Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Eldritch Weirdness and Getting Freaky With Magic

I neglected to mention that I recently acquired the collection of the Books of Eldritch Weirdness. Suffice to say, they are aptly titled.

I have introduced some of the spells into my AD&D game by way of a spellbook found in a hidden extra-dimensional room in the tower the characters have been exploring for many weeks (real time) now. The magic-user failed to decipher the one spell he is presently skilled enough to cast, but given that he is due to level soon he will have another shot. Frankly, I can't wait until he becomes familiar with the spells and what they do. Will he use them? Will he destroy the spellbook? We shall see.

More importantly, the nature of the spells included in the book have got the wheels turning in my head with regard to how odd and otherworldly magic should be. In my campaign, magic was brought from another place (perhaps another universe entirely) by a dying race of beings who were desperate to preserve their art. This is not something that was ever intended for the mortal races of this world, and I really want to try and capture that. Wizards should be unusual or downright unnerving people. Imagine knowing the spell from BoEW that melts someone for six hours before reconstituting them. Why would you do this to someone? What kind of person willingly pursues this kind of knowledge?

I have to admit that some of the odd attack spells, like the one that causes one's opponent to be strangled by their own hair, is starting to attract me over the typical magic missile and lightning bolt realm of magic used to harm others. Even among the basic spells of the game, I am beginning to be more intrigued by the non-artillery spells... I want to see magic-users drawing circles of protection or divination spells where they must congress with spirits, demons, or worse. I want to see Thulsa Doom's arrow-into-snake spell instead of fireball. I want the scare spell from AD&D1 to be called The Sign of Sxirian and involve a forbidden glyph that transmits a tiny fraction of the true nature of the universe into the target's mind...or perhaps the spell causes brief telepathic contact with the entity Sxirian as it flies and cavorts through a distant universe of starfire (plasma) and chaos.

I have yet to introduce the concept of a magic-user's guild or magical college/academy to this game, and at this point I don't think I am going to. Those who use magic are dangerous scholar-vagrants, and certainly no civilized folk would ever allow them to organize. Of course, wizards being who they are, they would be disinclined to yield to any organization that might charge them dues or dictate how they may practice their profession. Like Vance's stories, I want wizards to learn spells by thievery, intimidation, and cajoling. Magic should scare the shit out of normal people , even if they dare to ask the advice of the village witch, they should have some kind of charm held behind their back for fear of what simply being around her could do to them. Adventurers take magic-users into their party, but adventurers, too, are dangerous people whose lives are filled with violence, horror, and debauchery.

To recall the example above, imagine you are a person who knows how to melt someone for a few hours before they reform. Now, imagine you are the type of person who would call that person ally or companion.

My brain is afire with possibility. You might even say I'm inspired.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sometimes Simple Is Better

Last week, we had to host my AD&D game (which has moved to Wednesdays) at one of the player's apartment. While trying to set up the Skype connection for our remote member to come and play, we discovered, to our horror, that our host's web cam did not have a microphone.

We ended up solving the problem by having another player call him on a cell phone and put him on speaker phone. It worked so well it was actually a little infuriating, how well it worked, given some of the troubles we've had with Skype and internet connection problems. I'm kind of surprised we didn't think of this before.

In related AD&D news, I will say that I have been running my campaign for four months, and we have only missed a single session. Around these parts, that is kind of a big deal.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Real Life Has the Best Monsters

My wife has a habit of sending me articles on all things strange and terrible. Her most recent find simply begs to be used in my AD&D game. Do you like freakish monsters? Well, how about a tongue parasite!

I'm thinking my version of this beastie is a nocturnal threat that crawls into the sleeping mouth of any small to man-sized mammal and, within a matter of hours, replaces the creature's tongue. The creature secretes a powerful narcotic to prevent the host from awakening during the process, though the DM might rule that a character is entitled to a saving throw vs. poison to awaken. If a character or his companions become aware of the creature, it is easily removed so long as the process hasn't been going on for more than an hour. If the character is allowed to remain asleep with the creature feeding on his tongue, the transformation is complete in 1d3 hours. The character still has all normal functions and can speak, taste, etc. However, anyone seeing the beast is likely to have a very bad reaction to it. As such, whenever the character speaks, there is a 1 in 3 chance that the person he is speaking with will see the horrible creature. Most normal folk will flee in terror, but others may think the character is a demon or shapeshifter.

A remove disease spell will cause the parasite to wither, die, and fall out of the character's mouth, but his tongue does not regrow; the parasite devoured it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Keep on the Borderlands

I had the good fortune to come across a copy of KotB for three bucks at the used bookstore in my hometown, which I visited last weekend. They also had two copies of the little red book and one copy of the little blue one, but I've got the mighty Cyclopedia on my shelf, so I passed on those.

I never knew that KotB was basically a campaign kickoff/mini-campaign setting. I really see why they used to call them modules.

I may post something more once I have actually read it. I feel like I'm spreading my attention too thin at the moment.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An Analysis of Death Frost Doom

In my last post, I gave a brief summary of how the session went. I now wish to discuss Death Frost Doom as a module. Don't construe this as a review; these are just my thoughts on the matter.

This may or may not contain spoilers. You may or may not have been warned.

Death Frost Doom is one of those wonderful modules that shows us that D&D does not have to be a game about endless combat and battle after battle until you reach the MacGuffin which is tucked in the last room and guarded by the biggest monster. It is a module where the characters have the chance to make major changes to the nearby campaign area. (Not necessarily good ones, either) This is a module where the characters have choices with actual consequence to them. They have the opportunity to be cowardly and self serving. They have the opportunity to be brave and possibly die for it. These things make the module itself compelling, and I find that I want to run it for several different groups to see the various outcomes.

Death Frost Doom is also a wonderful example of the dungeon/environment can be very much a character unto itself. This is not just a series of rooms but a functional structure with a consistent theme. Although largely abandoned,(well, until the characters mess with the plant monster) the dungeon is very much a living place. (In this instance, "dungeon" refers not only to the dungeon itself, but the cabin above it and the surrounding mountain graveyard.)

Finally, a few comments about the content of the module. There are a lot of horrible things that can happen to characters in Death Frost Doom. Most of the hazards are very nasty curses or magic items with a potentially fatal flaw to them. I love the magic items to be found in DFD. With only one exception I can think of (the protection scroll in the library) the items are unique. Magic items, in my mind, should be mysterious and just a little bit dangerous. A sword +1 is boring. Yet another potion of levitation is boring. I've never been a fan of Diablo-style D&D where after a couple of levels, every piece of clothing and equipment the character is wearing/carrying/using is a magical item. Ah, but I digress...

So, to encapsulate what I love about this module: it is an atmospheric, interesting dungeon and the module has the potential for great fortune or great woe. (Up to and including leprosy and death) The setup is both logical and fantastical. It is weird and off kilter and, most importantly, more than just a killing spree on the part of the characters.

The module clicks very well with what I'm running my characters through right now in my AD&D1 campaign. I also must say that it may have influenced future dungeons I design for my game.

(My players who read this are now free to despair.)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

We Play: Death Frost Doom

Last night, for my 28th birthday party, I ran Death Frost Doom. The characters were pre-gens ranging from 2nd to 4th level. All were created by yours truly. Our heroes:

*Brother Ignus, cleric. A devout soldier of the Lord Almighty, Brother Ignus was asked by the Church to travel to this remote outpost of the Duvan'Ku and retrieve the Scroll of Seven Sorrows, said to be a map to the ancient Duvan'Ku capital.

*Roberr Dulock, thief. A former pirate, Roberr was abandoned by his shipmates in a jungle colony after contracting a wasting disease. Brother Ignus happened to be doing missionary work there and healed him. Afterward, Roberr was (mostly) reformed and now follows Brother Ignus in his travels.

*Marga Anatola, magic-user. Marga was a village witch, spending most of her life making love potions and curing warts. When the spoiled village elder's son demanded a love potion strong enough to take a girl against her will, Marga refused. Furious, the spoiled youth turned her in to the Knights of Science. Brother Ignus happened to be passing through the village and used his pull with the Church to spare Marga from being burned at the stake. Marga has left the now hostile village and travels with Brother Ignus.

*Circian, elf. When the star-seers of Circian's clan saw the Dead Sign in the heavens, the Elder Council forbid them from acting upon it. The Council deemed that the elves would not fight against the Duvan'Ku again, this time leaving mortal man to save his own soul. With the secret blessing of his clan matriarch, Circian has left the Forest of Shadows to warn human kind. He has joined forces with Brother Ignus to discover the truth behind the return of the Duvan'Ku.

The short, spoiler-free version: Everybody died.

Below is the full, spoilery version. BE YE WARNED.


The adventure really did play out like a weird tale. The beginning of the end came when, after a brief foray into the dungeon and the expenditure of all their spells to detect magic, evil, etc, the party decided to bunk down in the cabin. This resulted in Roberr gaining an insanity. I decided on paranoid schizophrenia. The spirits told Roberr that Marga was actually one of the Duvan'Ku. Roberr resisted this idea... until they found the painting and he became convinced it was prophecy.

Down in the dungeon, the party bypassed the chapel door by having Roberr knock out one of Brother Ignus' teeth with a mallet and spike. It was hard core.

The tension mounted as the players kept searching, in vain, for traps and secret doors. Every sound (the rattling of the chains, the unearthly music) caused the cleric to leap to the defense, shouting challenges to the cold, empty air. The players told me that the module was creeping them out.

In the room with the pedestals and the plaque causing the tattoo compulsion, everything began to fall apart. The cleric was the only one to fail his saving throw when Roberr read the inscription out loud. The elf managed to subdue him with a sleep spell. As the party searched, Roberr used the magic eye piece to read the tablets. I invoked his paranoid schizophrenia here, having many of the tablets address him directly and say things like "The witch Marga is one of us." "Roberr, they will abandon you!" Roberr, growing increasingly paranoid and insane, sneaked up behind the magic-user and attacked her. Unfortunately, Roberr had pilfered the cursed dagger from the chapel, and he missed. Now he believed that Marga was actually shielded by dark magics, and shouted for Circian to help him. The two attacked the magic-user and slew her. The elf took the eye piece and examined the tabets, finding absolutely no mention of Roberr or Marga, but rather devotions to the Dead One and such. Infuriated, the elf attacked the thief, and after an epic sword battle, the elf ran poor Roberr through.
Awakening the cleric, he found that Ignus was still possessed by the strange compulsion, and restrained and bound him. He let the lantern sputter out, and there in the dark he sat with his friend until this thrashing ceased and he regained his senses. Circian explained what happened to their two friends. Both were broken and horrified, but agreed that they had to press on in the name of their mission.

The two of them never suspected that the plant creature was alive, so when Cirian's magic blade bit into it, he was impaled by a lashing, spiked vine. Ignus threw oil onto the plant and burned it, in the process burning the purple lotus powder that he didn't know his companion had taken...

Ignus woke up, alone, on the floor. A horrid strength coursed through his muscles, and a vicious, unrelenting lust burned within his body and mind. While he had dreamed the sleep of the purple lotus, the dead had come forth from their tombs. Seeing them at the end of the corridor, Ignus turned his cross upon them and ordered them away.

...he had no idea that hundreds of them were roaming the halls. As they turned to face him, Ignus had his last lucid thought, and that was that he must retrieve the scroll. After running to the altar and seizing it, he raised his shield and tried to plow through the horde of undead. He found himself unable to pass, fending off blows from their rotting fists. His shield was torn away from him, as was his mace. As he turned to flee back to the altar, his backpack was torn away by the unquiet dead. Consumed by the effects of the lotus and the horrors of the last two days, Ignus took the scroll and, with an anguished cry, hurled himself into the pit before the altar...

Ignus died upon impact, which was great enough that the giant below the mountain stirred in his sleep. When the giant awoke, all of the undead were crushed, along with the mountain, along with the town they had come from, along with poor Zeke. When the giant lay back down to sleep, the resulting earthquake sank ships and destroyed towns nearby. Thousands died, thousands more were injured, the the blighted mountain was erased... along with the only map to the sleeping city of the Duvan'Ku.

That was the blow by blow. Thoughts and analysis shall be forthcoming in the next blog entry.

Good night, all.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

House Rule: Energy Drain

As a DM, I have never liked Energy Drain. Though I do understand the harshness inherent in the game, I thought that energy drain was a bit too harsh. Even instant death poison allows a saving throw, after all. Many players and gamers have expressed to me over the years that the loss of more than one level due to energy drain is almost a fate worse than death.

The mechanics of energy drain always seemed a little metagame for me. I don't like that they steal a level, because what does that really represent, especially in a game where the classes have very different experience tables? Does a thief have "less life energy per level" than a fighter? It just doesn't sit right with me.

I am presenting my house ruled version of energy drain. In some ways, it is actually more serious than the previous level loss, but at the same time, it fits better with my conception of what "draining life energy" means.

Revised Energy Drain--
When a character is stricken by a creature or spell that causes energy drain, they lose one hit die; the character rolls a hit die and permanently loses that many hit points. In addition, they are forever after considered as being one hit die less. (But not class level) The only ways to restore life energy thus drained is a restoration, wish or other, similarly powerful magic.

At the DM's option, a saving throw may be allowed for losing half the amount of hit points rolled on the die.

In addition, the ripping away of one's life energy is a traumatic process, and the individual is often no longer the same. If a character is drained, have the player roll 1d10 and consult the chart below:

Roll Effect
1 The character gains a random, permanent insanity
2 The character ages 1d4x10 years
3 The character loses 1 point from all attributes permanently
4 Roll a d6. 1-2 loses 1 point of Int, 3-4 1 point of Wis, 5-6 1 point Cha
5 Roll a d6. 1-2 loses 1 point of Str, 3-4 1 point Dex, 5-6 1 point of Con
6 The character is haunted by nightmares. Each night there is a 10%
chance that he does not benefit from the night's sleep.
7 The character develops a severe phobia of undead and will not fight them
8 The character always feels cold, no matter what the weather.
9 The character's hair turns stark white
10 The character gains a shock of white hair.

Note that these effects are permanent until the character life energy is restored. Generally, a DM should only impose one such roll on the player, unless they lose 25% or more of their levels in a given encounter, in which case a second roll is warranted.

If the DM uses saving throws as above, he may opt to spare the player a roll on this table in the event of a successful save.