Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tramp on Combat Recuperation

Combat makes a body thirst.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Elves: Weirder Than You Think

Elves are weird.  Weirder than most players realize when they first sign up for a character of the pointy-eared persuasion.  Here are a few facts about elven ecology that might give you pause before you roll up another Legolas:
  1. Elves are born wearing hats.  And the hats grow up with the elf.  As half-elves are born without hats, they are often called "hatless ones" by true elves.
  2. Elves are the byproduct of human heroes fornicating with nymphs.  See Odysseus and Calypso, Odysseus and Circe, Odysseus and your mother, etc.  Seriously, if your character is an elf, odds are pretty good Odysseus is your daddy.  Of course nobody is aware of this since nymphs don't waste a single second of their eternal lives being maternal.  Rather, shortly after copulation, they wander off to some private spot in their grove, glen, glade, or grotto, lay an elf-egg, and never give the matter another thought.  Instead, 
  3. Elflings are raised by sprites or pixies or some other faerie-type beings who collect the nymph eggs and tend to the baby elves until they outgrow their surrogate parents.  At which point the elf-in-training gloms on to the community of elves that inevitably crops up around every nymph dell after Odysseus passes through town.
  4. Elves are androgynous in appearance.  In size, build, and, often, in temperament, both male and female elves closely resemble adolescent boys, minus the acne and boners.   Incapable of growing hair on their excessively angular faces and emaciated bodies, and with high, often squawky, voices, they're sex appeal to humans is more limited than you might think.  
  5. Elves are capable of expressing only 3 emotions: amusement, disinterest, and sarcasm.  And at least one of those is not actually an emotion.  As a result, Humans and most other, non-fey races find the company of elves to be unsettling if not downright obnoxious.
  6. Elves cannot procreate with their own kind.  Or maybe they find the company of other elves just as off-putting as the rest of us do.  In any event, the offspring of elves are always half elves, fathered by humans, gnomes, mind flayers, whatever; so long as their mate is not elven in any way. 
  7. Those eyes are creepy. In the immortal words of Phil Hartman, to whom this blog is eternally* indebted:
Hartman: The eyes, the window to your skeleton.
Straight man: Don't you mean "soul"?
Hartman: If you have one.

* Not so eternally after all since I changed the name of the blog in summer 2014.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Art of the Monster Manual Part II

Other Things I learned from playing Dis or Dat:

  1. DCS drew all the freakin' dragons!  How did we not get even one iconic dragon illustration out of Tramp?  DCS also did all the Dinosaurs and most of the Demons--with the exception of Juiblex.  Tramp, on the other hand, got all the devils except Asmodeus.  Man, the D section is loaded.
  2. Dispater (Arch-devil) has mismatched feet: one human-seeming foot and one cloven hoof.
  3. The doomed fighter in the Violet fungi drawing looks like he might actually have detached his rotting right arm.
  4. Another DCS trait: screwing with the frame.  See the rust monster, right, but also leprechaun, hippogriff, fire elemental, dwarf, chimera, and probably a few others.
  5. The knight fighting the hobgoblins (p. 52) might very well be the Paladin in Hell from p.23 of the PHB.  And possibly the same dude who's watching his friend get chowed by giant ants back on page 7.
  6. Has anyone ever made any sense out of the illustration on p. 57 showing the ki-rin tangling with Quetzalcoatl? 
  7. TSR re-used the satyr drawing from the MM on page 187 of the DMG, next to the "Faerie and Sylvan Settings" random encounter table, appropriately enough.
  8. Rakshasa: Suave-ass Mofo.  Not a revelation, but it's still worth saying. 
  9. DAT's elves, p. 40, are sufficiently weird looking.  DCS's elves on the previous page are too uptight for my tastes.
  10. The flesh golem is an enigma.  It's clearly the work of Tramp--just look at those metacarpals!--but the columns in the background lack the confidence typical of his work.  Note the wobbly lines and the clumsy hatchwork of the pillars compared with the smooth curves of the halberd blade and the dude's forearm.  I'm wondering if Tramp drew the foreground but, pressed for time, handed it off to another artist named Dave to help finish it up. The blotchy hatching of the Golem's pants are also more typical of Dave S.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Art of the MM: DCS Black Leg Syndrome

So I was looking through the Monster Manual the other day playing a game of DCS or DAT (pronounced "dis or dat") wherein I look at all the illustrations in the MM and guess whether each was drawn by Dave Sutherland (DCS) or Dave Trampier (DAT).  Anyone familiar with the artists in question probably knows that this is not a particularly difficult task.  [The works of DCS and Tom Wham--who also has a number of illustrations in the MM--on the other hand, are actually much harder to discern.]

You play this game a few times and you begin to pick up a few traits of each of the artists. Trampier hands, for instance, have long fingers and prominent metacarpals, while DCS, well, is no Tramp.

One distinctive feature of Sutherland's work is that he often drew the far leg of people and critters in silhouette.  See the troll on the left below for an idea of what I'm talking about:

Indeed, while DCS does this all the freakin' time, Tramp--the master of fine hatching--never uses this technique.  Nor does--to the best of my knowledge--Tom Wham.  From Baluchitherium through Yeti, if you see a leg, wing, arm, or other extremity filled in completely in black ink, it might as well have "Sutherland" written across it in flaming letters.  Check out everyone's favorite pig-faced orc, below; he gets the silhouette treatment over the entire right side of his body:

But right there on the facing page of the orc you'll see Jean Wells' Otyugh illustration featuring a fully blackened rear leg as well as a mostly blackened hind tentacle. 

Now I know with absolute certainty that this is a Jean Wells drawing because none of her illos appeared in the earliest printings of the MM, and the copy I had as a kid was, apparently, one of those early printings, cuz whenever I see the violet fungi or the giant rat or that bellicose otyugh I'm still taken aback by these newcomers.  Fortunately for the DCS Black Leg Theory, a not-too-close inspection quickly reveals that the femur sticking out of the muck-pile is signed "Jean & Dave" so, presumably, DCS had a hand in this after all.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Starting Equipment Revisited

Over the weekend I ran 10 consecutive 6-hour sessions of Horror in Emridy--my bizarro-Hommlet mega-doom adventure--at Marathon-Dice-Chuck-a-Con IV; which, for structural reasons, was relocated to sunny, downtown Ballard at the last second.  Still, we had a decent turnout and raised enough rupees to tip the pizza guy. 

As Horror in Emridy is a bit of a meat grinder--on avg., there were 1.3 character deaths per player*--speedy character re-creation was essential to smooth action.**  Which is to say, I was able to put the new starting equipment rules through the paces.  Players had roughly 3-1/2 minutes--as measured with a sand timer nabbed from some old, long lost board game--from the end of the combat or other situation which resulted in their character's death to create a new character, or they lost their spot at the table.   

*At 6 players per session that comes to 7.8 kills per session.  Huh, it seemed higher than that.
**Others might argue that my speedy character generation rules exacerbated the death toll.    

The gist, for those uninterested in going back to the previous post, is that each character rolls 4 six-siders and, instead of adding them up, he or she assigns the value of each die to one of the columns in the table below:

e.g.: the aforementioned Fobbins the Fighter rolls a 5,4,3,2.  He slaps the 5 on armor for chainmail, then grabs a short bow with the 4 and a morningstar with the 3 and slaps the 2 down to get a satchel full of dungeoneering goodies from the next table:
You can either select items at your leisure or, if you're in a rush or just a fatalist by nature, roll for your possessions.   Or you can just put it all in silver: Fobbins's 4 satchel items could be converted to 16 pocket items (1 satchel item = 2 pouch items = 4 pocket items), which he could cash in for 16 x 5 = 80 SP.  This is handy if you're heading into an urban adventure, not so much if you're wandering around the tomb of horrors... with your first level character.

For those wanting the dungeoneering tools mentioned under satchel:
 And for critters and other companions:
And go here for the weaponized livestock table.

Magic Users consult Spell Table below for spell selection.  E.g. Moggins the Magicolator, brother to Fobbins in the example above, is also similarly endowed in starting equipment dice rolls; he gets a   5,4,3,2.  He wastes no time on weapons or armor, snagging himself a freebie staff and moving on to spells.  He adds the 4 and 2 for a 6 which gets him to the A list spells and rolls a 4, netting shocking grasp for his spellbook.  He then takes a B-list spell with the 5-er: rolls a 1 for hold portal.  With the just the 3 remaining, he can either roll for a spell on the D list and rely on the bounty of his pockets to get him through the dungeon, or spend it on a backpack full of goodies. Or he can use it to make a scroll of one of his two spells.  Not a bad option, really.


Here is a bunch of verbiage about the rules that will make them seem extra convoluted.  You really don't need to read them, but maybe you want to.  Your call.

0-pip Weapon Rule:
A character may select a staff, club, or sling with 12 sling stones for 0 pips. 
As MUs were foregoing any and all weaponry in order to save their precious pips for spells and scrolls, this afforded them at least some form of mundane self defense.

But it lead to people stockpiling slings and clubs, so I added the

No Stockpiling Free Stuff Rule:
0-pip weapons may only be selected if that weapon is the only weapon the player selects.  
If you're happy with a club as your only means of defense, so be it.  But if your thief wants a short sword and a sling, say, you're going to have to drop 1 pip on the sling.  On the positive side, it'll come with bullets--better range, more damage--instead of stones.

You may stack pips from multiple dice in order to improve your selection options. 
MUs were using this incessantly to get at those A-list spells.  Which is why they had nothing left for daggers--which are admittedly expensive in my new system.

Surplus pips:
If you buy below the value of your dice, you can use the surplus, but only in the same column.
That is, you roll a 6 for your weapon but only want a long sword (5 pips).  You can spend the surplus pip, but only on another weapon; you can't use it to get a shield or a pouch or an F-list spell. Arguably, fighters may use the extra pip to get a shield.

1 pip can buy you a shield or padded armor
Basically, I shifted the whole armor column up one slot, so now a 6 gets you chain & shield instead of just chainmail.  This was done because it irked me that leather armor (AC 8) only has a defensive value of 2, yet it cost 3 pips.  This way, you're buying 1 AC improvement with each pip.  Much more pleasing.  It should be noted that Padded is AC9 in my game.

An elf who assigns two 6's to armor may acquire elven chainmail.
In my game, elves can wear only padded, leather, or elven chainmail. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Weaponised Livestock

Due to overwhelming demand (thanks for the set up Lum), I'm releasing the Weaponized Livestock Table mentioned in my Starting Equipment post last week.

  1. Fighting Cock: d4 hp, 2 attacks for 1-3 ea. On a 20 leaps up to your face and tears out an eye, your nose, or your tongue.
  2. Guard Dog:  Woof.
  3. Venomous Sheep: 2HD, AC5, 1 attack for d6 dmg but save vs. poison or die of botulism in 2d6 seconds.
  4. Warcrow: As fighting cock except speaks up to 3 languages and it can wield a crossbow or pole arm.  Also flies a lot better than any homicidal poultry ever could.
  5. Carnivorous Goat: As venomous sheep except these vicious mo' fo's are hella fast (15") and get 4 attacks per round for 1d6 ea.  On a 20 it shreds your armor; AC value is reduced by 3 permanently.  Also, it is not venomous. 
  6. Battle Ox: 8 HD, AC 5, 1 attack for 2d8 dmg.  On a 20 the ox has impaled you on his horns and is thrashing his head around trying to dislodge you.  Drop everything and continue to take 2d8 damage every round thereafter until you save versus watching-your-innards-spill-out-on-the-ground.