Friday, May 14, 2010

The Zobo Bird

Another in a series of posts of monsters inspired by Amazing Monsters: Verses to Thrill and Chill a wonderful collection of whimsical monster verses. This is definitely in my Appendix N. I'd like more whimsy in the game, and I'd especially like a more different 'fey'; something more Midsummer Nights Dream or folk tale like than simply invisible pixies with darts. They'll be there too, for sure.

One of my few disappointments in the Yggsburgh hardback was the 'Wychwood' encounters which amounted to little more than wood elves, satyrs and centaurs. All of these creatures could be all too easily interpreted as bags of hit dice with no mystery whatsoever; by the book that's pretty much all they are.
I'll certainly be following Mandragora as he's already done real research into all this.

So, here it is:

The Zobo Bird

Do you think we skip,
Do you think we hop,
Do you think we flip,
Do you think we flop,
Do you think we trip
This fearful measure
And hop and hip
For personal pleasure?

O no, O no,
we are full of woe
From top to toe:
It's the Dread Zobo,
The Zobo Bird

He brings us bane,
He brings us blight,
He brings us pain
By day and night:
And so we must
Though it take all day
Dance or bust
Till he flies away.

Away, away!
O don't delay.
Go Zobo, go,
O Zobo bird!

by Frank A. Collymore

I take this as a creation of some fey power that decreed all their guests were to party and dance - OR ELSE. So it must be a fairly fearsome encounter, though avoidable IF the secrets of the bird are known and one can actually take the time to do nothing but dance or sing.

But what does the Zobo Bird look like?

Is it of fearsome countenance?

Or is more like the dread Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with 'nasty big pointy teeth'.

It'll do you a trick, mate!

We'll go with that.

The Zobo Bird
Frequency: Rare
No. Appearing: 1, possibly 2 (mated pair)
Armor Class: 5 (1E) 15 (C&C)
Move: 10"/50" fly
Hit Dice: 6
% in Lair: 25 %
Treasure Type: 5 (C&C), D
No. of Attacks: 3
Damage/Attack: 1-8/1-8/2d6
Special Attacks: Flyby Attack
Special Defenses: Twilight Vision
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Low
Saves: P (C&C)
Alignment: Neutral
Size: S (1' long)
Type: Magical Beast
Experience: 180+6/hp

(Forgive the amalgamated Castles and Crusades and 1E stat block. Use what you use, ignore the rest.)

An unassuming bird, the zobo patrols portions of fey forests that are prescribed for merriment. No reaction roll is necessary; unless the zobo bird sees you singing or dancing, it will attack with fierceness. Drinking alcoholic beverages is ok if part of a drinking song, but otherwise you're Zobo prey. No training in singing or dancing is required, as a zobo was born to value enthusiasm not skill. A zobo may remain to enforce merriment for 1d6 turns. However, if a 6 is rolled the zobo remains vigilant until sunrise or sunset.

The zobo is especially deadly because of its flyby attack. It can dive from above, moving a portion of its movement rate (even using your edition's charging rules), make its attack and fly the remainder of its movement. The best course of action is to wait the zobo out with singing or dancing. After all, whatever fey power set the zobo to the forest is also interested in merriment. But if one insists upon dourly fighting the beast missile weapons and long pole arms set to receive the dive attacking bird are your best option.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Proposed Caller Rules

I'm going to propose requiring a caller in our campaign. We never had a caller before, and I've never played with one. Even in a sprawling, old school sandbox with umpteen players, there were typically a max of six players in an expedition.

Having a large group of of people that all want to show up and game is one of those "good problems." Usually. From our stable of 12 regular players (all adults) and a few occasionals, we usually get 8 and sometimes ten players. Running an old school system (Castles and Crusades), we still get several combats and a lot of exploration and conversation.

10 is just too much. Even without inter-party conflicts, there are just too many inputs on the DM, the table is too large, etc. We've had a couple of sessions where both co-DMs ran sessions (of 4 and 5) in separate rooms. But we don't always have that luxury, and it makes it hard on the DM that was looking forward to taking their turn at playing.

And last week we had a problem. The party was confronted with a difficult tactical situation, and there were some strong disagreements on how to proceed. There were some bad feelings, and one player carried his resentment through the remainder of the game. He's apologized, but it left a bad impression on a new player. The other side of the argument hasn't apologized for their role in it and that's unfortunate.

Some may think that as the DM I should have put a stop to it. I don't think it is my role to handle inter-party conflicts. But what happens at the table is my concern, and I did attempt to force them to settle and called the party to vote. Likely I should have done that earlier.

I've looked through Dragonsfoot and found references to requiring callers in several posts from old schoolers, but I've not found a description of how a caller works. I'm also hesitant to take away individual player choices and hand them over. So this is the result:

Proposed Caller Rules

When I am DM and we have seven or more players, I propose we play by these guidelines:

The players should elect a caller. This could be the player who is most motivated to take on the current adventure, someone they trust with tactical decisions or even just to make the quiet player in the corner talk more. When the group (not an individual) is confronted by a choice, the DM will listen to the caller.

2.Group Decisions
When major group decisions (like plans, or whether to talk or fight) are to be made, the group can and should have a discussion. After 10 minutes (or player request, DM boredom, use of profanity) either the DM or the caller will call a vote. The players will vote, and the DM will consider the players to begin the actions voted.

3.Individual decisions during combat
Each player will have 30 seconds (1 minute? seems too long) to decide their action, or lose it. There should be time enough to decide your action before it is your turn.

Does anyone else have any experience with callers? Played in Tim Kask's game at a convention and have something to share?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hex Crawl Location Inspired by History

Off and on I've been reading “A History of the Church in the Middle Ages” by David Logan and keep finding items to blog about. I've finally decided to take notes so that I can post bits when I find time.

The first thing in particular to note is how “the hobby” relates to interest in history. It might never have come about if not for amateur historians and their war games. Later, the bits and pieces of historical reference in rules and setting inspiration from those progenitors would in turn engender historical interest in gamers. I picked this book precisely because I hoped it would bring something to the game but I found it enriching my life in other ways as well.

And bring it this book has. This blog has a limited life span, as I'll be going back to school in the fall and won't likely have time to post. But I hope to share several parts of this book with you folks – from an undead pope, musings on religious controversy in a universe with observable deities, to the interplays of politics and religion.

But something simple for a start: a quote from pope.

The diocese of Gardar lies at the ends of the earth in the land called Greenland... It is reckoned that no ship has sailed there for eighty years and that no bishop or priest has resided there during this period. As a result, many inhabitants have abandoned the faith of their Christian baptism: once a year they exhibit a sacred linen used by the last priest to say Mass there about a hundred years ago.
Pope Alexander VI, 1492

        Hvalsey Church ruins in Greenland

To me that screams to be made into an adventure location in a hex crawl, complete with discovered adventure hook. A linear or quest oriented campaign might have the hook be an order from whichever religious figure would take the place of Alexander VI. But in a sandbox, I'd rather the hook be found. In the ruined monastery the abbot's diary may contain this lament for the lost souls in Gardar. It would be up to the player characters to do additional research for the rumored location of Gardar and the hazards that left the community isolated. If they do not take it upon themselves to search for Gardar, they yet may be rewarded for recalling the helpful information when they stumble upon it in their advances into the unknown.

Once in Gardar, they'll find the community isolated and divided. Some may yet adhere to their faith of established civilization. Others may have returned to pagan ways, or even 'gone native' with some local divine (or divine-ish) power. Like factions in a dungeon, the players can intercede or not; there would be advantages and problems with either. What misconceptions, misremembered truths, or 100 year old prejudices, does the community have that may make life difficult for the players? Do the players seek the sacred linen as treasure – is it indeed a holy relic with powers? Do they want to bring a new priest to the community and ensure that he or she is accepted? Would the community be a base for the players in further explorations to the unknown? Will there even be a Gardar community left to be found? If there were survivors, where did they go? And where did the sacred linen end up?

These are the questions that come to mind when I consider this as a site-based adventure location.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Not +1 Swords: Spells

A consequence of limiting lower level magical items is that certain lower level monsters that require magical weapons to hit are much more dangerous. Even medium level parties still depend on a selection of +1 weapons – such as a bow – that will be more rare. This would change lycanthropes, certain undead like wights and shadows, low level beings of the lower planes such as quasits, manes demons or imps and oddities such as perytons.

Spell casting adventurers would definitely attend to this problem. 1st edition has the 4th level Magic User spell “Enchant Weapon.” That would be beyond the reach of most mid-level parties that have fewer than typical weapons. But I can't help but think this is an under-powered spell for its level. It provides no bonus to hit, compared to the 2nd level spell Strength which lasts much longer and could certainly add to your melee bonus. Other 4th level spells to compare Enchanted Weapon to include Ice Storm, Wall of Fire and Polymorph Other. The d20 spell, Magic Weapon, provides +1 to hit and is only 1st level.

Mechanically, I intend to use these spells to avoid the Christmas tree effect of too many boring +1 weapons. I can limit those weapons, and pay more attention to the ones that I do place. Monsters that can only be hit by +1 weapons will still be a challenge, but not an unavoidable one. They will be a challenge that can be over come by preparation and resource management. A later post will detail potions that also solve the problem.

Evelgraten's Enchanted Edge
Level 1 Magic-User spell. Alteration
Components: V,S,M         Range: Touch
Casting Time: 1 round     Duration: 5 rounds/level
Save: None.            Area of Effect: 1 melee weapon, or 5 pieces of ammunition
This spell enables the touched weapon to hit creatures that are only hit by +1 magical weapons whether they are incorporeal, ethereal, extra-planar or otherwise supernatural. It does not otherwise provide any bonus to hit. The material components are a piece of unprocessed iron or silver ore and a garnet of at least 5 gp value which are touched together during the casting of the spell.

I choose the casting time of a full round instead of a segment because other 1st level spells creating a lasting effect (like Nystul's Aura) are a full round. I felt that the spell should have a material cost, thus the gem and the 'cold iron' was evocative of folk lore.

Blessed Weapon
Level 1 Cleric Spell Alteration
Components: V,S,M, DF      Range: Touch
Casting Time: 1 round        Duration: 6 melee rounds
Save: None              Area of Effect: 1 melee weapon
By means of a boon from their deity, the cleric blesses a weapon enabling it to hit creatures of an opposing alignment (or otherwise inimical to the deity) that are only harmed by magical weapons and providing +1 to hit. Some deities may require recitations from a holy book, but the typical material component for the spell is holy water which is dabbed upon the weapon during casting.

Yes, the recitation is meant to be a Monty Python reference. I modeled this spell after Bless, and the differences between it and the magic-user spell are intentional.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Bogus Boo

The bogus boo is a creature who
comes out at night, and why?
He likes the air, he likes to scare
the nervous passer-by!

He has two wings - pathetic things -
with which he cannot fly.
His tusks are fierce, yet could not pierce
the softest butterfly.

He has two ears , but what he hears
is very faint and small.
And with his claws on his four paws
he cannot scratch at all.

He looks too wise with his owl eyes,
his aspects grim and ghoulish.
But truth to tell, he sees not well
and is distinctly foolish.

The bogus boo - what can he do,
but huffle in the dark?
So don't take fright: he has no bite,
and very little bark!

by James Reeves

Frequency: Rare
No. Appearing: 1, possibly 2 (mated pair)
Armor Class: 8 (1E) 12 (C&C)
Move: 20"
Hit Dice: 2
% in Lair: 50 %
Treasure Type: See below
No. of Attacks: 2
Damage/Attack: 1-2
Special Attacks: Surprise, Fright, Mistaken Identity
Special Defenses: Dark Vision
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Low
Saves: P (C&C)
Alignment: Neutral
Size: L (12' long)
Type: Magical Beast
Experience: 50 + 3/hp

(Forgive the amalgamated Castles and Crusades and 1E stat block. Use what you use, ignore the rest.)

The Bogus Boo is the quintessential wizard's failed experiment that has managed to survive. Perhaps the whimsy of the wizard, or the inscrutable joys of some power of fey or chaos fostered it. Bogus Boos acquire some treasure or food through items lost when it frightens those that it encounters on its nocturnal sojourns - mostly hand held items. Long lived Bogus Boos have collections of lanterns, torches, walking staffs and swords. Otherwise, Bogus Boos survive by feeding upon carrion if they have not been adopted as a pet.

Surprise: If sneaking at night, Bogus Boos surprise on 2-6. Otherwise, Bogus Boos themselves are almost always surprised themselves.(1E) Boos Move Silently and Hide in Shadows as 5th level rogues. (C&C)

Mistaken Identity: Bogus Boos are often mistaken for wyverns, or some other mythical winged, clawed beast - even a dragon. The weakness of their claws, tusks and wings are not apparent at first glance.

Fright: Save vs magic (1E, arcane magic C&C) or drop held items and flee in panic like the aura of a dragon.