Saturday, July 31, 2021

Goin' Through the Fiend Folio Part 8 (Goldbug to Guardian Familiar)

 The second half of the letter G, fittin' it in before the end of the month!

I'll admit, I had never read the goldbug entry before! Probably mostly because it doesn't have an illustration. Not exactly the most complex monster, just a nice lil bug that looks like a gold coin and can bite you. Save or die poison isn't the best but it's to be expected really. I put the Dungeon Meshi coin bug picture here because that is just such a good rendition of this concept. Dungeon Meshi also has a whole lot of variety of treasure insects which is super great!

I do very much like the look of this weird little critter, but it isn't all that interesting in implementation. Its basically just a single surprise gimmick; it has a high armor class in normal combat, but can only attack someone by attaching onto them with its claws which lowers its AC to the worst possible... but then if you hit it with any kind of sharp weapon it will burst open and deal damage to the person it is clinging to and whoever attacked it and anyone within 5 feet. I will say at least it has a lot of good personality: the illustration makes it look like the gorbel really doesn't like doing what it does, though that is kinda contradicted by the mention that they are "mischievous, fickle and irritable creatures" at the end of the description. I think the surprise gimmick thing would be interesting if it was paired with more of a personality, like perhaps if you could talk to it etc etc but the gorbel as presented isn't really that. It gets an extra star for the illustration though, otherwise it'd be a 2 star beastie.

Gorilla Bear
The epitome of "just use bears". Stats-wise and in terms of how one would use it, the gorilla bear is literally just a normal bear. The description doesn't even say they have any kind of special Thing from being part gorilla other than the literal parts that they have, they just reference "the aggressive disposition of the grizzly bear and the carnivorous tendencies of the cave bear". Yknow last I checked grizzly bears were carnivorous too. They just have the hug attack from the owlbear too. Also, the end of the description says they won't have the bear ability to keep fighting past 0 hit points... do bears have that in AD&D??? I wasn't aware of that at all, that's kinda interesting actually, though not interesting to necessitate making this better since its something the gorilla bear doesn't have. I will say though, the image of some kind of horrible taxidermy beast with a gorilla's head on a bear body is kinda cool, just that isn't what this creature is. Very boring!

The grell would be five stars if it didn't make you roll an ungodly amount of dice. Conceptually/visually, just a masterpiece, there's a reason why the grell became such a D&D mainstay since it was published in the Fiend Folio. A floating brain with lots of tentacles and a horrid little parrot beak is just such a good design. However, mechanically? Mechanically this thing is hell. It has ten separate tentacle attacks each round, which are explicitly always targeted at the same victim, and each successful tentacle attack prompts a saving throw (with a bonus for uh some reason?) to avoid being paralyzed. If someone is paralyzed, the grell latches onto them with two tentacles while they continue to attack that one person with the other eight and a beak attack. Before that paralyzation, you have to make ten attack rolls directed all at the same victim and said victim has to make up to ten distinct saving throws, and once the paralyzation has taken effect they just automatically deal damage! It is just so so much rolling for an effect that in the end is just paralyzation and a huge amount of damage. At the very least it is cool that there is a built-in way to weaken the effectiveness of it, by hacking off its tentacles, I just think it didn't need that much dice rolling. Call me some kind of crazy person, but personally I would rather a simplified handling of this than having to make ten to twenty rolls for one monster each round of combat. Love the design though forreal.

The grell first featured in the Fiend Factory column, in a form nearly identical with that reproduced in the Folio. Much of the phrasing is exactly the same even. As a result, I don't really have anything interesting to say about it. I will, however, reproduce in its entirety Don Turnbull's commentary: "This thing is even worse than the Carrion Crawler - with ten tentacles hitting, there's not much chance of avoiding paralyzation; lucky it only attacks on the '5 dice' line. I should have thought the sight of this beast would be likely to induce fear in low-level characters as the Mummy. It's not often we have such a powerful entrant in the Factory, but this one is mighty interesting... in its way (I would not like to meet it)."

A bunch of good boys just hanging out :)

I'm so happy that the Fiend Folio officially introduced morlock ripoffs into D&D. The morlocks from H.G. Wells's The Time Machine are just such a good iconic creature, and they are handled pretty well here! I also feel like degenerate underground morlock types are a common sword and sorcery/science fantasy enemy you see in OSR circles, and for good reason! Plus, as a race of humanoids, they're very good for faction play, and being able to communicate with them and engage with their leadership structures is very good. Personally I would make them weirder but eh, take what you can get. I like that they are blind, and I like that the description is explicit as to what the mechanical effects of said blindness are, but I kinda wish they were just completely eyeless instead of having white milky eyes, eyelessness is such a good feature to give subterranean humanoids. The mentions of other creatures that live in their lairs with them is phenomenal, and that alone provides the grimlocks with so much more flavor than a lot of other humanoids. Why medusas live with them seems pretty self explanatory (since they can't see they can't get petrified), but mind flayers also live with them, which is just wild! I like how it mentions that the githyanki hate them because they consort with mind flayers, thats really good. Them being able to blend in with stone so long as they remain motionless is great, I can already imagine the weirdness from an encounter with them. Grimlocks are great, I do just wish they were more science fantasy-y than being just another Gygaxian humanoid race, but that doesn't make me dislike them!

Another sleeper hit! I don't think I've ever given the gryph the time of day, since it is sandwiched right after the grimlocks, but oh my god this is such a good concept. Let me summarize it for you: many-legged parasitoid birds. I already love parasitoid things both real and fictional, I already love many-legged birds (just go back to the first review to see me lavish praise on the Assassin Bug and Achaierai), this combines them in a super weird way. Why on earth are the female gryph's eggs implanted "through a thin tube which projects from the bird's abdomen"??? I know the abdomen is the posterior portion of an insect, but on a vertebrate wouldn't that make it protrude from the area of the stomach? I will say, however, that I wish they didn't obfuscate the absolutely incredible weirdness of this creature behind random rolls. Only female gryphs do the parasitoid egg thing, and you only ever run into a female if you roll 3 or more on the number encountered, so thats a 2-in-6 chance that you don't even have a chance of having to deal with the eggy weirdness, and then even if a female is present there is only a 35% chance that it will lay its eggs. This means that in a given gryph encounter, there is only a 23.33% chance of even having to contend with the egg laying. Who on earth is going to make gryphs a significant enough part of their game that they'd have to make sure only a quarter of the time it does its one special thing? These are really fun and unique and weird creatures, show off their weirdness!! Docking one star for the wonky probability here, but I love the concept, making a bird parasitoid is so fun.

Guardian Daemon
I wanna know how they made "demon bound by an evil high priest to guard a specific spot" into something so boring. The guardian daemon is just so generic. It doesn't even get its own unique appearance, they basically just say that it can look like anything, even other demons... wow! If it can look like another demon, I would just rather have it so that the evil high priest can just bind that demon! This just obfuscates things and makes them much less interesting. Its powers are boring: a normal bite attack, two normal claw attacks, it can breathe fire... what about this is daemonic? I at least like that while it has immunity to non-magical attacks, it always has one type of non-magical attack it isnt immune to. That has a kinda fun folkloric vibe to it, but again handled so generically. Its art shows it emerging out of an egg, that makes me wish this were a creature that could be summoned by breaking open an egg, that'd be much more interesting.

Guardian Familiar
Now I know what you're thinking. I just gave the guardian daemon a worse score, why does basically the same monster but now it's a cat get three stars? Well you see: it is a cat. Just by being an actual specific thing it is already by default better than the guardian daemon. On top of that, the guardian familiar has the absolutely incredible power of having nine lives. I love that so much!! Each time it is killed, it is instantly reborn, but now stronger. It also grows in size as it attacks, larger and larger from its initial small black cat appearance. It also stays put on top of the treasure it is supposed to guard, instead of the guardian daemon's generic ability to move around but only within a certain area. The guardian familiar just feels much more folkloric, it really feels like the kind of supernatural critter that a witch would have! Solely by having more interesting and unique powers, it is leagues better than the guardian daemon. Its honestly kinda funny that they're on the same page; the guardian familiar instantly shows you a better way to do the guardian shtick than the guardian daemon. Also the art is cute.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

King of Kings Session 9 After Action Report

 Just pickin' up where we last left off, this session was a direct continuation of the previous one (find it here) and there will be another session following up after this one.

Dramatis Personae
Ishthyromeda the Small, level one amazon 
Kusa, level one cleric of the exiled and half-dead foreign goddess Nasitu-Neb 
Manchugo Coldeswain, level one cleric dedicated to Damir, foreign god of the trade routes 
Rohm'Daan, level one cleric dedicated to Anzhalar, a local chthonic god of subterranean flame

So the four adventurers, having retrieved information and a payment agreement from dehqan Shahab Manati, depart to investigate the three farming communes that have been slacking in their payment of tribute. Their first point of call is the estate to the north, along the road to Humakuyun. They come upon a wide expanse of tall grain with a singular path dug through it, and as they enter in they are met by a single arrow whizzing by their cart! After another arrow, they hear a voice yelling from a small copse of trees up ahead, telling them to "fuck off" and that they don't want any "agents of house Manati here any longer". Yelling back to reassure the disembodied voice that they are not agents of that house, they are apologized to and told that they can move forward, but to please bring the arrows with them, since they're not easy to make.

Coming upon the trees, they are met by a wiry young man with a scraggly beard and a red hat cocked upon his head, who explains rather nervously that they are rather reticent to deal with the insistent agents of Shahab any longer. When the players started asking questions, he said that he didn't really know what he could say and that they needed to talk to his mother. Guiding the group down the path in the field, they eventually come upon a collection of mudbrick houses encircled by a low-lying wall, teeming with his brothers and sisters. They meet with the boy's mother (who, by the way, informs the group that his name is Parsani), and ask just a whole lotta questions about the situation. To summarize: two other farming communes have become wholly empty about a month ago, their families disappeared into the ether, and dehqan Shahab hasn't done anything to help them, instead just expecting the same amount of tribute. As a result, the family here has changed their allegiance to house Taburi (which, when Manchugo mentioned they were servants of Farzaneh Taburi, made the matriarch smile and open up considerably more). They ask if her and her family would ever be willing to renegotiate with Shahab, but she refuses (though this prompts Manchugo and Rohm'Daan to wonder at perhaps organizing a meeting between Farzaneh Taburi and Shahab Manati at some point in the future (although neither are the heads of their respective houses)).

After the conversation, the group and the farming family of eleven settle in for the night, the kind peasants hosting the adventurers for the night. Ishthyromeda teaches Parsani and a number of the other boys how to make better arrows. The next morning, before they depart for the other abandoned communes, Parsani comes forward and asks if he can join the group on their travels. Once convinced that his family will be just fine without him, the four allow him to join. They depart on the dirt paths out of the farm, traveling south to the next nearest farming estate. While on the road, the group hears sounds of loud cawing up ahead, and peek beyond a hill to see seven griffons clawing and tearing at an immense hairy beast. A strange beast indeed, everyone recognized it as something that wasn't from around here. They choose to not intervene, and just continue on the road, letting the beasts duke it out behind them.

My players have provided many a visual reference this session

Another hour or two of travel later, the group comes upon wild untended to expanse of grain, being overtaken by weeds but with paradoxical random patches that have been cut low to the ground. Beyond the field is a slumped over partially collapsed farm house, and beyond that the edge of the Holy Cedar Forest. As they approach, they see the more thorough destruction of the mudbrick wall and the houses therein, empty animal pens scattered about. They spend some time discussing what to do, but ultimately just decide to look around the complex.

When they approach the main farm house, Ishthyromeda at the front with javelins in hand, they hear no noise. Ish peeks around a corner of the crumbling building, and sees a very strange form: a massive bull with pitch black skin rippling with muscles, an empty headless stump of a neck on its shoulders. She immediately threw a javelin at it, which flew right through the beast, leaving a gaping hole in its wake billowing out choking black smoke.

Another player-provided visual aid, which served as a size reference in-game

A combat ensued, using the new combat system I wrote up in this post here, but I won't describe it in a play-by-play, that'd probably be a tad too longwinded for an already too rambly post. It mostly worked out, though the headless bull-thing didn't really get to shine in the system because it was impaired by a choice it made at the start of combat: to rush at the wall of the farm house to collapse it, which ended up having no effect on the players due to lucky rolls on their part. With its shoulders embedded in a mudbrick wall, the group started whalin' on it, but bronze weaponry simply clanged off of its thick skin, while iron implements slid through it like butter, making deep slices that bled dark smoke. The beast's kicking legs knock Rohm'Daan and Manchugo to the ground. In the end, the horrible thing was pushed to fleeing by Kusa deftly grabbing onto its neck stump to attempt to hammer in an iron spike (which ultimately failed, with the thing's thrashing making Kusa fall to the ground, trampled by its feet and left with many broken bones) and subsequently by Rohm'Daan, prone on the ground but not injured, throwing sharp pieces of scrap metal at the thing. A single morale check later and the headless beast fled off into the distance through the field of grain.

After the battle, Kusa and Manchugo were helped to their feet, Parsani was found cowering behind a collapsed wall, and the group decided to make camp out at the edge of the Holy Cedar Forest, to investigate the area further next session.

Non-Treasure Experience Acquired
1 horrible headless bull thing (213 XP each before Prime Requisite modification)

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Lands of the East

 I've been realizing that my posting about King of Kings has been strangely piecemeal. A monster here, a random table there, etc. To rectify that, I'll be making a series of posts detailing some of the more foundational aspects of the setting, both for my own sake (since I'll be actively fleshing out a game world for use with my own games) and also for y'all! Gonna be doing this from the top down, in a sense... starting out with an overview of the satrapies and kingdoms of the east!

If one were traveling from the west to the east, more likely than not you would be along the King's Road, a loose collection of paths, paved roads, and bridges that crawls up from the First City, antediluvian urheimat of humanity, capital of the Enlightened Empire, birthplace of Shahanshahs, home of the one who those in the east call He-Whose-Face-Is-On-Our-Coins (obviously many know his actual name, but it has become a custom to refer to the King of Kings in such a manner). The King's Road leaves the First City and slinks between mountain peaks until it reaches The Wall of the Conqueror, the looming metal and stone edifice erected by The Conquering King (ancient unifier of the whole of the world) to keep giants and things far worse at bay. Turning eastward, the traveler eventually comes upon the city of Humakuyun, and is now in Elburz Satrapy, ancient homeland of the Dinosaur Kings before their defeat by the Conqueror.

Elburz satrapy (which I made a previous post about here), so called for the mountain range that shields it from the burning desert heat to its south, is the gateway to the east, a land of rolling hills and verdant valleys darkened by looming mountains. Its capital is the city of Tabur, a medium-sized walled city of roughly 8,000 souls. Tabur is the religious and political epicenter of the east: it is home to the satrap of Elburz, Gholam Ruyanian (a hunched soft spoken old man, veteran of the Neverending War waged by the Enlightened Empire with the Gnostic Elves to the west), and is smack dab in the middle between two of the most sacred sites here at the eastern edge of the Empire. To the west of Tabur is the Holy Cedar Forest, a land blessed since even before the days of the Conquering King, dwelling place of implacable spirits and strange beings. The Holy Cedar Forest is the home of the jinni Fire Eater, who the players met several sessions ago. To the east of Tabur is the Holy Mountain, looming mountain peak eternally topped with snow, ringed at its base by the Hallowed Halls of the Holy Mountain, colloquially known as Temple Town, a ragged complex of temples, inns for pilgrims, and half-abandoned ruins of shrines and saintly mausolea clinging to the cliff faces. Tabur is the de facto home base of the players in my campaign as of right now. It is a city of tyrannical local officials, arbitrary executions, severe inequality between the urban poor and the city's rival noble houses, violent outbursts dividing the people over the outcomes of horse races, and looming stone edifices from generations ago topped with the curved beaks of cruel birds.

Northeast of Tabur is Humakuyun, the real happenin' place of Elburz satrapy. A city of roughly 10,000 souls, it is the opposite of Tabur in nearly every way: rather than political-religious significance, Humakuyun has mercantile significance. It sits on the southern shores of The Sea of Giants, at the confluence of the King's Road that goes east-west and the road to Tabur going south. Humakuyun is the home of the Order of the Egg, the ancient clan of assassins with imperial sanction, as well as the Grand Hospital of Humakuyun. It is also home to myriad markets for both inanimate good and for slaves or hirelings, bars and other places to party, and sorcerous clubs developing new spells. If Tabur is old money and old power, Humakuyun is new money. 

After Tabur and Humakuyun, Elburz satrapy becomes little more than wide wilderness pockmarked with the occasional village. Heavily forested mountains and sloping hills collapse into verdant valleys of tall grasses and looming trees, isolated communities barely connected to one another by the most precarious of paths. The great distances involved prompt innovations in communication. Pigeons are used for message sending, with donkeys and ceremonial giant lizards for the ferrying of goods. More pertinent or violent desires require more direct involvement. It is not exactly uncommon to come across a roving taxman with sword in hand, a bounty hunter wielding a crossbow, or a contracted manticore wearing a written pact from some noble house on their neck. At the furthest eastern edge of Elburz is the vast Hinterbog, a stinking morass of rivulets and stagnant water. Home to salamen, many types of leeches, and things even slimier, the Hinterbog is the natural barrier between even the relatively settled valleys of Elburz and the wilder places beyond.

To the northeast of Elburz, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Giants, is the Domain of the Client King. A renegade war-bek of the King of the Nomads, whose rule stretches in a wide band at the southernmost edge of the Land of Darkness, fled his overlord's rule and bent the knee to the Shahanshah of the Enlightened Empire. Vested with defending the Empire's northeastern fringe from incursion by nomadic barbarians or things even worse, the Client King Aktan Timurbek does his job... to varying success. In truth, he sees himself less as protector of the Empire, and more as being protect by the Empire, protected from the vengeful nomad king in his yurt-palace on the backs of elephants. Aktan Timurbek the Client King has a capital city on the move, the city of Tungush, which cycles between several different spots throughout his domain in the grasslands beyond the Hinterbog. In truth, the region is not as secure as the Client King may make out, with bands of cannibalistic dog-headed men trawling the grasses and even insidious children of Ajuj and Majuj infiltrating the barrow mounds and small copses of trees.

To shift focus to a land opposite that of the Client King, to the south of Elburz satrapy is The Great Desert, or Kavir-e Bozorg. Quite possibly the largest desert in the world, even if it is not truly so it may as well be to its inhabitants. The Great Desert is truly what cuts off the east from the rest of the Enlightened Empire, necessitating following the King's Road from the west. Within the last few generations, however, the Great Desert has become less of an impediment, with camels being used to cross its expanse. A foreign import, these hot desert camels come from far to the west, and have been pushing out the traditional art of giant lizard breeding and riding. The Great Desert is haunted by ghosts, jinn, and writhing worms that subsist beneath the sands. In fact, many of its natural niches have been filled by worms unnaturally at ease with the sand and heat. The only places of rest in the Great Desert are the occasional Oasis City, settlements given special rights and autonomy by the Empire more in recognition of how difficult it would be to police them than in any ethos of charity.

Northeast of Kavir-e Bozorg, and east of Elburz satrapy, is the twin satrapy of the east: Numistan satrapy. Numistan is a land of bloodshed and metallurgy, mountains rich in gold, gems, and fine clay, bleeding out into the rivers, staining the land a cacophony of color. Numistan is the coin press of the east, the sky blotted out by the billowing smoke of foundries and smithies. It is a land cut in twain, with its eastern half governed by the southern dog-headed men, the more urbane (though still cannibal) cousins of the barbarian dogmen of the north. The tribes of Numistan paint themselves with ochre and lapis lazuli, and many of them ride on goats and yaks in the mountain slopes. The more urban sorts in the satrapy hold onto poetry and lizard breeding, and just about everyone reverse and worships the Conquering King as a deified warrior.

The capital of Numistan satrapy is the city of Gavarpazir, also known as The City of Spires. It clings desperately to a mountainside like a starving traveler, its towers clawing toward the sky like grasping hands. Gavarpazir is the home of the satrap of Numistan, Bashtar Khodadad, a greedy career bureaucrat, despised by the Kanarang (looming warrior-protector of the east who sits upon the back of a great black horse). Gavarpazir is a city of roughly 6,500 souls, the height of provinciality in truth but a center that claims pretenses of high culture. To the east of Gavarpazir, toward the border with the dog-headed men, are glorious mountains carved in the visage of men, robed hermits and bloody warriors shaped from the ancient stone themselves. To the west of Gavarpazir are a collection of large lakes peopled with fishing villages, dominated by taxmen and superstition. The people of the fishing villages speak of werewolves that swim just beneath the murk clinging to the surface of the water. Numistan is a land of militarism, tribalism, and gold, coveted not only by men but by griffons and giant ants as well. Dog-headed men in fine silken uniforms standing at the border staring at cataphracts and manticore-mercenaries, rural guides in flowing red robes and faces painted in bright hues sitting astride goats to guide travelers to stashes of gold hoarded by griffons. Not all beasts of numistan seek gold, however.

Beyond the easternmost fringe of Numistan and the Realm of the Client King, there are the Petty Kingdoms of the Road, tyrannies and despotates grown fat and rich off of trade. These are satellite states of the powers they border on, influence with them fought over by the Enlightened Empire on the one hand and the Furthest East on the other. Clinging close to the arteries of trade, the foothills of the mountains, or the occasional steppe oasis, the Petty Kingdoms always want a leg up on the next city over, a deal better than the one previous got, an agreement that will keep them even safer from the King of the Nomads, the giants, or the dog-headed men than any of their neighbors.

TL;DR: The east of the Enlightened Empire is a strange and wild frontier, the edge of empire colliding with worlds beyond it. There is Elburz satrapy, which is verdant wilderness pockmarked by rare settlements except for its two most prominent cities, once the domain of dinosaur princes. To its east is Numistan satrapy, a land of bloodshed and gold where both beasts and men fight over precious metals. To the south is the Great Desert, pretty self explanatory what that is, and to the north the Hinterbog (a really big bad swamp) and the Realm of the Client King, a steppe/grassland area that is relatively within the reach of the Enlightened Empire. Beyond the empire's borders are the Petty Kingdoms, which are caught in a sort of regional war of influence between the empire and a rival in the Furthest East.

If you want some real world geography to point to or look to for visual inspiration, Elburz is Mazandaran and Golestan provinces in Iran, the Hinterbog is basically any eurasian bog though I've mostly been referring to ones in Russia, the Great Desert is Dasht-e Kavir in Iran, the Realm of the Client King is Turkmenistan, and Numistan is northern Afghanistan and Kashmir.

How about a map!

And here's a map with the regions mentioned in the post outlined in respective colors if you're having a hard time reading the handdrawn one.

Key to this map:
Orange: The Great Desert or Kavir-e Bozorg
Light Green: Elburz Satrapy
Dark Green: The Holy Cedar Forest
Dark Turquoise: The Hinterbog
Cyan: Numistan Satrapy
Yellow: The Realm of the Client King
Burgundy: The Empire of the Southern Dog-Headed Men

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Goin' Through the Fiend Folio Part 7 (Galltrit to Githzerai)

 It was not my intention to have such a gap since my last Fiend Folio review... Well, back to it! This next section, the letter G, has a few too many monsters to cover in one post so I'll be halving it, nine this time eight the next.

Just a weird little bloodsucker! I think the image of a grotesque little humanoid with anticoagulant spit is fantastic, but the mechanic that involves constitution drain and delayed healing is a bit clumsy. The galltrit being difficult to notice is cool, but weird with how large it looks in the drawing (also, why that lil guy got such a booty?), but its pretty central to the monster since if you are drained of enough blood to lose 3 points of CON (i.e. after 12 rounds) you just straight up collapse! That's pretty great, I love a bloodsucker that just sucks enough to knock you out, doesn't kill you necessarily.

A very unique and sadly underutilized creature! It isn't explicitly stated here but I get the vibe that the gambado is like some kind of skull hermit crab, since it is mentioned that its skull-head can be either an animal or a "primitive man" (I figure some kind of neanderthal skull, which is just such a good image on the shoulders of such an inhuman creature), and it is mentioned that they gather together in places with lots of bones. The spring-loaded manner in which they pounce, move, and attack is just delightful, and I love how they really take on the expectations of a dungeon monster; they hoard gold and jewels in their little hidey holes! I think these shouldn't be played as straightforwardly violent monsters; they're ambush predators for sure, but play with them as animals, or perhaps as creatures with some modicum of intelligence!

I'm gonna be completely honest, the garbug is definitely carried by the visuals and the concept. Sure it doesn't really do anything all that unique, the paralytic tentacles are seen in the carrion crawler, plenty of giant insects or flying enemies for adventurers to face off against, but are any of them a horrible fusion of a lobster and a wasp? I think the two different "types" are a bit redundant, at least in how they're presented. I would love it if the black and violet garbug were instead the species' two sexes. It would make sense! They share morphology for the most part but are sexually dimorphic. Though, notice how the garbug illustration gives them both the black garbug's proboscis and the violet garbug's pincers... an intersex garbug! I just think its a very monster movie esque giant bug mutant, and I love it for that.

Fog Giant
Not very distinct from the cloud giant from the Monster Manual, something further exacerbated by the fog giant being encountered with cloud giants if enough fog giants are rolled. I'm giving them two stars though because I actually think the fog giant is much more interesting than the cloud giant. Their pale skin and "black penetrating eyes" give such a unique appearance, and having them explicitly wear the skin of white dragons is honestly kinda cool, also I can only imagine what sort of "ornate swords" they love so much. They just feel much more characterful than cloud giants, but that doesn't make them super great.

Mountain Giant
This is just a hill giant but bigger and tougher. While the fog giant was basically just a cloud giant but weaker, it at least had more unique details and implied personality to make it stand out somewhat... the mountain giant has nothing like that. Not a fan of the weirdness around meeting giantesses of the mountain giants, it is always so strange to me how fixated some AD&D authors were on the sex makeup of monster lairs (although here it is rare to ever encounter a female mountain giant or young mountain giant so I just... don't get the point of even including it). Sorry to say it, but a pretty much worthless monster I am not inclined to use.

Giant Strider
Oh my god these things are birds? I actually did realize this before writing this post, but it wasn't that long ago, just earlier this year; this whole time I thought giant striders were two-legged lizard things! Then being featherless birds makes me love them a whole lot more. At their core, they're just good effective flightless birds. However, they have a super fun and unique defense mechanism: the ability to shoot fireballs from glands on the corners of their eyes! Really evokes the blood-spewing adaptations of the horned toads... is their blood made of fire? I love how they are so adapted to hot environments that fire spells act as cure light wounds for them, that is such a unique detail, and it is so good that they made sure to include the inverse: cold spells deal extra damage. Not a fan of how they never check morale, but I honestly never am a fan of overusing never checking morale. Y'know, actually looking closer at the giant strider's abilities have really given me a new appreciation for them, I never used to care much about them but this is such a unique monster.

I want to like gibberlings, I really do, I mean just look at the name! The idea of a bunch of pallid subterranean humanoids that just make weird incomprehensible noises is so good... but the execution is intensely subpar. They always fight to the death (again, never a fan of things that overuse never checking morale), they just attack with swords and are just good at fighting with swords like a normal swordsman is, they have no discernable language and no leaders and no real society despite somehow being able to utilize tactics and somehow being able to produce metal swords. In the end, these are just another brand of boring humanoid to mow down, and they don't even have the benefit of being able to parlay with! It is the worst of both worlds: the inability to communicate of a mindless crazed animal, and the qualities of a generic D&D humanoid. I would much rather it commit to being one or the other (and ideally the mindless incomprehensible babbling one, since that is such a unique image and there are already so many other monstrous humanoids around).

The githyanki are one of those monsters with such a unique vibe going on that you kind of have to appreciate them. I especially appreciate them here where they look like absolute ghouls with skin drawn tight on their bones. In terms of their place in the game world, they are fantastic: the mutated evolved descendants of humans bound in mind flayer slavery for generations, having rebelled from the mind flayers using developed psychic abilities, now dwelling in a higher dimension, worshiping an undying lich-queen, doing expeditions into the material world, and having special agreements with red dragons that let them ride them around. That is just so so much absolutely fantastic detail, I love it! As far as humanoid factions go, I don't think there is much better than the githyanki. The githyanki are what I wish the (Fiend Folio version of) the dark elves were, in terms of evocative detail. Less interested in the specifics of the composition of their parties and treasure rates, but those are just kind of expected for AD&D 1e humanoids. Though I will say, I love the detail that their silver swords can sever people's connections to their physical bodies when they are in the astral plane. The only reason they aren't a 5 star is that they aren't universally usable; if I were to put the githyanki into a setting, I would want them to be a major part of said setting. They have to be tied into the rest of the game world, or else all of this interesting detail becomes ultimately unimportant. Also I think it would be cool to take historical inspirations from real life societies that grew out of revolution; githyanki society as a fantasy version of Actually Existing Socialism would be such a cool angle to take.

The githyanki are also the only monster in today's post to be featured back in the Fiend Factory column. The Factory version of the githyanki is more or less identical to the Folio version, even featuring identical art. I am honestly much more inclined to use this version mechanics-wise, if only because it is much simpler. A lot of the same details are here, including weapon and class probabilities, but it is just explained in way fewer words. Don Turnbull's comment isn't very interesting, though I am intrigued by his characterizing the githyanki as a "'tribal' beast"... what on earth does that mean. Small tribes aren't mentioned anywhere in the githyanki description, in fact the mention of the lich queen makes me think that the githyanki are governed by one single tyrannical state. He says that the swords are cool though, and on that count I think I am inclined to agree.

I am... considerably less interested in the githzerai as I am in the githyanki. Firstly, appearance-wise they are just less interesting looking, dropping the githyanki's hellish skeletal visage for... being a race of completely identical lanky monks? The description doesn't say they all look the same, but all four of the githzerai seen in the illustrations have the exact same face, which honestly provides a much more interesting implication than anything in the rest of the description (are they perhaps a race of clones?). The githyanki-githzerai war and the githzerai truce with the mind flayers are only really interesting when paired with what the githyanki have going on, which kind of ends up making the githzerai feel less independent conceptually. Though I will say, now that I've suggested githyanki as monstrous AES, I guess the githzerai end up as... revisionists? Anti-revisionists? A bit of a silly thought perhaps, but I end up much more enthused for my version of the githzerai than for the one presented in the Folio proper. The githzerai wizard-king would feel less interesting compared to the githyanki lich-queen except apparently the wizard-king never lets githzerai advance past 9th level? What on earth does he do, does he kill them? See I just end up interested in questions or musings prompted by isolated sentences in the description or comparisons with the githyanki, rather than the githzerai on their own! They would be only two stars if they didn't prompt such musings; as it stands, just on their own they are very very weak.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

GLOG Class: Beekeeper

 Something finally clicked with the GLOG for me. I've been reading GLOG posts for basically as long as the GLOG has existed (and in some ways, since before even! Way back in 2015, when I was only 14 years old, I released an incomplete Gamma World inspired ruleset with rules derived from a bunch of posts that would later form the GLOG... Because of this, I'm actually technically listed as the first GLOGhack on the unified GLOG spreadsheet, even though this predated the GLOG itself! But this is all beside the point), but even though I've been exposed to all of it, I just could never really get into it. In many ways, this was because it was all spread out, and when I read the rules written by Arnold K. or Skerples it didn't really feel like I understood the GLOG... But now I'm increasingly into it! Don't worry though, I'm not going to completely succumb to GLOGification, there will still be things written up here for OSE/BX, but really the GLOG isn't too different in its applications! Well, I'll shut up with this preamble now, here is a class that I had an idea for just for fun!

The bee is the wisest and cleverest of all animals and the closest to man in intelligence; its works is truly divine and of the greatest use to mankind. Its social life resembles that of the best regulated cities. In their excursions bees follow a leader and obey instructions. They bring back sticky secretions from flowers and trees and spread them like ointment on their floors and doorways. Some are employed in making honey and some in other tasks. The bee is extremely clean, settling on nothing that is bad-smelling or impure; it is not greedy; it will not approach flesh or blood or fat but only things of sweet flavour. It does not spoil the work of others, but fiercely defends its own work against those who try to spoil it. Aware of its own weakness, it makes the entrance to its home narrow and winding, so that those entering in large numbers to do harm are easily destroyed by the guardian bees.

This animal is pleased by a good tune: when they are scattered, therefore, beekeepers clash cymbals or clap their hands rhythmically to bring them home. This is the only animal that looks for a leader to take care of the whole community: it always honours its king, follows him enthusiastically wherever he goes, supports him when he is exhausted, carries him and keeps him safe when he cannot fly. It particularly hates laziness; bees unite to kill the ones who do no work and use up others’ production. Its mechanical skill and near-logical understanding is shown by the fact that it makes hexagonal cells to store honey.
-The Geoponika compiled by Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus

The Beekeeper

Each template of Beekeeper you have gives you +1 hit points.

Skills: Beekeeping, Insect Identification, Starting Fires

Starting Equipment: A thick cloth garb for handling the bees in, a hood and wicker mask, nice warm boots, thick hardy gloves, a flint and tinder fire starter, a long metal spoon (1d4), a beehive (takes up three item slots, must be carried with both hands, placed down if you want to use your hands).

A Personal Hives
B Smoke it All Away
C Defensive Swarm
D One with the Bees

Personal Hives
Your bees take on distinct personalities and aspects based on what you feed them. These effects are apparent in their honey and in their stings (a few example personal hives are provided below). In order to fully utilize the effects, you must carry the hive with you, to harvest its honey at its freshest and allow the bees to sting any dangerous foes. Honey can be eaten as a meal to heal hit points as a normal ration. If the bees are stinging, however, you and anyone who gets within range must wear a beekeeper suit or be forced to make a saving throw to avoid the sting's effect. You can change what you feed a hive, but the change will leave that hive without its unique effects for the two weeks it takes the bees to become acclimated.
Smoke it All Away
By burning sweet-smelling and aromatic woods, flowers, and fungi you are able to produce a smoke which can calm any insect of any size. It does, however, take more smoke to calm ever-larger insects. The smoke must be able to surround at least half the creature; to calm a giant insect of about the size of a human, for instance, you must create a large fire that makes enough billowing smoke to account for their size. Attacking the insect once calmed immediately breaks the calm.
Defensive Swarm
You are able to induce the bees in the hive you are carrying to form a defensive shield-like swarm cloud surrounding you in all directions. The defensive swarm keeps you safe from melee attacks, and deals 1d4 damage plus the hive's sting effect to any attacker who steps within it, but does not keep you safe from ranged attacks, fires, electricity, etc. Billows of flame, lightning strikes, very large melee attacks/boulders, etc. will kill all of the bees in the swarm, ending that hive for good.
One with the Bees
You are able to speak with bees of all sorts, are immune to the effects of insect stings (though scorpion stings still affect you and insect bites still affect you!), and your defensive swarm is able to carrying you through the air as a suitable spell that provides flight, as well as being able to coat your body to defend yourself from melee attacks (reduces damage by 2, hive entirely depleted after four attacks).

Example Personal Hives

Rosewater Hive
Fed with: roses watered with rosewater, cultivated in a geometric garden
Honey: Liquid Longing, any who ingest it must save or be overtaken by intense feelings of morose longing for love that they know they can never have.
Sting: The Rose's Thorn, 1 point of damage per round for 1d4 rounds.

Lavender Hive
Fed with: the finest most fragrant lavendar
Honey: Beautiful Scent, able to transfix any who smell it on a failed save, heals 1d4 hit points when ingested.
Sting: Putrid Purple, turns your skin purple and makes you swell up on a failed save, slowing you down and making you unable to move if you are wearing tight armor.

Carnivorous Hive
Fed with: raw meat
Honey: Fetid Stench, forces any who smell it to recoil in disgust, possibly even to run away. Cannot be eaten as a ration.
Sting: Withering Away, 1d3 damage and -1 STR per hour.