon type ML 1d12, RNG 1d6
Save 13
Move 12 (Fly 3)
CL/XP 6/360
Special: fly, mirror image, protection from normal missiles, shape change

In ages past a clan of Ogre Magi was separated by a great storm and isolated on a desert island whose only inhabitants were feral ogres. Over time they interbred and created a new hybrid known as Egren.
Egren have some of the magical powers of their Magi lineage and all of the brutishness and might of there feral ancestors.

They are nearly indistinguishable from common ogres except being a bit stockier and a little wiser eyed. Detect magic will uncover that they exude a faint magical aura. These ogres have a deep ruddy tint to their skin, short tusks protruding from their mouths, and stand 8 to 9 feet tall. They are somewhat more intelligent than normal ogres, and are found in isolated areas far from civilization, often they inhabit crude residences or dwell in ruins. They dress primitively with what they can find since they don't manufacture fabric, this means they often wear garments taken from their victims.

An egren has the magical ability to invoke one spell-like effect at the beginning of a battle. This can be either protection from normal missiles (+4 AC vs. all non-magical missiles) or create a single mirror image of itself, as with the spell mirror image, the illusory double will disappear when it is hit.

Once per day an egren can shape change for 1-4 hours and appear like a normal adult sized humanoid like an elf or human. They're voice however remains unusually bass and gravely and the air will be slightly, but perceptibly cooler within a 10' radius of them. With great concentration an egren can magically fly very slowly with poor maneuverability, they cannot engage in combat while flying.

Female egren are rarely seen, reports are that they are roughly the same size but dress more decoratively and have the same abilities.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Ability Scores

Look at just about any RPG and you'll see little variations of what are essentially the same stats defined by Gygax and Arneson in the original Men & Magic book. This set of abilities has not been improved upon by any other roleplaying game. DC Heroes came close with its 3×3 grid of physical, mental and mystical/social character stats that expressed precision, force, and resilience in each area. Which was clever and novel, but really so specific to the DC universe it wasn't widely adapted to other genres, though the idea of each number being twice the power of the previous number so as to accommodate a game with characters as diverse in strength as Robin and Superman is an admirable design feature.

Taking a look at the wording on pages 10 & 11 of Men & Magic it is really quirky and awkward. First of all the order of the stats is random: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, & Charisma. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to this order. It's not alphabetical. Not grouped in any meaningful way like physical/mental, or in order of importance.

Greyhawk mixes it up even more randomly: Str, Int, Dex, Wis, Chr, Con. Blackmoor doesn't really discuss abilities, and Eldritch Wizardry only touches on Dexterity with a lengthy addition to its effects in the game.

It is funny that this order remained like this and carried all the way through to 1st edition with one weird difference: Constitution and Dexterity are swapped. Why? Oh, just because. This little change seems to have first appeared in the Blue Holmes basic edition.

At least in 2nd edition an attempt was made to organize them by physical and mental stats: Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Chr, but strangely still not alphabetical. You can still see the original order lurking in there. All recent editions keep this odd order. Shouldn't it be: Con, Dex, Str and Chr, Int, Wis? Or even better with mental first and then physical (M before P). This is mostly cosmetic and doesn't affect the game however it is just another example of the chaotic roots of the rules and as much as things have been polished and organized these little artifacts still linger.

Here's a little chart to make it easier to see:

OriginalGreyhawkBasic2nd +Suggested

What is perhaps most interesting about reading the ability descriptions in M&M (Men & Magic) is how little useful game information is really given. Their primary purpose seems to be to provide bonuses to XP for class prime requisites. Beyond that only cursory and vague game information is provided.

Strength. Does any RPG not use the term strength? Grab any random rulebook, I happen to have Symbaroum at my desk. Alright it uses "Strong" not "Strength", but basically the same word. Runequest uses it. Even GURPS with all its effort in making everything advantages, disadvantages, and skills uses Strength.

Intelligence. Alright, GURPS uses IQ which I always thought sounded a little lame, but nearly every RPG has a version of this stat. In Men & Magic a lot of leeway is given to the DM to adjudicate the player's use of this stat. If a player wants to do something clever the DM can just say his character is too dumb to think of doing that, sorry tough luck!

Wisdom. This is expressed in a lot of different terms in various RPGs, but really what word is better than Wisdom to describe this ability? In M&M Wisdom doesn't seem to do much of anything though, the book basically says its the same as Intelligence.

Constitution. Of all the terms this one is probably the least used in other RPGs. Usually something like Stamina or Endurance or Health. I have to say this is my least favorite of the ability names and I was very confused when I first encountered the game. I thought the player had to write up a constitution for the character that represented his fundamental principles! Hah, how silly I felt upon learning it meant the character's health stat and was just another number. In M&M this stat is given some meaty useful game purposes: bonus hit points and resistance to paralyzation and petrification.

Dexterity. A good enough term. I might prefer Agility, but no qualms here. This is certainly one of the most basic stats that all games use. This provides a lot of oomph to a character and especially with Eldritch Wizardry is expanded into the most useful ability. Perhaps overpowered even. Hard to not make this overly useful and balanced with the other stats.

Charisma. Ah, the classic "dump" stat. I suspect in the early days this might have actually been one of the most useful ones as you could use it to recruit lots of hirelings and henchmen in the exceedingly high casualty games of the day. This one is also the most controversial. Does it represent physical beauty as well as force of personality? M&M certainly indicates that, but it becomes problematic because those are two very different things with sometimes related but mostly disparate effects. The addition of Comeliness (what an awful term!) in Unearthed Arcana tried to fix it, but was a disaster in terms of usefulness in an actual game that only served to show how well constructed the original list of six abilities actually was. Physical appearance is better expressed as an advantage/disadvantage not an ability stat all of its own.

In conclusion, not my most useful post here, but I've had these thoughts bouncing around in my head for a while and I needed to get them written down. I think the original six stats from the original rulebook are one of the best and most enduring elements of the game and I can't think of any RPG that does it better. While I've played a lot of RPGs my experience isn't comprehensive as I'm sure few people have played every RPG ever made, would that even be possible? Let me know what you think in the comments below or in discussions on G+.

ps. I did mean to mention the Size stat in Runequest which I always felt was clever and a much better solution to the Size relationship problem in combat. Early editions of D&D tended to complicate this with different damage values depending on small or large targets. Later editions have cleaned it up significantly, but still isn't the most elegant game mechanic. You could argue this is one improvement over the original six stats.

pps. The most obvious order for stats is just straight up alphabetical, because there isn't really any game mechanics associated with organizing them by mental and physical stats. So: Chr, Con, Dex, Int, Str, Wis.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Beastie of the Week: Torchiere Corpse

Torchiere Corpse
HD 4
AC 18
Atk ML 1d6, RNG 1d4
Save 13
Move 12
CL/XP 6/400
Special: infernal radiance, rage, life drain, random multiple attacks

The torchiere corpse is an ultra rare and unusual undead creature that can only be created under bizarre circumstances.

When the freshly deposed bodies of giants are partially cremated and when the currents of magic are strong, deep, and dark, a torchiere corpse might be formed. If the soil is cursed, the night sky is moonless, and rotting flesh of an once animated carcass is sprinkled on a potential torchiere corpse, a torchiere corpse might be formed on a roll of 1 on d100.

In this case evil bodiless souls in search of flesh to inhabit can form the ashes into a monstrous giant beast. The souls will vie for their piece of the undead creature and a flaming hot conglomeration of giant body parts will arise hungry and full of rage.

Infernal radiance: a torchiere corpse continually radiates an unbearable heat in a 30' radius. The closer one gets the more unbearable the heat is. Save each turn or take 1hp damage within 20' and 2hp per turn within 10'.

Rage: once a torchiere corpse is attacked it may become enraged and have +1 to hit on all attacks.

Life Drain: on a successful hit the victim must Save or take an additional 1hp damage, this confers 1hp of healing to the torchiere corpse.

Random Multiple Attacks: each turn the torchiere corpse gets an additional 1d4 melee attacks as various souls vie for control of the conglomeration of body parts to attack with.