Sunday, July 31, 2022

King of Kings Session 14 After Action Report

A bit of a shorter one! Not as much happened this session, so it mostly ended up as a sort of information gathering session. Also, this sesh happened like half a month ago, July 17th; I kept on putting off writing the post. My bad!

Dramatis Personae
Ishthyromeda the Small, level one Amazon
Manchugo Coldeswain, level one cleric dedicated to Damir, foreign god of the trade routes
She-That-Is-Harrowed-By-Our-Lord-In-The-Stars-Is-Blessed-With-Prophecy, level one scholar
also Parsani, scrawny son of a rural matriarch

(Note: She-That-Is-Harrowed-By-Our-Lord-In-The-Stars-Is-Blessed-With-Prophecy will be referred to as "Harrowed" for the remainder of this report and also probably for all future session reports)

The day previous, the group used a charm spell to get information out of the nasnas in the basement and to let them know that they wouldn't harm them. After making camp, they rested there in the walled farming compound. In the morning, the group realizes that they have been robbed! Manchugo having lost some rope and Ish having lost some food. After breakfast, Rohm'Daan had to depart for religious obligations back in Tabur (i.e. his player couldn't make it), and while the day's plans were being discussed Coro the Esoterian, tired and old, agreed to watch the group's supplies above ground while the rest of them ventured down below (i.e. his player also couldn't make it). Passing Rohm'Daan on the road back to Tabur, however, was a foreigner who had recently made contact with Farzaneh Taburi, and who had heard talk of the group's expedition. This was Harrowed, a scholar from a far off land with an affinity for insects, who joined the group for the day's venture back into the abandoned basement.

(Note: I had the players choose what got stolen in the night, and since Rohm'Daan and Coro's players weren't present for the session they didn't get to pick. I'll just bring it up next time they join.)

Western Caspian Turtle (Mauremys caspica)

After introductions were exchanged between Harrowed, Ish, Manchugo, and Parsani, the four set about finishing up where they left off the day previous. First, they went back to the outhouse where they heard a mysterious hissing yesterday, and opened the door to find... a very large turtle, its legs splayed out on the outhouse seat, hissing at the interlopers! They pick the turt up and gently place them down in the overgrown vegetable garden, although they agreed to pick him back up before they left to go back to Tabur.

After the small encounter with the outhouse turtle, the small group of adventurers went back down into the basement to enlarge the ant hole that they went through previously, so it would work better as a potential escape route or for repeated visits. Using some rusted shovels found leaning on the wall of the house outside, they set to work and make it large enough for someone to walk through, rather than having to crawl on hands and feet like before. They notice, as they work, that there are no sounds of the nasnases in the other room, and when they check the room before venturing further they notice that the creatures are gone!

Their work attracts a large group of the giant ants who live in a network of tunnels connected to the basement. Ish is cautious around the ants, and while she wants to explore the ants' tunnels she doesn't wish to anger them. Harrowed, after the digging at the hole is done, goes to the giant ants that have crowded around them and attempts to speak with them. Harrowed's monastic sect has a careful and considered relationship with insects, and so by relying on bodily communication a very simple sort of back and forth can be established, although it takes time. (Note: I just ruled that this bug communication works the same as a normal scholar class specialization, which you can see described here. It took basically an hour for Harrowed and the ant to have what would between two humans be only a few short sentences exchanged back and forth). 

While Harrowed attempts to make contact with the ants, the others take a break to eat some of their rations, and then one turn later they hear some snuffling sounds from the sloping passageway into the basement they entered through. Slowly moving back to check on it, Manchugo sees a pair of oversized weasels, which the group decide not to engage with.

After Harrowed's hour of focus, they report that the giant ants will allow the group to go straight through their tunnels and to a carved out passageway on the other end of their nest, a passageway that they dread, but that they are not allowed to enter any other chambers of the ant nest. The group agrees, and gently crawls into the giant ant's nest, as guests passing through. They crawl through one empty chamber dug out of the earth, then through a second round chamber that has on its southern edge a sloping tunnel carved out of the earth by tools not by ant mandibles, immediately apparent that something else dug it out, not the ants. In that chamber, they also find, hidden under a small pile of loose dirt, ten drachmae and a crystal syringe full of a strange green liquid. After pocketing the coins and the syringe, they venture into the dark dug out passageway that the ants dread.

After a lengthy march down the sloping passage, the four of them end up in a strange immense structure that none of them recognize. It is a massive open space, completely dark except for the minuscule spheres of light from their lamps, with a walkway that curves past them and out of view. This walkway seems to spiral around the edge of an immense cylinder, so large that they can't even clearly see the other side from where they stand, and they can only just make out the vaunted, curved ceiling high above them when they lift their lanterns up high. Above them is a stony dome shimmering with slime and dripping water, the walls similarly covered with green algae and slowly dripping slime. In this ancient structure, these adventurers are deeper in the earth than they have ever been before.

They realize that this place is likely That Which Yawns Deep which they heard in prophecy, and agree not to spend too long down here with such a small group. They plan to scout a little and then return to Tabur, to come back with a larger group. With that plan in mind, they send Parsani back to the surface; they don't want to have to tell his mother that he died in this dark and dingy place. They begin to crawl down the slowly sloping spiraling walkway, careful with their footing so as to not fall into the unknown depths below.
A giant slug by Tony DiTerlizzi!

Up ahead, they make out a scraping noise that catches their attention. Weapons at the ready and slowly inching forward, a vague lumpy shape takes form on the edge of their lantern light, slowly coming into focus as they get closer and see... a giant slug! It is larger than any of the adventurers, and is adhered to the wall and walkway at a right angle, scraping algae off the wall with its rough radula. After some discussion, they decide to just not mess with it and to not bother trying to climb over it, and so turn around and go back up to the surface.

The classic giant slug from the AD&D Monster Manual!

Grouping back up with Coro and Parsani on the surface, they set out for Tabur. Just outside Tabur, they run into a group of noblemen and their hangers on who are playing a game of polo out in the rolling hills of the valley. Manchugo strikes up a small conversation with one of them, who takes kindly to his polo advice and throws him a golden denar as a gift. Passing through the northern gate into the Tigerskin District, they get by with only an inspection of their goods. When they report to Farzaneh, she is very glad to hear the news of Parsani's family switching allegiances to her noble house, and is interested in the alien cylinder buried deep within the earth that the group discovered. And with that, the session drew to a close!

Treasure Acquired
10 drachmae
1 denar (worth 100 drachmae)
A crystal syringe filled with a strange green liquid

Non Treasure XP Acquired
50 each for discovering That Which Yawns Deep
10 for Harrowed for successfully making contact with ants

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Goin' Through the Fiend Folio Part 12 (Necrophidius to Osquip)

Meant to get back to the Fiend Folio review posts a bit sooner than this, but that's how the cookie crumbles. Picking up where we left off, starting with the monsters of the letter N!

Wiggly boy!!

Necrophidius (Death Worm)
A very iconic monster, very usable, but nothing super special. The necrophidius is a skeletal serpent with a human skull that has a paralytic bite, increased chance to surprise, and a hypnotic dance. Love the hypnotic dance, that is such a good evocative power, reminiscent of snake charming and such; I also just think that hypnosis powers are cool! Unfortunately, however, the specific details kind of make it a bit dull. That it doesn't check morale yet also cannot be turned by clerics is something that I don't like. I'm just partial to morale rules! Also, the litany of rituals that can be used to create it is unnecessary in my opinion. I like the specific aspect of the materials needed for the third ritual, namely that it needs the skull of a cold blooded murderer who was killed within the previous 24 hours, that's great that's fun. What I don't love is saying which specific spells from the cleric spell list need to be cast, or being able to pick and choose from a list of three different rituals, etc etc. I just would prefer more evocative stuff. A human headed skeleton snake is a great image though, and its got hypnosis powers, of course I'd use that.

The necrophidius originally appeared in the Fiend Factory column in White Dwarf, giving us another great opportunity to see the earlier version of a Folio monster! First, the illustration, which is so much more characterful and interesting than the Folio version. No offense to the original illustrator Alan Hunter, but I just have so much more fun with the scraggly lumpy smiling skull snake depicted here. Also, the Factory necrophidius actually was an undead monster rather than a construct, meaning that it can be turned by clerics (as a wight, according to the description), which resolves one of my major gripes with the Folio version. Its powers are exactly the same, but rather than being tied to three different possible rituals it specifies the one that involves the skeleton of a giant snake and a human skull, although with no mention of the murderer thing which is unfortunate; on top of this it names a specific sorcerer as the creator which I really love: "Karalkan (who was later to 'see the dark' and build the temple of the archdemon Kong)". See, that makes it so much more evocative, so much more interesting than a checklist of three mostly flavorless rituals to make it setting neutral. Don Turnbull comments that the hypnotic dance is a better way to make undead dangerous than level draining, and I completely agree! He also expounds on how he would run the power, with a saving throw to resist and if you fail the saving throw you're only in thrall until the necrophidius is distracted; I like that being presented as just his interpretation, rather than a set mechanic. The Fiend Factory necrophidius is a five out of five monster in my opinion! It sucks how much personality and flavor it lost in the transition to the Folio.

A super fun monster, and one that to me feels iconic to the Fiend Folio! A humanoid plant creature that at first appears to be a zombie, with needles embedded across its body that it can fire at will 1d6 at a time. I love the image of a shambling silhouette coming out from between trees in the fog, before spiny needles fly out at you. Personally, I wouldn't lean into the visual similarity with a zombie; it isn't really compelling enough to be a good trick, in my opinion. I think it would be more effective to make it seem like a person at first; fog or other visual impairments would help in that regard. The massively increased surprise chance in places with thick conifers or heavy undergrowth fits in that regard too! It is super vulnerable to magic, which is an alright weakness, although I don't really understand why. The charm plants spell is triple effective against it for some reason. Also, evidently they hate elves and attack them on sight? I mean, who doesn't.

The needleman also first appears in the Fiend Factory and OH MY GOD THAT ILLUSTRATION. Just on the illustration alone this is instantly a five out of five monster. Its empty staring eye sockets, the stance that it has which makes it seem so plodding and looming, maybe its taller than a person, a Boris Karloff esque marching figure, and the needles are so much more prominent, you couldn't possibly miss them. I feel bad saying this about the Folio illustration because it's by Russ Nicholson, a personal favorite of mine, but this original art is just so much better. Rather than being a plant that for no discernible reason looks like a zombie, the Factory needleman is a corpse that had Raise Dead imperfectly cast on it while it lay in a shallow grave lined with pine needles; such a specific backstory, it almost feels like a folk tale, like there would only really be One needleman. I think I like both versions equally, a mysteriously humanoid plant thing is super fun but a weird grave wanderer with pine needles embedded like pins in a pin cushion is super fun too. Maybe you could find the failed necromancer who bungled the spell? The version here, mechanics wise, is simpler and more effective, things that take a whole paragraph in AD&D are half a sentence here. Also, Turnbull ends his commentary by saying "Should it really be called the Aspirin? It is, after all, a pine killer..."

An all time great trick monster, well deserved infamy. Though, Mr. Roger Musson wasn't the only one to discover how good the word "goblin" sounds when you flip it around; the folks over at Troll 2 named it a whole street! At its core, the nilbog is a five out of five monster, a weird little goblin that works inverted because of weird space time shenanigans, healing when hit and being harmed by healing potions. This effect even extends to the players, who feel intense urges to do the opposites of what they would normally do, i.e. they would load up treasure into a chest and leave empty handed if they attempt to loot a treasure chest, etc. I'm a tad torn on that aspect, mostly because I feel like there has to have been some shitty referee to forced their players to do something with no recourse to the contrary; I figure the intention is that the players should make the concerted effort to do the opposite of what they really want to do, but once that reverse psychology puzzle is figured out it kind of loses a bit of oomph. I also just don't like how this is specific to goblins, I think nilbogism should be something that can be present in many species. On top of that, were I to use nilbogized creatures, I'd love to give them interesting visual cues like weird sped back movements like they were being rewound on a VHS tape, or making them look like a photo with an inverted color palette. That perhaps ruins the trick part, but I personally would vastly prefer something that has a consistent problem the players have to work around to a trick that only really hits once.

What a slimy little bastard man

So many of these N monsters thankfully appear in the Fiend Factory! The nilbog is a fascinating example of a Factory creature, because, very unusually, Don Turnbull's commentary is considerably longer than the actual monster description. The original nilbog's description just describes that they look like goblins and their HP works backwards. None of the rest of the nilbog's powers are there at all. Turnbull does a good bit of extrapolation, comparison to other trick encounters, even suggests the deviously horrible idea of a troll beset with nilbogism which would be absolutely terrible. He also provides a snippet of additional information provided by the original creator of the nilbog, including a description of a nilbog encounter which I may as well share in its entirety.

I... don't think I would run such an encounter in such detail, but oh my gosh that is just insane. I definitely agree with Turnbull that "for sheer creativity, the Nilbog will take some beating." While I still feel pretty strongly that the four star rating is correct, it truly deserves its place as an iconic AD&D trick monster.

Nonafel (Cat O' Nine Tails)
A large black panther with a long tail, which it can attack with despite no stinger or thorny end being mentioned or depicted in the illustration so I guess it is just the tail whipping at the players, which has the ability to split itself into nine different identical big cats. I think that the description spends far too long to describe the mechanics of this Naruto esque ability, how hit dice are distributed, etc. On top of that, a black big cat with a whiplike attack and strange spatial abilities... hasn't that already been done before? Unlike the kamadan which has even less in common with the good ol' displacer beast, the nonafel's description makes no attempted connection. I think the splitting into multiple identical copies is a nice enough ability, but there's not enough else here to really make it worth it I don't think.

I had to share both the illustrations!

NORKERS!!! Maybe I'm the only person who actually feels this way about these guys, but I love norkers! I love their name, I love their weird slouched illustrations, I love the weird surreal idea of a like, cro magnon man equivalent for a nonhuman humanoid species of monster, it's just such a fun and simple humanoid! It sucks that they're basically never really utilized after the Folio, at least as far as I'm aware. I am much more open to these "missing link" hobgoblinoids than I am to other members in the AD&D expanded humanoid hierarchy, they feel more distinctive and unique, a lot more personality than just "goblin but stronger". The tusks do a lot! More things need tusks. I wonder why other goblinoids lost their tusks? Does the presence of tusks on these close (hob)goblin relatives imply that they have like, male combat hierarchies for mating? Are they for digging through dirt? I would love to puzzle out what their society might be like.

The nycadaemon is almost identical to the mezzodaemon, so just check out my review for that inhabitant of Tarterus. Most of my complaints then hold true here: the nycadaemon is more or less just a bundle of expected demonic powers and weaknesses, including having a secret true name, magic resistance, immunity to non magical weapons and even magic weapons of +1, having a bunch of spells, etc. They don't even have the distinctive insectile appearance of the mezzodaemon, instead being more thorny reptilian with bat like wings, a more generic devil like appearance. The only real distinction from the mezzodaemon is that they are stronger, with physical strength comparable to a stone giant and stronger resistances. Not a fan.

Not a big fan of the ever expanding roster of more or less identical humanoids in AD&D, and not a fan of generic hybrids of humanoid types where every possible combination has to be filled in. The ogrillon is a crossbreed between an orc and an ogre, and the rest of it basically flows out from what you probably assumed from that description. They look like orcs, they speak ogreish, even though both orcs and ogres use weapons they don't for some reason instead fighting with their "horny fists" (a bit of unusual word choice there). I'm kinda fascinated by the illustrations of them making them look all lumpy all over, but it's not that interesting of a visual just kinda quirky. The bottom illustration shows a lumpy man identical to the main ogrillon illustration, a humanoid with pointy ears and a single horn on the top of their head, and a boar headed man fighting a human fighter; are these all ogrillons? I'm down for that kind of visual diversity in a humanoid type, I just don't know if that was the intention here.

Not gonna lie, there's actually not a whole lot here. They're basically just messed up rats, they live in tunnel systems underground and do things that you would expect tunnel dwelling beasts to do, and are invariably hostile. If I'm being completely honest, I would probably just use rats or some other real life digging creature, like naked mole rats perhaps. I love naked mole rats. Full of personality. The osquip gets three stars, however, for its own personality. While the description is super basic and spends way too many words to just say "these things live in tunnels underground and are ravenous predators", the illustrations show a horrible skuzzy little thing, completely hairless, with a toothless maw of forward pointing teeth almost forming an enamel beak. I love how awful they look!! I think I would totally use something that looks like the osquip, but just say that it's mutated rats or squirrels or something. Or just use really big naked mole rats. While I love the visuals, the mostly boring baggage of the rest of it doesn't really make me want to use it over a real world animal or a mutated version thereof. ALSO they oughta have a weird gross tail, it feels like they're missing out in the tail department.

That's all for now! We are a bit over halfway done with the Fiend Folio now. My goal is to finish this series of reviews before the end of the year; I really should have already finished it by now, but long gaps between posting will do that to the most well laid plans. See you next time when I review monsters that begin with P and Q!