Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Intelligent Magic Items

A post many years in the making!

After finishing that "Knights in Orcus' Service" post and knocking around ideas for the other Chaos patrons in my setting, I realized I needed my own rules for demon weapons. Creating these items for my home game, I've been forced to cobble things together haphazardly. It's been rather annoying and nothing has felt quite right, so this is my attempt to streamline the rules for my home games - in whatever version of D&D I happen to be playing.

After using these rules several times in my home game, I feel good enough about them to post up. If I change them in the future I may come back and edit this.





First, let's examine the books I already have:

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness - The rules for Demon Weapons are cool as fuck, and clearly inspired by Elric. "Slays any unit it hits" is a bit much though. The magic effects from the Chaos Weapons section are good and the artwork is of course fantastic.

Awesome, but it will need some massaging to work within D&D.
We will come back to it later.


The Metamorphica Revised - The 'Ficto-Technica' section has tables for magic items. The best table is the one on pg. 208, "Demon-Possessed Items":


This will come up later on. 
Just get it, it's $10 for the revised pdf or get the classic version FREE!


AD&D DMG - Pages 166-168.

The standard to which all others are compared! Tables for personality and special goals are fantastic, but the whole system is pretty complicated and you have to flip back & forth. As usual, it could do with a bit of organizing.

I will be using the DMG as the baseline. From there I have attempted to streamline the mathematics and make things a little simpler while calibrating for my home setting.


*****



CREATING INTELLIGENT MAGIC ITEMS


0: Start

Per the DMG - we begin with an existing magic item. It could be a standard book item or one of the DM's own devising. This system was originally for magic swords but could be applied to anything: other weapons, wands, rings, armour or whatever.

From there, a simple 6-step process:
1: Roll for item INT
2: Roll for Alignment
3: Roll for Special Abilities
4: Roll for Special Purpose
5: Roll # of Languages Spoken, if applicable
6: Calculate EGO & Personality Strength


1: Intelligence and Capabilities (%)

We begin with the base tables from the DMG to see if it has intelligence and a mode of communication, and determine starting EGO rating:

01-50: No intelligence. Stop here.
51-75: No intelligence, but a strong alignment. Roll on Step 2 and then stop.
76-83: INT 12, EGO 1, semi-empathy
84-89: INT 13, EGO 2, empathy
90-94: INT 14, EGO 4, speech
95-97: INT 15, EGO 5, speech
98-99: INT 16, EGO 6, speech, read nonmagical languages/maps
00: INT 17, EGO 12, speech/telepathy, read magical writings

Or, if you are going to make an intelligent item anyway, use this chart expanded to the full percentage range to avoid a lot of rerolling:

01-31: INT 12, EGO 1, semi-empathy
32-56: INT 13, EGO 2, empathy
57-76: INT 14, EGO 3, speech
77-88: INT 15, EGO 4, speech
89-96: INT 16, EGO 5, speech, read nonmagical languages/maps
97-00: INT 17, EGO 11, speech/telepathy, read magical writings


EXAMPLE - I begin with a magical +2 sword. I have no particular plan for this item, so let's see what the dice give me on the top chart. Rolling for intelligence I got a 91, lucky! This sword has INT 14, EGO 3 and the power of speech.


2: Alignment (d20)

If you use simple law/chaos alignment like I do, just ignore the good/evil component of the result.
Remember that all cursed weapons are Neutral.

1-5: Lawful Good
6: Lawful Neutral
7: Lawful Evil
8-11: Neutral Good
12-15: True Neutral
16: Neutral Evil
17: Chaotic Good
18-19: Chaotic Neutral
20: Chaotic Evil

Simple alignment: if Chaotic, 30% chance of a demon item
AD&D alignment: if any Evil, 40% chance of a demon (or daemon or devil) item

Unintelligent but Aligned Items
Simple: Can be wielded or held by anyone, but activated & special abilities only work if alignment matches exactly. Plain +x items are reduced by one 'plus' for every step of alignment difference.

AD&D: Can be wielded by anyone, but activated & special abilities only work if all non-neutral elements of the item's alignment match the wielder's (a Lawful Neutral item can be used by anyone Lawful). This doesn't work in reverse - a Lawful Good item can only be used by Lawful Good characters. Plain +x items are reduced by one 'plus' for every step of alignment difference on either axis.

Intelligent Items
Simple: Handling an item of opposite alignment deals damage equal to item EGO. Handling an item one 'step' away is safe, but the item prefers to be wielded by someone who shares its values. Likely will refuse to use activated abilities or cause other personality conflict.

AD&D: All non-neutral elements of the item's alignment must match (as above), or handling the item deals damage equal to item EGO.

Demon Items
Can be used by characters of any ethos, all the better to corrupt them to the forces of darkness.

EXAMPLE - I use Simple alignment in my game. I rolled a 5, indicating the sword is Lawful.


3: Special Abilities

Roll for abilities based on item's INT:

INT 12: 1 detection ability
INT 13-14: 2 detection abilities
INT 15-16: 3 detection abilities
INT 17: 3 detection abilities, 1 extraordinary power

Detection Ability (%)

01-08 - detect shifting rooms/walls/sloping passages 10'
09-16 - detect traps 10'
17-24 - detect undead 20'
25-30 - detect opposing alignments 10'
31-36 - detect similar alignments 10'
37-45 - detect precious metals, kind and amount 20'
46-54 - detect gems, kind and number 5'
55-66 - detect magic 10'
67-69 - detect illusions 10'
70-74 - detect secret doors 5'
75-80 - see invisible 10'
81-85 - locate object 120'
86-93 - roll twice, ignoring this result or higher (add 2 EGO)
94-00 - roll for extraordinary power (add 2 EGO)

Extraordinary Power (%)
01-06 - determine direction and depth, 1d2/day
07-14 - enlarge/reduce on wielder, 1d2/day
15-21 - spider climb for 1 turn, 1d3/day
22-28 - clairaudience for 1 round, 30' range 1d3/day
29-35 - clairvoyance for 1 round, 30' range 1d3/day
36-40 - ESP for 1 round, 30' range 1d3/day
41-46 - charm person on hit, 1d3/day
47-50 - knock, 1/day
51-56 - strength on wielder, 1/day
57-61 - invisibility to item's enemies for 1 turn, 1d2/day
62-66 - levitation for 1 turn, 1d3/day
67-70 - fly, 1 hour/day (add 1d3 EGO)
71-75 - illusion as the wand, 120' range 1d2/day (add 1d3 EGO)
76-80 - x-ray vision for 1 turn, 40' range 1d2/day (add 1d4 EGO)
81-86 - telekinesis for 1 round, 1d2/day (add 1d3 EGO)
87-90 - telepathy, 60' range 1d2/day (add 1d4 EGO)
91-94 - teleport, 1/day (add 1d4+1 EGO)
95-97 - heal, 1/day (add 1d4+1 EGO)
98-00 - Roll twice, ignore this result again (add 2 EGO)

EXAMPLE - INT 14 gives 2 rolls on the Detection Table.
I rolled 03 - "detect shifting walls/rooms/sloping passages," and 71 - "detect secret doors." Not bad!


4: Special Purpose of Intelligent Item (d%)

Every intelligent item should have a special purpose. 
All these goals are filtered by alignment. A lawful sword that must 'defeat or slay' will only select chaotic enemies of its chosen category, etc.

01-15: overthrow opposite alignment (or "maintain balance" if Neutral)
16-85: defeat or slay:
     16-22: divine magic users (incl. divine entities, etc)
     23-30: arcane magic users (incl. magic-using monsters)
     31-37: fighters
     38-44: thieves
     45-55: all non-human monsters
     56-63: particular creature type (humanoids, undead, demons, etc)
     64-71: particular race or kind of creature (elves, orcs, ghouls, etc)
     72-78: servants of a specific deity
     79-85: everyone!!
86-92: defend a particular race or kind of creature
93-00: defend interests of a specific deity

Intelligent items generally prefer to use their powers in pursuit of their special purpose, but will do so for general tasks as long as they are kept happy. Using the item in opposition to its special purpose (aiding those the item wishes to destroy, etc) provokes an immediate personality conflict.

EXAMPLE - Rolling for Special Purpose, I get a 75 - "defeat or slay servants of a specific deity." Since the sword is Lawful, I decide to randomly select from the Chaotic powers in my setting. I end up with INMA, EMPRESS OF THE WORLD, a petty god worshipped by degenerated elves.


5: Languages Spoken

It's assumed the item can understand its wielder in any case. This determines the number of languages the item can speak aloud, if it is able. Per the DMG:

# of languages (%)
01-40: One
41-70: Two
71-85: Three (+1 EGO)
86-95: Four (+1 EGO)
96-99: Five (+2 EGO)
00: Six (+2 EGO)

What Language? (%)
Here is a chart from my game as an example.
01-15 - Imperial (aka Common Viridian)
15-20 - Alryan
21-25 - Antillian
26-30 - Dunael
31-35 - Ghinoran
36-40 - Skandik
41-45 - Tharbrian
46-50 - Amazon
51-55 - Altanian
56-60 - Avalonian
61-65 - Orichalan
66-70 - Old High Viridian
71-72 - Wild Speech
73-74 - Skeletongue
75-76 - Duvan'Ku
77-87 - Grimscribe
88-91 - Demonic
92-93 - Wild Elf/Bog Elf
94-95 - Lizardfolk
96-99 - Chthonic Elf
00 - Something really old/rare (draconic or something else cool)

EXAMPLE - Here I rolled fairly low, a 15. The sword can speak one language. I rolled Wild Elvish and decided it was made by the elves to destroy the heretical cult of Inma!


6. EGO Modifiers & Personality Strength

1 - Begin with item's starting EGO score as per Step 1.

2 - Add 1 EGO for every magical 'plus' an item has. Double this bonus for weapons that came into the process with special abilities (a +1 sword adds +1 EGO, a +3 sword of sharpness adds +6 EGO, etc) 
If the item is some weird thing from an OSR blog with no pluses you must use your discretion. Eyeball a power level between 1 (+1 sword, simple misc. magic item) and 10 (+5 holy avenger, staff of the magi). If you're completely stuck roll 1d10, or 1d6+1d4, or whatever.

3 - Include bonuses from Step 3 and Step 5, if any.

4 - Add the item's INT + EGO together to find its Personality Strength (PS).

EXAMPLE - The sword started with EGO 4. Add 2 for the sword's +2 bonus.
Total EGO of 6.

"Xyrxidon" Sword +2, Lawful
INT 14, EGO 6, speaks wild elvish
Detect shifting rooms/walls/sloping passages in 10' , detect secret doors in 5'


Resolving Personality Conflicts

Personality conflicts arise when the intelligent item's desires are not being met by its wielder. These contests are resolved with Personality Strength scores. 

The wielder of an item has Personality Strength equal to their INT + CHA + level.  This diminishes as the character suffers damage. The experience level component of this formula is reduced in proportion to hit point damage suffered.
 
The DMG explains it quite Gygaxianly, it's actually less math than it seems. The DM needs to calculate this just once (and when the character gains a level). Find the character's hp breakpoint at which the item's PS is higher than his, and make a note of it. There is no need to keep track of floating modifiers, since they don't matter most of the time.

EXAMPLE - Tjarg the Fighter is 5th level with 9 INT, 9 CHA and 30 hp. He normally has a Personality Strength of 5+9+9 = 23. For every 1/5 of his total hp he loses (6 points in this case) he deducts 1 point from his PS - so at 24 hp his PS is reduced to 22, at 18 hp it is 21 and so on.

If Tjarg is using our +2 sword above with its INT 14 & EGO 6 (PS of 20), you can see clearly at 12 hp he is tied with the sword and once his hp reaches 6, the sword's personality is stronger than his! All Tjarg's DM needs to do is write down "Tjarg loses contest w/sword at 6 hp."

As long as the item has a lower Personality Strength than its wielder, it can make its desires known and refuse to use its abilities if frustrated, but has no power over the character.

When an intelligent item has a PS higher than its wielder it may dominate him at any time. It may force him to attack certain opponents or allies, refuse to strike foes, force him to surrender or to drop it, etc. The likelihood of this happening depends on the relationship between item and wielder. It may make other additional demands - encrustation with gems, a fancy scabbard or case to be stored in, other efforts toward favoured causes, things like that.


Optional Rule for Personality Conflicts:

One thing I don't like about the DMG rules: it is trivial to roll up an intelligent weapon that will never win a personality conflict! This doesn't seem that exciting to me. Maybe you want a bit more uncertainty in your game?

It requires a bit more note-taking. The DM must note the wielder's Personality Strength at multiple breakpoints. Perhaps full hp, slightly hurt, half hp and near death. Keep these notes nearby for reference. When a personality conflict arises, the DM rolls 1d8 for both the item and wielder, adding it to their PS scores before resolving the contest.

EXAMPLE - A magical boon has increased Tjarg's INT and CHA scores to 10. His Personality Score is now 25. His humble sword can only win a battle of wills when he has 0 hp left - not very useful! Instead, the DM notes his Personality Strength at 12 hit points (PS 22) and 6 (PS 21).

During a difficult fight Tjarg gets hurt badly, reducing his hp to 11 (therefore, PS to 22). His sword has new plans for him and attempts to take control. The DM rolls 1d8 for each of them. Tjarg gets a 3, totaling 25. The sword rolls an 8, totaling 28. Today isn't Tjarg's lucky day...

I have not tested this idea very much. It would have to be calibrated. You could make it more or less random by changing the size of the die. If you used a d4 or d6, upset results would be rare. A d20 would make the whole thing way too random. d8 or d10 seems like a nice middle ground - the die roll will count for about 1/4 to 1/3 of success or failure, with the remainder upheld by statistics. Just enough that one can't be certain all the time!


Optional Rule for Different Versions of the Game:

The DMG rules are calibrated for players with certain statistics. Probably using 4d6 drop-the-lowest method, or perhaps something more generous than that. From the anecdotal evidence I've seen, successful AD&D PCs tend to have 1, 2 or even 3 exceptional statistics (15 or over), with the rest hovering around average. Consider this when calibrating the PS of your intelligent items.

If you play B/X and use 3d6 in order, for example, maybe you would reduce all item PS scores by 10-20% to balance out the lower stats.


[CHANGES]

This system will generate intelligent items that are slightly different from the DMG version in some ways:

Section 1 - Ignore "no intelligence, but strongly aligned" and this is exactly as per the DMG, I just condensed the math for you.

Aligned items being commonplace adds a sense that they were created for a real purpose. Picking up a wand of fireballs that only works for Chaotics, an Evil sword of sharpness, or a suit of armour made by a Lawful cleric helps to embed these items in the game world.

Section 2 - I rearranged the order of the alignments so that law, neutrality and chaos were grouped together, but the chances of rolling a given alignment are still the same. Effects of opposing alignments are standard for AD&D 2-axis system. 

Effects of aligned, but unintelligent weapons are my own. 
Demon weapons will occur about 6% of the time, and be explained in a later post.

Section 3 - The first table is BTB.

Extraordinary Powers are more likely (7% instead of 2% BTB), but the really powerful ones will occur less often so this seems fair. Some of the better Extraordinary Powers now add extra EGO to the item. This is fair, since rolling up an item that lets you teleport or fly every day seems like a really big deal!

I reworked the abilities so they fit my game better and have more variety. Sloping passages and trick walls are rare in my dungeons (unlike in the old days) so I combined them into one result, then I added some other cool abilities, etc.

Section 4 - Basically the same but I added more purposes to the table to give it some variety.

I removed "special purpose powers," so you'll never get a disintegrate-on-hit sword, but those were only going to happen 0.02% of the time anyway, so who cares?

Section 5 - BTB, I just included the EGO modifiers to make your life easier.

Section 6 - BTB, I just helped with the math.



*****

This is already getting long, and even more tables are coming up so let's quit while we're ahead. Rules for Demon Weapons coming up in the next installment!



Wednesday, February 23, 2022

We Are Not The Same

Someone recommended I check out the Eberron campaign setting. I could see myself running it with a few tweaks. I would change the names a bit (way too many "Dragon-somethings"). But the magic-as-technology thing is intensely annoying. I would rather play in a game where wizards ride stagecoaches and helium zeppelins and send telegraphs, than one where every post office is run by a dude casting sending.

'High Magic' in D&D should be a lot less continual light streetlamps and more of this, and I am reprinting it here so I can link to it during internet arguments. 



Before the black-armored image there hung seven silver lamps, wrought in the form of horses' skulls, with flames issuing changeably in blue and purple and crimson from their eye-sockets. Wild and lurid was their light, and the face of the demon, peering from under his crested helmet, was filled with malign, equivocal shadows that shifted and changed eternally. And sitting in his serpent-carven chair, Namirrha regarded the statue grimly, with a deep-furrowed frown between his eyes: for he had asked a certain thing of Thasaidon, and the fiend, replying through the statue, had refused him. And rebellion was in the heart of Namirrha, grown mad with pride, and deeming himself the lord of all sorcerers and a ruler by his own right among the princes of devildom. So, after long pondering, he repeated his request in a bold and haughty voice, like one who addresses an equal rather than the all-formidable suzerain to whom he had sworn a fatal fealty.

"I have helped you heretofore in all things," said the image, with stony and sonorous accents that were echoed metallically in the seven silver lamps. "Yea, the undying worms of fire and darkness have come forth like an army at your summons, and the wings of nether genii have risen to occlude the sun when you called them. But, verily, I will not aid you in this vengeance you have planned: for the emperor Zotulla has done me no wrong and has served me well though unwittingly; and the people of Xylac, by reason of their turpitudes, are not the least of my terrestial worshippers. Therefore, Namirrha, it were well for you to live in peace with Zotulla, and well to forget this olden wrong that was done to the beggar-boy Narthos. For the ways of destiny are strange, and the workings of its laws sometimes hidden; and truly, if the hooves of Zotulla's palfrey had not spurned you and trodden you under, your life had been otherwise, and the name and renown of Namirrha had still slept in oblivion as a dream undreamed. Yea, you would tarry still as a beggar in Ummaos, content with a beggar's guerdon, and would never have fared forth to become the pupil of the wise and learned Ouphaloc; and I, Thasaidon, would have lost the lordliest of all necromancers who have accepted my service and my bond. Think well, Namirrha, and ponder these matters: for both of us, it would seem, are indebted to Zotulla in all gratitude for the trampling he gave you..."

-Clark Ashton Smith, The Dark Eidolon


"Listen, my lord. I was once a great sorcerer in the south. Men spoke of Thoth-Amon as they spoke of Rammon. King Ctesophon of Stygia gave me great honor, casting down the magicians from the high places to exalt me above them. They hated me, but they feared me, for I controlled beings from outside which came at my call and did my bidding. By Set, mine enemy knew not the hour when he might awake at midnight to feel the taloned fingers of a nameless horror at his throat! I did dark and terrible magic with the Serpent Ring of Set, which I found in a nighted tomb a league beneath the earth, forgotten before the first man crawled out of the slimy sea..."

..."Blind your eyes, mystic serpent," he chanted in a blood-freezing whisper. "Blind your eyes to the moonlight and open them on darker gulfs! What do you see, O serpent of Set? Whom do you call from the gulfs of the Night? Whose shadow falls on the waning Light? Call him to me, O serpent of Set!"

Stroking the scales with a peculiar circular motion of his fingers, a motion which always carried the fingers back to their starting place, his voice sank still lower as he whispered dark names and grisly incantations forgotten the world over save in the grim hinterlands of dark Stygia, where monstrous shapes move in the dusk of the tombs.

There was a movement in the air about him, such a swirl as is made in water when some creature rises to the surface. A nameless, freezing wind blew on him briefly, as if from an opened Door. Thoth felt a presence at his back, but he did not look about...

-Robert E Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword


Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Terrible City Guards

So I was having a few laughs with some other gamers about city guards in Swords & Sorcery campaigns. We agreed that well-done city guards should be the opposite of helpful in every possible way! I am running a game in the City-State of the World Emperor right now, and I think about this kind of thing a lot. 

In the spirit of Lankhmar, the CSIO and Melan's The Nocturnal Table, here is a list of assholish city guard behaviours to make your ne'er-do-well player characters' lives difficult.

EDIT - After Prince's comment, I've added some more entries to the table.
Enjoy the new 36-entry version!



Roll for individual guards or an entire group (or just the guard you're talking to).
For best fun, roll 2 or 3 times and combine!

City Guard Traits Table (d66):

11 - Lazy: doesn't want to lift a finger, no matter how serious the situation
12 - Mean: gets angry if spoken to without proper "respect"
13 - Greedy: loves to get bribed, makes up bullshit fees, skims off the top
14 - Upstanding: reacts negatively to a bribe attempt
15 - Inquisitive: follows up on everything, suspects everyone
16 - Party animal: looking for a drink, smoke or skirt
21 - Shady: trying to hide activities from the higher-ups & witnesses
22 - Vain: trying to look good, impress the populace, get chicks
23 - Slovenly: unshaven, ill-fitting armour, helmet askew, may trip on own boots
24 - Unwashed: scent is oppressive enough, stands very close
25 - Cowardly & Vicious: takes easy chance for cruelty, avoids any challenge
26 - Superstitious: fears magic, recent convert to weird cult, or keeps lucky charm
31 - Zealot: believes Overlord/local priest/etc is best possible ruler, enforces happily 
32 - Axe to grind: vs. particular race, class, religion, or everyone
33 - Bent: running own schemes, has contraband to buy & sell
34 - Drunk: raucous fun, maudlin despair, or sullen & violent
35 - Disbelieving: assumes citizens are liars, believes opposite of what is said
36 - Ultraviolence: Sanpaku eyes, ready for bloodbath at slightest provocation
41 - The good guard routine: easygoing & friendly, trying to extract information
42 - The bad guard routine: loves to beat on the citizenry, fights dirty
43 - Shit rolls downhill: blames nearest bystander for anything that goes wrong
44 - Shit rolls uphill: everything reported to the district commander
45 - Filling quotas: collects tolls & taxes, sliding scale based on seeming wealth
46 - Press-ganging: eyeing likely candidates for the Overlord's salt mines
51 - The boss is watching: strict & by-the-book, the more obscure the laws the better
52 - Entrapment: pretending to be on the take, ready to arrest anyone who takes bait
53 - In it for the pension: will not face even slight danger, makes any excuse
54 - On break: all the privileges, none of the responsibilities
55 - High alert: vigilant, notices any subtle/suspicious goings-on
56 - Informant: works for Overlord's secret police, rats out everyone
61 - Doing the job for once: asks all passersby difficult questions, needs answers now
62 - On the payroll: looks other way for local thieving, reports new operators to guild
63 - Judge Dredd: inhumanly Lawful, pursues even minor infractions unto death
64 - Private Pyle: pudgy dim-bulb would love a donut right now
65 - Fit a description: vaguely likes PC for crime that just happened across town
66 - Jam-up: new orders, crackdown on PC's next plan or favourite business


There you have it folks, a good old-fashioned random table that you can use in your home game today. Based on a blog comment section collaboration in the high & ancient style, no less!!! Who says the scene is dead?

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Land's End II: Peoples and Classes

My Land's End II campaign uses Melan's Sword & Magic rules, which are great. I have fiddled with this stuff enough that it seems worth posting about how it's going. We'll start with the playable character races in the setting.

Everything here is written to be player-facing, except what's behind the DM Notes.


HUMANS

Skin colours may vary, but no mechanical differences.
No level limits
+1 extra skill at start



DM Note: Land's End is in the Wilderlands, so the usual suspects are around: Orichalans, Tharbrians, Viridians, Altanians, all the wonderful primary-coloured folks! The PCs in this game have no idea of their origins because they all started as slaves to the lizardfolk. I rolled randomly for their human subtypes, but if the campaign started differently I would have given them a list to pick from.


WILDMEN

Degenerated humans, or perhaps their distant forebears? It is unclear.
Crude features, slightly hunched posture.

+1 STR, +1 CON, -1 INT, -1 WIS
Level limits: Fighter *, Cleric 5, Thief 5, MU 0
Begin the game illiterate.



DM Note: The wildmen's exact nature is left vague intentionally. They are a broad category that might be "primitive hunter-gatherers" as easily as degenerated or mutated men, or Neanderthals. They can pass as normal humans some of the time.  Since I use cavemen where orcs would normally go, we can call wildmen the half-orc equivalent of Land's End. 


HALF-ELVES

Savage tribesmen scratching out a living on the edges of civilization. Their mixed blood has driven them to strange practises.

Get the Find Tracks skill for free, and treat Read Signs as a class skill.
Can use bows even if their class is normally unable to.
Level Limits: Fighter 9, Cleric 5, Thief 9, MU 9


ELVES

The doomed race. Once they ruled the world, now they are dwindling, rare & lost in the wilds.

+1 DEX, -1 CON
Treat Read Signs as a class skill.
Can use bows even if their class is normally unable to.
Immune to Sleep and +2 to save vs. Charm.
cannot be raised from the dead by ordinary magic
Level limits: Fighter 9, Cleric 7, Thief 6, MU 9


DM Note: I have tweaked these bonuses slightly to fit into the setting. Pure-blooded elves are hard to find, half-elves are commonplace. They usually live in the wilderness, barely scraping by, living off nomadic herding and raiding human settlements. Elves don't look super-elfy in Land's End - pointed ears, maybe a smaller build than the average human, slightly odd features (like a human with a bit of prosthetics and makeup, not like the anime-elves you see sometimes). Half-elves might be anywhere in between, and can often pass as human.


CHTHONIC ELVES

Spending their lives underground or in dark jungles has made them strange. Rumours of cannibalism & demonology keep most other races away from the ruined cities they infest.

+1 STR, -1 CON, -1 CHA
Darkvision - With no other lights, can see in the dark in a limited way. Black & white, very little detail.
Light Sensitivity - During the day, -1 penalty on perception/initiative/attack rolls due to squinting. -2 on bright sunny days.
Ghoulish - Once per day, consume the flesh & blood of a recently killed humanoid foe to gain back 1 hp/level, up to the maximum of your hit die (ie. M-Us max out at 4 hp this way, Fighters at 10).
Level limits: Fighter 9, Cleric 9, Thief 7, MU 6


Usually, less armour is worn.


DM Note: I don't remember where I got the idea for these guys, but I have seen similar things in the OSR here and there. Someone else probably deserves the credit. Nevertheless I think they are cool so they are here to stay!


LIZARDFOLK

Fearless hunters with their own sense of honour and tradition.
Usually they find "warmbloods" difficult to deal with, preferring to keep to themselves.
They follow no gods, instead seeking harmony with the natural world.

Natural bite attack (1d4+STR bonus). Can use in a grapple, or in addition to regular melee attacks with -5 to hit.
Natural armour (+2 AC - cumulative with light or medium, but not heavy armour)
+1 STR, -1 INT
Level limits: Fighter 9, Cleric 3, Thief 5, MU 3
One of their starting skills must be swimming.



DM Note: Simplified versions of 3.x edition lizardfolk. Extra attack & natural armour are balanced by fairly harsh level limits and reducing the skill selection a bit. Also interspecies tensions may arise. They are my favourite humanoids and I like using them everywhere, especially since Land's End is a tropical climate, mostly jungle and swampland.


PLANETOUCHED

One-in-a-million freaks of nature? Children of demons? Nobody knows. Each is infused with otherworldly forces. Their features are "angelic," "demonic" or partake of one of the four elements. (An "air" planetouched might have hair that constantly moves in an unseen breeze, an "earth" might have coal-black skin or gemlike fingernails). Rude people call them "Demonbrood."

Each planetouched has +1 to one attribute and -1 to another, and level limits ranging from 3 to 9. Otherworldly nature, attribute bonuses, level limits and appearance are all generated RANDOMLY by the DM!

Inspired by, but not exactly like this.


DM Note: Some may call into question my old-school credentials for allowing Tieflings, Aasimar, and whatever the elemental ones are called. In my defense, I make all the rolls behind the DM screen. This eliminates the asinine "build" aspect of character creation - picking Air so you can get +1 INT in order to play an M-U, or whatever. This is for advanced players who want to try something new and don't mind letting the dice fall where they may! 

Putting all these types in one category also reinforces the in-game ignorance and fear that would attend them - is that guy with red horns touched by Infernal forces, or is he just a fire-guy? Nobody knows, and why take the chance? Tar & feather him!!

There are no rerolls allowed! If the player doesn't want to play the character that's been rolled up, that's fine - but the DM should note all rolls made, just in case. Some of the special abilities are powerful, but I feel it's fair since there is no way of knowing what you'll get. The DM might also want to limit these characters to 1 per group or something since they are so rare, but it depends on your milieu.

Planetouched Type (%)
01-06 - Celestial: +1 CHA, -1 STR, Cleric 9, Fighter 9, Thief 3, M-U 3
07-28 - Fire: +1 WIS, -1 CON, Cleric 9, Fighter 3
29-50 - Air: +1 INT, -1 DEX, M-U 9, Thief 3
51-72 - Water: +1 DEX, -1 INT, Thief 9, M-U 3
73-94 - Earth: +1 CON, -1 WIS, Fighter 9, Cleric 3
95-00 - Infernal: +1 STR, -1 CHA, Thief 9, M-U 9, Cleric 3, Fighter 3

Classes not mentioned have a level limit of 6.

Planetouched Attributes

The descriptions of the elemental-kin are a list to pick from. Not every single one looks exactly the same. Most of the following is from the 2nd edition Planeswalker's Handbook, or the Pathfinder SRD. I've just streamlined and adapted it for the system.

Air Attributes: light blue skin/hair, sometimes with swirling markings; surrounded by constant breeze; distinctive breathy voice, strange inflections; flesh is cool to the touch.

+1 on saves vs. air magic, additional +1 at 9th
Can go without breathing for 10 mins/day/level

Earth Attributes: brown, black, grey or white skin & hair; metallic sheen to skin; hair like crystalline spikes; blocky features, thick torsos & limbs; rough, gritty flesh; deep, slow, rumbling speech; eyes like deep black pits or sparkling gems.

+1 to saves vs. earth magic, additional +1 at 9th
Natural Armour +2 AC (stacks with everything)
Natural understanding of stonework
Climb skill for free

Fire Attributes: deep red, coal-black or brassy skin; scales of charcoal; red or mottled horns; deep red hair moving like waving flames; voice crackling like a fire; perpetually warm or hot flesh; fiery red eyes.

+1 to saves vs. fire magic, additional +1 at 9th
60’ infravision

Water Attributes: blue-green skin or hair; blue-black eyes; light layer of scales; fin-like ears; webbed hands or feet; hair waving and swaying as if underwater; muffled voice resembling underwater sounds; cold, clammy flesh.

+1 to saves vs. water magic, additional +1 at 9th
Breathe underwater 30 mins/day/level
Swim skill for free


Celestial / Infernal Appearance: (%)
Roll twice. 
Results before the slash are for Celestial-blooded, results after for Infernals.

01-04 – swirling patterns on forehead / horns on forehead
05-06 – unicorn horn / horns on temples
07 – halo floats above head / single horn on forehead
08-09 – long, thin face
10 – metallic lips / fangs
11 – pearlescent teeth / pointed teeth
12 – musical voice / forked tongue
13-14 – pointed ears
15 – catlike ears / webbed fanlike ears
16 – long nose
17 – tiny or nonexistent nose
18 – long eyelashes
19-21 – amber eyes / red eyes
22-23 – white eyes / black eyes
24 – feline eyes
25-26 – glittering eyes / deep-set eyes
27-28 – neon hair / murky, slimy hair
29-30 – metallic hair / animated hair
31 – multicoloured hair
32-33 – six digits
34-35 – burned-looking knuckles / extra thumbs
36-37 – fingers leave contrails / black fingernails
38-39 – glowing palms / red glowing fingernails
40-41 – fingers 1” longer than normal
42 – arms 6” longer than normal
43 – legs 6” longer than normal
44-46 – birdlike legs / horse legs
47-49 – feline legs / goat legs
50-52 – small feet / goat hooves
53-55 – androgynous
56-57 – fox tail / aquatic tail
58-59 – tiger tail / lizard tail
60-62 – lion’s mane / spiny ridge on back
63-65 – vestigial wings / spiny ridges all over body
66-68 – totally hairless
69-71 – body covered in short fur
72-73 – body covered in striped markings
74-75 – glittering skin / greasy skin
76-80 – scaly skin
81-83 – metallic skin / leathery skin
84-85 – feathers instead of hair on d100% of body
86 – prismatic skin / greyish skin
87 – sparkling skin / translucent skin
88-89 – special side effects
90-94 – roll twice
95-00 – roll three times


Celestial/Infernal Special Abilities (%):
Roll once.

01-15 – roll on Appearance table
16-25 – roll on Special Side Effects table
26-40 – random 0th level spell 2/day
41-51 – random 1st level spell 1/day
52-55 – 1/2 dmg from fire
56-59 – 1/2 dmg from cold
60-63 – 1/2 dmg from electricity
64-67 – 1/2 dmg from acid
68-71 – darkvision 60’
72-75 – infravision 30’
76-79 – +1 to saves vs. fire
80-83 – +1 to saves vs. electricity
84-87 – +1 to saves vs. poison
88-91 – +1 to saves vs. cold
92-95 – +1 to saves vs. acid
96 – +1 to Fort saves
97 – +1 to Reflex saves
98 – +1 to Will saves
99 – roll twice
00 – roll three times


Special Side Effects (%):
Roll as directed.

01-10 – no odour / ashy odour
11-15 – outdoorsy odour / sulfurous odour
16-20 – perfumed odour / rotting odour
21-25 – skin glows / skin exudes ashy grit
26-30 – winged shadow / casts no shadow
31-33 – clothing billows in invisible winds / no reflection in mirror
34-40 – susceptible to anti-outsider spells (protection from evil/good, cacofiend, dispel evil, etc)
41-50 – outsiders of opposite type react as though you are an enemy
51-60 – causes unease in animals
61-65 – causes unease in humanoids, reaction rolls -1
66-70 – touch causes plants to grow / wither
71-75 – claws or talons (natural attack for 1d3)
76-80 – high heat, touch inflicts 1 dmg
81-85 – cold, touch inflicts 1 dmg
86-90 – strange skin, base AC 8+1d6
91 – cannot reproduce
92 – unholy/holy water deals 1d6 dmg
93 – can be turned by clerics of evil/good
94 – cannot enter unholy/holy areas
95 – gains DR 5/silver or magic
96-00 – speak/understand a random ancient language

Basic Colour Table (d10):
1 Red, 2 Orange, 3 Yellow, 4 Green, 5 Blue, 6 Indigo, 7 Violet, 8 White, 9 Black, 10 Roll 2x

Extra Colour Table (d16):
1 Maroon, 2 Red, 3 Orange, 4 Yellow, 5 Olive, 6 Lime, 7 Green, 8 Aqua, 9 Navy, 10 Blue, 11 Purple, 12 Fuchsia, 13 Jale, 14 Dolm, 15 Ulfire, 16 Roll 2x 

There you have it, my foul origins in the '90s hellscape of 2nd edition are revealed. Oh whale! Folks may also wonder at my rearranging of the attribute bonuses, but those with eyes to see & ears to hear may notice what scheme I am working from.

*****

Classes in Land's End

The core of Sword & Magic is the same 4 classes we know and love.

The fighter has 5 subclasses (plain fighter, sailor, archer, barbarian & amazon) each with a few minor special abilities. I called the sailor class 'hunter' because it fits the jungle theme of the campaign, at least for beginning characters. Magic-users are subdivided into regular M-Us and illusionists. While illusions are tough to adjudicate sometimes (I am halfway through that insane 40-page article on Phantasmal Force from Footprints #25), the class has style, flavour and lineage, therefore it must stay. Clerics and thieves are good just how they are with sneak attacks, turn undead, etc. all working like we're used to.

I couldn't help noticing the lack of bards, assassins, druids, monks, paladins or rangers though! I decided that paladins and rangers probably wouldn't fit the jungle-survival-horror setting. Assassins are great but with a comprehensive skill system they are not mechanically different from the existing thief. Bards? Not interested.

Druids do belong in the setting since so much of Land's End is about struggling through dangerous natural landscapes. I had a place for monks, too, in the hidden shrines and monasteries that would dot the region - I was already thinking of unique monk techniques from different schools, that sounded like fun. I thought it would be a fun challenge to elevate the class from the usual "dudes from fantasy-Asia get parachuted into ren-faire England" thing. 

At this point I looked back to Pathfinder. While I hate the system, some of the character classes are really good. Was the witch worth keeping? (maybe... I have yet to see a good witch class in any edition) How about the alchemist, psion or occultist? (nah) Sorcerer? (HELL to the no) The oracle? (definitely!!) 

This gave me an expanded class list rooted in the classics with a sprinkle of the new:

Fighters (Fighter, Hunter, Archer, Barbarian, Amazon)
Cleric, Druid, Oracle, Monk
Magic-User, Illusionist, Witch(maybe)
Thief

In the future, look forward to write-ups of these other classes, starting with the oracle.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Improve your D&D game with this one simple trick!

The other day, I had bought some new three-ring dividers and was rearranging my gaming binders. You know that feeling when you say to yourself: "What order do these go in? Should it be wilderness rules - encounter tables - monster stats - hex key; or wilderness rules - hex key - encounter tables - monster stats?" Or is that just me... 

Anyway, they were looking pretty lame. Plain white binders didn't really convey any sense of adventure. So I got on to pulpcovers.com and pulpartists.com and started poking around for high-res images.

In an hour or so of fiddling with GIMP, I desaturated them for a more vintage feel and played around with brightness/contrast for a kind of halfway-posterized look (this mitigated the graininess of a few that were lower-resolution than optimal). Added some text in my favourite font (Imperator Bold) although I now realize I missed an opportunity to aim for trade dress porn. Then drove down to Staples to print 'em out. Pretty cool, right??















Anyway, it looks like after a holiday hiatus I am back in action with a vengeance, DMing two games this weekend - Land's End II is tonight, then City-State of the World Emperor online tomorrow. More play reports and other fun is in the can, so check back soon!

In the mean time, I got turned on to this music by a legendary old-school gaming forum troll, but don't let that stop you from enjoying it:



Monday, January 3, 2022

[Play Report] Land's End II, Session 2 - Escaping the Tunnels

Unknown in-game date


Characters

Iron-In-Blood, Lizardfolk
Heka, Wildman
Floros, Human
Xenia, Planetouched
Pale-Heart, Lizardfolk
Duul, Wildman
Pallas, Human
Agàta, Human
Kazik, Human
Dimemnu, Chthonic Elf


*****

The slaves continued their exploration of the complex beyond the Room of Stars.

From the central chamber with the fire-shooting statue, they ventured to the right into a small tomb. Seven grave niches held loose bones topped with primitive humanoid skulls - perhaps they were wildmen? Primitive metal armour, weapons & funerary masks were displayed prominently next to each collection of bones.

"Gross," said Xenia, touching some of the bones with one bluish foot. "Maybe these masks are valuable, though?"

As the group sifted through the grave goods, a sinister clattering arose. The mounds of bones sprang to life, rolling in unholy bundles towards the group! The slaves stood in the center of the room, laying about them with their stone picks and the butt-ends of spears. The abominations were destroyed, but not before one pile of bones got a lucky shot in - Xenia the planetouched lay dead, bleeding from a grievous neck wound.

A few weapons and a suit of armour were recovered. They were of antique design and slowly rusting away, but far better in battle than the slaves' crude stone mining picks.

Returning to the central room, they took the left exit. This led to a sort of throne room. A stone chair faced a wall made from grey, cracked glass. Tablets lining the walls depicted winged visitors from the skies granting magical gifts to ground-dwelling humanoids. These earthbound peoples used the gifts to wage war on an army of demons led by a goat-headed, bat-winged monstrosity. Finally the winged beings departed, promising to return at some future time. Were they supposed to be angels, gods or something else?

On a table at the back of the room lay the shattered remains of glass vials, clay jars & tablets. A few intact vials held strange fluids: one clear green & cold, the other soft milky blue. The slaves took these, wondering what they might do. Beside them, a clay tablet showed pictograms accompanied by unknown text: a wounded man drank from a bottle and got back up, a fighting-man drank from a bottle and struck his foe, and a man poured a bottle into a river and then walked over it.

"Hmm, three sets of instructions, but two potions" said Pallas"We'll have to try out which is which later."

On another table rested a small black metal box with a handle on top, adorned with shiny metallic protrusions & crystals on one side. Pallas noticed that a small panel on the bottom could be opened up. Inside was a mess of coloured threads & strange metallic pieces, their functions obscure to him. With a little bit of fiddling, he managed to install one of the threaded metal cylinders they found earlier [last session].

The box came to life! Coloured lights danced around the metallic knobs & dials on the front face. Buzzing, crackling noise filled the room. Frightened of this strange magic, Pallas managed to fiddle with the controls enough to turn down the volume. He could hear distant voices buried in the waves of distortion, but wasn't able to clear up the signal. After some more fidgeting, he removed the metallic cylinder (some kind of power source. Was it magic, or something else?) and the box quieted again. The group brought the black box with them, intending to plumb its secrets a later time.

Through the last door in the large chamber, they entered a darkened room lined with pillars. A shallow pool of water ran through the centre, shimmering with underwater lights. A few lumpen, crystalline golems shuffled towards the group with unknown intentions. They moved slowly, but the slaves weren't taking any chances with a fight. After some experimentation, Kazik realized they were attracted to the groups' lamps. He left one brazier burning in the corner, and the crystalline creatures surrounded it, warming themselves by its light.

Giving these odd beings the slip, the group ventured down a spiral staircase at the end of the room. They next found themselves in a long room with two large tables. Toy battles were set up with tiny clay miniatures showing humans, lizardfolk, elves and stranger beings battling amongst hills, forests and cities. Not understanding this game, Dimemnu the elf took a handful of the figures in case they might be valuable or useful later.

There was only one door left, at the end of the hall of miniatures. It opened onto another room full of clay soldiers - only these ones were life-sized! Under the watery light of a great crystal sphere, a clay general rose from his throne, pointing an accusing finger at the invaders. Seventy clay soldiers began to animate, climbing up from the pit they had been preserved in and moving towards the group.

"Never mind!" said Iron-in-Blood, slamming the door. With no desire to fight ten times their number, the slaves hustled back up the stairs, past the slow-moving men of crystal and back out towards the Room of Stars.

"I hope those clay soldiers can't follow us through this magic door..." Agàta mused.

the deep obsidian caves

The slaves continued exploring, progressing downslope from the Room of Stars. They entered a vast cavern filled with a darkened frozen lake, seemingly frozen in mid-wave! It was not cold or icy to the touch, but some kind of greenish glass. The group could see dim shapes buried underneath the surface, and a few shattered sections that looked as if something once frozen inside had busted out.

Walking on this strange lake was like a maze amongst the breakers. The slaves were accosted by the faint, ghosts of hunched-over, hulking humanoids. Attempts at communication were met with impatient hand gestures. The ghosts seemed to understand a little bit, but couldn't speak themselves. They didn't seem hostile, and the group was at a loss until Floros asked if they knew a way out. The ghosts led the slaves back the way they came, to the edge of the frozen lake. They indicated the group should head up the tunnel to the Room of Stars, then slowly faded out of view.

After this enigma, the slaves returned to the underground river through the Room of Stars. Curious about some of the items they'd brought, Floros decided to don the strange silver helmet garlanded with thin wires. "I can see it! I can-" he exclaimed, before the poor fellow died messily, his eyes exploding from their sockets in a shower of fluid!

Mourning Floros, the slaves explored further into the tunnels. The hopping piranhas were gone now, and the river safe to walk by. Turning back down an unexplored tunnel, the slaves came to a set of three stone statues in alcoves. One of a humanoid man with an elongated, ovoid head, wearing robes and an ornate circlet, pointing a scepter upwards to the ceiling. The second statue was the same man holding a shield, his open hand pointing downwards. The third statue was covered in mineral deposits and unrecognizable. Writing in an unknown language lined the statues' bases and each one had a small bench or step in front of it. 

Duul was interested in the humanoid with the sceptre, and stepped closer to investigate. When he touched the bench, he began to levitate! After some experimenting, it seemed Duul could float upwards or downwards under his own power, but not sideways. The effect wore off after a few minutes. The group decided this was their chance, and each stepped up to receive the statue's blessing in turn - then their friends pushed/pulled them towards the river, before shoving them until they floated to the opposite side. The statue's magic ran out before everyone could be levitated, and Pale-Heart had to jump across into the waiting arms of her companions. Luckily, nobody fell into the swift & cold mountain stream.

Beyond the river, a narrow tunnel extended deep into the mountain. The slaves walked on, with only the flickering coal's light to illuminate their next step. They were all accustomed to fatigue and hunger, but it was impossible to know how much time passed in those dark tunnels. After perhaps one work-shift of walking, at the end of their endurance, the slaves reached the end of the tunnel. A crumbling, rocky opening led out into a lush, rainy mountain valley with a river running lazily through the center. Signs of cultivation were apparent, but nobody was around. 

Have the slaves found a safe place? Will the clay army take over the caverns? What about those ghosts on the frozen lake? What's the deal with that black box? Plenty of unanswered questions remain...

Monsters Defeated:

7 bone-piles

Treasure:

some antique armour & weapons
7 funerary masks
2 colourful potions
tablet with writing & pictures on it
black box that makes noise
a few clay figurines

Experience:

1000 xp each for escaping slavery


*****

Phew, the holiday hangover is beginning to wear off! Thus shall we work through the play-report backlog. Session 3 and 4 were short and exposition-heavy affairs, shouldn't take too much effort to transcribe although memory does play tricks on me sometimes. Our next session is upcoming in a week, and I am hoping for some action!

Anyway, for this dungeon the gang did fairly well, only running away at the very end when things got crazy. I also removed one of the monsters (in the throne room) because they already had to venture through a monster-infested dungeon just to get there, and it didn't exactly fit the theme.

I don't think you should run a DCC level-0 funnel every single day, but I am glad I gave it a try. It is easy, fun, and a nice introduction for rookie players. Nobody has to pick skills or even classes, or worry too much about anything - we just jump into the game! From such humble beginnings, who knows what heroes will emerge?

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

REVIEW - Dream House of the Nether Prince

Dream House of the Nether Prince
AD&D level 14+
by Anthony Huso
blog - thebluebard.com
art by Valin Mattheis - website
maps by Tim Hartin - website
buy hardcover and pdf here


Since I read Ben L's review of The Night Wolf Inn and had to get myself a copy, I have followed the exploits of Anthony Huso, one of 1st edition AD&D's most devoted exponents. He has a long series of posts on his blog about his BtB AD&D home game. He makes no apologies for his playstyle and is uninterested in compromising for the mainstream.

Also, he likes Blue Oyster Cult [1]. My kinda guy!

The final adventure in the author's six-year home game, Dream House of the Nether Prince is set inside the abyssal palace of the Demon Prince Orcus. Being a fan of the goat-headed one himself, obviously I had to get my hands on it.

A digression: 

Back in the bad old days of the '90s, we had Planescape. I could never quite get my head around it [2]. The idea of a fantasy-Dickensian London where you run into a demon at a bar, but he's just hanging out drinking a funny-coloured beer, looking for mortals to tempt or selling you Green Steel weapons... it never sat right with me. Just like Twilight did to vampires, Planescape took what should be the most profound manifestations of evil - beings that are truly inhuman in every sense - and watered them down into regular guys with horns & tails.

Huso keeps demons harsh. Dream House begins with The Enchiridion, an 11-page treatise on AD&D demons. This section really showcases his imaginative approach. He takes every hint & clue dropped by Gygax in the core books, extrapolating outwards from there while remaining faithful (as far as I can tell) to the source material. This section covers a huge range of topics ranging from special Abyssal effects to new treasure, demonic transmogrification and more.

Maybe you already have rules for some of these in your game, but The Enchiridion has something worthwhile for everyone. The sections on amulets and summoning are really interesting. The rules are a bit complex in terms of what happens when demons are killed with/without amulets, what happens to the amulets, etc. but they are absolutely Gygaxian: I can see how players interacting with these systems will produce lots of downstream effects that will drive ongoing campaign play. They can see what works and what doesn't, make demonic enemies, strike bargains (successfully or not) or struggle to destroy a demon permanently.

I love the treasure section, always a high point of Huso's work. Gold piece values are provided for an entire economy based on human corpses (the demons eat them) and abyssal larvae. Along with these are exotic trade goods, some new and some from his other adventures like Dam Marmara or ebonwood bars. This kind of variety in treasure keeps things interesting, especially in a high-level adventure that has literally tens of millions of gp for the taking!

A section on abyssal weather, special effects & other hazards adds icing on the Cake of Pain that adventuring in the lower planes is meant to be. Effects range from maddening winds to sulfuric rain, toxic snow, mutations and even earthquakes. All of this should make your players rue the day they ever delved into the Abyss before anyone rolls initiative. 

Planescape this ain't.



ACHTUNG!!!

BIG-TIME SPOILERS AHEAD



Dream House is written for the author's home campaign and no concessions are made to the rest of us. The only hook we get is the following:

"You have obtained the gobbet of mindless immortal flesh, known as the Starfire Neonate. To prevent [a hideous elder god] from ending your world, you must bring the Neonate's imbecile god-flesh into direct contact with [the elder god]. Much like the meeting of a Xag-ya and a Xeg-yi, the event will destroy or [more likely] banish both.

Because the [elder god] inhabits the trackless depths of the Prime Material's cosmic void, the only way to find and reach it, is to use a gate. The only known gate is in the Abyss, and it is located in Orcus' Iron Vauntmure--for the Prince of the Undead doth treat with the [elder god] time to time.

Ergo, the PC's motive is quite simple.

1. Arrive in Pazunia
2. Enter the Iron Fort
3. Find and Open the Gate
4. Force the Starfire Neonate to Touch the [elder god]"

It then goes on to explain that this whole adventure (and maybe your whole campaign!?) is part of an elaborate long-term plot by Orcus. The characters are going to be catspaws in his never-ending war with Demogorgon, whom Orcus hopes to draw out at an opportune moment and defeat for good.

This is totally awesome but rather specific and may not apply to my game or yours. Cool that we get a slice of Huso's totally fucking wild home game, but it would be nice to get a few more readily usable hooks or rumours. Honestly though, if your DMing chops are remotely up to the task of running this adventure you can come up with a reason for the PCs to go there.

*****

The adventure section itself runs 89 pages, spanning 137 rooms over three castle levels and the caverns below. It is crammed with hordes of unflinchingly dangerous monsters and dickish traps. I want to see the character sheets of the party that survived this shitstorm. Did your group squash Acererak and piss in Vecna's eye-hole? Maybe you have a shot at this.

There aren't many rooms of the "let's mess with it and see what happens" type, usually staples in modern OSRland. There is no faction play based on reaction rolls and figuring out what the NPCs want. Dream House is a pounding, ceaseless battery of monsters and traps. Curiosity and fiddling with things is rarely the right move. Many rooms are simply a drain on resources best bypassed or avoided. This adventure demands that the players function at a high level of competence all the way through. Individually some of these encounters may not have too much going on, but the overall effect is powerful and highlights Huso's approach rooted in a deep reading of the DMG and the classic Gygax modules, especially the S series I think.

Notes are provided on monster behaviour in terms of investigating disturbances, guarding areas and chasing foes in the form of small icons next to the monster statblocks. This is a nice shorthand that you will definitely use.

The tunnels below the fortress are called The Warrens of the Prince and they're just a warm up: pit traps into frozen abysses, ghoulification curses, Vrock packs, 14,000 Manes demons and a few really harsh uniques (the 24 HD scarlet beast of revelation!!!). This level is mostly monsters and traps and I felt a lack of interactivity here, although the rooms that do have more going on are very cool. There are a few bangers like the Rag-Man, and the treasure room with possibly every cursed item in the book. 

As the players ascend things get progressively more strange and interesting. The first floor is the Court of Orcus. Here we get another dose of dangerous passive effects. These are generally under-used in modern adventures and it's a shame. Huso does these really well, adding another layer of tactical challenge for characters who are presumably loaded down with tons of game-breaking magic items & spells, without engaging in cheap gimping. The Braziers of Devotion act as gaze attacks that force victims to sacrifice valuable goods in them and Dimensional Ward Stones slay anyone Teleporting into their area of effect (there goes the scry-and-die, oops).

The rooms get more dickish here. Doors that Finger of Death you, illusory walls, 20HD zombie guardians, disintegration pits, mutations, suicide-inducing fear effects, squads of Yochlols and Type VIs. A few no-save screwjobs like the stairs that throw you out into the Deep Astral for 1d10 years. They are sometimes telegraphed, but Huso is also counting on players that are as seasoned as their characters being able to spot dangerous situations.

The rooms also get much cooler, with more weird things to look at and interact with: the Wand of Orcus is kept here, there are weird high-tech machines you can play with, a dangerous game of 'pill-roulette' administered by grotesque eyeless undead bitches, and even one of Tiamat's eggs! Orcus His Damned Self is here on his throne and will address the group if they get close, urging them to ascend further to reach their goal (all part of the plan).

The second floor is the High Temple Prisons, consisting mostly of unique foes that are dangerous in the extreme. There are a few imprisoned folks to be rescued like captured paladins, devas and a solar. The most involved room is a little extradimensional war between Orcus and Tiamat. The PCs can enter, travel around the small hexmap and team up with Orcus' forces to fight packs of ancient chromatic dragons! Yikes.

The top floor is called the Spires of Damnation. This floor is almost all unique enemies, specials and weird stuff including some really nasty combats. You know what you're getting into at this point. 6 Mariliths are killing the Incubus King. A masked demon orgy. A pack of 23 vampires and their mistress, the Duchess of Bats. Sut, the Walking Demon. The Dark Seer. Any one of these would be a battle to cap off someone else's campaign - in Dream House they are packed in cheek by jowl.

Finally, we come to the end. If the PCs can survive Witch Hall, avoid being crushed in the Thighs of the North and reach the Doors of Ultimate Sacrifice - the Prince's Duel begins! Demogorgon appears, and each Demon Prince will speak to the group during a time stop, offering them safe passage, absurd riches and other sweet stuff to side against the other. Once a bargain (if any) is made, battle is joined! The stat blocks for Orcus and Demogorgon run into multiple pages including special abilities, immunities, artifacts and minions. Satan help you trying to run this combat anyway, but I think miniatures would be a necessity. Rules for The Primal Order by Peter Adkison (some kind of supplement for divine & demonic powers I think) are also provided, if you have that book.

After the battle (if anyone survives), the Golden Doors can be approached. They require willing sacrifices to open, just in case you thought the struggle was over. At this point you're saving the world, so that paladin you spent half of a real-life decade building to 15th level? The one who was only a week from retirement? Who had plans of raising sheep on a little farm outside Midwall? He's not gonna make it home.

The Appendices consist of about 25 pages of supplemental material. Sci-fi weapons sit alongside powerful magical artifacts, some new illusion spells, demons & undead. Everything is cool and worth using. A d100 random undead table (references monsters from Dragon and even AD&D modules), gated demons table and some monster statblock summaries are useful references. Finally, the Epilogue offers some helpful advice on running Orcus & Demogorgon and how the fortress reacts to the PCs. 

*****

There you have it. Dream House of the Nether Prince is not perfect, but it is pure. The work of a true disciple of Gygax. It asks for a great deal - few players are ready to face this challenge, perhaps even fewer DMs could run it. Everyone in your group should be seasoned AD&D veterans to even contemplate this. But what heights you'll climb together! The party will either be ground up by the numberless, ravening hordes of the Abyss - or win through after tremendous battle and sacrifice to see a Demon Prince destroyed and the world saved. This is what D&D is all about.


Good: Grand, ambitious, epic, unique. Beautiful artwork. Great supplemental sections. Insanely lethal. High-level AD&D the way God and Gary intended.

Bad: Big-ass stat blocks. Heavily combat-focused. Can be tough to scan due to the amount of information. Refers back to other material you may not own. A niche product in multiple ways. Insanely lethal. 

9/10 Demon Princes

The book has a credits section, playtesters aren't listed, although you can go read about the final session on Huso's blog.


*****

[1] - I had owned the Night Wolf Inn for a year, and then listened to Secret Treaties again. Give it a try.

[2] - Even though Planescape: Torment is probably the best computer RPG ever made, Balance In All Things, Amen.


Now some Abyssal music to play us out: