"Bruno takes 2 points of damage. Not enough to kill him, but the spider's bite is poison. Bruno rolls his saving throw against poison, fails to make it, and dies a horrible death." -Dr. Eric Holmes, "The Blue Book" (D&D 1978)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Turning probabilities

Just for fun, what is the chance of a 1st level cleric turning 4 zombies over the course of 2 rounds? 

Looking at a few different D&Ds:

Holmes: 25.4% 
1e: 30%
Moldvay/LL: 24.1%
"Black Book:" 20.2%

I'm throwing in the book from the 1991 boxed set (black box), the 15th version of basic (as per Acaeum).  At boardgamegeek the reviewer says it, "walks the line between rpg and board game but I think it really does fall on the board game side of the fence."  I disagree.  Acaeum states, "it is meant to be a primer for the D&D Rules Cyclopedia."  I do not own the Rules Cyclopedia and I don't know off hand if the turning rules there agree with the "black book."

In Holmes and AD&D multiple attempts are not allowed and so the "2 rounds" part doesn't matter, and the above is just the chance of turning 4 zombies in these versions.  Moldvay, as mentioned in this post -- and this jibes with my experience -- is typically interpreted as putting no restrictions on the number of attempts.  In the black book (1991), however, “once a cleric fails an attempt to turn undead, all his other attempts during the same battle also fail.”

Since the turning is "spread out" over 2 rounds in Moldvay and the "black book," here are the probabilities of turning all four zombies on the 1st try (1st round) in these versions:

Moldvay chance of turning all in 1st round: 11.6%
"Black book" chance of turning all in 1st round: 16.2%

The reason this is such a big difference is because of rounding the number of hit dice turned.  In Moldvay, round down: "he rolls agains to see how many monsters he turns.  The result of 9 means that 4 ghouls (a total of 8 hit dice worth) are turned away (extra hit dice have no effect)."  In the "black book" on the other hand, round up: the DM "divides the number rolled by the number of Hit Dice each monster has (round leftovers up).  The result is how many undead monsters the cleric turned."  In Holmes and 1e, the roll is not for the number of hit dice turned but the number of undead and so rounding is not an issue.

Some more clerical comparisons (some of the same ground covered in this post - most everything discussed in D&D has been discussed before):

A spell at first level? No
Number of undead turned: 2d6 (number of undead, not the number of hit dice)
Number of attempts: “When a cleric confronts one or more of the undead, consult the following table.”  Once per confrontation, no further attempts. 

A spell at first level? Yes. In fact, they’ll usually start with more than one, based on wisdom bonus. For example, with a wisdom score of 14, a 1st level cleric starts with the ability to memorize 3 spells. With higher wisdom, they’ll have more.
Number of undead turned: 1-12 usually (or 7-12 or 1-2, depending on type; this is the number of undead, not the number of HD)
Number of attempts: Basically one. “Failure to score the number shown, or greater, means the turning was unsuccessful. No further attempt by the cleric can be made with respect to the particular undead, and they may proceed to attack or otherwise operate unconstrained” and “this function may be attempted only once by each cleric.” There is an exceptional case, when “multiple forms of creatures subject to turning are involved.” Part of the beautifully baroque 1e AD&D.

A spell at first level? No
Number of undead turned: 2d6 hit dice
Number of attempts: Interpret as unrestricted 

“The Black Book” of the 1991 boxed set (and “The Classic Dungeons & Dragons” of the 1994 boxed set):
A spell at first level? No.
Number of undead turned: 2d6 hit dice
Number of attempts: One each round until failed.

Labyrinth Lord:
A spell at first level? Yes.
Number of undead turned: As Moldvay.
Number of attempts: As Moldvay.

I'm personally happy with any of them.  My favorite is Holmes (probably 'cause that's what I started with), but with a spell at first level a la AD&D/LL.

It's not really possible to directly compare with the others but…

Pathfinder Beginner Box:
1st level cleric…
  • Either heal the living OR damage undead: 3 + charisma modifier times per day (so 4 or more likely)
  • Cast detect magic, read magic, light, and stabilize “over and over again as much as you want, up to once per round.”
  • One more spell (or two more if wisdom is 13 or more – most likely it is because ability score generation is 4d6 drop lowest, arrange to taste).
Trying to relate it to the others...

A spell at first level? Yes.  Basically about 10, 4 of which can be cast ad infinitum.
Number of undead “turned” (actually damaged): all in 30 foot radius
Number of attempts: About 4 or 5 per day depending on charisma

Monday, April 23, 2012

Centipede taxonomy

In Holmes, the poison of giant centipedes is “in many cases … weak and not fatal.”  Mechanically this is a +4 bonus to saving throws. It’s still save-or-die.  In Moldvay, failing the saving throw causes an illness lasting for 10 days, reducing movement to ½ rate, and prohibiting other physical activity.  Thus the poison of the Holmes centipede is less likely to take effect (+4 to saving throw) but has much more dire consequences (death).  Also according to Holmes, giant centipedes “come in many colors (gray, black, red-brown, etc.)."  Perhaps each has a different type of poison.

For example:

Black giant centipedes: +4 bonus to saving throw, failed saved causes sickness as per Moldvay
Grey: Moldvay type
Red-brown: Holmes type
Red-orange: save-or-die, as Holmes, no bonus to the saving throw

To the typical dungeon denizens, and experienced adventurers, these differences would be well-known, but neophyte adventurers might be unaware of them.

Type appearing:
1-33: Black
34-67: Grey
68-97: Red-brown
98-00: Red-orange

MINI-MODULE. Caverns of the Crawlers

Here is a pdf of this.

Wandering Monsters. Check once per 10 minutes. 1 in 12 chance.
1. 2-5 orcs
2. 1-4 orcs and Leutenant Oriker from H
3. 1-4 orcs and Shaman Grak from H
4. 1 giant fly
5. 1 giant ant
6. 1-4 giant centipedes


A. Ladder up to 10’ wide ledge where the cave entrance is located. The entrance is only 3’ high (once 50’ into the cave, the height rises to about 10 feet) and so entry and exit is not too easy. Roll 1d6 and subtract 2 for the number of orc guards present here at any given time. Allow the possibility of zero guards. There always should be guards here, but discipline is lax. Wisps of smoke waft from the cave mouth, noxious and very weird smelling, this smoke is present near the ceilings throughout the caverns (comes from Grak's poison making operation at H).

B. Well concealed wire (2 in 6 chance of detection) triggering falling rocks (dexterity check to avoid 1-12 damage).

C. On northern wall, an ancient skeleton in shiny chain mail (cursed -1). The pit is 20’ deep but full of water 2-5’ deep, resulting in less damage from the fall, but there is a pit viper in the water.

D. 2’ wide, 40’ deep pit. Orcs put refuse, etc. down these, that is all.

E. Water, 2-5’ deep. 1 in 6 chance of slipping if moving through here without caution.

F. Water, 4-11’ deep. A shiny statue at the bottom of pool. It is a worthless painted statue the orcs tossed into the water. There is a giant leech in the pool.

G. 2-8 orcs

H. Grak’s workshop. Here the orc shaman Grak (crafty, eccentric, brooding, forgetful, cruel, 3 HD, cure light wounds (x2), dispel magic) is attempting to create a poison usable on weapons from the deadly venom of the red-orange giant centipedes. Also present is orc lieutenant Oriker (hot-headed, a drunk, weak leader, 2 HD) who has no faith in Grak’s scheme. In addition, another 2-7 orcs are here, and their gear (sleeping pallets, weapons, the usual equipment, etc). Pots full of vile smelling liquids simmer over a small fire in south-east corner (Grak's operation, this is where the strange smelling smoke comes from), crude alchemical equipment around the fire. There is a giant centipede cage for on the east wall, with 1-4 of the red-orange variety in it. (Grak and the orcs might have treasure as you deem fitting oh DM).

I. Slave pen. 3-18 human/demi-human slaves locked in fenced in southern portion. Sick and weak. They are forced by the orcs to plumb the depths of the giant centipede infested tunnels at K, in search of the red-orange variety. Obviously this is dangerous work. Grak promises freedom to any slave who can bring him two of the rare red-orange giant centipedes. No one individual has yet captured two and so no one knows if Grak will keep his word.

J. Top of the Cliff. 3 orcs with crossbows and flasks of oil, torches on walls.   Ladder down to K. The guards are here to both to keep centipedes from climbing up the cliff and to force the slaves go into the centipede infested tunnels (K), instead of cowering at the base of the cliff.

K. Giant centipede infested tunnels. Ladder up the cliff to J. Narrow maze-like tunnels penetrate far into the mountain and are teeming with the critters. If PCs venture into these tunnels, or are forced to, there is a 1 in 10 chance each minute of encountering 1-4 giant centipedes (determine type randomly).

L. Tomb. The orcs shun this place. The entire cave radiates magic; using detect magic will not register anything particular, other than this general presence of magic.  There is a sarcophagus on the northern wall, a table with a dagger on it in the center of the cavern, and a scroll on a small stand near the west wall. There is a loose stone (1 in 6 chance of detecting per 10 minutes searching) in north-west corner, and under the stone is an iron box with a bottle of red ink and a brush. If any chaotic being touches the scroll case, then all chaotics in the cave take 1-8 damage, save vs. magic for half. If any chaotic touches the iron box, then all chaotics in the cave suffer 3-18 damage, save vs. magic for half.  The scroll depicts a dagger in a circle. If the party uses the brush and ink to paint a circle around the dagger on the table, then the sarcophagus may be safely opened with no ill effects. There is a 2000 gp crown in the sarcophagus. If the circle has not been drawn when the sarcophagus is opened, then poison gas is triggered from the sarcophagus and the dagger animates and attacks as a 4th level fighter (AC 3, hp n/a). It is not possible to “kill” the dagger, a successful hit will knock the dagger away for a moment, prohibiting the dagger's attacking during the next round.  If the party leaves the cave then after 1-6 hours, the dagger will resume its position on the table. Any lawful being that spends more than 10 minutes in this cave will heal 1-6 points damage (don’t tell them, they’ll be pleasantly surprised later), once per day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

[Movie] Hammer's 7 Golden Vampires

On the surface a vampire-zombie-kung fu flick may not seem to have a lot to do with D&D, but hear me out... An adventuring party.  A legend. A journey-quest. A mind-controlled mad monk. Weird monsters. An out of the way village plagued by undead...

Some of those Hammer films are very D&D, imo.  (Now that's a subjective statement, I realize,  Not everyone's concept of "what is D&D" is the same).  For me, anyway, some of those flicks just have the atmosphere, the attitude, the style, the flavor.

A fine example: 1974's

Watch the original uncut version.  The edited North American version was released as "The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula" and also with the exceedingly verbose title "The Seven Brothers and Their One Sister Meet Dracula" (!).

Most critics boil it down to something like "flawed but enjoyable pastiche."  Cornball cheese (saying that respectfully), yeah, but awesome imo.

Here is a link to a pretty good synopsis and review.

Battling a vampire...
Zombie hoard...
Mr. Battle Axe...
The incomparable Julie Ege...

(This is that this is the first in an occasional, irregular series of posts about movies, TV, and comic books that might not ordinarily be thought of as D&D, but one way or the other influence my D&D...)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Only in it for the gold

Setting out. 

Imo the best motivation at the first is that they're only in it for the gold.

There's some disdain for the D&D cliche: meetup in a tavern, rumors of haunted ruins, great treasure, strap on yer boots and swords and set off to drag out the gold. 

To me, this is the best way (it doesn't have to be a tavern or exactly this way, but basically).  Why? Setting out on such a path - no patron hiring, no captive to rescue, no message from distant relatives, no master commanding, no mentor guiding, no specific mysteries to solve - demonstrates the trait that all these adventurers must share, appetite for risk.  They'd rather trudge off into the depths than follow tamer paths.

Now this is not to say that story and other motivations cannot develop.  They can.  In play. Possibly very soon after the start.  Including patrons, prisoners, masters, mentors, mysteries.  All that.  The second encounter in the dungeon might be with a group of warriors - men of a local noble - seeking their lord, the Duke, who is somewhere in the dungeon plumbing its depths for treasure (of course), and also looking for a rare plant apparently needed by a crazed holy man treating the Duchess who has contracted an unusual and mysterious contagion.  The holy man seems to have a strange powerful sway over the Duke.  The Duke's warriors don't trust the holy man.  They need to deliver a message to the Duke: his daughter has been kidnapped and hauled off somewhere within the dungeon. 

A prisoner, opportunity for a patron, mysteries - many possibilities are open to the PCs here. Will they involve themselves? What will they try to gain?  How? They could seek out the duke, offer their services, or hunt for the kidnappers, attempt to rescue the duke’s daughter, or try to steal her away and offer her for ransom themselves.  They could visit the holy man and the duchess, to learn about the disease and the plant, or try to discover what sway the holy man seems to have over the duke. Or ignore the whole thing.  Or something else I haven’t thought of.  They will devise schemes of their own in play.

The difference in my mind, between more extensive motivating backstories and my preference -  the tavern meetup/go get the gold scenario - is player choice.  There is one choice forced on the players at the outset in "my" way: their characters are not ultra-cautious types, they are willing to sign on for adventure.  Otherwise why not take up safer pursuits?  Follow mom or dad into a life of bartending, horsetraining, storekeeping, farming, whatever.  Possibly smarter paths.  But Game Over.  So their first choice is a forced one – the requirement that they are willing risk life and limb for the thrill and rewards of adventure, instead of heading for tamer pastures.  That is the only forced choice.  There’s no requirement at the start to hire on as bodyguards, save a village, rescue anybody, serve in a wizard’s employ, investigate mysterious disappearances, etc.  The choices whether to do these things come later in play.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tegel Manor IRL

This is Humboldt Palace in Germany, a Renaissance manor.  According to this source, it later housed a sanatorium, then a manufacturing facility, and a broadcasting station.  In the park is a tomb, where Humboldt family members are buried. 

Humboldt Palace is the Tegel district, and is also known as Tegel Palace... Tegel Manor in real life.

This is very old news: the following letter and response appeared in the Aug/Sep '79 issue of The Judges Guild Journal, #16:

"Dear Sirs, I have been playing your game Tegel Manor for about 9 months now, and I am a HAM radio operator.  I was wondering if Tegel Manor does exist in real life?  So, I happen to be looking at a map of Berlin, West Germany, and found the town of Tegel in North West Berlin.  So I started to get as many West German radio stations hoping to get Berlin and I did several and asked if they knew of Tegel manor and they did.  I wrote to him and got a picture of Tegel Manor by Tegeler See.  I was wondering if you at Judges Guild knew there was a real Tegel Manor?"

And the response:

"We at the Guild were unaware of the 'The' Tegel Manor.  Ours was set up based on the Bob Bledsaw's, illustrious founder and DM, own campaign, wherein he used a general manor-house architecture for Tegel.  Thanks for the picture.  Is truth stranger than fiction?  I wonder if anybody has visited the manor lately."

There is an grainy pic in the Journal.

Here is Tegeler See (Lake Tegel):

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

[Monster] Vile rat

For LL: A nastier giant rat, infesting accursed, haunted sites …

Vile Rat
No. Enc.:           1d10
Alignment:        Chaotic
Movement:       120’ (40’) Swim 60’ (20’)
Armor Class:    6
Hit Dice:            1
Attacks:              1
Damage:            1-4 + disease (see below)
Save:                   F1
Morale:              10
Hoard Class:    None
XP:                     19

The vile rat is similar in appearance to the giant rat, slightly larger, and emitting an even fouler stench.  Any character within 30’ of a vile rat must save vs. poison or suffer -1 to hit (until save made, check each round) because of the stench.  The vile rat is not an undead being, but it is often associated with such because it is strengthened by the energy animating the undead.  Whenever a vile rat is within 60’ of any undead being, it receives a bonus of +1 to hit and to saving throws.  The bite of a vile rat has the same potential to cause disease and death as the bite of an ordinary giant rat, but in order to cure the disease caused by the vile rat, either a Remove Curse or Dispel Evil spell must be cast, in addition to a Cure Disease.  Any character that dies from the disease caused by the bite of a vile rat is destined to become a zombie.

Monday, April 9, 2012

[My Art] Header

So as you can see I drew up a header, depicting Bruno's unfortunate expiration.

The entire illustration:

Call it, "Bruno's Demise, or A Failed Save."

As you might well recognize, the spider is something of an attempt to pay tribute to one of the greats, Dave Trampier's classic illustration in the 1e MM:
Mine is so unworthy next to that!  Wow.  Oh well.  Tramp is so evocative, compelling, unique.  Just Awesome.

('Though Sutherland is my personal favorite!).

Thank You! to you who've joined as followers. Greatly appreciated!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

[Artist] Judy King Rieniets

Judy King Rieniets is THE LOTR artist, imo.  Totally formed my visual conception of Tolkien's world.

What's this blog about?

FRP Stuff.  Monsters.  Tables.   Classes.  Traps.  Characters.  Encounters.  Rooms.  Dungeons.  Maps.  Modules.  Art.  Artists.  Rules.  Musings.  Etc.  With an old school vibe.

Also comic books.  (Especially to argue who’s the greatest, Kirby or Ditko :) ).  Adventure fiction.  70s/80s TV/movies too.  Other stuff (?). 

btw, it’s ditko, Ditko, DITKO!!!

Friday, April 6, 2012

[My art] Manticore drawing I

Preliminary sketchs for a drawing a manticore.  Rough and amateurish.  To set the tone for the blog :)

I figured I would sketch the elements – lion’s body, bat-wings, hag’s head – separately first.  Next I’ll work on pencil sketches putting ‘em all together, then a pen & ink drawing.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hello World

"Bruno takes 2 points of damage.  Not enough to kill him, but the spider's bite is poison.  Bruno rolls his saving throw against poison, fails to make it, and dies a horrible death." -Dr. Eric Holmes, "The Blue Book" (D&D 1978)