Wednesday, July 18, 2012

or why massacres of cute goblin babies are not a problem in my games

I enjoy a moral dilemma as much as the next guy, but I don't find skewering baby goblins to be fun.
So, I've made some chnages to certain breeds of monster:

Orcs are organized like naked mole rats or hive insects. I got that idea from Harn, I think. They have no babies unable to defend themselves, just half-grown ‘runtlings’ that pop out of the cave-mothers multiple wombs, ready to fight from birth. Orcs have genetic memory (this is also taken from Harn) which ensures that they all have a roughly similar culture. It’s violent and savage, with strong tendencies towards what most people would call evil. The cave mother can to some extent control her hive with pheromonesand her black milk, so that orcish society can function with a semblance of order. The orcs don’t work well together when not under the control of a cave-mother. The control range is limited. Orcs go rogue, berserk , blind, or die if the cave-mother is slain (this is inspired by a scene in Return of the King). They amy also go rouge or perish if they wander too far from the hive.
In theory, a rouge orc might be Lawful or Neutral, but that's very rare. It is possible that he could be Chaotic but not espeically evil-- just unpredicatble and aggressive.

Half-orcs are sterile. They tend to be a little on the crazy side, but some can pass for ill-favored humans. As for how they are made, let's just say that an orc cave-mothers pheremones can't control a man's thinking brain, but can arouse certain physiological responses....ewww squick.

Goblins reproduce by possessing and transmogrifying the infants of human and demihuman races. Yes, that’s inspired in part by a certain movie with David Bowie. Hobgoblins and bugbears do the same. According to gnomish lore, the earliest goblins were Chaotic gnome cultists warped by a curse.

Trolls reproduce by fission, and are not very social creatures. Their grasp of language tends to be minimal. When a troll goes into ‘heat’, other trolls sense it and chase it down, then rip it apart and scatter the pieces. The pieces grow into new trolls.

Kobolds are actually little earth devils. New kobolds are mined from toxic ore veins and set to work for the older kobolds.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Longbeard isn't just a nickname—this tricky dwarf has a magic beard that moves at his will, much like the effect of a permanent animate ropes spell. He can use it to trip opponents, grab light objects, tickle sleeping people or beasts, etc. It grows back quickly if cut with ordinary blades, but it might be burned off or neutralized by magical means.

I haven’t read the old Slavic fairy tale which inspired the picture above, so I don’t know if my idea is close to the original type.

Monday, July 2, 2012

New Items for B/X (or any edition)

Rod of Flame-gout

This polished, hollow brass rod is cast to resemble a bell-mouthed dragon or serpent.  To use the rod, the wielder must first fill the hollow with lamp oil or a similar flammable substance, and then fired by depressing a concealed trigger (no command word necessary). Flame belches forth from the activated rod, in a small cone that grows from a few inches to 5 feet in diameter at 30 feet long. Damage=1d12. Targets may save against Dragon’s Breath for half damage. Because the area of effect is small, and the rod must be aimed, the wielder must roll to hit any targets in the area of effect. This roll gets a +1 adjustment, in addition to any DEX adjustment the wielder normally gets on missile attacks.

The fire is likely to scorch or ignite dry cloth, hair, paper, etc.

The rod may be used as many times per day as the wielder pleases—but every single shot fired requires a flask of lantern oil. The oil is utterly consumed. Reloading takes a round.

This item may be used by any class.

Nail-biter Rod

This hollow, rust-flecked iron rod is fashioned to resemble a bell mouthed dragon or serpent. To use this rod, the user must first pour metal coins, broken chain links, nails, or similar small metal objects down the muzzle. The rod is fired using a concealed trigger (no command word is necessary). Rusted, broken metal sprays from the open end of the activated rod, in a roughly conical burst that grows from a few inches to 10 feet in diameter at 60 feet long. Anything in the cone is subjected to 1d4 attacks. Each hit does 1d4 damage. Large targets, like a man standing very close to the muzzle or an ogre at any distance, will block the effect for anything behind said target.

The wielder must roll to hit, using the range table below.

Range= 15/30/60

DEX effects this attack in the same manner as any thrown or missile weapon.

The rod may be used as many times per day as the wielder pleases—but every single shot fired requires a pound of small metal bits.  The metal ammunition is broken, corroded, and generally rendered worthless by the action of firing. Even gold coins are ruined. Reloading takes a round.

The rod is quite loud; firing it in a dungeon may attract wandering monsters.

This item is prohibited for clerics, but may be used by any other class.

NOTE-- I may edit both items a bit, after I get some feedback on them. These are basically fantasy boomsticks/guns.

 My current campaign setting does include simple blackpowder weapons, but those are unreliable and pretty rare.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fake Dinosaurs= 'Real' Monsters

I had these as a kid! I've got no idea what happened to them.

Many D&D fans will recognize the bottom two as the rust monster and the bulette.

My assumption is that Gygax, or one of the other DMs in his circle, bought a bunch of plastic 'dinosaurs' and used those as miniatures.

The cute monster in the upper left quadrant looks like the love child of the Tarrasque and a Fiend Folio carbuncle. Carrasque? Tarbuncle? Maybe it has a jewel buried in its head, which can be removed from its dead body by means similar to those needed to extract huge diamonds from the Tarrasque?

Okay, that’s a bit goofy even for me.

It could be fun to stat both the upper figures. What are they?

I’ll probably come back to this. I’m working on my math studies now, and I have some serious writing projects to do a bit later.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


(These posts will deal with stuff outside Thunder Rift. Nothing is offical yet, and things may chnage bfore the PCs see any of these places. A map will nail things down-- but it's a bit soon for that.)

The Ogre Despotates—a collection of petty dominions ruled by brutal and surprisingly clever ogres.

The ogre-lords are mostly descendants of Karabas the Shifter, an ogre wokani who had mastered the art of shape-changing. Karabas built a kingdom where ogres ruled and other races served, but his feuding children tore the realm apart within weeks of the his death. Some territory was lost to neighboring human lords, but the rest of the land remained under ogre rule.

The ogre elite in these dominions tend to be of higher intelligence than common ogres (INT 9 instead of 6, in game terms; spell casters are more common than among typical ogres.)The rulers ape human fashions, holding court in crudely built keeps and manor-houses. Goblin jesters caper and blaspheme for the amusement of the ogres. Captured humans and elves are forced to fight in bloody‘tourneys.’ Guests may be shown a crude sort of hospitality—but visitors are advised to beware trusting the ogres. It’s not unheard of for an emissary who displeases an ogre king to end up as part of the next royal banquet.

Common ogres here tend to work as bully boys serving the various ‘kings.’ These common ogres are no more intelligent than their cousins in Thunder Rift.

Among the ogres of these lands, housecats are regarded as the bearers of curses.

Ogres may sometimes hire out as mercenaries. They get plenty of practice fighting one another.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012




The gnomes of Thunder Rift are mostly enslaved by goblinoids, and do not have functioning governments of their own. Among the gnome slaves, there exists an informal division between three factions; collaborators, resisters, and non-resisters. An individual gnome may move among these three groups over the course of his life.

A small number of free gnomes live in the low hills south of Wizardspire, not far from the Brichtwood. These free gnomes have no government because their numbers are too low to require one.

Some few gnomes live as common citizens in Melinir or as guests among the dwarves of Hearthhome.

Outside Thunder Rift, many gnomish communities are ruled by hereditary lairds, the ‘rulers of rock and rill’ who govern mining and water rights in the hilly gnome-lands. A few communities are governed by councils of scholars and artisans.


Gnomes believe in a creator god, much as do many other peoples. Three main sects exist within a shared gnomish religious tradition; Lapidarians, Gearsmiths, and Phantasians.

The conservative Lapidarian sect teaches that the Creator is a divine jeweler, who fashioned the celestial jewels –sun, moon, and stars- from stones he dug out of the deep earth. The Lapidarians greatly honor master jewelers. These gnomes keep relic tools used by the ‘old masters’ inside jeweled reliquary boxes. Divination by watching the light reflected off faceted stones, or by use of a prism, plays a role in Lapidarian religious rites and daily life.

 The new-fangled Gearsmiths see god as a careful builder who made the universe to function like a clock. The Gearmsiths see engineering and invention as a divine gift. Master tinkers and their inventions are objects of veneration.

The gnostic Phantasians conceive of god as a trickster and illusionist. To a Phantasian, the world is a layered illusion on top of a spiritual inner reality. Phantasians see the study of illusion magic as a sacred calling. Master illusionists are often seen as guru-like figures of special wisdom. Death is ultimately just another illusion, so Phantasians sometimes pray for the intervention of dead illusionists.


Most gnomes are not madcap technologists, but the race does show an inclination towards clever artifices and cunning design.

Pickman the Sage (of Melinir) has theorized that this technological edge developed because gnomes are often short on labor force, always small in individual size, and not often skilled at magic other than illusions. Given all those factors, labor saving devices and technological fixes for problems are arguably more attractive and more needful for gnomes than for some other races.

A minority of gnomes show an uncanny talent for building machines. These inventors tend to be eccentric even by gnomish standards. Their devices are often wonky one-offs, difficult to copy. Oddly enough, the weirder gadgets seem to work best for gnomes (especially the ones who built or designed them in the first place) and tend to break down when used by non-gnomes. *

Examples of gnomish technology at the bleeding edge include mechanical gnomes, self-propelled wagons, diving bells, and other odd devices.

*Gearsmiths may explain this phenomenon in religious terms.




Hereditary squires and elected sheriffs hold sway in of most independent Halfling communities. Squires are the heads of old, landowning families. Sheriffs are the chief enforcers of laws.  In some places the squires are more powerful than the sheriffs, or vice versa. In old, well-established communities, it’s not unheard of for the office of sheriff to be the unofficial property of a prominent family, with the election being merely nominal. Newly settled or reclaimed Halfling shires, on the other hand, provide an excellent chance for up and coming Halflings to become sheriffs.

The Halflings of Thunder Rift don’t really have a separate government or separate settlements. ‘Sheriff’ is an old title that is currently not in use, but might be revived if an individual Halfling of prowess and charisma came to be seen as a leader of a distinct Halfling community.  


Halflings tend to see the Supreme Being as a mother-figure, the source of agricultural bounty and all other good things. Most Halfling societies do not have a separate clergy. It is common for heads of families to perform religious functions.

Some Halflings in Thunder Rift have adopted human religious notions, often by combining these ideas with traditional Halfling religion.

Folk heroes play a role in Halfling religion similar to the religious role played by ancestors in the dwarf religion and saints among the Lawful humans.


Halflings in Thunder Rift and several other places grow tabac (tobacco)They smoke it. Some rustic Halflings chew the stuff, and refined Halflings sometimes take snuff.

The custom of smoking tabac is seen as unhealthy or strange by some non-Halflings, but it has caught on with people of various races in Thunder Rift.

Fumbleweed, also known as five finger fumbleweed, is another plant associated with Halflings. It is related to common hemp. This plant produces a mild euphoria and dulls the wits and reaction speed of chronic users. In Thunder Rift, the use of fumbleweed is associated with lazy rascals and ne’er-do-wells; nobody respectable would be seen smoking it in public.

NOTE- I am mortally certain that I got fumbleweed from an old Elric! supplement, but I can’t recall the name of the adventure. Where the authors of said adventure got the idea is pretty obvious. J

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dwarf herders

 Dwarf herders follow a seasonal pattern, driving their flocks of sheep and goats between green summer pastures and winter cavern-barns. Some of the great dwarf warriors began their carreers as herdsmen, fighting off hungry orcs and wolves.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Shadow Elves of Thunder Rift

One of my players ( Gladys) decided to play an elf. She's a fan of World of Warcraft, and she named her PC after a Night Elf character that she played in that game. I don't know much about 'night elves' or WoW, but D&D/Mystara shadow elves seemed like a good fit...

A race of elves quite different from the fair elves of Gauntlin Forest inhabits parts of the Grakken Wood. Where the Gauntlin elves love the open air and sun-dappled meadows, these shadow elves favor dim caves and overgrown gullies. They live in earthen warrens dug beneath the roots of ancient trees; lairs which provide some protection from the monsters that infest the Grakken Wood.  Owlbears and ogres are fond of eating shadow elves, so the elves spend a lot of time either hunting or hiding from such creatures.

The shadow elves look like other elves, but with unusually large ears, big eyes and pallid skin. Bright light hurts their eyes, and their skin burns easily in the sun. In-breeding has left some shadow elves subtly deformed. Dark clothing helps them blend into the woods at night, when they do most of their foraging.

Poorer and more isolated than the Gauntlin elves, these reclusive elves use flint to tip their arrowheads and are far more likely to wear hide armor than coats of mail.

 The elves of the Grakken Wood are so secretive that, until recently, most people assumed they were only a story for children. A young elf named Neblina has been sent out as an ambassador of sorts (or perhaps encouraged to leave on account of her disagreeable personality, according to some of her band mates).

Note- Unlike the shadow elves of Mystara, these elves live near the surface. I imagine them as looking like the shadow elf illo from the Creature Catalog, but also a bit like the ugly/weird wood elves in the animated Hobbit.

20 questions

Jeff Rients posted a series of questions for campaign use. It seems to have caught on with other bloggers/DMs, and after looking over the list, I can see why. It's quite useful for the DM and his players.

Here's my version-

For the use of my players in Thunder Rift-

1. Where and how can we get magic items?

Look for them in ancient ruins or in the lairs of monsters. You probably won't find many such items for sale in town, but on rare occasions a trader may offer some sort of magic for sale. Let the buyer beware!

2. Are there any special limits on buying non-magical gear in town?

Most mundane gear found in the Rules Cyclopedia can be obtained in the town of Melinir, the largest above-ground settlement in Thunder Rift. Unusual or exotic items might be available as imports, but will cost extra. Only one smith in town, Shar the Dwarf-maid, knows how to make suit armor.

3. Where can we get magical healing?

It's free for all 'good and faithful' at the temple in Melinir. Those outside the church and those in poor standing may be required to first make offerings, or even refused help. Known evil-doers will either be refused help, or required to do penance. Pagans and skeptics might be turned away, but more likely will be the subjects of attempted conversion.

4. Is there a Thieves Guild?

Yes, some sort of shadowy criminal organization exists in Melinir. The thieves mostly prey on foreign traders, rather than robbing from locals.

5. Is there any sort of guild or association of magic-users?

No, but there was a famous school of sorcery in olden times. It was destroyed in the Wars of the Sword and Wand, along with the Fighter's Academy.

6. Where do clerics get their powers and training?

Lawful clerics honor the holy saints and train in the schools of Mother Church. Pagans and druids learn their powers from the study of nature spirits. Renegade servants of Chaos and wicked witches are said to draw power from demons and evil ghosts, but you don't know much about all that.

7. Is there any sort of mercenary brotherhood, arena, or other place for fighters?

There used to be a great school of combat, but it was destroyed long ago by angry wizards. It's a haunted ruin in the Gloomfens, now.

Fighters can train at a hall in Melinir. Death matches are not legal, but brawls, blunt sword duels, and so on are popular events, open to the public.

You've heard stories that the Black Knight, down the valley, is recruiting veterans for his guard.

8. Who is the richest person in the valley?

Karyn the Halfling, moneylender and banker of Melinir, is said to be the wealthiest person in the valley.

9. Who is the most powerful magician in the valley?

The Wizard of Mage Island may be the mightiest wizard since the ancient days of the Academy, but other stories claim that a powerful black magician lives on Wizardspire.

10- Who is the most famous warrior in the valley?

Valum, the Mayor of Melinir, is a doughty fighter and the veteran of many battles. He is a member of the Quadrial; a great honor.

11. Who is the most infamous thief?

Raven! He was gone for a long time, and people began to believe he had died, but lately there are whispers of his return. The merchants are all buying better locks and hiring extra guards...

12. Who is the highest ranking or most renowned cleric?

That would be Elena, the High Cleric and Matriarch of the church in Melinir.

13. Where are the dragons?

Scorch the Red lives in the Bone Hills. He is very dangerous.

15. Where are the dungeons?

Ruins are scattered over the whole length of the rift valley. Any of them might hold monsters and treasure.

16. What's the political situation, in a nutshell?

The humans, elves, dwarves, and halfings are mostly allies but are not united under one government. Each settlement runs its own affairs. Mayors or burgomasters rule the human dominated towns, with advice from local councils. The demihumans govern themselves through ancient clan laws.

The chaotic and monstrous races are less organized, but are numerous and present a chronic threat to the towns and farms of the civilized folk.

The Black Knight is a wildcard- nobody knows for sure which side he is one-- apart from his own side.

17. Are there any laws dealing with magic, weapons, taxes, etc. that my PC should know about?

Using dangerous or destructive magic in the towns will get you fined or thrown in jail, unless a magistrate rules that you acted with justification. Be careful about slinging spells. Weapons are legal everywhere, but drawing 'live steel' in a tavern brawl is usually looked on as tantamount to attempted murder. Goods are taxed in all markets (included in the listed prices). Anyone selling gems or treasure in town will pay a 10% tariff ( figure may vary). Anyone who owns a building in Melinir must pay a seasonal wall tax.

18. What's the greatest honor a local hero can obtain?

Admission to the Quadrial, the honorary generals and champions of the four allied races

19. What sort of hirelings and retainers can I get?

Linkboys, shield bearers, rowers, flunkeys, and other unskilled types may be recruited in any of the towns or villages. Skilled retainers and specialists are rare outside Melinir. Pickman the Sage is the only well-known sage for hire. Available mercenaries are mostly tavern bravos or ex-watchmen.

20. What about strongholds and dominions?

If you can afford a stronghold, feel free to build one. It's possible for name-level PCs to becomes 'Lords of Thunder Rift'', a lofty goal that would require years of work.

" I CAN HAZ POOP? ",The Otyughs of Thunder Rift

Otyughs of Thunder Rift

According to rumor, a creature that might be an otyugh lives in one of the old mine shafts near Melinir, a delve long used as a cesspit and trash dump by the townspeople.

Intrepid scouts and would-be settlers in the Black Swamps and the Marshwood report otyughs living in those wetlands.

Nature blessed otyughs with very efficient digestive systems. They excrete nitre in long strings that resemble cobwebs, and puffs of aromatic gases. They also produce small amounts of remarkably clean water; this purified liquid almost invariably mixes with the fetid muck the otyughs inhabit. Alchemists and wizards value the nitrous waste of otyughs for use in fire potions, incendiary mixtures, medicines, and so on.

The ghouls of the Marshwood avoid otyughs because the ‘ughs will eat them. Undead or dead; it’s all just delicious rotten food to an otyugh.

Lizardmen and newts often dispose of offal by feeding it to the local otyughs.

Pickman the Sage speculates that otyughs are related to the legendary decapus.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

BOOM! Gunpowder in my current D&D campaign

‘Smoke-powder’ in Thunder Rift

Black powder is an uncommon and rather expensive mixture, created only by a few alchemists. It is used for fireworks. A handful of craftsmen have begun to build simple weapons that use the stuff, and the dwarves have begun to explore its use in mining. The powder has a tendency to become separated during transport, and must sometimes be remixed before use. (Corning has not yet been discovered.)

Fire elementals and similar creatures reportedly love the stuff—and just a bit too much! Horror stories of crazed elementals appearing in alchemists’ shops and burning into barrels full of smoke-powder have discouraged large scale manufacture of the explosive.

The main source of sulfur in Thunder Rift is the Burning Hills--a region infested with goblins and kobolds.

(The bit about elementals came from a GURPS Banestorm play tester. I don’t know his name.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Return of the Ghoul!


I've been super busy working on a short story and finishing my BA in history---
 But the Ghoul hath returned!

My Thunder Rift campaign is going well. We had a break for the holidays, but now we are gaming pretty regularly. The PCs have set goals for themselves and are busy exploring the Rift. Along the way, they have done some good deeds for the people and for the Church (one PC is a cleric). Right now, they are up against an evil lumber operation that uses zombie labor. Tomorrow's game should be fun. I may post a summary of the campaign thus far or perhaps just occasional updates.

My online SW game, Great Tatooine Gang War, is coming to a climax. The gangster PCs on Tatooine are now involved in an uprising against the Empire- allied not with Rebel Alliance fighters but with the Sand People.

My OTHER online game, Ghosts of Gauntcliff, is proceeding nicely. It's a continuation of about three years of steady gaming on the Fraternity of Shadows website. The characters are on vacation, but of course there's something terribly wrong on the 'island paradise.'

The Pendragon tabletop game I ran last semester with guys from school is on hiatus, but I think we can wrap it up with one last big session. 

The two online games in which I'm a player both move very slowly, so they take up less time than responding to important email.

Hmmm, maybe I should game less? Naw. :)