UL BANNER

3/31/2011

Richard Corben's Mutant World

Came across these pics recently and thought I'd share. Anyone own this book? Sells for $75+ on Amazon.

3/24/2011

VMIII Revised Memory Cell Chart & System Overview (Part 2)

Part 1

Initially the idea was to use the Memory Cell Chart strictly for spells. Later my friend Ant suggested opening it up and allowing the cells to be used for other facets of the character's mnemonic space. In particular we talked about permanently dedicating cells to particular fields of knowledge that would be part of an ancillary "mental proficiency" system. We called it Lore.

Fill in a pip to indicate cell type.
 
LORE
Lore uses a percentage score (1% to 95%) to measure the magic-user's knowledge of a particular subject. While I've come up with a short list of areas of scholarship that such characters may find necessary, useful and/or fascinating, it's by no means complete and should be considered open-ended. Any suggestions for additional Lore areas would be totally appreciated. Here's what I've come up with so far:
  • Alchemy (transmuting metals and elemental compounds; potioncraft)
  • Ancient Languages (translating and utilizing the glyphs and alphabets of forgotten cultures)
  • Astrology (utilizing zodiac; astral navigation)
  • Cartomancy (divination through playing cards)
  • Demonology (knowledge of the habits and ecology of demonic types)
  • Herbalism (potioncraft)
  • Local History (from tavern-talk to esoterica)
  • Magical Theory (read magic; spellcraft)
  • Mythology (identification of religious symbols and figures)
  • Toxicology (poisoncraft)
Reading texts increases the magic-user's knowledge and also offers an experience reward. Books are statted out according to the amount of knowledge they offer and what sort of requirements must be met to incorporate that knowledge (minimum INT, Lore % prereq, required reading).

More info on the Lore sub-system will be provided in Part 3.

LONG TERM MEMORY (LTM)
Every character -- including non-magic-users -- possesses five LTM cells. These can be dedicated to Lore or used as temporary spell storage, but they need not be used at all. 

Characters who opt to use some or all of their LTM cells as Lore storage can do so freely. 

Only magic-users have the ability to use LTM for spell-space. They must "dump" experience points to do so, at a cost of 500 XP per cell. Once the spell has been cast, LTM reverts back to its normal state (though any Lore contained by the cell originally is now lost) and another 500 XP must be dumped in order to use it for spell storage again. Naturally, most magic-users will be loathe to sac XP or lose any acquired Lore. The practice is considered a last resort, only to be used when a magic-user is really hard-up for memory.

MEMORIZATION
Memorizing a spell requires time and the proper environment. The magic-user must be in an area where he can focus and concentrate without interruption in order to set up the "mental dominoes" that will collapse when the spell is released. The amount of time consumed depends on the INT of the magic-user and the level of the spell to be memorized. Refer to the chart below. The numbers on here are open for debate.


"IN MEMORY"
When a spell is on deck, waiting to be released, it is said to be "in memory". I was thinking that spells which stay in memory too long might "go bad" and have a good chance of doing stranger-than-normal things when finally released. A way to prevent this might be to re-scribe the spell in the magic-user's memory to bolster the mnemonic barriers that contain it. This re-scribing need not be a full re-memorization of the spell and could be accomplished in half the time normally necessary to memorize the spell from scratch.

NEXT: More info on the Lore system and a look at Memory Worms (finally) and a memory-themed variant on the Intellect Devourer.

Beholder Sighting

Regular Show S2/E4 "Peeps" (Mondays at 8:30/7:30c on Cartoon Network)

VMIII Revised Memory Cell Chart & System Overview (Part 1)

Just what portions of these works, the subsequent AD&D game, stemmed from inspiration related to the writing of Jack Vance? Several elements, the unquestioned foremost being the magic system used in these games. To my way of thinking, the concept of a spell itself being magical, that its written form carried energy, seemed a perfect way to balance the mage against other types of characters in the game. The memorization of the spell required time and concentration so as to impart not merely the written content but also its magical energies. When subsequently cast—by speaking or some other means—the words or gestures, or whatever triggered the magical force of the spell, leaving a blank place in the brain where the previously memorized spell had been held. Because I explained this often, attributing its inspiration to Jack Vance, the D&D magic system of memorized then forgotten spells was dubbed by gamers “the Vancian magic system”.  GARY GYGAX, "Jack Vance & the D&D Game" (2001)

Memory Cell Chart
There are other flourishes to Vance's magical concepts that  did not make the transition over to D&D in any official sense. In the universe of The Dying Earth the spell is actually a sort of living entity with its own consciousness and will. Extremely powerful wizards work magics via extradimensional servants called sandestins. The larger perspective includes an invisible Overworld -- the source of a wizard's magical effects. One gets the sense that the Overworld is a densely populated realm of lesser and greater spirits who compete, torment and feed on one another.

It seems to me that Gary's approach to Vance's ideas could be a little more straight-forward and flexible. To this end I offer my MIII take on Vancian magic. I've ditched slots in favor of the honeycomb of cells you see on the chart.

You'll notice that the cells are tiered in groups of five. Each tier, from 1st to 15th, corresponds to the magic-user's level. The "*" tier represents his Long Term Memory (LTM), which we'll touch on later.

A spell uses a number of cells equivalent to its spell level (eg. magic missile takes up a single cell while fly requires three). Spells that use more than one cell can be arranged to the player's taste, provided that the cells used are adjacent to each other (see EXAMPLE 1). 

EXAMPLE 1
Each time the magic-user gains a level in experience, his memory expands upward to the next tier on his cell chart. Note in the example above that I used a red line to emphasize the upper limit of Spidertits' 3rd level memory. The cells beyond the magic-user's level limit are not normally accessible to him. The magic-user's memory reaches its full development at 15th level.

Additionally, when a magic-user levels up he gains access to a new spell level until he finally reaches 9th level spell mastery at the 9th level of experience. I like the simplicity of this 1:1 relationship between spell levels and experience.

So to summarize, as the magic-user gains experience, he develops greater memory and expertise in his craft. Adversely, higher level spells take up larger portions of his memory. This is fundamentally no different than the standard D&D system.

NEXT: Memory Worms and Lore

3/19/2011

D20 Table: Heinous Magical Curses

This is an old one from The Eiglophian Press blog, exhumed, dusted off and revised for display.

Oh, shiiii--
Use this table when a magic-user has botched a casting so badly that he's managed to disrupt the torpor of an arch-daemon in some remote corner of the Astral Plane. The scaly horror had been dreaming things into existence peacefully for a good 3d8 aeons and is irked by this interruption, to say the least. It responds by sending down one of the curses below. The magic-user can attempt to save vs spell to avoid the  dweomer and take 3d6 arcane fire damage instead. A remove curse performed by a 15+ level cleric may (4-in-6) put an end to the magical affliction.

(1) Absurd speech
Though nothing he says appears amiss to the magic-user, everything that comes out of his mouth is pure nonsense for 1d6 months. This makes casting spells with verbal components utterly impossible.

(2) Malignant obsession
The next object that is given to the mage [and this can be done by any character in the game, be it PC or NPC] becomes the focus of a new, life-altering obsession. He will be compelled to spend 50% of all his acquired wealth obtaining, cataloging, protecting, and otherwise experiencing the object(s) of his obsession.

(3) Schizoid fantasy
The magic-user becomes enthralled by a profound and sinister delusion. He is convinced that he is just a character in a game being controlled by an intelligence from another reality. He will whittle himself a set of dice as soon as the opportunity presents itself and use them to make all his decisions [even if the results contradict the decisions of the player].

(4) Mental break
Once per day [the time determined secretly by the DM each day] the magic-user will becoming a frothing, raving lunatic for 1d6 hours. During this period he is outside the control of the player and will be totally deranged. Roll 1d4. 
  1. Attempts to eat random party member. Will try to get him/her alone first.
  2. Sews eyelids shut.
  3. Talks to invisible friend. 50% chance this is an evil being from the Elemental Plane of Xyux (something like Water and Fire but dusty rather than wet and cold enough to burn). Being fondled by a being of Xyux causes vitality leak: Decrease in max total HP by one point per day; victim loses weight and becomes gaunt and grayish; 10+ level cleric to cure.
  4. Believes he is dead. No evidence will convince him otherwise. Thinks no one can see him.
(5) Parts switch
Two parts of the magic-user's body exchange places. They continue to function normally. Roll 1d8 twice.
  1. Eye
  2. Toe nail
  3. Finger
  4. Tongue
  5. Liver
  6. Anus
  7. Medulla
  8. Ear canal
(6) Good/Evil twin
An exact duplicate of the magic-user appears 1d3 miles away. This copy possesses all the clothing, cash and items of the original, looks and sounds exactly the same, but is of the opposite alignment. He/she wants nothing more than to destroy the original.

(7) Obscene budding
To the magic-user's horror, 1d6 small and grotesque heads begin budding from his body at random locations. In several hours these heads will develop the ability to speak. They know everything the magic-user knows, including his spells -- which they are able to cast from his own memory. While they are not intrinsically evil, they live to torment the magic-user's allies. Each head may attempt to make a CON check once per day. If a head is successful, it will be able to control the mage’s body (excluding the other budded heads, if any, and the magic-user's original head) for 1d3 hours.

(8) Cranial occupant
A small extradimensional space has spontaneously erupted inside the magic-user’s skull. He takes 1d6 damage. This space is not uninhabited. A minute goblinoid creature about 3” tall lives inside it. While the magic-user sleeps the thing ventures forth from his skull, exiting through the right or left ear. It lives to steal food and small items in the vicinity of the sleeping magic-user which it brings back to its lair. The thing never wanders more than twenty feet away from its host. Only a lead box can contain it perpetually. Otherwise, if it is somehow trapped outside its lair, it will vanish and reappear inside the magic-user’s skull the next day.

(9) Phantom limb
One of the magic-user's limbs is rendered permanently incorporeal. It is visible in daylight but only dimly. The limb loses its ability to support the magic-user or hold material objects. The loss of a hand is detrimental to spellcasting, naturally, and all spells that require somatic components will be impossible to cast. On the plus side, the affected limb gains +2 to attacks against ethereal creatures. Roll 1d4.
  1. Dominant arm
  2. Opposite arm
  3. Right leg
  4. Left leg
(10) Vapor-skull
The magic-user’s skull is instantly transmuted to organic vapor. This isn't lethal but makes combat very dangerous. Any blow from a melee attack has a 10% chance of causing the mage’s head to burst like a balloon, killing him instantly. Missile attacks follow the same protocol, but have a 5% chance.

(11) Intestinal infestation
Hungry, magical parasitic worms have invaded the magic-user’s intestines. He must consume a meal’s worth of rations every three hours or take 2d6 damage as the worms feed on his body.

(12) Fungal reversion
The magic-user’s body becomes host to a peculiar fungal colony which roots in his gray matter. Every time he exhales invisible spores enter the air. They are loaded with bits of the magic-user’s consciousness. As the fungus grows inside his body and the spores are continuously exhaled into the air, the mage loses one point of INT per week. These points are permanently lost unless the magic-user carefully collects the exhaled spores into a flask or other air-tight repository. Any INT stored this way will be regained when the curse is removed.

(13) Cronization
The magic-user is transformed into a grumbling old hag with no memory of who she once was.

(14) Eldritch attraction
The magic-user becomes irresistible to a particular type of farm animal [determine below]. These beasts will be aware of his presence in a 30 mile radius and will seek him out at all costs, crowding each other in order to nuzzle against him. Roll 1d6.
  1. Chickens
  2. Swine
  3. Sheep
  4. Mules
  5. Horses
  6. Cows
(15) Unholy mark
An invisible change has come over the magic-user that makes him repellent to the priests and clerics of lawful deities. Until/unless the curse is removed, these clergymen will seek to destroy him.

(16) Necromantic plume
The magic-user constantly exudes an invisible energy that invigorates the dead with unholy life. Anything dead within 20’ of the mage has a 50% chance of coming back to life in zombie-form in 1d3 hours.

(17) Anti-magical touch
All magical items that are touched by the magic-user have a 50% chance to lose their enchantment instantly. Success signifies that the item is immune to the magic-user's antipathetic aura.

(18) Alternate reality
While at first nothing appears to have changed, three factors -- a person, a place and a thing, as determined by the DM -- in the magic-user’s life are noticeably different from the way they were before. No one else is aware of these changes. In fact, everyone (including party members) believes that these things have always been the way they currently are. 

(19) Weird geas
The arch-daemon sends the magic-user and his companions on an involuntary mission to obtain something strange. Roll 1d4.
  1. Beard of the Mega-Sphinx
  2. Breast-milk of the Mother of Gorgons
  3. Dream of the Stair Stalker
  4. Appendix of the Elder Serpent
(20)
The magic-user ceases to exist. Indeed, he ceases to have ever existed. No one can resurrect him. No one even remembers him, because there is nothing to remember.

3/17/2011

Sounds Like Cyberpunk

Let me just preface this post by confessing that I have zip experience with running games set in a cyberpunk setting. I own a copy of Shadowrun, and I think I might still have GURPS Cyberpunk somewhere, but I've only fantasized about using this stuff and what my hypothetical campaign would be like.

While there are a lot of creative exponents of the cyberpunk genre -- the science fiction itself, plus games, live-action films, anime, clothing, etc -- some of you might not be aware of the music scene that is/was most heavily identified with it. And I'm not talking about Billy Idol here (though Billy is okay in my book). What I'm referring to is an array of artists that fall under the categories of Industrial and/or EBM. As synthesizers and samplers became more affordable, musicians influenced by early experimenters such as Kraftwerk and Throbbing Gristle began to appear in Europe and the States. I won't attempt to describe the wide variety of styles and approaches these bands brought to the table, but here's a cross-section of my personal cyberpunk soundtrack:


Indispensible 80s

J/B Blackrazor recently posted about the "Disposable 80s" --

Hey, put those rocks down!

The man's entitled to his opinion.


Looking for an OSR Rosetta Stone?

It already exists, folks.

BONUS:
Hack & Slash's "optical illusion" EXPOSED!

A TSR Middle-Earth: The Hobbit as Campaign Report

I've consistently downplayed the influence of Tolkien on D&D for a long time now. 

Sure, there are plenty of examples of Tolkienisms that have been with the game since the beginning, but I'd always dismissed D&D's debt to the world of Middle-Earth as "borrowed trimmin's" that could be totally removed from the campaign without disruption to the underlying system.

And that still rings pretty true. But here's the thing: I listened to The Hobbit last week while driving back and forth to work. I can't really recall the last time I read the tale of Bilbo and his journey to the Lonely Mountain (and back again), but I'd guesstimate that it's been a good five years at the very least. All that was left in my memory were some foggy notions about the plot and some very clear ideas about its connection to the saga unveiled in The Lord of the Rings. So getting a chance to hear the story again was like a really fun refresher course with old Prof Tolkien.

Back when pipe-weed was called tobacco.

Some things that really jumped out:
  • Spareness of the Setting and Background. When JRRT wrote this one, he hadn't yet folded the story into his ever-growing, unpublished mythology. The tale was a one-off -- a light treatment of the colorful stuff that had been quietly nibbling at his imagination for years. The setting was simple and linear. We heard about the Necromancer and his fastness in southern Mirkwood, and there was a bit about Moria and the lands of Thorin's people, but beyond these morsels our viewpoint was limited to what we could see through Bilbo.
  • A Series of Encounters on the Way to Loot. A party of adventurers crosses a wilderness and comes head-to-head with the local denizens time after time. They're seeking after a treasure. Not because it will save anyone or prevent some horrible catastrophe, but because they want treasure. They've even hired a professional thief. The "ethical" motivation of these characters (to restore the Lonely Mountain to dwarvenkind) seems like a flimsy cover for their basic avarice. We can defend Gandalf and Bilbo, I suppose, but the true movers here are the dwarves -- the adventure is their mission, first and foremost.
  • Adventuring as Business. The fourteen cuts of Smaug's loot, the careful appraisal of treasures, objects and real estate all come to mind here. The Mythic set-up and environment of the story is contrasted with the protagonists' Mundane attitudes towards it all. There's an emphasis on economics that comes through time after time.
  • Anachronisms (For Lack of a Better Word). There's a wonky admixture of technology levels here. The Shire seems an Edwardian township; the rest of the world is ancient/Medieval.
These elements should be familiar to most fans of the work of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. They're what links the world of The Hobbit to Vance's Dying Earth, Fritz Leiber's Nehwon, Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age, etc. In other words, the sword & sorcery tradition. This is the stuff campaigns are made of. 

When Goblins became Orcs.

The Lord of the Rings radically veered away from all of this. The sly tone of The Hobbit is gone. This is a weighty passion play, a meditation on morality and power and responsibility. In other words, total anathema to the brand of bad behavior and wry humor that characterize campaign play. While it's possible to instill a sense of gravitas in a D&D campaign I think it's a very difficult thing to perpetuate. This is not a strike against D&D at all -- it's just that the default mode tends to be light-hearted -- even when the limbs are flying, even when the "heroes" start dropping like flies. It's more Hobbit than Rings.

3/16/2011

Humpday Horrible

It was the second worst case of crabs Hegemius had ever seen.

Ggmlk is swamped with reeds [sic]

I have the annoying habit of reading multiple books at the same time. Not literally simultaneously, mind you. (Though I've tried.) The tendency is to pick up a book, read a few chapters, pick up another book and repeat until I find myself surrounded by a dozen or so half-finished tomes.

This is what I'm mentally digesting at present:
  • Humanspace Empires (playtest version) by The Drune (Tekumelian sci-fi RPG)
  • Terminal Space by Albert Rakowski (OD&D sci-fi supplement)
  • The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs (Appendix N)
  • More Things by Ivan T. Sanderson (cryptozoological classic)
  • Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson (Appendix N)
  • Northwest Smith by C. L. Moore
  • The Best of Leigh Brackett (Appendix N)
  • The Throne of Bones by Brian McNaughton (CAS-ian dark fantasy)
  • sundry back issues of late-80s Dragon
Side Note: The only books from Appendix N not to my taste so far would be Farmer's stuff (i.e. World of Tiers). It's just not clicking for me. I have yet to get my hands on stuff by Fredric Brown, Fred Saberhagen or Stanley Weinbaum.

Dungeon Survival Skills

Taking a page from Strange Magic, my players and I came up with the simple skill sheet below. Each time a character moves up a level, the player can fill in 1d4 pips (but no more than one pip per skill). Naturally you'd normally roll a d6 for a skill check, though in particular instances I may call for a d8 or d12 roll.


These skills are not meant to be a substitute for roleplaying but rather another way to represent PC strengths and weaknesses as well as quickly "abstract" certain activities.

Some skills force other characters to make Wisdom checks, such as Deceit, Disguise, Forgery and (in some cases) Sleight of Hand. For example: A PC has passed his Disguise check, but in order for a particular NPC to be fooled by the disguise that NPC must fail his WIS check. If the PC rolled a "1" on that Disguise check (total success) there will be a 1d6 modifier to the WIS check (i.e. 1d6 is added to the roll result).

More info on the particular meanings and ranges of each skill next post soon!

3/15/2011

Our Winning Dungeon-Funk Submission

Cheers to Daddy Grognard!

While it was a tough call, everyone finally agreed that his "Mite Be, Mite Not Be" was Number 17 on the nefarious D30 Table of Dungeon-Funk.

Here's the description of this malady:
The tiny creatures that carry this infection are believed to have originated either in the temple of the god Kuantum where the high priest Heisenberg is said to have created them as a punishment for those who relied too much on certainty, or in the laboratory of the mad wizard Schrodinger, where they lived on his pet cats for many years before moving on.

The infected character becomes the vector for an intense uncertainty field which causes any die roll made by them to be rolled twice. A d6 is then rolled to determine which of the two rolls apply. 1-3 the first one, 4-6 the second one.

Curing the disease means eradicating the mites, which is tricky as they are both there and not there at the same time. Strangely enough, the bite of a blink dog is a potent cure for this condition as is the venom of a Displacer Beast.
Insidious! 

3/14/2011

Class and Race Proportions in OSR Campaigns

I was thinking about this last night during my Boondocks brainstorming session with Andy T. I wanted a precise way of talking about how rare races and classes are relative to each other. Short of a pie chart, this seemed like the way to go:

For every 100 fighters there are...
  • 80 thieves[1]
  • 20 acolytes (cultists)[2]
  • 1 magic-user
For every 100  humans there are...
  • 20 half-men[3]
  • 10 beast-men
  • 1 jhen[4]
How does this compare to your campaigns? What do you think "standard" D&D proportions would be?

_______________
1. This does not include robbers or highwaymen.
2. Boondocks cleric equivalent.
3. Boondocks dwarf equivalent.
4. Boondocks elf equivalent.

Chune System Map


Above is a compressed view of the inner planets that circle the green star Chune. The gulfs between the worlds are much vaster than what is depicted, with the distance between Quantique and Tlon being significantly understated. The Boondocks campaign begins on Quantique. I wanted to include the possibility of interplanetary exploration, which will open up to the PC party when they reach the dark moon of Jandeline. Travel between worlds is made possible through an ancient network of Jhen-created portals.

Speaking of Jhen, I just recalled this piece by Erol Otus:

Theleb K'Aarna from Deities & Demigods
This is now my go-to image when I want to give someone a visual of what a high-end Jhen magic-user might look like.
Some words about the worlds:
  • PHAX is a world where native creatures appear to be in perpetual haste (as per the spell) due to the planet's rapid (relatively speaking) axis-rotation. Things evolve here at a rate unparalleled by other worlds in the Chune system. For a native of Quantique to visit here an array of magics is necessary to prevent total disorientation. It's said that the ancient Jhen used Phax as a sort of genetic accelerator for the experiments that led to the creation of humans and beast-men. Despite its proximity to Chune, the world maintains a sub-tropical environment due to the storm-wracked atmosphere and interplanetary water/air supply cunningly crafted by the Jhen.
  • PANGASH, once a vibrantly living world, is now a wasteland of volcanic continents and boiling red seas. Its former rulers, the Lighorth (think eyeless Mind Flayers) migrated to the green moons of Xu and Xeth where they have constructed elaborate cities in fertile, fungus-crusted chasms.
  • QUANTIQUE is our campaign hub. Civilization has declined since the fall of the world-girdling Jhen empire. A series of  unnatural disasters has adversely affected the northern magnetic pole, and this has had dramatic effects on both the landscape and the creatures and plants that dwell there. Post-apocalyptic frontier fantasy flavor is what I'm shooting for here. Quantique is orbited by the dark moon Jandeline, covered by a thick, half-mile deep layer of jungles that render it practically invisible from the vantage of Quantique at night. This is the birthplace of Jhen culture and has an aeons-long history that has inexorably led to the race's current state of abject decadence and obsessiveness. A declining birth-rate has left many of its mountain-top cities practically empty. While the Jhen could change this, the near-immortals who remain are far too absorbed with the contemplation of the universe to care much.
  • TLON is a massive, Stone Age wasteland of giant worms and roaming phantasms. Abundant in resources but highly dangerous. Several xenophobic alien civilizations exist here.

The Jhen

There are no elves in our current campaign. In their stead we have the Jhen, who use elf hit dice, attack tables, saving throws, experience tables and general magic-user/fighter stylings. The Jhen hail from the dark moon called Jandeline, where the root of their culture may still be found, though it has lapsed into a weird, magical-technological decadence. In contrast those Jhen who left Jandeline to colonize the main campaign world (Aarelis or Quantique, depending on who you ask) have become outsiders existing (sometimes parasitically) on the fringes of human society. Like Moorcock's Melnibonéans they are the scions of a vast, fallen empire. 

I wanted to give the Jhen men something of a Chinese mandarin/Ming the Merciless look. The markings on the forehead of the sketch above are characteristic birthmarks, unique to each Jhen. Their skin colors range from a chalky pallor to a greenish hue.

BONUS:

The inspiration for the Beast-Men, another of our campaign's player-character races. Credit goes to Captain Atkin, who designed this badass custom action figure.

3/13/2011

Eastern Boondocks: Gazetteer of Sub-Regions


Boondock Mountains.
A range of pine-covered peaks that curls round to enclose the Igonwood and Fever Marsh. The tallest peaks are clustered on the south-eastern end of the Igonwood. The massive statue of the Jale Emperor situated to the south of Somber Pass points north to the Horse's Head, a grotesquely humped mountain that vaguely resembles the head and neck of a destrier.

Cuuth, Decrepitudes of. ["KOOTH"]
A barren, stony plateau riddled with cracks and crevasses and fissures that grow more treacherous the farther one travels west and away from the Boondock Mountains. The ground is everywhere dusty and pitted. Few plants aside from the purple cacti and the flowering mantrap grow in Cuuth. The Decrepitudes have an evil reputation, due in no small part to the eldritch Temple of Lokrynox and the barbarian settlement called Yggrot in the north.

Dystir Poth. ["DIS-ter POTH" -- rhymes with "Sister Moth"]
A remarkably infertile land studded with tufts of weeds, stray copses of ancient hardwoods and the occasional stone outcropping. In order to grow crops here the use of magic is absolutely essential. The farther one travels south, the more grim the landscape becomes till one reaches the evil kingdom of Hish Hyzob. Wolves and worse things roam here and often trouble the caravans traveling along the Trade Road.

Fever Marsh.
The wet bottom of the bowl formed by the curl of the Boondock Mountains. A boggy mess of twisted trees and swampy corridors. Beware the clouds of biting jabber-flies. Some carry the weird fever that induces fits of loud and ceaseless laughter -- an enticement for native predators. 

Igonwood. ["EYE-gon wood"]
The forest of old growth pines south of the River Hune that encircles the Fever Marsh. Many of the trees here are at least several thousand years old. The eldest have already succumbed to rot and their discarded branches make certain areas nearly impassable. Most beast-men shun the Igonwood, though a few small and evil tribes are known to "walk the circle" [a common expression] though most avoid the Tower of Xyvod.

Merrowesh. ["MAIR-o-wesh"]
A grassy, coastal area that is constantly buffeted by storms and winds traveling across the Sunken Sea. Wild tarpans roam freely here. At times strange things crawl out of the sea to sun themselves.

Sunken Sea.
A stagnant, reed-choked body of water that is very slowly evaporating. Once a major tradeway, the Sunken Sea has become little more than a graveyard of ships and abandoned isles. Serpents, driven by a hunger that has made them aggressive and hateful, patrol the Sea's brown waters and will surely attack and drown any vessel that is not adequately protected.

Trokeen, Highlands of. ["tro-KEEN"]
A long, sloping forest-way that is the province of several neutrally-aligned beast-man tribes. Elder giants will occasionally descend from their caves in winter to hunt the elk-herds that frequent this area.

3/12/2011

Todd Lockwood's Green Ronin covers

I get the feeling that a lot of Old Schoolers are ambivalent about the artwork associated with New School D&D. Certainly I would totally agree that the guys and gals who made art for early TSR stuff do not get the respect and exposure they deserve. (Yes, I regularly pray at the Erol Otus Shrine.)

That said, I enjoy a lot of the newer stuff too. Which brings me to the whole purpose of this post: Todd Lockwood and the cover art he did for Green Ronin's Races of Renown splatbooks. (Blame The Underdark Gazette.) These were 3/3.5e books in the vein of those softcover 2nd Edition Complete Handbooks. I owned a couple of them, mostly because of Todd's art. The contents were pretty meh, to be honest. Which is too bad, because the Drow are really in need of a good reboot.* Todd's stuff definitely has a Michael Whelan-y thing happening**, and that's probably as close to art criticism as we're going to get here at Gorgonmilk.




_______________
*One that forgets the existence of Drizzt Do'Urden.
**Which is to say: It's pretty awesome.

Eastern Boondocks: A Word About the Word

Campaign Map of the E. Boondocks



"The term boondocks refers to a remote, usually brushy rural area or to a remote city or town that is considered unsophisticated... The expression was introduced to English by American military personnel serving in the Philippines during the early years of the 20th century. It derives from the Tagalog word "bundok" meaning "mountain." According to military historian Paul Kramer, the term had attached to it "connotations of bewilderment and confusion", due to the guerrilla nature of the warfare in which the soldiers were engaged... "Bundok" as originally used by Filipinos is a colloquialism used to refer to rural areas..." 

The above is taken from the Wikipedia entry. When I was a kid I lived in rural upstate New York. It's a place my parents usually referred to as the Boondocks or the Boonies. The term has strong associations for me with my old tree-climbing days, when I would wander around the woods near our country farmhouse for hours and construct elaborate mythologies about the little places I found there. I imagined that certain parts of the woods were occupied by people who were normally invisible.

Years later when I was in high school, we would camp out about a quarter-mile into the forest that marked the far edge of our property. My friends and I would build massive bonfires and talk about girls. We'd also trade weird stories about the local Satanists (who were likely non-existent) and ghosts and other freaky things that come to mind when you're surrounded by massive pines and maple trees. 

One of the most memorable camp-outs was itself pretty uneventful. What sticks in the mind is the thing that happened the following morning, when my friend Jason and I wandered up the trail that led to an old, ruined hunting cabin. We were not very far into the woods when we both stopped short. Someone was whistling, and whoever it was did not sound too far away. We imagined it was probably one of the other guys back at the campsite. Maybe they were looking for us? So we followed the sound of the whistling. And then it stopped. We walked a bit more, and then paused to listen. The whistling began again, but from a completely different direction. It was sing-songy whistling. It had a tune, a short melody. We turned and headed toward it and kept heading out, deeper into the woods. The whistling stopped for a bit and then picked up a third time. Then a fourth. Its position was changing each time, and we never seemed to get closer to its source though we were trudging out farther into the forest all the time. Jason stopped and listened for a bit. "That's my family whistle," he said, and he repeated the tune. It did sound a lot like the noise we were following. "Maybe my dad is out here looking for me," he wondered aloud. We kept following the whistle and it continued to ping-pong through the woods. After about forty minutes, we decided to give up the chase and go back to my house. "I'll call my house when we get there," said Jason. When he called his folks' place, his dad had just come home from work. No, he hadn't been looking for him. The weird whistling was a mystery, and neither of us ever heard it again. Though other strange things happened while I lived at that house.

The House Knoblin

This creature was inspired by a dream I had several minutes ago. I'll try to recall it as best I can, but already I can feel it becoming hazy. 

I'm standing near a kitchen table. My mother is sitting there, and sitting across from her is a little man. I know who and what he is, but he doesn't have a name. He is no more than three feet tall and has the face of an old drunk, save for his unnaturally large eyes and ears. His clothes are raggedy. He lives in this house -- my mother's house -- but he is not a proper resident. The little man is eating a bowl of stew. He says nothing but occasionally looks up at me. "I was thinking I might take him out to the bar," I am telling my mother. It was a preposterous thing to say, because no one gave that sort of attention to these little whatever-they-ares. "I believe you would do that," she says and smiles. "Well, would you like that?" I ask him. He looks at me hopefully, but says nothing.

"Old Beggar" by Reinhardt Sobye

HOUSE KNOBLIN
FREQUENCY:  Common
NO. APPEARING:  See below
ARMOR CLASS:  3
MOVE:  15"
HIT DICE:  3
% IN LAIR:  90%
TREASURE TYPE:  See below
NO. OF ATTACKS:  1 (scratch)
DAMAGE/ATTACK:  1d6
SPECIAL ATTACKS:  Memory loss
SPECIAL DEFENSES:  Nil
MAGIC RESISTANCE:  Standard
INTELLIGENCE: Average
ALIGNMENT:  Neutral or Chaotic Evil
SIZE:  S (2 1/2' to 4' tall)
PSIONIC ABILITY:  See below
LEVEL/XP VALUE:  VI/635

The average house knoblin appears to be a diminutive, non-descript old codger dressed in threadbare garments which look as though they came from someone's garbage pile. They are rarely encountered outside but are a common enough site in the homes of peasants and rustics, whose company they seem to prefer. All knoblins are fond of beer and cheese. Dogs do not seem to be aware of them. Cats avoid the creatures but otherwise exhibit no animosity toward them.

Knoblins are a sort of magical infestation that is normally harmless when dealt with in the correct fashion. They can appear out of the blue. The farmer's wife might find a knoblin warming its hands by the hearth after dinner, though the door to her cottage was locked and her windows all shut and latched. If there is a way to guarantee that your home will never have a knoblin in it, it is a preciously guarded secret.

At first, the knoblin seems to be mute. It will point and nod or shake its head, but very little else. When it does begin speaking, a new phase of the infestation has begun (see below).

Once a knoblin has taken up residence, there is no telling when it will leave. How the master of the house treats the creature will dictate the course of events. Only a fool would deny a knoblin a bit of food now and then, especially when it signs for it. Often they will sleep under the master's bed, but sometimes they prefer places higher up, such as the mantle or the top of a cupboard. 

Provided that its host treats the knoblin like a welcome guest, no trouble will come from it and it will never speak. Things go sour when the knoblin is mistreated, which includes kicking it out of the way or mocking it or denying it supper. Then the creature will begin talking at all hours of the night, having strange conversations with itself that often devolve into loud arguments. Its appearance will gradually become more sinister as well. The thing's fingers will elongate and sprout ragged-looking claws which it will use to scratch furniture, walls, sleeping children, dogs and any who approach it. When a knoblin is in misery -- as this state is commonly called -- there is a 10% every day that an additional knoblin will appear. The same rules apply to this second guest, who will be affable enough until he is mistreated. A content knoblin and a miserable knoblin ignore one another, but when both are discontent they will become quite loud at night. They may howl and bark and smash dishes and pull the cat's hairs out -- one by one -- till the poor thing is bald. 

Only a gift from a stranger may (40%) appease a miserable knoblin and render it content again. But this is no guarantee and it's more than likely (80%) that the knoblin will revert to its tantrums the following week unless it receives another gift from a different stranger. These strangers may be known to the host but must be new to the knoblin, never having come to the house while it was knoblin-occupied.

Knoblins have the ability to become invisible at will and can put any creature to sleep with a word once per day for 1d6 hours (no save). When a person is scratched by a knoblin there is a 50% that the victim will forget everything, not unlike someone afflicted with amnesia. This includes the memory of what the victim was doing or saying at the moment the scratch occurred. A span of time (1d8 hours) must pass before memories will begin to return. (For the purposes of my own campaign -- which uses a memory cell chart -- a character loses the use of his/her memory cells until the amnesia has passed.)

Those who treat a knoblin well may find themselves rewarded later (20%). After the creature leaves, a map leading to a nearby cache of valuables might be found somewhere in the house. Invariably this hoard will contain items stolen from those houses the knoblin lived in previously. These might include cutlery, silver coins, rings (magical or non-), and miscellaneous knickknacks that could potentially be valuable.  

3/11/2011

Art Adams' Dejah Thoris (For Clovis)




P.S. If you're into Edgar Rice Burroughs and Barsoom, check out Clovis' blog, Jasoomian Dreams. He also publishes an RPG called Red Planet which is based on ERB's John Carter novels. Order info is at the bottom of his blog.

Eastern Boondocks Regional Map

So I finally got around to putting this Frankenstein together. Most of this map is shamelessly lifted from an old Dungeon adventure, modified to suit my purposes. That's a Rob Conley swamp texture. Pinewoods are ripped from my commissioned map of Dolmen Island by Jonathan Roberts. So it's a little punk rock, but it does the job.

I ditched the name Johnstown for Luskwetch. It's part of the new naming protocol (i.e. Does it sound like a place you could walk to in Jack Vance's Dying Earth?)

Also, as per Il Male's request, here's my very unofficial diy cover for Swords & Wizardry White Box. Thanks for digging this out, guys! I'm flattered.


3/10/2011

Hot Chick Jerking Cock [SFW]



Ah, visual puns.

Speaking of cocks: Have you guys seen my crypt cock write-up? No dungeoneering party should be without one!

Oh, and if you came here by accident and are feeling a little... blue shall we say? go take a gander at Playing D&D With Pornstars. Then tell me about how D&D is for fat basement dwellers.

What am I missin'?

Here's a pic of my OSR documents folder:


My hard-copy OSR stuff includes:
I've been reluctant to shell out the GPs for the LotFP RPG. Not that it doesn't look interesting -- just that I'm knee-deep in D&D one-offs and have no need for a pre-fab campaign setting. Labyrinth Lord, B/X and AD&D serve all my Dungeon Masterly needs.

So what other gems have I missed? I'm sure there are more than a few.

Dungeon Chili

Found between the pages of a moldy, well-worn grimoire:

Tarkwaan's Marvelous Mish-Mash

Ingredients
  • One quarter cup oil of olives
  • Two large-ish onions, chopped
  • Two large green peppers, chopped
  • Two peppers of the Daemonlands, chopped[1]
  • Six cloves of garlic, chopped
  • Two and a half pounds of cockatrice breast, cubed[2]
  • Three and a half tablespoons powder of weeping[3]
  • Two tablespoons paste of tomato
  • One tablespoon ground tree-newt[4]
  • One tablespoon dried snake's mint[5]
  • One large canister diced tomato
  • Three canisters beans

Preparation
  1. Heat oil in cauldron over medium heat.
  2. Add onions, peppers and garlic; sauté until vegetables begin to soften.
  3. Add cockatrice, sprinkle with salt and pepper; sauté until cockatrice is white on outside.
  4. Mix in powder, paste of tomato, ground tree-newt and snake's mint.
  5. Add beans and diced tomato.
  6. Simmer until cockatrice is cooked through and mish-mash is thickened, about two and a half turns.
  7. Season to taste.
_______________
SUGGESTED SUBSTITUTIONS
[1] Jalapeno peppers will do the job.
[2] Cockatrice is rare these days; use yard-fowl.
[3] Analogous to chili powder.
[4] ? (We used cumin.)
[5] Oregano has a similar savor.

Forgotten Fiends: Suitable For Saturday Nights

In case you're just tuning in to the Gorgon Channel, here are links to the first and second installment of Forgotten Fiends, where we bring you the discarded dregs of 80s-era White Dwarf monsters!

First up, from WD #12 (April/May 1979) we have Roger Musson's Iron Pig:

If you recall, Roger is also responsible for the dreaded Stair Stalker. While not nearly as creep-tastic as that green freak, the humble iron pig is diabolically utilitarian. What wizard wouldn't have these things patrolling his manse? With an average of 20 HP a pop, that low AC, and the ability to puff little Iron Golem-style clouds of deadly poisonous gas, just a few of these metal hogs could really set a PC party running for the nearest exit! 

Albie Fiore was Don Turnbull's successor as curator of the Fiend Factory feature. I am a tad smitten with Albie's take on the Cyclops, which appeared in WD #21 (Oct/Nov 1980). Certainly that slimy, vaguely reptilian horror Russ Nicholson depicted above makes the MMII's Cyclopskin look like something of a mop-topped pussy. Even the Cyclops' crappy depth perception is slightly less crappy than the -Kin's. And it has a gaze attack! But really the frosting on this monstercake is the bit about procreating with the human womens. I dig the whole "Wait...Wait to eat her till she comes to term. And if your offspring has more than one sea-green eye, then you gets to eats it too!" Plus those man-sized cyclopean lovechildren make this monster entry kind of a twofer. Did someone say PC race? What? You want a campaign based on KRULL? Right on.

Oh it all comes down to the Tali Monster doesn't it? Created by some mad, beautiful bastard named Craig Edwards, this unique pile of sentient lard appeared in WD #24 (April/May 1981) in a special section devoted to "eccentric" FF submissions called Monster Madness. If you look closely at the picture, those little figures supporting the Tali's massive bulk are a squad of thirty-five goblins. Thirty-five! Fuck David Bowie -- the Tali Monster is THE goblin-king in my book! This guy eats hobbits like they're Doritos. And a breath weapon that smells like garlic, whisky and tobacco! What a cool arch-villain to add to the cast of your campaign. DMs: I suggest using your best Godfather impression for this guy. Either that or imagine what the Buddha might sound like if he was Lawful Evil...

That's all for now!

3/09/2011

Here You Go, OSR

There. Feel better?
 
BONUS! D6 TABLE OF RANDOM USELESS SHIT
Part of a hoard maybe? Or just some junk you stole from that toothless peddler?
Either way, this shit is useless.

(1) Bent and partially burned lampshade
(2) Sack full of old fingernail clippings
(3) Ripped pornographic oil painting
(4) False testicles (rubber; belonged to a eunuch)
(5) Two wooden pence (worthless; won't get you free drinks)
(6) Flask of endless bitching: This bitter concoction might easily be mistaken for a run-of-the-mill healing potion. When imbibed the drinker is compelled to let loose with a seemingly endless tirade of complaints, hypocritical criticisms, nonsensical claims and patronizing comments directed at all those standing nearby. Only a Cure Disease or Remove Curse will quell the tongue of the afflicted character.

3/08/2011

Tambraal's Law in Action

Riffing off the last post: The "biography" of Magard's Life-Quencher, a +4 magical long sword.

Created by Turvang the Mage-Smith (7th level Magic-User) as a gift for the Overlord of Thollox, the weapon served as little more than a heirloom for the first thousand years of its existence. Following the fall of Thollox, the Life-Quencher came into the possession of Darnesh the Dog-Fucker, High Chief of the Horde Clans. Many years later, an elderly Darnesh met an ugly end at the hands of a young Lord Garth and his seven paladins. An elderly Garth bequeathed the blade to his only child, a girl named Arveeth, who eventually took up the family practice of quashing local brigands and horde-masters. Middle-aged Arveeth died nobly with her company at Somber Pass, pierced by a poisoned goblin arrow. Thus the Life-Quencher came to King Gash-Face the Third, nominal ruler of all goblin-kind. Gash-Face's distant descendant, Squish-Fly the Thane, was assassinated by his younger cousin, Crude-Lips, who made off with his wives and his ancestral sword. Crude-Lips' great-grand-nephew lost the sword in a high-stakes game of Blacktrumps to a sleazy adventurer named Magard.

Okay, so using the Magical Half-Life formula (see last post), we can determine that the Life-Quencer has a maximum longevity of 3,500 years (MHL 1,750). By the time it came to Darnesh the blade was approximately 1,000 years old. We can estimate that another 150 years went by as the sword went from Lord Garth to King Gash-Face. Another 400 years passed as it went from Gash-Face to Crude-Lips. Then another 200 years from Crude-Lips' scions to Magard the sleazy adventurer. By that time, the Life-Quencher was just about 1,750 years old. It had reached its half-life.

This sea-change was unfortunate for old Magard, because his enchanted weapon developed an irritating minor defect: Unbeknownst to him, some strange degradation in the blade's magical bindings had rendered the thing into a sort of stirge-magnet. Everywhere he went the things flocked in ever-increasing numbers. Visits from Magard would herald the destruction of entire villages, so that eventually the adventurer was exiled to wander alone in the Wastes. Strangely, the stirges never bothered with him personally. They simply wanted to be near the sword. Something about the sight of it seemed to excite them, so that the stupid beasts stayed by it well after the warrior's death from starvation. For weeks they circled the site of Magard's decaying remains, then they too began to drop dead. Some say the sword still rests somewhere out there in the Wastes, girdled by macabre heaps of bleached stirge bones.

Tambraal's Law: Magical Decay

This is the first in a series of posts that will deal with the Laws of Magic. These Laws are not codes that govern the conduct of magic-users -- they're laws in the scientific sense of the term -- cosmic "rules" that dictate the behavior of magic in the campaign world. The purpose here is not to over-complicate magic in D&D campaigns, but rather to offer new and interesting ways to terrify PCs.
------------------------------

Tambraal's Law: That all magical works act in opposition to the lawful flux of time and space. That this flux exerts a measurable toll on the integrity of all magical works. That this loss of integrity (i.e. the slow dissolution of magical bindings) inevitably leads to a loss of efficacy. That this loss of integrity also potentially leads to unforeseeable hazards.
Tambraal's Law, also known as the Law of Disintegration, describes the process of magical decay. Over time, all magics begin to succumb to "pressure" from the lawful mechanisms of the cosmos -- the Natural Order of things. This Order interprets all magical effects and items as anomalous errors which must be corrected. "Correction" is a process that can take aeons to completely annul a particularly powerful magic as it erodes the bindings which hold that magic together. When these bindings give way, the magic loses its efficacy and may eventually become distorted. Magical distortions could exhibit themselves as harmless little side-effects. In the worst case scenarios, they become lethally dangerous glitches.


How Old Is That Item?

Every magic -- be it a spell or an enchanted item or an artificial being such as a homunculus -- has a lifespan. No spell is actually instantaneous. Even a magic missile leaves something of itself behind after its energy leaves the magic-user's fingertips: the harm it has wrought on the target. Even illusions have a prolonged existence in the memories of those who witness them.

In order to determine the projected lifespan of a given magic, we must take its creator into consideration. The manufacture of magical items is the milieu of experienced magic-users and magic-using entities such as gods and demons. The greater their experience, the more secure the bindings that hold their magical creations together will be. This fact puts the work of mortal wizards in a wholly separate class than those magics which are created by immortals. A three-hundred year-old mage, venerable as he may be by our standards, cannot hope to produce an item with the longevity of a divine implement.

Another important factor is the potency of the magic in question. The relative power of the magic works against the experience of the creator. That is, the more powerful the magic, the more difficult it is to maintain over time.

Use the formula below to determine the spell's or item's Magical Half-Life (MHL):

MHL = [(XP level of the caster) x (1000 years)] / [Spell-level of Effect or Enchantment]

The spell-level of the effect or enchantment might be an approximation (determined by the DM). For example, we can think of each +1 on a magic sword as a single spell-level. Try to shoe-horn effects into levels 1 through 9. 

In the case of gods and demons it may be necessary to approximate their XP levels as spell-casters. Some gods may indeed be "off the scale" and in those cases I suggest the DM adjudicate just how much of the god's focus was bent on the creation of the effect/enchantment. A divine afterthought might be crafted with the efficiency of a 20th level magic-user, whereas an item intended to be a potent weapon against a hated enemy may represent the height of the god's abilities (100th level? More?)

I would suggest that most magical items the PC party comes in contact with be the creation of mortal wizards, most of them long-dead and forgotten in the mists of time. If you like, Read Magic may be used to ascertain the current age and half-life of an item.

Once the item/effect exceeds its half-life, it may begin to exhibit signs of decay. These magics have a 10% chance when they reach their half-life (and an additional 10% chance for every 100 years thereafter) to have a loss in efficacy. Additionally, they have a 5% chance when they reach their half-life (and an additional 5% chance for every 100 years thereafter) to become distorted. (Note: In the case of intelligent items, magical distortion has the side-effect of rendering the item hopelessly insane. Roll d4. Result of "1" or "3" means that the item's alignment is inverted.) Consult the tables below.


MAGICAL EFFICACY LOSS (Roll 1d6)
  1. The magic exhibits a minor loss in efficacy. In the case of a magic weapon, the loss is a one integer decline in its "+" value. In the case of a healing potion, there may be a one integer minus to its curative potential. An illusion may become less convincing. Animated skeletons may decrease in total HP. The DM will adjudicate what is appropriate here.
  2. The magic exhibits a moderate loss in efficacy. Same as above but exacerbated to a two-integer decline or minus.
  3. The magic exhibits a severe loss in efficacy. Same as above. Bump it up to three integers.
  4. The magic exhibits a critical loss in efficacy. Same as above. Bump it up to four integers.
  5. The magic exhibits a total loss in efficacy. However there is still a residual aura that can be detected and the item/effect may still be subject to distortion (see table below).
  6. The magic has become a longevity vacuum that drains the lifespan of items/effects that come in contact with it. Exposure (proximity of 10 feet or less) means that item/effect must save vs spell. Failure means a loss of 1d1000 years to total lifespan.


MAGICAL DISTORTIONS (Roll 1d6)
  1. Buggy: The item/effect only works properly 50% of the time. The rest of the time it [Roll 1d6] (1-3) doesn't work at all; (4-5) does the opposite of what it's supposed to; (6) does something completely random and harmless (i.e. Instead of throwing fire balls the magic wand throws mustaches).
  2. Minor defect: The item/effect produces a random side-effect that could potentially be harmful (i.e. Every time the +2 sword is drawn it produces a shrill screaming sound that can be heard for 1d4 miles around).
  3. Major defect: The item/effect produces a random side-effect that is totally hazardous (i.e. The illusory door exudes a poisonous gas that is only detectable magically).
  4. Serious Glitch: The item/effect produces random side-effects spontaneously (whether it is used or not) every 1d6 turns. There is a 2-in-6 chance that such effects will be totally hazardous.
  5. On the Fritz: The item/effect has become unstable and highly volatile. Even its shape (in the case of items) has become amorphous. It produces random synaesthesiac area-effects constantly (i.e. sounds have taste, smells can be seen, thoughts can be heard, etc.) The area of effect will be xd100 feet, where x is the item/effect's current age divided by 1000. 
  6. Perilous: The effect/item has transformed into a x HD magic-consuming abomination, where x is the item/effect's current age divided by 1000. Any magics used against it to cause damage will instead  increase its HP total. Only creatures and items with magical antipathy (i.e. an anti-magic weapon) will harm it.

3/07/2011

Tim Sievert's INTREPIDEERS & CLANDESTINAUTS

If you're not familiar with Tim Sievert's The Intrepideers AND you're something of an OSR junkie like me, then you really need to check this comic out. At turns gross, hilarious, action-packed, gross, and unabashedly dungeon-tastic, the thing reads like an old school D&D style guide. Tim's latest work in this vein is the ongoing tale of The Clandestinauts, which can also be read online for free. I highly recommend his stuff!

Forgotten Fiends: The Pebble Gnome Principle


So as far as interesting monsters go, the pebble gnome doesn't exactly rock. Sure it's got that crazy, squonk-esque magical resistance, but not much else. Perhaps the pebble gnomes' magical antipathy arises from a steady diet of teary-eyed squonk meat? Anyway, I'm sharing these grouchy little bastards with you because I especially like Don Turnbull's comments:
On the face of it, there seems to be no place for pebble gnomes in D&D -- they won't fight, have little treasure and won't go on adventures. Yet it is only reasonable that, in the course of adventuring, player characters will come across 'monsters' which have no particular function from time to time.
Abso-friggin-lootly, Don. 

3/04/2011

Listen to Fritz Leiber talk about H. P. Lovecraft in 1978

Courtesy of CthulhuWho1: An audio recording of the 1978 IguanaCon panel that attempted to answer the question "What if Lovecraft had lived till the 1960s?" Guests include Mr. Leiber, Dirk Mosig, J. Vernon Shea and a young S. T. Joshi. Get it here. The sound quality is surprisingly good.

(Fritz brings up the exchange with Lovecraft concerning the works of Charles Fort! Brain... might... explode...)

Forgotten Fiends: The Squonk and the Stair Stalker

The Fiend Factory was a regular feature in White Dwarf magazine back in the late 70s and into the 80s before the British publication became a house organ for Games Workshop products. Readers would send in descriptions of their homebrewed D&D monsters and Don Turnbull would decide who made the cut. Crazy-cool artists like Russ Nicholson would then bring 'em to life visually. Man, why doesn't the OSR do this? *hint-hint* *nudge-nudge*

Some of these monsters "graduated" to Turnbull's Fiend Folio. The Folio got (and sometimes still gets) a lot of flack for being sub-par compared to the likes of Monster Manuals I and II. Even Ed Greenwood has gone on the record to say (and I paraphrase here) that the book was weak sauce. I can't say that I agree. Sure, there's some whacked-out creeps in there -- gorbels and flumphs and CIFALs, oh my -- but there's just sooo much win -- slaad! kenku! githyanki! -- that any perceived inadequacies are really just an odd aftertaste to this sumptuous Creature Cake. And, to be honest, I wouldn't want to live in a world without flumphs. I like to imagine that all those bizarre, almost Carroll-esque beasts are lurking in my campaigns. And the more I ponder it, the more I want to include them in the menagerie of monstrosities my PCs will encounter.

Tonight I was poring over early issues of White Dwarf looking at monsters who didn't meet the (obviously stringent) requirements to be part of the Folio. I found two that I want to talk about now, but more forgotten fiends will be forthcoming.

The Squonk, created by Christopher Kinnear, appeared in WD #7 (June/July 1978). Basically, he's a feeble little rat-beast with serious skin problems (dungeon-funk?) who cries a lot and happens to be 100% resistant to magic. 100% RESISTANT. Don Turnbull makes some silly comment about how female players are more likely to respond to the squonk and have pity on it. To hells with that, I say! If something has that kind of natural magic-off about it, then I would be rounding these babies up and breeding them in captivity. I'd then find myself some sort of monster anatomy specialist who could figure out just what squonk-organ is the source of its magical antipathy. Then it's harvesting time! If there's anything my friend Cyclopeatron taught me, it's that good stuff can be found in entrails! Note the squonk's 2D8+1 Hit Dice. That tells me that these babies are big, possibly twice the girth of your average giant rat. "It will shy away from contact and will hide and move fast." So there will definitely be some strategy involved. I would suggest laying down some high-grade (bug)bear traps.

The Stair Stalker, created by Roger Musson, is just plain fucking creepy. It appeared in WD #9 (Oct/Nov 1978). "This is, of course, a wildly 'silly' creature," says Don. I'm not so sure. A shaggy green creature with animal intelligence that could be carrying a sizable amount of gold that compulsively haunts stairwells? I mean look at that drawing. It's like Dr. Seuss's hastily sketched nightmare. My mind is filled with questions. Where is this thing getting its gold? Do adventurers leave it tips? And how does it reproduce? Does a she-stalker have different habits? What is it eating if it's so indifferent to adventurers? Don says it's probably immune to Charm Monster and any other magic that would lead it away from its stairwell. Creepy. I picture the stair stalker roaming some poorly lit, spiraling stairwell, tenaciously gripping its bag of gold with its green claws and not making a sound. Talk about a candidate for Philotemy's Mythic Underworld...

BONUS:

That there is the dakon as it originally appeared in issue #9. Quite a far cry from the intelligent gorilla you see in the Folio. This drawing is much more to my taste. It totally changes my perception of this monster, and I can't help but imagine him puttering around the dungeon and having territorial disputes with kobolds.