Monday, February 27, 2017

A Snail's Pace

Given the dank, slimy nature of most dungeons, the abundance of fantastical vermin in D&D, and the tendency toward Gygaxian naturalism, it surprises me that there are no giant snails to accompany the familiar giant centipedes, spiders, and ticks. (Dear old flail snails, like the dragonsnails of RuneQuest, are really cut from different, and much more fantastical cloth.)

On top of that, depictions of armored knights fighting giant snails are evidently not uncommon in medieval manuscripts. (Go figure!) Put this all together, and it seems that our dungeons are in great need of overgrown, acid-spitting snails!

The following text is Open Game Content.

Monstrous Snail

This slithering mollusk has a coiled shell nearly two feet across, colored brown and vivid red.

0e

Giant Snail CL 1 (15 XP)

If provoked, a giant snail spits acid at foes up to 15 feet away.

HD 1; AC 3 [16]; Atk 1 spit (1d4); Move 3; Save 17; AL N; Special: Acid.

3.5e

Monstrous Snail CR 1/2

Always N Small vermin

Init -1; Senses blindsense 30 ft., darkvision 60 ft.; Listen +0, Spot +0

Defense

AC 16, touch 10, flat-footed 16
(-1 Dex, +6 natural, +1 size)

hp 5 (1d8+1 HD)

Fort +3, Ref -1, Will +0

Defensive Abilities retraction; Immune vermin traits

Offense

Speed 10 ft., climb 10 ft.

Ranged spit acid +0 touch (1d4 acid)

Space 5 ft.; Reach 0 ft.

Tactics

During Combat A monstrous snail spits acid at any creature that comes within range.

Morale The snail will retract into its shell upon taking any damage, and will remain retracted unless it takes additional damage.

Statistics

Str 6, Dex 9, Con 12, Int –, Wis 10, Cha 2

Base Atk +0, Grp -6

Skills Climb +6

Ecology

Environment temperate and warm marshes, forests, and underground

Organization solitary, rout (2–4)

Treasure none

Advancement 2 HD (Medium), 3–4 HD (Large)

Special Abilities

Retraction (Ex) A monstrous snail can pull its fleshy parts into its shell as a swift action, increasing its natural armor bonus by +4, but it cannot move or attack while retracted. It can return to normal as a free action.

Spit Acid (Ex) A monstrous snail can spit acid at an opponent within 15 feet (no range increment). With a successful ranged touch attack, the target takes 1d4 points of acid damage (no save).

Skills Monstrous snails have a +8 racial bonus on Climb checks. A monstrous snail can always choose to take 10 on Climb checks, even if rushed or threatened.

5e

Giant Snail Challenge 1/8 (25 XP)

Unaligned Small beast

Init -1; Senses blindsight 30 ft.; passive Perception 10

Defense

Armor Class 13 (natural armor)

Hit Points 9 (2d6 + 2)

Offense

Speed 10 ft., climb 10 ft.

Spit Acid +1 ranged weapon attack, range 15 ft., one creature. Hit: 3 (1d6) acid damage.

Statistics

Str 6 (-2), Dex 9 (-1), Con 12 (+1), Int 1 (-5), Wis 10, Cha 2 (-4)

Traits

Spider Climb. The snail can climb difficult surfaces, including upside down on ceilings, without needing to make an ability check.

Reactions

Retraction. A giant snail that takes damage can pull its fleshy parts into its shell, which adds 4 to its AC, but it cannot move or attack while retracted. It can return to normal on its turn.

OPEN GAME LICENSE Version 1.0a

The following text is the property of Wizards of the Coast, Inc. and is Copyright 2000 Wizards of the Coast, Inc (“Wizards”). All Rights Reserved.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Races of the Southern Kingdoms

The Southern Kingdoms are a loose coalition of dozens of small empires and city states.

SOUTHRONS are humans, part of a great wave of migration to the North: explorers and traders and adventurers, fleeing the teeming cities and grinding poverty for freedom and opportunity. The Southrons are currently ascendant in the North, having defeated the hobgoblin empire and established a series of thriving settlements along the coastline. The Southrons are organized into small landholds administered by a Lord or Lady. The Southrons are notable for bringing their religion into the North, a single church consisting of two sister orders: one representing Law and the other Chaos. The orders are military organizations, composed of clerics, defenders and advocates of the faith.

TIEFLINGS are a mysterious, insular race, often appearing much like very attractive, slender humans with fair skin and curly red hair. They wear distinctive robes of purple and gold, with birettas atop their heads. Derisively called hellborn or hellions or even worse by others, they prefer to be known as “the Friends of Men” or simply as “the Friends.” The Friends are valued lawyers, bankers, and merchants of all manner of goods and services—eager to assist with any need or desire, but rather insistent about the minutia of contracting.

HALFLINGS are a pleasant, gregarious folk the size of human children. Like their Southron fellows, the halflings moved to the North for adventure and freedom.

ORCS were introduced to the North as slaves to the Southrons, bred by the humans to fight the native goblins. The orcs thrived in their new land, and the orcish armies overwhelmed the hobgoblin defenses. But the orcs soon turned upon their masters and deserted in great numbers. Now several orc tribes, all descended from the slave armies, roam the north. Although today only the most disreputable of Southron lords employ orc troops, small groups of orcs and half-orcs are not an uncommon sight in human towns and villages.

OGRES followed the men and orcs into the North, and quickly established lairs in the unsettled hills and valleys just beyond the edge of civilization. From these mean settlements they prey on humans and any other intelligent creatures they happen upon.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Nice Day for a . . . Dark Wedding

Setup

We did a President’s Day delve with the father-son group we’ve been running for the last six months or so. We have Bernie the cleric, Hugh the fighter, Richard the barbarian, and Xad the dragonborn wizard. The group was investigating an area down on the Fifth Level that seems to have been overtaken by undead, cultists to Orcus, and some demon-worshiping berserkers. At the end of last session they found a large audience chamber with a huge statue of the Demon Prince of the Undead, and behind the statue was a secret door which opened up into a series of natural caverns.

First, I should back up and point out that I had adapted this groovy Dyson Logos map for the adventure. This map has lots of interesting areas that call out for exploration. Instead of the temple being the entrance to the complex, it was the heart of it and the PCs started in the northwest. The large room in the southwest was the audience chamber, and the group proceeded east into the natural caverns.

Adventure Recap

  • They came upon a large, dank cavern with a particularly disturbing feature: enormous hoofprints pressed deep into the living rock floor of the cavern, running southeast to northwest. As the party marveled at this sight, three abyssal maws appeared and attacked. (These nasty horrors are probably the best new monster from the third edition Monster Manual II, and have been updated to 5e in Volo’s Guide to Monsters. Plus I still have a bunch of these miniatures from the old Dragoneye set.)
  • The group smashed open the door and surprised three priests of Orcus. Xad let loose a fireball followed up by a silence spell from Bernie. At that point it was pretty much all over but the crying. One of the priests tried to escape, but before he was killed he cried that "the wedding will still continue!" The group found a scroll detailing the history of the cavern: Orcus himself is said to have walked there eons ago when the world was young, and as such the cave is venerated by the cultists. The group took the raiments from the three dead priests: each has a headpiece adorned with great ram’s horns.
  • The group took the cavern exit to the west and followed the passage until they found the way blocked by a throng of 14 animated skeletons. Hugh, though, thought fast and while wearing the ram’s horns commanded the skeletons to let the group pass. A quick Charisma check later and the group proceeded down the stairs.
  • They filed past a disturbing statue of Orcus to find a stone door and a small cell beyond. Inside was a large stone slab, upon which were spread fine cloths smelling faintly of perfume. Continuing on, the passage opened up into a narrow chamber with a ceiling soaring high above. Looking up, the group could see the bottom of a wooden bridge some 20 feet above. Half a dozen zombies guarded the way, but using the priestly raiments the group commanded them to march back and fight the skeletons.
  • Richard climbed up to the bridge level and threw a rope down to the rest of the group. The group entered the antechamber to the northeast, which was guarded by a gargoyle-like demon. Again the headdress allowed them to command the demon to let them pass.
  • Beyond was a great, dark temple chamber with an enormous statue of Orcus. Before the statue supplicated a grossly fat woman. Beside her was a pale girl and two berserkers. The party tried to bluff their way in, hoping to save the girl, but the cultists instantly saw through the ruse and attacked. Xad unleashed his second fireball and Bernie held one of the berserkers, whom Richard quickly dispatched.
  • A dark, booming voice from beyond the void condemned the woman for allowing infidels into the unholy space, and to everyone’s surprise the girl fell upon the woman, ripping her throat open and drinking her blood. While Hugh attacked the berserker, Richard charged the girl. Skeletal hands erupted from the floor around Bernie and Xad, but both spellcasters were able to avoid being grabbed.
  • The girl grabbed Richard and nearly bit his throat, but he battled back and was about to destroy her. But before she could fall the berserker rushed to her side and offered up himself as a sacrifice. She gladly accepted this gift, draining his life and restoring herself to full strength.
  • But then she faced the full party. Bernie called up a ring of angels to surround himself. Xad summoned a swarm of daggers as Hugh and Richard brought their steel to bear. With a scream the girl dissipated into a shadow that rapidly fled and was soon lost to the Dungeon. The group searched the temple and discovered a secret hoard hidden beneath the statue. Laden with treasure, the group returned to Delvetown.

Rewards

XP: A Nice Day for a . . . Dark Wedding
 Starting XPAwardNew XP
Bernie6,5003,73710,237
Hugh6,5003,73710,237
Richard6,5003,73710,237
Xad6,5003,73710,237

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"Shallow and Indistinct" as a Design Aesthetic

One of the primary goals of the Great Dungeon was to create a setting that emulated OD&D campaigns. And my understanding of those campaigns comes primarily from reading reprints of the Dragon magazine, where OD&D campaigns appeared fundamentally wild, unruly mixes of different sources and influences. So you have lizard-men, samurai, druids, hobbits, and clerics all rubbing shoulders with each other. The one coherent element was incoherence.

But another important aspect: the settings tended to be shallow and indistinct. That might sound like a knock, but it's really a feature, and probably a necessary one if you are going to have wild, unruly mixes of sources and influences. Setting detail is inversely correlated with GM flexibility. The more detail provided, the less flexibility afforded, as new pieces will be expected to mesh with the established setting. It's hard to drop a ninja into a milieu lovingly detailed to evoke 12th century Aquitaine. Conversely, the less detail the easier it is to drop anything you want into the game. A priestess of Poseidon, a were-bear, and a paladin? Cool. A half-orc, archer, and insectoid warrior? Cool. Cool. Cool.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, less details might make it easier for players to engage in the setting. I think that the hobby has generally assumed that the more details are provided, the easier it becomes for players to immerse in the setting. So we get huge guidebooks, centuries of fictional histories, glossaries of invented languages. And these can be fun to write and entertaining to read. But all of this information might actually be making it harder for players. Think about staging a house for sale: your realtor will insist you remove as many of your personal items as possible, no matter how tasteful or interesting. They want prospective homebuyers to see the house as a tabula rasa, so they can better imagine themselves living in that space and filling it with their own things. It's harder to do that when they are looking at pictures of your grandparents, your old tennis racket, and so on.

In many contemporaneous accounts of OD&D campaigns, the NPCs are given relatively little personality or even a name. Usually just a title will suffice: It's the EHP, or the Chaotic Superhero, etc. Although written slightly later, the Keep on the Borderlands is a perfect example of this phenomenon. The lack of detail makes it much easier to transport the Keep into all sorts of different campaigns, but I also think it captures the wargaming culture that spawned early D&D: NPCs are basically just glorified wargame counters, and counters are really just a unique collection of wargame statistics.

I think keeping details light also gives the setting a more mythic, story-like feel. Consider fairy tales: characters might have at most a first name, or a nickname, but might just as often have only a title or description. You have "the King," rather than "King Otto the Blasphemer, of House Gorgo, which claimed the throne in the Sidereal Year 13,322." Or "the miller's daughter," rather than "Miss Kimber Marget-Coleman."

So I made a conscious design aesthetic is to keep social details light. Thus, it's "the Great Dungeon of the North" rather than "the Black Maze of Yalu-Morath."

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Death Metal Berserkers

I have always liked berserkers, all the way back to Moldvay. It’s a great shame that third edition never did a satisfactory job of modeling these warriors—part of the problem is the system’s philosophy of having interchangeable mechanics for monsters and PCs. Berserking conveys a hefty mechanical advantage in exchange for what are essentially role-playing disadvantages: lack of armor, unwillingness to withdraw from combat, occasionally hacking friends, etc.

You could use the barbarian PC class, of course, but in previous editions berserkers were low-level opponents that could be encountered in numbers, while just two 1st-level barbarians would be an EL 3 encounter, and a potentially dangerous one if they got a chance to rage. A template doesn't quite seem right, and a prestige class wouldn’t work. A feat could be created, but it’s a circuitous and not wholly satisfactory route.

Fifth edition, fortunately, doesn’t have that baggage and uses advantage and disadvantage to create the most elegantly simple mechanic for berserkers yet. And as I was filling out the 5e roster for one of the Dungeon’s factions, it occurred to me that berserkers would be a great addition to this group.

The Thralls to Orcus are a rather powerful group of chaotic evil cultists and vampires sworn to the Demon Prince of the Undead. In older versions of D&D berserkers were neutral in alignment, a tradition I brought forward to the Great Dungeon. But I began to imagine berserkers as death metal enthusiasts. (Given the overlap in fandom between gamers and metalheads, I'm sure this idea has already been thoroughly mined—but it’s new to me.) Perhaps it’s the political moment, but somehow the notion of demon-worshiping, nihilistic, and thoroughly violent thugs seems vastly scarier than bearded viking dudes pretending to be bears.

During one of the last forays in the Dungeon, the PCs came across a group of berserkers carrying a strange magic item: an Urn of Abyssal Cacophony. This is a small lead vessel with a stopper, decorated with skulls. When unstopped, a demonic song piped straight from the lower planes blares forth: thunderous drums beating faster than a locust’s wings, trilling strings that sound like the agonized wails of children, obscene howls, grunts, and chants in Abyssal. Lawful and good creatures hearing this din feel uneasy and irritable, while chaotic and evil creatures feel their blood quicken and their hearts leap with joy.

The berserkers opened the urn and began head-banging and thrashing as they worked themselves into a frenzy. The players, at first amused, quickly realized they weren’t talking their way out of this encounter. After a good, bloody fight they slew the cultists and seized the urn. It has no real mechanical effect but I’m sure some collector of degenerate art objects would pay a sizeable sum for a true Abyssal piece.

Postscript: It occurred to me only after the fact, in a terrible bit of dungeon l’esprit de l’escalier, that I should have described the Berserkers for Orcus as having shaved heads and bodies painted bone white, like the War Boys from Fury Road. The parallels are just too obvious not to exploit: fanatical naïfs, serving a cruel and distant tyrant in the hope of serving him in the afterlife? “Witness! I am Awaited in the Abyss, where I shall fight forever, Shady and Bone!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Denizens of Leng, Three Ways

The crew at Paizo have been steadily adding Lovecraftian elements into their Pathfinder game, and I eagerly await the forthcoming Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos for Pathfinder. One of Paizo's first forays into the Mythos was the Denizen of Leng, all the way back in "Pathfinder 6: Spires of Xin-Shalast" (2008). The monster was subsequently updated in the Pathfinder Bestiary 2.

Another nice little addition from Pathfinder is Aklo, the eldritch language of derros, inhuman or otherworldly monsters, and evil fey. This is well worth porting back into 3.5e and beyond.

The denizen, perfectly creepy all in its own right, also makes a great OGL substitute for closed content mind-blasting, octopus-headed monsters and is worthy for porting into other games that use 20-side dice.

So here follows the Denizen of Leng, prepared three ways: original-style 0e, tweaked-out 3.5 (along with an advanced example), and extra-crispy 5e. The 5e version is adapted from Necromancer Games' Fifth Edition Foes.

The following text is Open Game Content:

Denizen of Leng

Shrouded in tattered leather robes, this strange humanoid looks more alien and horrific the more one studies its twitching visage.

Eerie Travelers. The denizens of Leng move to other planes freely, and often do so in strange, black ships, constantly seeking new breeds of slaves or trading rubies for unusual services or magical treasures. At other times, their visits are much more violent, focusing on abducting victims for use as slaves or worse.

They Walk Among Us. Denizens disguise themselves as humans by wearing loose-fitting robes and wrappings about the head and face. Under these disguises, they have horned brows, clawed fingers, mouths full of tentacles, and crooked goatish legs with cloven hooves.

Mysterious Origins. Many scholars have argued over where the otherworldly realm of Leng lies—some believe it can be found among the Outer Planes, while others are convinced it can only be reached via a dimension of dreams.

0e

Denizen of Leng CL 13 (2,300 XP)

Denizens of Leng attack with a bite and 2 claws. A denizen’s bite causes lassitude if the victim fails a saving throw (at -2). Any attack rolls, damage rolls, and saving throws are made at -2 thereafter until the victim has slept continuously for 12 hours. If the same victim is bitten (and fails the saving throw) a second time, the victim immediately falls into deep slumber and cannot be awakened for 12 hours.

Additionally, a denizen of Leng is constantly able to read the thoughts of nearby creatures (ESP) and once per day can cast a mirror image of itself.

Denizens have immunity to poison and regenerate 5 hp/round if they are not on Leng. The process cannot be arrested by fire. Once a denizen reaches 0 hit points, the body dissolves into slime and re-forms on Leng. On Leng itself, denizens do not regenerate, and die completely. Not having souls, they cannot be raised from the dead.

HD 8; AC 5 [14]; Atk 1 bite (1d3 + lassitude), 2 claws (1d4+1); Save 8; Move 12; Al C; Special Regeneration (5 hp), lassitude, immune to poison, mirror image, constant ESP.

3.5e

Denizen of Leng CR 8

Always CE Medium outsider (chaotic, evil, extraplanar)

Init +4; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Listen +13, Spot +13

Languages Aklo, gift of tongues

Defense

AC 20, touch 14, flat-footed 16
(+4 Dex, +6 natural)

hp 95 (10d8+50 HD); planar fast healing 5

Fort +12, Ref +11, Will +10

Defensive Abilities no breath, unusual anatomy; Immune cold, electricity, poison; SR 18

Offense

Speed 40 ft.

Melee 2 claws +14 (1d4+2), bite +12 (1d6+1 plus 1d6 Dexterity drain)

Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.

Special Attacks sneak attack +5d6

Spell-Like Abilities (CL 10th)

3/day—detect thoughts (DC 17), hypnotic pattern (DC 17), levitate, minor image (DC 17)

1/day—locate object, plane shift (self only)

Tactics

Before Combat Denizens of Leng avoid combat unless they are cornered or outnumber their foes.

During Combat A denizen of Leng usually tries to capture foes alive to take as slaves.

Morale Denizens of Leng encountered anywhere but Leng know they will be reborn in Leng upon their deaths, and therefore they rarely flee from battle, only doing so when the inconvenience of having to return to their location from their homeland to pick up their projects anew would be too troublesome.

Statistics

Str 14, Dex 18, Con 21, Int 18, Wis 16, Cha 20

Base Atk +10; Grp +12

Feats Deceitful, Multiattack, Persuasive, Weapon Finesse

Skills Bluff +19, Concentration +15, Craft (alchemy) +14, Diplomacy +7, Disable Device +14, Disguise +19 (+21 acting, +23 as human), Forgery +16, Intimidate +19, Knowledge (any one) +14, Listen +13, Profession (sailor) +13, Search +14, Sleight of Hand +16, Spellcraft +14, Spot +13, Survival +3 (+5 following tracks), Use Magic Device +17 (+19 using scrolls)

Ecology

Environment any

Organization solitary, press gang (2–4), or crew (5–12)

Treasure standard coins, double goods (rubies only), standard items

Advancement by character class; Favored Class rogue

Level Adjustment

Special Abilities

Dexterity Drain (Su) On a successful bite attack, a denizen of Leng’s otherworldy teeth and tongue infuse the struck creature with the essence of Leng. this deals 1d6 points of Dexterity drain as the creature’s body twists, deforms, and no longer completely follows the victim’s commands. Constructs, elementals, outsiders, and undead are unaffected by this attack.

Gift of Tongues (Su) A denizen of Leng can speak any language it hears spoken for at least 1 minute. it retains knowledge of this learned language forever—most denizens of Leng effectively know all languages as a result.

No Breath (Ex) A denizen of Leng does not breathe, and as such is immune to inhaled toxins and diseases.

Planar Fast Healing (Ex) A denizen of Leng maintains a connection to Leng at all times, and when away from Leng, it has fast healing 5. It loses this ability on Leng or in areas where planar connections do not function. If killed, a denizen’s body dissolves into nothingness in 1d4 rounds, leaving behind its equipment. A slain denizen reforms in Leng, similar to a slain summoned creature; it can only be permanently killed if its fast healing is negated.

Sneak Attack (Ex) This ability functions as the rogue ability of the same name.

Unusual Anatomy (Ex) A denizen’s internal anatomy varies from individual to individual, and has a 50% chance to treat any critical hit or sneak attack against it as a normal hit. A denizen is also immune to effects dealt from bleeding, such as the ability loss caused by a weapon with the wounding special quality.

Skills A denizen of Leng has a +4 racial bonus to disguise itself as human.

Advanced Denizen of Leng

The captain of Leng depicted here had the following ability scores before racial and level adjustments: Str 8, Dex 15, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 13.

Captain of Leng CR 18

Denizen of Leng rogue 10

Init +11; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Listen +22, Spot +22

Languages Aklo, gift of tongues

Defense

AC 34, touch 17, flat-footed 27
(+6 armor, +7 Dex, +11 natural)

hp 223 (10d8+70 plus 10d6+70 HD); planar fast healing 5

Fort +20, Ref +24, Will +17

Defensive Abilities improved evasion, improved uncanny dodge, no breath, trap sense +3, unusual anatomy; Immune cold, electricity, poison; SR 18

Offense

Spd 40 ft.; freedom of movement

Melee +2 wounding short sword +26/+21/+16/+11 (1d6+4/17–20), claw +22 (1d4+1), bite +22 (1d6+1 plus 1d6 Dexterity drain)

Special Attacks sneak attack +10d6

Spell-Like Abilities (CL 10th)

3/day—detect thoughts (DC 18), hypnotic pattern (DC 20), levitate, minor image (DC 18)

1/day—locate object, plane shift (self only)

Statistics

Str 14, Dex 24, Con 24, Int 18, Wis 18, Cha 23

Base Atk +17; Grp +19

Feats Ability Focus (hypnotic pattern), Improved Critical (short sword), Improved Initiative, Multiattack, Quick Draw, Stealthy, Weapon Finesse

Skills Bluff +26, Concentration +17, Craft (alchemy) +22, Diplomacy +14, Disable Device +22, Disguise +26 (+28 acting, +30 as human), Forgery +22, Hide +17, Intimidate +26, Knowledge (the planes) +14, Listen +22, Move Silently +17, Profession (sailor) +22, Search +22, Sleight of Hand +27, Spellcraft +14, Spot +22, Survival +4 (+6 following tracks or on another plane), Use Magic Device +24 (+26 using scrolls)

SQ trapfinding

Gear +2 wounding short sword, amulet of natural armor +4, bracers of armor +6, cloak of resistance +3, ring of freedom of movement

5e

Denizen of Leng CR 5 (1,800 XP)

CE Medium aberration

Init +4; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; passive Perception 13

Languages Aklo

Defense

Armor Class 16 (natural armor)

Hit Points 85 (10d8 + 40)

Saving Throws Dex +7

Resist cold and lightning damage

Immune poison damage; poison, suffocation

Offense

Speed 40 ft.

Multiattack. A denizen of Leng bites once and attacks once with claws.

Bite. +7 melee weapon attack, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 8 (1d8 + 4) piercing damage and the target must make a successful DC 15 Con saving throw or immediately gain one level of exhaustion.

Claws. +7 melee weapon attack, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 8 (1d8 + 4) slashing damage.

Spell-like Abilities. A denizen of Leng can use the following spell-like abilities, using Charisma as its casting ability (DC 16, attack +8). A denizen of Leng doesn’t need material components to use these abilities.

1/day—locate object, plane shift (self only)

3/day—detect thoughts, hypnotic pattern, levitate, minor image

At will—tongues

Statistics

Str 14 (+2), Dex 18 (+4), Con 19 (+4), Int 18 (+4), Wis 17 (+3), Cha 21 (+5)

Skills Deception +9

Traits

Regeneration. At the start of its turn, a denizen of Leng recovers 5 lost hit points. This ability fails to function only if the creature is utterly cut off from Leng; e.g., if its ability to plane shift is negated. If a denizen of Leng is reduced to 0 hit points while it is still capable of regenerating, its body dissipates into vapor in 1d4 rounds, leaving only its clothing and equipment behind, and it returns to life on Leng.

Sneak Attack. Once per turn, a denizen of Leng can do an extra 4d6 damage with a claw or bite attack if the denizen has advantage on the attack or if one of its allies is within 5 feet of the target.

OPEN GAME LICENSE Version 1.0a

The following text is the property of Wizards of the Coast, Inc. and is Copyright 2000 Wizards of the Coast, Inc (“Wizards”). All Rights Reserved.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Races of the North

One goal of the Great Dungeon was to create a setting that incorporated all of the intelligent races from the original OD&D Monsters and Treasures booklet. But even that short list contains an astonishing array of races.

The following are those intelligent races native to the North.

ELVES were once masters of all the North, ancient and indifferent and inscrutable, ruling from their five shining citadels, the greatest of which was Norumbega of story and song. Their kingdom stretched from the distant mountains to the Sundering Sea. Their Goblin and Gnome servitors crafted works of great beauty and cunning, while their hobgoblin armies held off all trespassers. Human embassies from the distant south marveled at the bejeweled wonders and shining towers of Norumbega. But after centuries of rule, the Elves were overthrown by their Goblin servants, and in a blink of an eye three of the five citadels were sacked and one disappeared altogether from this world. The Elves persist in the North, but as only a shadow of their former glory, a few paltry kings ruling bands of wood elves. Only the Fair Spires, the last citadel of the high elves, still stands, ruled by the Elf Queen.

NORUMBEGANS are humans, once loyal servants to the Elves. In the days of old Norumbega they lived in tribes led by the Druids, a religious caste of neutral shape-changers who worshiped in secret rites. The Norumbegans have been mostly assimilated by the Southrons, but a few isolated barbaric tribes cling to the old ways. A Great Druid is said to wander the wilds of the North, assisted by the remnants of his ancient order.

GNOMES were valued servants to the Elves, master crafters in wood and gemstone, working side by side with the Goblins. During the uprising the Gnomes sided with the Elves, earning the undying enmity of all goblinfolk. Now they dwell in the woods just inland from the coast and in the Hollow Hills.

GOBLINS are scattered throughout the North in petty tribes, many allied with Southron lords. Expert miners and metalworkers, after the fall of Norumbega the Goblins established a great underground city built around rich silver and gold mines. Invading Dwarves from the Far Reaches fought a brutal war for control of the mines, and after decades of war the Goblins were finally driven out over forty years ago.

HOBGOBLINS formed the armies of old Norumbega. After overthrowing the elves, they enjoyed a brief reign under an emperor who united the many factious tribes under a single standard. But their days were numbered once the first Southron men landed nearly 160 years ago. Although the hobgoblin armies enjoyed initial success against the newcomers, the Southrons did not relent until the Hobgoblin empire was shattered 120 years ago. Today the hobgoblins are divided into a dozen or more rival tribes.

BUGBEARS are giant shaggy goblins from the Boundary Mountains. Never conquered by the elves, they live in small, fiercely independent bands.

STONE GIANTS, also native to the Boundary Mountains, were loyal servants to the Elves and the builders of Norumbega's greatest works. After the fall of Norumbega the stone giants returned to their mountains, where they remain today in reclusive communities.

CLOUD GIANTS are rare now, but said to have once ruled their own kingdom in the skies: a series of magnificent castles in the clouds. This giant kingdom fell at the same time as Norumbega, scattering many flying monsters such as griffons, hippogriffs, and giant eagles across the North. A wicked cloud giant is said to be the master of Louring Castle, an ominous, but thankfully rare sight upon the skies of the North.

MERFOLK, once valued allies of the Elves, still hold a marvelous underwater kingdom beneath the Sundering Sea, where they have been largely untouched by the hobgoblin empire or the coming of the Southrons. The King of the Merfolk famously keeps his own counsel.

LIZARDMEN claim they were the original lords of the North before the coming of the Elves, but can offer nothing to support this notion. Scattered throughout the fens and marshes in small tribal settlements, they generally avoid the other races though more primitive groups are rumored to be man-eaters.

NIXIES and PIXIES are sprites that dwell in the lakes and woodlands of the North. Friendly to the Elves, they are avoided by humans due to their mischievous and capricious natures.

BLACK DRAGONS inhabit the most dismal of fens and marshes in the North and are said to be all descended from one monstrous dam. Old Brokehorn is the most infamous of their number and makes his lair in the depths of Black Lake, in the shadow of the Great Dungeon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Hive of Skum

The humble skum, as rendered by Paizo, are useful monsters for all variants of games needing substitutes for certain closed content fish-men that live deep beneath the earth. The following 0e conversion, then, is Open Game Content:

Ulat-Kini

This hunchbacked, green-skinned humanoid has a wide, frog-like head with toothy, fish-like mouth.

Created by Aboleth. Ulat-Kini, also known as skum, are the most successful of the servitor races created by the aboleths as slaves. Originally created from human stock, Ulat-Kini can impregnate humans, and the children issued from such unions are invariably deformed.

Dwellers in the Dark. Most Ulat-Kini dwell deep underground in slowly crumbling ruins.

Unnatural Products. Ulat-Kini do not age, and barring death by violence or disease, they can live forever. Unfortunately, Ulat-Kini are incapable of reproducing among themselves, for all skum are male. Those who are not born Ulat-Kini undergo gradual transformations throughout their lives, and when they would normally die of old age, such hybrids instead go through “the change,” shedding their wrinkled flesh and transforming into one of the ulat-kini.

Ulat-Kini CL 3 (XP 60)

A Ulat-Kini breathes water but can survive indefinitely on land.

HD 2; AC 7 [13]; Atk trident (1d6), bite (1d6); Save 16; Move 9 (18 swim); Al C; Special half damage from cold.

Ulat-Kini Subchief CL 6 (XP 400)

A subchief wears crude leather armor and carries a small shield. It does +1 damage with its trident.

HD 5; AC 3 [17]; Atk trident (1d6+1), bite (1d6); Save 12; Move 9 (18 swim); Al C; Special half damage from cold.

Ulat-Kini Chief CL 11 (XP 1,700)

A Ulat-Kini Chief attacks twice per round with its trident and does +2 damage.

HD 10; AC 3 [17]; Atk trident 2/round (1d6+2), bite (1d6); Save 5; Move 9 (18 swim); Al C; Special half damage from cold.

OPEN GAME LICENSE Version 1.0a

The following text is the property of Wizards of the Coast, Inc. and is Copyright 2000 Wizards of the Coast, Inc (“Wizards”). All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Blasphemous Fish-Frogs

The good folk of Paizo have demonstrated a great facility for transforming neglected or discarded bits of D&D into something genuinely interesting and useful. A great example of this is the skum, a rather humdrum monster that had one significant virtue: being open gaming content.

The skum originated in 2nd Edition, back in Polyhedron 67, where they were servants of the aboleth, specially bred for manual labor from humanoid stock. They were reprinted in the Monstrous Compendium Annual, Vol I. and, somewhat inexplicably, in the 3rd Edition Monster Manual.

Paizo, though, in their Into the Darklands supplement, reconnects the humble skum to the Deep Ones of Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and simultaneously creates a substitute for the closed content Kuo-Toa. Here, then, is a 3.5e expansion of skum, reenvisioned through a Pathfinder lens. The following text is Open Game Content:

Skum

This hunchbacked, green-skinned humanoid has a wide, frog-like head with toothy, fish-like mouth.

Created by Aboleth. Skum, also known as Ulat-Kini, are the most successful of the servitor races created by the aboleths as slaves. Originally created from human stock, skum can impregnate humans, and the children issued from such unions are invariably deformed.

Dwellers in the Dark. Most skum dwell deep underground in slowly crumbling ruins.

Unnatural Products. Skum do not age, and barring death by violence or disease, they can live forever. Unfortunately, skum are incapable of reproducing among themselves, for all skum are male. Those who are not born skum undergo gradual transformations throughout their lives, and when they would normally die of old age, such hybrids instead go through “the change,” shedding their wrinkled flesh and transforming into one of the ulat-kini.

Skum CR 2

Usually LE Medium aberration (aquatic)

Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Listen +5 (+9 underwater), Spot +5 (+9 underwater)

Languages Aquan

Defense

AC 13, touch 11, flat-footed 12
(+1 Dex, +2 natural)

hp 11 (2d8+1 HD)

Fort +1, Ref +1, Will +3

Offense

Spd 20 ft., swim 40 ft.

Melee bite +5 (2d6+4), 2 claws +0 (1d4+2)

Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.

Special Attacks rake (+0, 1d6+2)

Tactics

During Combat In the water, skum are dangerous enemies who attack by biting, clawing, and raking with their rear legs. Skum serving an aboleth are sometimes trained to fight with weapons, usually tridents, two-handed melee weapons with reach (such as longspears) and simple ranged weapons such as javelins or slings.

Morale Skum serving an aboleth will fight until slain or ordered to withdraw. Otherwise they disengage when faced with superior opponents.

Statistics

Str 19, Dex 13, Con 13, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 6

Base Atk +1; Grp +5

Feats Alertness

Skills Hide +3 (+7 underwater), Listen +5 (+9 underwater), Move Silently +3, Spot +5 (+9 underwater), Swim +12

SQ amphibious

Ecology

Environment underground

Organization brood (2–5), pack (6–15), or cabal (13–95 plus 50% noncombatants, 1 subchief of 3rd level per 20 adults, 1 sorcerer of 4th–6th level per 40 adults, 1 chieftain of 7th–9th level, and 2–6 oozes)

Treasure none

Advancement 3–4 HD (Medium); 5–6 HD (Large)

Level Adjustment +3

Special Abilities

Rake (Ex) Attack bonus +0 melee, damage 1d6+2. A skum also gains two rake attacks when it attacks while swimming.

Skills Skum have a +4 racial bonus on Hide, Listen, and Spot checks underwater.

A skum has a +8 racial bonus on any Swim check to perform some special action or avoid a hazard. It can always choose to take 10 on a Swim check, even if distracted or endangered. It can use the run action while swimming, provided it swims in a straight line.

Skum as Characters

Although skum typically advance by adding Hit Dice, they occasionally take levels in character classes. Skum characters possess the following racial traits.

  • +8 Strength, +2 Dexterity, +2 Constitution, -4 Charisma.
  • A skum’s base land speed is 20 feet. It also has a swim speed of 40 feet.
  • Darkvision out to 60 feet.
  • Racial Hit Dice: A skum begins with two levels of aberration, which provide 2d8 Hit Dice, a base attack bonus of +1, and base saving throw bonuses of Fort +0, Ref +0, and Will +3.
  • Racial Skills: A skum’s aberration levels give it skill points equal to 5 × (2 + Int modifier, minimum 1). Its class skills are Hide, Listen, Move Silently, Spot, Swim. Skum have a +4 racial bonus on Hide, Listen, and Spot checks underwater. A skum has a +8 racial bonus on any Swim check to perform some special action or avoid a hazard. It can always choose to take 10 on a Swim check, even if distracted or endangered. It can use the run action while swimming, provided it swims in a straight line.
  • Racial Feats: A skum’s aberration levels give it one feat.
  • Weapon Proficiency: A skum is proficient with the trident and all simple weapons.
  • +2 natural armor bonus.
  • Natural Weapons: Bite (2d6) and 2 claws (1d4).
  • Special Attacks (see above): Rake.
  • Special Qualities (see above): Amphibious.
  • Automatic Languages: Aquan. Bonus Languages: Aboleth, Undercommon.
  • Favored Class: Fighter.
  • Level adjustment +3.

Skum Equipment

Barbed Net: Typically, creatures use these nets to catch
fish and other prey along the coast. Skum have put them to more nefarious use, favoring them as weapons. Barbed nets incorporate dozens of hooks of various sizes that entangle and damage enemies. Unlike normal nets, barbed nets deal damage to entangled opponents at the rate of 2 piercing damage/round.

A barbed net is a ranged exotic weapon. Cost 25 gp, Damage (S) 2/1d4, Damage (M) 2/1d4, Critical x2, Range Increment 10 ft., Weight 7 lb., Type P.

Due to the cruel barbs, these nets are difficult to break or escape, requiring a full-round action (DC 25 Escape Artist check; 6 hp, break DC 25); such attempts deal an additional 1d4 piercing damage, whether successful or not. A Heal check (DC 15) successfully removes the hooks without further damage, requiring 10 minutes.

Barbed nets are useful only against creatures within 1 size category of the user and follow all rules for normal nets.

Essence of Ulat-kini: This black, tar-like, and potentially lethal substance is stored in wax-sealed, clay jars. A pregnant woman who imbibes the contents and survives the poison ensures her unborn child will inherit the characteristics of a skum. This essence is highly prized by aboleth worshippers and deranged descendants of fallen sea kings; both groups use it to grant their children the heritage they believe they deserve. Essence of Ulat-Kini costs 1,500 gp per application, weighs 1 lb.

Advanced Skum

As many skum get older they get larger and even more dangerous.

Ancient Skum CR 4

LE Large aberration (aquatic)

Init +0; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Listen +4 (+8 underwater), Spot +4 (+8 underwater)

Languages Aquan

Defense

AC 13, touch 9, flat-footed 13
(+4 natural, -1 size)

hp 42 (6d8+15 HD)

Fort +4, Ref +2, Will +5

Offense

Spd 20 ft., swim 40 ft.

Melee bite +12 (3d6+9), 2 claws +10 (1d8+4)

Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.

Special Attacks rake (+10, 1d8+4)

Statistics

Str 28, Dex 11, Con 15, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 6

Base Atk +4; Grp +17

Feats Improved Natural Attack (claws), Multiattack, Toughness

Skills Hide +0 (+4 underwater), Listen +4 (+8 underwater), Move Silently +4, Spot +4 (+8 underwater), Swim +19

SQ amphibious

Skum trained as fighters typically rise to positions of power within their cabals. The subchief depicted below had the following ability scores before level and racial adjustments: Str 15, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 12.

Skum Subchief CR 5

Skum fighter 3

LE Medium aberration (aquatic)

Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Listen +3 (+7 underwater), Spot +3 (+7 underwater)

Languages Aquan

Defense

AC 19, touch 12, flat-footed 15
(+3 armor, +2 Dex, +2 natural, +2 shield)

hp 44 (2d8+6 plus 3d10+9 HD)

Fort +6, Ref +5, Will +3

Offense

Spd 20 ft., swim 40 ft.

Melee mwk trident +13 (1d8+7), claw +8 (1d4+3), bite +8 (2d6+3)

Ranged javelin +6 (1d6+7)

Special Atk rake (+8, 1d6+3)

Statistics

Str 24, Dex 15, Con 16, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 8

Base Atk +4; Grp +11

Feats Alertness, Lightning Reflexes, Power Attack, Stealthy, Weapon Focus (trident)

Skills Hide +7 (+11 underwater), Listen +3 (+7 underwater), Move Silently +7, Spot +3 (+7 underwater), Swim +17

SQ amphibious

Combat Gear javelin of lightning, potion of cure serious wounds; Other Gear +1 leather armor, +1 small wooden shield, masterwork trident, 2 javelins

Large groups of skum will occasionally produce individuals able to use spells, even though low Charisma scores generally limit their advancement. The skum sorcerer depicted below had the following ability scores before level and racial adjustments: Str 8, Dex 14, Con 13, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 15.

Skum Sorcerer CR 6

Skum sorcerer 5

LE Medium aberration (aquatic)

Init +7; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Listen +3 (+7 underwater), Spot +3 (+7 underwater)

Languages Aquan

Defense

AC 16, touch 13, flat-footed 13
(+3 Dex, +3 natural)

hp 42 (2d8+4 plus 5d4+10 HD)

Fort +3, Ref +4, Will +8

Offense

Spd 20 ft., swim 40 ft.

Melee bite +6 (2d6+3), 2 claws +1 (1d4+1)

Special Atk rake (+1, 1d6+1)

Sorcerer Spells Known (CL 5th)

2nd (4/day)—hideous laughter (DC 13), mirror image

1st (7/day)—mage armor, magic missile, ray of enfeeblement (+6 ranged touch), shield

0 (6/day)—acid splash (+6 ranged touch), dancing lights, detect magic, read magic, resistance, virtue

Statistics

Str 16, Dex 16, Con 15, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 12

Base Atk +3; Grp +6

Feats Combat Casting, Improved Initiative, Toughness

Skills Concentration +7 (+11 casting defensively), Hide +5 (+9 underwater), Listen +3 (+7 underwater), Move Silently +5, Spellcraft +5, Spot +3 (+7 underwater), Swim +13

SQ amphibious

Combat Gear scroll of sleet storm, wand of acid arrow (30 charges); Other Gear amulet of natural armor +1

Scouts serve the skum communities of the deep underground as spies and infiltrators. The skum scout depicted below had the following ability scores before level and racial adjustments: Str 13, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 15, Cha 8.

Skum Scout CR 8

Skum monk 7

LE Medium aberration (aquatic)

Init +7; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Listen +12 (+16 underwater), Spot +12 (+16 underwater)

Languages Aquan

Defense

AC 22, touch 18, flat-footed 19
(+1 armor, +1 deflection, +3 Dex, +1 monk, +3 natural, +3 Wis)

hp 62 (2d8+8 plus 7d8+14 HD)

Fort +7, Ref +8, Will +11 (+13 against enchantment spells and effects)

Defensive Abilities evasion; Immune natural disease

Offense

Spd 40 ft., swim 40 ft.

Melee unarmed strike +13/+8 (1d8+7), bite +13 (2d6+3), 2 claws +13 (1d4+3)

Special Atk flurry of blows, ki strike (magic), rake (+13, 1d6+3)

Statistics

Str 24, Dex 16, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 16, Cha 4

Base Atk +6; Grp +17

Feats Blind-Fight, Combat Reflexes, Improved Grapple, Improved Initiative, Improved Multiattack, Improved Trip, Improved Unarmed Strike, Multiattack

Skills Hide +12 (+16 underwater), Listen +12 (+16 underwater), Move Silently +12, Spot +12 (+16 underwater), Swim +15

SQ amphibious, fast movement, purity of body, slow fall 30 ft., wholeness of body (14 hp)

Gear necklace of fireballs type I; Other Gear amulet of natural armor +1, bracers of armor +1, gauntlets of ogre power, ring of protection +1

Special Abilities

Evasion (Ex) If the scout makes a successful Reflex saving throw against an attack that normally deals half damage on a successful save, the scout instead takes no damage.

Slow Fall (Ex) A scout within arm’s reach of a wall can use it to slow a descent, and takes damage as if the fall were 30 feet shorter than it actually is.

Purity of Body (Ex) The scout is immune to all diseases except for supernatural and magical diseases.

Wholeness of Body (Su) The scout can heal itself up to 14 hp each day, and can spread this healing out among several uses.

Chieftains are generally drawn from the ranks of the most promising and experienced skum fighters. The chieftain depicted below had the following ability scores before level and racial adjustments: Str 14, Dex 15, Con 13, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 12.

Skum Chieftain CR 10

Skum fighter 8

LE Medium aberration (aquatic)

Init +8; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Listen +2 (+6 underwater), Spot +2 (+6 underwater)

Languages Aquan

Defense

AC 18, touch 14, flat-footed 14
(+2 armor, +4 natural, +2 natural)

hp 96 (2d8+8 plus 8d10+32)

Fort +10, Ref +6, Will +6

Offense

Spd 30 ft., swim 40 ft.

Melee +1 trident +17/+12 (1d8+12), bite +10 (2d6+3)

Ranged barbed net +13 ranged touch (1d4+6 plus entangle) or
+1 trident +15 (1d8+9)

Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft. (10 ft. with longspear)

Special Atk rake (+10, 1d6+3)

Statistics

Str 22, Dex 18, Con 18, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 8

Base Atk +9; Grp +15

Feats Dodge, Exotic Weapon Proficiency (barbed net), Improved Initiative, Iron Will, Mobility, Power Attack, Spring Attack, Weapon Focus (trident), Weapon Specialization (trident)

Skills Climb +14, Hide +6 (+10 underwater), Jump +20, Listen +2 (+6 underwater), Move Silently +6, Spot +2 (+6 underwater), Swim +14

SQ amphibious

Combat Gear potion of heroism; Other Gear +2 studded leather armor, +1 trident, amulet of health +2, boots of striding and springing, barbed net

OPEN GAME LICENSE Version 1.0a

The following text is the property of Wizards of the Coast, Inc. and is Copyright 2000 Wizards of the Coast, Inc (“Wizards”). All Rights Reserved.

Friday, February 10, 2017

What Everybody Knows about the North and the Great Dungeon

Here follows a collection of common knowledge shared by all player characters. Like all common knowledge, not all of it is necessarily true.

  • The North is a vast, cold wilderness of craggy shores, deep bogs, dark woods of pine and birch, and looming mountains.
  • In ages past, these lands were part of the legendary kingdom of Norumbega, ruled by the elves and their goblin and gnome servants.
  • In old Norumbega the elves lingered in gleaming cities made of gold and silver.
  • Norumbega fell hundreds of years ago when the goblins revolted against their masters. The elf-halls were destroyed, and elves and gnomes were driven into hiding.
  • The great kingdom returned to wilderness filled with monsters.
  • Goblins ruled the North after Norumbega fell.
  • Nearly two hundred years ago humans from the City States to the south came. These men carved out settlements in the north, scattering the native goblins into the wilderness.
  • Nearly a hundred years ago dwarves, frost and fire giants, and human berserkers from the Far Reaches to the east began moving into the North.
  • Today descendents of the southern men may rule the coast, but the interior remains wild and unknown.
  • Black Lake, the headwater of the Great Gobbo River, sits in the heart of the North.
  • In the middle of Black Lake is Delvemont Isle and the Great Dungeon of the North.
  • Each year dozens of adventurers, eager to win their fortunes, make the long journey up the Gobbo to the village of Delvetown on the shores of Black Lake.
  • Delvetown is a rough and tumble frontier settlement and not entirely safe. It is used as a base camp for all the dungeoneers.
  • Delvetown contains armorers and weapon makers, a potion shop, whorehouses, gambling halls, and taverns. Prices tend to be outrageously high due to the remoteness and all the treasure that flows through the town.
  • No one knows who built the Dungeon, or how old it is.
  • The Dungeon teems with deadly monsters and traps and mysteries, but also the promise of gold and gems and powerful magic.
  • The first three levels of the Dungeon are called the Goblin Halls.
  • The main entrance to the Dungeon is a big opening, called Culagormac's Porch, which opens into the Gobbo Promenade on the First Level.
  • No one knows how big the Dungeon is, exactly. The corridors seem to stretch out forever, and even after all this time dungeoneers are still finding new hidden sections and sublevels and such.
  • The deeper down you go in the Dungeon, the more dangerous it becomes. And the stranger it becomes, too.