Tuesday, October 20, 2020

KALKOTH: Monster Conversion - Lone Wolf to D&D adjacent and Call of Cthulhu 5e.

Kalkoth by Rich Longmore.

One of my favourite Lone Wolf monsters, from one of my favourite (and my first) Lone Wolf gamebooks - The Caverns of Kalte.

These big cats with paralytic venom dwell in the tunnels and chambers of Ikaya, a fortress built by the Ancients. There is a bit of At the Mountains of Madness flavour to the set-up, as the Ancients are long gone and -even though claimed as a palace by the ruler of the Ice Barbarians- Ikaya is basically a big dungeon, crawling with ancient monsters (including the shoggothesque Akraa’neonor) and leftover unstable magic. 

I think the Kalkoth would make a decent non-canon CoC monster, because of  association with some of those Lovecraftian themes. I've based the stats on the Panther (common to both RQIII and BECMI), though the CoC version is of more than animal intelligence. I don't know how I'd convert directly from the original gamebook system.

For Call of Cthulhu 5e... 

Kalkoth, Venomous Predators of the Snow-bound Ruins. 

A shaggy feline predator with a barbed, venomous tongue, Kalkoths are an artificial species that has survived and thrived. They’re mundane cryptids of conventional matter; their DNA is decipherable, but unlike any known living mammal species.

Their venom is effective against Mythos entities native to Earth and of conventional matter, such as Deep Ones, Ghouls and Serpent People. 

They have a particular animosity towards Mi-Go, going into a violent frenzy if they should scent one, suggesting that they may have been bred/created to guard against or even hunt down certain Mythos entities.

Kalkoths never hunt alone - there will always be at least two, working in concert. They are intelligent, but millennia without the conditioning of their creators means that they have lost what tool-culture they may have once had, beyond the use of doors and simple, pre-existing mechanisms (including traps).

It is rare that a Kalkoth will stray far from its home city, as they prefer the tunnels and sheltered streets to being in the open.

They are absolutely afraid of fire, and will retreat from a naked flame.

Unfamiliar with firearms, Kalkoths will only become afraid or wary of them through experience.

Their creator(s) seem more likely to have been from the Edgar Rice Burroughs end of the spectrum, rather than the Lovecraftian, and at least resembling humans (or Hyperboreans) - and are from thousands rather than millions of years in the past.

STR 3d6+6 (16.5)     CON 3d6 (10.5)     SIZ 2d6+8 (15)     INT 2d6 (7)     POW 3d6 (10.5)

DEX 2d6+6 (13)

Hit Points 12-13       Damage Bonus +d4    Move 9 (unimpeded by snow)


  • Bite 30%, d8 plus Tongue Barb attack
  • Tongue Barb 100%, injects a paralytic poison of POT equal to the Kalkoth's SIZ. Subject is paralysed and oblivious for d3 hours, recovering with no memory of the attack
  • Fore Claw 50%, d6 and if both hit, the Kalkoth can make an automatic Bite attack until the subject breaks free or is released (STR vs. STR)

Armour: 3 points of thick fur (0 vs. firearms)

Skills: Jump 40%, Climb 80%, Track by Smell 40%, Organised Hunt 25%, Sneak 45% (65% in snow)

Spells: None.

Habitat: The abandoned, snow-choked cities of their creators - inside the Arctic Circle, Antarctica, and in mountain ranges of the Americas and Asia.

Sanity loss: None.

...and for Old School D&D Adjacent

Armour Class +5     Hit Dice 4     Move 115% Normal Human      Morale 8

  • Claw/claw/bite for 1-4/1-4/1-8 + paralysis (as above).
  • Surprise 1-3 on d6.
  • In the snow and ruins, surprised only on a 1.
  • Must make Morale Checks every round if confronted with fire.



Monday, October 19, 2020

SHADOW/SLUAGH: Monster Conversion - D&D adjacent to Call of Cthulhu 5e.

SHADOWS/SLUAGH, The Pieces of the Peel of the Fruit of Evil.

A network of hostile holographic data coexistent and coterminous with mundane shadow, the Sluagh are an environment inimical to conventional lifeforms.

Manifesting as apparently normal shadows, the Sluagh can exhibit the characteristics of specific individuals and objects. This is suggestive of post-mortem existence, but is more likely to be assimilated code downloaded in response to the subtle stimuli presented by prey creatures. Nor does this confirm intelligent behaviour, or even if individual Sluagh are anything more than extruded units of a super-entity (Sommers, 2013).

Sluagh are able to alter their silhouette, appearing as any living being consumed/destroyed. They have not been observed to imitate inanimate objects. Sluagh are able to take cover in mundane shadow, hiding their shape. As long as there is shadow, the Sluagh can move anywhere with it.

The only condition for Sluagh manifestation is the presence of light within a certain range - they are neutralised (but not harmed) by darkness, and are obliterated by direct application of strong ultraviolet light. They are at their most active in interior spaces with artificial light, and the opportunities for this have only increased from the 19th Century onwards. Electric street lamps have significantly extended their potential range.

Interactions with the uncommunicative Sluagh are normally deleterious to human life, but they have been observed in non-hostile behaviour:
  • Casting. A lone unit extends itself the length of a bare horizontal, or the height of a bare vertical, surface. This has been observed in the prelude to hostile interaction, but drawing conclusions at this stage would be unwise (Shavelson, 1966).
  • Flitting. Lone or multiple units ‘jumping’ between zones of shadow, altering their outlines as they go. This has been described as ludic performance by some (Wagner, 1975).
  • Congregation. Multiple Sluagh units gathering at the same location, unresponsive to attempts at communication and even limited aggression (Llewellyn, 2003).
The other significant behaviour of the Sluagh is their ability to detect and terminate those of human or part-human ancestry who have unnaturally extended their lifespan or otherwise cheated death. Once a unit makes contact with such an individual, other units are summoned (or spontaneously appear) to swarm the subject.

This is the only time they are known to make any noise, which has been described as the sound of babies crying, reversed and slowed down (Wheat & Bruner, 1990).

An obscure 14th Century Rabbinical tradition may reference the Sluagh as the Pieces of the Peel of the Fruit of Evil, thrown away by Adam and Lilith, and the first rubbish generated in the Creation. While widely considered to be an 18th Century hoax, it does seem to derive from an older Arabic source (Pepper, 2020).

INT 2d6 (7)     POW 2d6+6 (13)     DEX 3d6 (10.5)

Hit Points n/a     Damage Bonus n/a     Move 6

Weapons: Chilling Touch 100% (bypasses armour), 1-4 STR damage. Characteristic loss is recovered at a rate of half-an-hour per point. Anyone reduced to 0 STR decomposes to an agonised sooty patch in one round, and then rises up as a new Shadow on the next.

Armour: none, but Shadows can only be destroyed by the direct application of strong ultraviolet light or fire (flamethrower or house burning down, not a flaming torch - though this will hold them off/ drive them back) and electricity (at least strong enough to kill an average adult human).

Enchanted weapons can be used to defend against and drive back a Shadow, but cannot do them lasting harm. Spells should be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. 

Skills: Dodge 60%, Undetectable As Anything Other Than A Shadow 90%, Move Silently 100%.

Spells: None.

Habitat: Everywhere where there is neither absolute darkness nor strong ultraviolet light.

One interpretation of parts of Neil Armstrong's unedited memoir manuscript and several photos from the ISS in 1999 suggest they are able to survive outside the Earth's atmosphere.

Sanity Loss: 0/1d6 to see a Shadow/Sluagh, 1/1d6 to hear them for the first time.


Yep - this is the D&D classic, via the groaning shadows in Ghost and the Sluagh from The Time Killer and The Tomb of Terror (Slaine stories from 2000AD).

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Altered State Subsystem (wip) with CW: Drugs

CW: mainly the drugs, but mentions sex, kink and self-harm.

Turns out I need an Altered States sub-system for the Druid (BOSR/ Folk Horror/ Pagan/ Psychedelic/ Witch variant) I'm working on. 

I'm sure there are some already out there, maybe already part of the setting or system you're using. Plus some links for drug-based rules resources.

My unadorned and undeveloped system is this:
  • without shortcuts (and I mean drugs), it takes exploding d2, d3 or d6 hours to get yourself into an Altered State
  • unless from drugs, it takes d2 to d6 turns to come out of an Altered State; these dice might be exploding if it's a particularly powerful Altered State; what you have to do depends on the Altered State
  • in an Altered State, you are -1, -3 or -6 on all Ability Scores depending on how deep you go; penalties may persist afterwards, from fatigue, injury or sickness
  • while in an Altered State, give your character sheet to your GM - you may not consult it, take notes or keep written records during this time*
  • if you need a dice roll for going in and coming out, I suggest our old friend 2d6 vs. 7, 9 or 11; ability and skill checks would also suffice

The basic idea is that the Altered State, while it has other uses, should carry a penalty of some kind - under the right circumstances, this could just be the time required to achieve, utilise and emerge from it, but I'd consider making the handing over of the character sheet an absolute. 

Ways to get into an Altered State: dancing, chanting, drumming, breathing techniques, meditation, humiliation, sensory deprivation, fasting, over-indulgence, heat, cold, suspension, submersion, asphyxia, tickling, flagellation, sustained vigorous exercise, spanking, masturbation, near death experience, sex, wrestling, fighting, staying awake, prayer, staring at something, crucifixion, fever, disease, concentrating really hard, madness, fear, laughter, frenzy, sadism, pain, flickering lights, acting really convincingly, silence, screaming, singing, counting, extreme mathematics, hanging nine days on the World Ash with a spear in your side, a really long walk.

And drugs...

...whether magickal herbs or magic mushrooms.

There are some rather bland rules for Intoxication in the 1e AD&D DMG, which could be expanded to cover all Altered States if you prefer the system.

Carcosa has its Desert Lotus varieties, with their own defined effects and durations.. Blue, Green and Jale would be the obvious choices, with White Lotus a borderline case (you become a mindless zombie). Black Lotus is fatal, but so are some poisons that have medical uses in small doses.

For drugs (entheogens) as an integral part of the setting/system, you should look to the excellent aloneinthelabyrinth.blogspot.com and check out Pariah - a proto-neolithic psychedelic animist rpg

Pariah has flavourful rules for ritual (and recreational, I suppose) use of entheogens, with one of the explicit purposes being travel to other worlds (which are also delicious). They are not just 'magic potions' - they're a session in themself.

Applied to another setting, you might decide to leave out the cosmological aspect - maybe the drugs just aren't as good as they were at the dawn of time, or make them incredibly rare, or set up gatekeepers, or have the common supply be so over-processed that only prodigious consumption (or in its natural/pure form) would have any special effects.

Two drug-use and misuse subsystems, one from Goblin Punch and one from Ten Foot Polemic

The Ten Foot Polemic system gave me the idea for handing over your character sheet when in an Altered State, as taking Alterket means you no longer keep track of your hit points, the GM does.

And Goblin Punch has a selection of drugs (including for Dragons) you can choose to tone down for the family audience. Or not.

Just as mechanical and narrative effects of drugs can be used to represent a non-drug Altered State, so can rules for Tolerance (you need more chanting to get in the mood) and Addiction (you won't leave the meditation centre). 

The Ghastly Affair system includes some fairly comprehensive mechanical/narrative details on IRL drugs of the Gothic/Ghastly Age - laudanum, hashish, peyote buttons etc. - though they do include some supernatural side-effects, including being Attractive to Fairies and increasing the effects of Divination.

*there may be individual IRL circumstances where this isn't appropriate - issues of communication, memory and trust, for instance.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

CROGLIN VAMPIRE: Monster for Old School D&D Adjacent & Call of Cthulhu 5e.

A dusty slice of #BOSR, the Croglin Vampire IRL is the monster in a true story from UK olden times.

And, by true story, I mean the kind of ghost/horror story that is presented as being something that actually happened in places that can actually be visited, but that you can't because it didn't because it isn't. 

It was pointed out long ago that the whole incident sounds identical to an episode from Varney the Vampire.

Croglin -though it's a place-name- is also quite a Nintendo-sounding word, so I've kept it to define a monster type. Here are three different versions, two D&D adjacent and one for BRP/CoC 5e - they all play differently.

Stefano Tambellini, from The Vampire of Croglin by Terry Deary.

Croglin Vampire for Old School D&D Adjacent (Basic).

Armour Class +4     Hit Dice 2     Move 125% Normal Human     Save F2     Morale 10

  • Claw/claw/bite 1-3/1-3/1-3 + paralysis
  • Regenerates 1 hp/round
  • Always strikes first in the first combat round (unless surprised), and gets +1 to Initiative thereafter.
  • The hideous appearance and ferocious attack of a Croglin Vampire requires mortals of 3HD/levels or fewer to save vs. death ray or flee in terror.
  • Turn as Ghouls (alternatively, Morale Check if confronted with flaming torch or holy symbol).

Croglin Vampire for Old School D&D Adjacent (Advanced/Expert).

Armour Class +3     Hit Dice 2+4     Move 125% Normal Human     Save F3     Morale 9
  • Claw/claw/bite for 1-3/1-3/1-3; if both claws hit, the bite does automatically.
  • The bite causes paralysis (save applies), and drains blood (1-3 hp/round - or 1 STR/turn, if it has the leisure).
  • If you are alone and you see a Croglin Vampire, you must save vs. paralysis - this paralysis is broken by the arrival of an intelligent living being, the monster moving out of sight, or the monster causing you damage (although by then you may be paralysed by the bite).
  • Regenerates 1 hp/round, except from fire and/or holy damage.
  • At 0 hp or lower, it falls helpless and can be destroyed by any of the usual methods for dispatching a Vampire in your setting, but will be able to move and fight as soon as it reaches 1 positive hp.
  • The hideous appearance and ferocious attack of a Croglin Vampire requires mortals of 3HD/levels or fewer to save vs. death ray or flee in terror (50% dropping handheld objects).
  • Turn as Wights (alternatively, Morale Check if confronted with flaming torch or holy symbol).

  • Number Appearing as Wights; Treasure will be Incidental.
  • Undead; STR drained victims not blessed/destroyed/dismembered will return as Croglin Vampires within a week - they are not automatically under their creator's command.
  • Immune to sleep, charm, hold and cold.
  • Not destroyed by sunlight, but must immediately flee to their lair at the breaking of the dawn.

Les Edwards.
One of the plates that someone cut from the copy of CoC 5e I got from a charity shop.

Croglin Vampire, Is It 'A' or 'The'?

A withered, shrivelled, mummified lich of a Vampire, with glaring eyes, pointy teeth and bony claws. It might be naked or clothed.

Or it looks like your favourite illustration of the Vampire of Croglin Grange.

Or it looks very much like a certain Walter Corbitt, Esq.

If you are alone and you see the Vampire, match magic points vs. its POW or be unable to act (check each round) - this hold is broken by the arrival of an intelligent living being, the monster moving out of sight, or the monster causing you damage (at which point it will be Grappling you anyway). 

Alternatively, use Corbitt's mind-clouding ability from The Haunting scenario.

It is rendered immobile and insensible when exposed to the rays of the sun, and can be destroyed in the traditional manner.

It has only dim memories of its mortal life, and little remaining understanding of the things it once knew and practiced. It does not speak and it is not clear whether it comprehends language, though it can communicate and be communicated with in a basic, non-verbal manner.

STR 2d6+6 (13)     CON d6+12 (16)     SIZ 3d6 (10.5)     INT 2d6 (7)     POW 3d6 (10.5)

DEX d6+12 (16)

Hit Points av. 13     Damage Bonus nil     Move 10

  • Grapple DEX x 3% or STR/SIZ vs. STR/SIZ, every successful Grapple is followed by an automatic Bite (roll only for impale)
  • Bite DEX x 3%, 1-3 damage + blood drain (1 STR)
    • characteristic loss is recovered at the rate of 1 point per full day of rest or per week of normal activity
Armour: None, but bullets and other impaling weapons cause minimum damage.

It regenerates all damage, except that done by fire, at the rate of 1 hit point per hour of inactivity - returning to its resting place during the hours of daylight.

Skills: Climb 60%, Dodge 25+DEX%, Jump DEX x 3%, Move Quietly 80%, Seek Out Fresh Victim 60%, Human Psychology 30%.

Spells: Normally none.

Habitat: Crumbling tomb, mossy burrow, dried-up well, abandoned cottage - but always near human prey.

Sanity Loss: 1/1d8 to see it.

Monday, September 28, 2020

WIGHT: Monster Conversion - Dragonwarriors to Call of Cthulhu 5e

Gods of Lankhmar, Keith Parkinson.
Not Wights? Not according to RAW, no.

Have I mentioned before that Wights are one of my all-time favourite monsters? 

For D&D adjacent, referring to my last post, you could reskin the Shadow, Troll, Spectral Hound, Wood Golem or even -shock!- the Wight, for your barrow-dead.

Rather than just working straight from the conversion I did for Dragonwarriors to D&D adjacent, I've drawn on the Mummy and the Zombie from CoC 5e for stats - but this is spiritually a variation on the theme of the DW Wight.

Wights, All Hail the Tumulus King!

Emaciated, pale, hollow - the dreaming dead of forgotten and mis-remembered peoples - Wights are the sorcerer-priests, shaman-queens and trickster-heroes of a distant, uncertain past. Some are attached to names we would recognise, figures from history and myth - Wights named as Arthur can be found from Ireland to Kazakhstan. 

Others hail from even weirder pasts and otherworlds - Melnibone, Lyonesse, Avalon, Tir na Nog, Hyperborea, Averoigne, the Dreamlands, the Hyborian Age, even the Demiplane of Dread (if you want to go that far). To encounter a Wight may be as upsetting to consensus reality as it is deleterious to mortal life.

Still others will be analogues of deities, and accumulate the trappings of their cult - even to some of those dreaming kings being associated with Cthulhu (adding another layer to your adventure onion). 

The Wight's millennial dreaming is sustained by its single point of POW. It can use the magic point this gives to animate itself for a day; it regenerates over a lunar month - otherwise, Wights cannot regenerate magic points and must drain STR to build their reserves (see below). 

A Wight must spend one magic point to maintain animation every day - if it deanimates, it returns to its dreaming and any remaining accumulated magic points dissipate at the rate of one per day (the dreaming is particularly wonderful during this period).

Wights do not recognise or understand firearms. Most are composed of conventional matter, but may incorporate more exotic substances, alien or arcane. 

They use their current magic points in place of POW.

STR 3d6 x 1.5 (16)     CON 3d6 x 1.5 (16)     SIZ 3d6 (10.5)     INT 3d6 (10.5)     POW 1

DEX 3d6 (10.5)

Hit Points av. 13         Damage Bonus +d4     Move 6

  • Touch, DEX x 3%, ignores armour and drains 2d6+1 STR from the victim - this is recovered on their being taken into the sunshine (1 point per minute). Drained STR converts to magic points for the Wight at the next moonrise.
  • Hand weapons (and bows) at DEX x 5%; thrown weapons, Parry and shields at DEX x 3%.
  • A Wight could have enchanted weapons and magic items from BRP-compatible settings. These should not become treasure trove for investigators (lay a curse), but could be instrumental in vanquishing the Wight.
Armour: None, but all hits from unenchanted weapons cause minimum damage and then 'shatter as though from centuries of rust' (Dragonwarriors p.124).

At the Keeper's discretion, weapons and armour contemporary with the Wight's burial might be effective against it.

Skills: Shadow on the Mist 80%, Pursue Ancient Grievance 60%.

Wights can communicate with anything they make a minion, but otherwise are unlikely to understand a language more recent than Latin.

Spells: In addition to any known in life, Wights can use the following spell-like abilities:
  • With a glance or a gesture, for 1 magic point, slam open or hold shut a door or other opening. If the door is barred, barricaded, chained, held by investigators or nailed open/shut, the Wight can apply extra force equal to its STR + current magic points at the cost of being unable to use this ability until the next moonrise.
  • At will, the Wight can raise a 1 mile radius zone of mist that lasts 1 hour per magic point spent. The Wight and any human, animal or undead minions gain 15% to stealth, stalking and evasive abilities (including Dodge) while in this mist.
  • For 1 magic point, create an illusion. It can be static or animated, but makes no noise, is the same temperature as the air, and has no scent; it is dispelled by the touch of naked flesh. 
  • For 4 magic points, the illusion will draw on the personal fears and failings of up to 4 mortal targets, creating a nightmarish vision. Those who fail to match magic points with the Wight lose control of their character for one appropriate involuntary action, as determined by the Keeper.
  • For 6 magic points, the Wight exhales a languid coil of sooty vapour (the Black Breath) that unerringly wraps around a single target. If they succumb to a poison attack of POT equal to the Wight's magic points, they rot to nothing (along with organic material equipment) in a matter of seconds, leaving only an agonised shadow behind.
  • For 1 magic point + the cost of the spell, the Wight can implant one-use spell-ability into a minion. The magic points of the spell are temporarily unavailable to the minion, but regenerate normally once the spell is released. Use of the Black Breath also attacks the caster (if mortal).
Wights can know Mythos and non-Mythos spells, and can use Dreamlands spells in the waking world (though restricted to their lair and/or their zone of mist). They can also use spells from other BRP systems (principally RQ and Stormbringer), and may even be run as casters from that system. 

A Wight may also use reskinned spells from your favourite fantasy rpg systems, but investigators can never learn these (though they can be implanted into minions). 

Their ability to create, compel and/or summon minions is a narrative assumption, but some Keepers may prefer to tie this to pre-existing spells.

Habitat: From lonely burial mound to mythic underworld, Wight lairs may exhibit characteristics of the Dreamlands, whether or not that is canon for your campaign.

Sanity Loss: 1/1d8 to see a Wight; 0/d3 the first time you suffer STR drain; 1/d4 to see someone reduced to a shadow by the Black Breath.


While there's nothing intrinsic (except for it being 'mine') that ties this Wight to the British Isles and/or Northern Europe, it's clearly Tolkienesque and carries a heavy flavouring of dark Euro-fantasy. 

The Mythos ties for the Wight can be via the weird fantasy horror of Robert E. Howard or Clark Ashton Smith, but also along the lines of similarity to cults of the Great Old Ones. 

Above, I mentioned Cthulhu specifically because 'That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die' applies to all ancient dreamers, not just Old Squid Face.

I like the idea of the world-spanning Cthulhu cult being a mangled retelling of prophecy relating to some obscure semi-mythical Eurasian priest-king rather than the secret revelation of vistas of cosmic horror.

Furthermore, my personal take is that this Wight is a figure that can reflect nationalist (and racist) myth, which is why I explicitly mention King Arthur (the Hellboy mythos and Slaine (#BOSR) are important touchstones, too).

The Wight reflects, it does not embody, because a) just because someone says it's Arthur (or Boudicca or Odin) doesn't mean it is, and b) Nazi/white supremacist occultists fuck off - the Wight is always ultimately going to be the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark for you. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

All The Monsters You'll Ever Need...

...are in these two rulesets, basically.
[EDIT: added the Wood Golem 24/09/2020]

These are not the only monsters you'll ever need. And I think animals (giant or normal) should get a pass. 

It's not new or big or clever to advocate reskinning and remixing, but these are the ones that really started jumping out at me when I reread my BECMI decades later. Something I like to do is splice one or more monsters and average out the stat-line (Croglin Vampire = (Thoul + Giant Shrew) x 0.5).

There's nothing poisonous, because venom is just so easy to add.

Honourable mentions are just ones that I like. 

From the BECMI Basic Set (all movement rates as % of Normal Human for your game):
  • Bears
  • Bugbear AC +4, HD 3+1, Mv. 75%, Att. weapon +1 Hit & dmg, ML 9, surprise 1-3 on d6
    • my mental reference is the hairy, shark-toothed, pumpkin-head, grinning giant goblin - but amongst other things, I also think -mechanically and thematically- it makes a much better Orc than the Orc
My first Bugbear (Citadel miniatures D&D Monsters set).
Not my paintjob; not my mini; not my picture.
  • Ghoul 
    • trick entry - almost anything on this initial list makes a pretty good Ghoul 
  • Halfling AC +2, HD 1-1, Mv. 75%, Att. weapon, ML 7
    • but don't play them as a stat-line, play them as classed NPCs with their full abilities; I'd also extend the AC bonus to vs. human-sized opponents
  • Humans
    • all the Humans you like; and say they're green and ugly and it's Lawful Good to kill them if that's what you want for your Orcs
  • Pixie AC +6, HD 1, Mv. 75% Fly 150%, Att. weapon 1-4, ML 7, invisible - surprise you, then you're -4 to Hit them, rest every 4th turn when flying
  • Shadow AC +2, HD 2+2, Mv. 75%, Att. touch 1-4 + 1 point STR drain (recover in 8 turns), ML 12, magic weapon to hit, surprise 1-5 on d6, immune to sleep, charm and Turning
  • Shrew, Giant AC +5, HD 1, Mv. 150%, Att. 2 bites 1-6 each, ML 10, 60’ echo-location, always strike first then +1 Initiative, ferocious attack vs. 3HD or less - save vs. death ray or flee
  • Thoul AC +3, HD 3, Mv. 100%, Att. 2 claws for 1-3/1-3 or 1 weapon, ML 10, paralysis touch, regenerate 1 hp/round
  • Troglodyte AC +4, HD 2, Mv. 100%, Att. claw/claw/bite 1-4 ea., ML 9, chameleon 1-4 on d6 (surprise), stench - save vs. poison or -2 to Hit them in melee
  • Wight AC +4, HD 3, Mv. 75%, Att. 1 level energy drain, ML 12, silver or magic weapon to hit, drained victims rise as Wights in 1-4 days, Undead
  • Honourable Mentions: Normal Bats, Oil Beetles, Elf, Gelatinous Cube, Giant Locust, Lycanthropes, Ochre Jelly, Ogre, Owl Bear, Shrieker, Sprite, Giant Spiders, Stirge
From the BECMI Expert Set:
  • Black Pudding AC +3, HD 10, Mv. 50%, Att. 1 for 3-24, ML 12, all but fire attacks cause it to split/multiply (2 HD Att. 1-8)
    • could have gone with the Ochre Jelly, but the Pudding is somehow more iconic
  • Golem, Wood AC +2, HD 2+2, Mv. 100%, Att. 1 for 1-8. ML 12, magic weapon to hit, -1 Initiative, -2 save vs. fire & +1 hit per damage die, immune to sleep, charm, hold, gas, cold and all missiles (inc. magic missile)
    • in some ways, it's a better Mummy than the Mummy
Mummy from Dungeon Master.
Great game.
  • Mummy AC +6, HD 5+1, Mv. 50%, Att. 1-12 + disease, ML 12, if you see one save vs. paralysis or paralysed with fear, its disease prevents magical healing and slows natural by 90%, you need to use fire, spells, magic weapons to hit, but only for half damage, Undead
  • Troll AC +5, HD 6+3, Mv. 100%, Att. claw/claw/bite 1-6x2/1-10, ML 10 (8 vs. fire/acid), start regenerating 3 hp/round 3 rounds after taking damage, except from fire or acid damage
    • and more below
  • Honourable Mentions: Blink Dog, Devil Swine, Gorgon, Nixie, Treant
From the BECMI Companion Set:
  • Gargantua  AC as original, HD original x8, Mv. original x2, Att. original x4 damage, ML 11
    • insta-Great Old Ones using monsters on and off the list
  • Spectral Hound AC +11, HD 5, Mv. 125%, Att. 1 for 2-12 + special (save vs. spells or fade away in 24 hours, dimension door to restore), ML 12, silver or magic weapon to hit, immune to fire and cold
  • Honourable Mentions: Gremlin, Haunts, Phantoms, Rock/Cave Toad, Snow Ape, Spirits
No monsters from the Master set make it in, but it has a good section of stuff for augmenting your existing ones:
  • Changing Monsters (p.7-8), basically you give a + or - 1 to 3 to your monster to make it tougher without having to go Gargantua on it, or weaker, in an easy to apply way (the mechanic works for Lasting Wounds, too); can also be a monster ability, for (say) Vampires drinking blood, or Dragonwarriors Ire Goblins/Bugbears (Book 4, Out of the Shadows, p. 101-102 - they 'puff up' when they go into a frenzy)
  • Spellcasters (Non-Human), including Lycanthropes and Undead (p.21-22)
  • Undead Lieges and Pawns (p. 22-23), rules if you needed them or for homebrewing a Necromancer class
  • Honourable Mentions: Adaptor, Dinosaur (the way they're divided into broad categories, rather than an endless list in Linnaean), Brown Dragon, Drakes, Hags, Lycanthropes (Werebats, foxes and seals), Nightshades, Nuckalavee, Planar Spider

Master Monster List.

And, on top of that, the Master Set gives a quick round-up of monsters from modules, accessories and previous D&D versions (Monster List, Part 3: Other Monsters Acolyte to Zombie Minotaur, p.42-44). 

Because the information is restricted to name, source and stat-line, you have no pre-conceptions about monsters you don't recognise and automatically apply your own imagination to the spare details. Conjure with the stats for Bhut, Brain Collector, Dusanu, Nagpa, Sabreclaw, Sacrol, and Tabi (I did), then be slightly underwhelmed when you see the official version in the Creature Catalog years down the line.

2nd Edition AD&D Troll.

Jim Holloway's 2e Troll.
2e Troll is the best and most Troll.

Not the whole Troll (AC +6, HD 6+6, Mv. 100%, Att. claw/claw/bite for 5-8x2/5-12), but these two characteristics:
  • due to their agility trolls can direct... three attacks at multiple opponents
    • this feature is also found in the 1e Monster Manual, and I think it bears attention as it implies that multiple attack monsters can only target one victim - that's three potential kills a round, rather than a single overkill, which makes for a different kind of threat.
  • any natural roll of 20 with an edged weapon severs one limb
    • I had been convinced that this was standard for Trolls until I came off rpg hiatus and then couldn't find it - AFAIK, 2nd edition AD&D is the only time this was canon
So it's not from BECMI, which was where I was trying to stay, but I consider these to be narratively important for the Troll, and mechanically interesting for the stat-block when re-mixing/-skinning.

I don't think I've ever used a Troll as a Troll - it makes a surprisingly terrifying Vampire, though, and a fair approximation of The Thing (John Carpenter, obvs, but maybe suits the Howard Hawks one better).

Tunnels & Trolls.

T&T 5e polishes off monsters in 2-3 pages (there are supplements later). Ken St. Andre writes:

What lurks and slithers in your imagination I don't know, but in mine there are fire-breathing dragons, crocodiles, unicorns, snarks, sharks and boojums, black hobbits, giant spiders, cave lions, pythons, centaurs, toothy non-flaming dragons, wyverns, wurms, griffins, hippogriffs, werewolves and vampires, balrogs, basilisks, ghosts, jubjub birds, slithy toves, cave bears, sphinx, enchanted warriors, zombies, reptile men, flame fiends, harpies, orcs, ogres, gremlins, goblins, trolls, giants, two-headed giants, three-headed giants, mushroom monsters, cockatrices, giant slugs, banshees, mummies, barrow-wights, living statues, shoggoths, wraiths, demons, leopards, octopi (giant economy size), gnloes, minotaurs, slime mutants, drooling maniacs, half-orcs, hydrae, living skeletons, bandersnatchi, jabberwocks, pithecanthropi, ghouls, mad dogs, poisonous vipers, blood rats, night gaunts, lamiae, cannibals, witches, warlocks, rabid rats (ulsios), chimerae, hags, giant slimy worms, yeti, tigers, gorgons, bigfoots, invisible stalkers, were-creatures of all varieties, misanthropes and misogynists, manticores and lots more.

Then there's a Monster Rating to dice & adds chart, and a monster selection with MRs and No. App. based on level, and that's it.

My first question -after 'is gnloes a typo?'- was 'but how do I know what a ghoul does?' Which was the wrong question, because I know what a ghoul does and, anyway, isn't it me that gets to decide what a ghoul does, isn't it my game now?

Reginald Scot & Michael Aislabie Denham.

St. Andre's monster jam has the same kind of energy (possibly deliberately) as this from Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft:

​...they have so fraied us with bull beggers, spirits, witches, urchens, elves, hags, fairies, satyrs, pans, faunes, sylens, kit with the cansticke, tritons, centaurs, dwarfes, giants, imps, calcars, conjurors, nymphes, changlings, Incubus, Robin good-fellowe, the spoorne, the mare, the man in the oke, the hell waine, the firedrake, the puckle, Tom thombe, hob gobblin, Tom tumbler, boneles, and other such bugs, that we are afraid of our owne shadows.

...and this, from the 19th Century Denham Tracts, which takes Scot as its foundation:

"…the whole earth was so overrun with ghosts, boggles, Bloody Bones, spirits, demons, ignis fatui, brownies, bugbears, black dogs, spectres, shellycoats, scarecrows, witches, wizards, barguests, Robin-Goodfellows, hags, night-bats, scrags, breaknecks, fantasms, hobgoblins, hobhoulards, boggy-boes, dobbies, hob-thrusts, fetches, kelpies, warlocks, mock-beggars, mum-pokers, Jemmy-burties, urchins, satyrs, pans, fauns, sirens, tritons, centaurs, calcars, nymphs, imps, incubuses, spoorns, men-in-the-oak, hell-wains, fire-drakes, kit-a-can-sticks, Tom-tumblers, melch-dicks, larrs, kitty-witches, hobby-lanthorns, Dick-a-Tuesdays, Elf-fires, Gyl-burnt-tales, knockers, elves, rawheads, Meg-with-the-wads, old-shocks, ouphs, pad-foots, pixies, pictrees, giants, dwarfs, Tom-pokers, tutgots, snapdragons, sprets, spunks, conjurers, thurses, spurns, tantarrabobs, swaithes, tints, tod-lowries, Jack-in-the-Wads, mormos, changelings, redcaps, yeth-hounds, colt-pixies, Tom-thumbs, black-bugs, boggarts, scar-bugs, shag-foals, hodge-pochers, hob-thrushes, bugs, bull-beggars, bygorns, bolls, caddies, bomen, brags, wraiths, waffs, flay-boggarts, fiends, gallytrots, imps, gytrashes, patches, hob-and-lanthorns, gringes, boguests, bonelesses, Peg-powlers, pucks, fays, kidnappers, gallybeggars, hudskins, nickers, madcaps, trolls, robinets, friars' lanthorns, silkies, cauld-lads, death-hearses, goblins, hob-headlesses, bugaboos, kows, or cowes, nickies, nacks, waiths, miffies, buckies, ghouls, sylphs, guests, swarths, freiths, freits, gy-carlins, pigmies, chittifaces, nixies, Jinny-burnt-tails, dudmen, hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes, bogies, redmen, portunes, grants, hobbits, hobgoblins, brown-men, cowies, dunnies, wirrikows, alholdes, mannikins, follets, korreds, lubberkins, cluricauns, kobolds, leprechauns, kors, mares, korreds, puckles, korigans, sylvans, succubuses, blackmen, shadows, banshees, lian-hanshees, clabbernappers, Gabriel-hounds, mawkins, doubles, corpse lights or candles, scrats, mahounds, trows, gnomes, sprites, fates, fiends, sibyls, nicknevins, whitewomen, fairies, thrummy-caps, cutties, and nisses, and apparitions of every shape, make, form, fashion, kind and description, that there was not a village in England that had not its own peculiar ghost.

Don't you just want to know what they are and what they're up to?

For some definition/speculation, follow this link.

Also, there're hobbits right next to hobgoblins, some time in the mid-1800s, plus some comeback to those who say that there's too many monsters (including me).


Dragon magazine #158.

Yet another object I regret giving up.

Ethan Ham's article 'Also Known As... The Orc' gave variations on many standard monsters by collecting differing names from fiction, history and cultural diversity.

Monsters reduced to basic stat-lines only need a name to bring them to new life.

If the villagers say they're being attack by Fomorians or Land-Wights or Trolls, you've got different expectations than if they say they're being attacked by the Orcs that have recently taken over the abandoned burial mounds. And you've got a reason to make them 'not just Orcs again', too.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Old School Cleric Class - Atheist/BOSR/Folk Horror Variant

Bishop Odo on the Bayeux Tapestry.
Look at him, not shedding blood as he lays about him with a big stick.

Description: You already know what a Cleric is; this is my variation on a BOSR theme. The starting point for this Cleric would be the Canterbury Tales, rather than the Song of Roland - it pre-supposes a less heroic, less magical setting.

A Cleric either belongs to the hierarchy of the Universal Church or is a devotee of the True Faith - the two are not mutually exclusive. 

This class assumes that the Church, Faith and God are significant background features of the setting - I'm starting from a medieval/early modern Eurocentric perspective.

XP, Saving Throws, Attacks & Hit Dice: all as Cleric.

Prime Requisite: equal chance (roll d6) of Charisma, Intelligence or Wisdom, and usual benefits/penalties - but you do this after you've rolled your Ability Scores and chosen Cleric as your class.

Whether you truly believe in the Church and in God or not is immaterial to being a Cleric - it's whether or not God believes in you.

Armour: Any.

Weapons: You are forbidden to shed blood Any.

Alignment Restrictions: None, but whatever you do is always Lawful Good.

Peter Cushing as Gustav Weil in Twins of Evil (1971).
Just as much a Cleric as Abraham Van Helsing.

Special Abilities.

Authority/Influence (Preaching): As long as you can be understood by your audience, you can attempt to sway them by the power of your words, the force of your personality, your training in rhetoric, the promise of salvation, the threat of damnation: they must save vs. paralysis (take an average for a group) at -1 for every 3 levels you have, or move one step up or down the Reaction Roll table in your favour. 

You can't normally attempt this during combat - too noisy, no-one's listening, they've already made up their mind. 

Those who are already hostile to the Cleric make their save with advantage, or any adjustments deemed appropriate to the subject and situation. Depending on your setting and play-style, some audiences may never be susceptible to the Cleric's words. You can't use this on other PCs, and to use it on their followers could be taken as an insult or attack.

You can use this three times in a row on the same audience. If it's three successes, you might gain a convert/follower; three failures, and they might run you out of town (or worse).

Be creative with your interpretation of this ability - it's not just about making people better disposed towards you.

Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General (1968).
Absolute arsehole.

Recognise Evil: A Cleric will be able to recognise the gross and subtle works of Evil, either through arduous study, by unshakeable belief, or from luxuriating in corruption. 

However, unlike a spell or Paladin's detect evil, this is a narrative rather than mechanical ability - sometimes the Cleric just needs to point and say "That's Evil" for that thing to be so. 

For example, Brother Cadfael will diagnose a mere mundane pimple and troubled minds, while Matthew Hopkins will diagnose the teat with which ye suckle that which come by shroud of night.

Clerics do not, as a group or as individuals, mutually agree on the things that are Evil - sometimes with campaign-upsetting consequences. As a rule, their definitions of Evil usually include elves, spells, Magic Users, and significant differing cultural/religious/social beliefs.

Edward Woodward as Sergeant Howie in The Wickerman (1973).
He knows Evil when he sees it.

Warding (Turn Undead/Supernatural): Present a holy symbol, trace a circle of power, scatter holy water, swing a smoking censer, chant prayers of exorcism - you can do this against any supernatural entity, not just Undead.

Roll 2d6, and on a 7 or better, the entity will not approach closer than 10' and cannot attack the Cleric or anyone within 6' of them, for d6 turns (during which you must maintain the ward). Do it three times in a row, and they must depart (min. 6 hours). Fail three times in a row and you can't ward again that day.

If the entity has a score of 9 + (HD x0.5) greater than the Cleric's Prime Requisite, the 2d6 roll is made as 3d6D1 to the Cleric's disadvantage.

You can't do anything else while you're warding, except slow movement, cautious or guided - and you can be interrupted by unaffected creatures. You can ward in combat, but you can't fight while you're doing it.

You can also create a static protective circle/pentacle of warding, which is effective for a full hour without maintenance, at the end of which it must be recharged. This, however, reeks of sorcery and demonism as it can keep things in as well as out.

Summoned monsters are susceptible to warding, even if they are normally otherwise mundane. It is uncertain if warding would function on other planes. 

Some staple D&D non-human character kindred might be affected by warding, depending on the setting: elves, half-elves, tieflings, aasimar, genasi, possibly dragonborn.

Patrick Wymark as The Judge in Blood on Satan's Claw (1971).
He knows to bring a magic sword and hirelings when facing a demonic cult.

Casting Out (Exorcism): Casting Out can be done in a single round, but is often accompanied by a short prayer/ritual, and will restore an individual possessed by a spirit or demon. It is also effective against certain conditions, such as fear, hopelessness and confusion. 

Casting Out will temporarily relieve the distress and symptoms of mental illness, but cannot cure it unless possessing spirits of disease & madness are canon in your setting - even then, it may require an Exorcism (see below).

Roll 2d6, and on a 9 or better you have cast out the evil spirit or affliction. 

Use the same formula as for warding if you feel the condition or spirit is particularly powerful or deep-rooted, or allow success only on a 12.

Casting Out always fatigues a Cleric if successful. Only one attempt at Casting Out can be made per incidence.

If you fail to Cast Out on your first attempt, you may then attempt an Exorcism. This is mechanically the same as Casting Out, but takes exploding d6 hours (check for success or failure at the end of this time).

During this time, the subject must be restrained/ the site must be secured. The Cleric will keep up the ritual while still being able to issue instructions, receive news, eat & drink etc., and can even suffer damage - you can make a single weapon attack in retaliation per hour of the ritual, if appropriate, but must otherwise rely on others for support and defence.

Exorcism causes ongoing fatigue because of the mental and physical strain it puts on the Cleric. You can keep on making attempts at Exorcism until you are successful or give up.

Jane Wiedlin as Joan of Arc in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989).
Her Prime Requisite is also her highest Ability Score, but she eventually rolls three 6s.

Deliverance (Divine Intervention): Essentially a wish. Your miracle may not be approved by the Church and can leave you open to suspicion of sorcery. 

Roll 3d6. On triple 1, God (or good fortune) answers your prayer. 

As soon as you are able, you must make an incredibly big deal of thanking God. Just a big cash donation is not going to cut it this time (though it doesn't hurt, as the Church still claims to be intermediary and interpreter), it's got to be a dangerous adventure, or a costly and complicated undertaking - crusades, founding religious houses, world-crossing pilgrimages, giving up all your lands and retainers to the Church in perpetuity.

On triple 6, God is extremely upset or you have attracted the attention of Great Unholy Powers.

It doesn't necessarily follow that you don't get what you asked for, but the consequences and the reparations are significantly more disruptive - up to and including the death or enforced retirement of the PC.

If your Prime Requisite is also your highest Ability Score you can reroll Deliverance if you wish, either to avoid upsetting God or as an extra shot at redemption.

Use it at your peril and no more than once a month. You never get any better at calling for Deliverance.

Further Elaboration.

Benefit of Clergy.

This was originally going to be a core special ability, but I decided Clerics were not necessarily members of the Church hierarchy. Historically, however, there were times when you could claim Benefit of Clergy by proving yourself literate and reading from the Bible, or even just by reciting certain parts you'd committed to memory - anyone could chance it.

Simply put, Benefit of Clergy means you don't have to submit to secular courts and justice when you commit or are accused of a crime. It's not quite a Get-Out-of-Jail card, because other factors may intervene - politics, relative social standing of perpetrator and victim, lawlessness, mob justice, the foulness of the deed.

The Church rarely hands down sentences of death (it's forbidden to shed blood, remember) - though there is the risk of being stripped of office and handed over to be tried as a layperson - but you may be excommunicated, banished, stripped of office, stripped of treasure, ordered to a monastery, ordered to do penance etc. In a fantasy setting, the Church may be able to deactivate your special abilities, or lay a curse, quest or geas on you.

Clerics Aren't That Special.

If you read the Priest living in Maelstrom, you will discover, in the section on holding evil spirits at bay, that anyone can do this - Priests are just better at it, represented in terms of them suffering less loss of Will (holding at bay is automatic, but has a cost).

By this logic, anyone could try Warding. However, I would suggest a higher target number, and/or require a non-Cleric to roll 3d6D1.

Even if a Cleric doesn't believe in the supernatural, they may still have received some kind of instruction in rituals or examples of Warding etc. - they know it's part of their perceived armoury. 

Casting Out and Exorcism should probably be restricted to Clerics only - as they either require a much greater belief in one's ability or reference an organised canon of ritual, but Deliverance might be available to anyone in the right circumstances.

With this in mind, it is possible to have Clerics who don't know that some of their abilities actually work - which maybe offers a character development arc.

Clerical Spell-Casting.

The BOSR Cleric doesn't get normally spells, because there might not be a God to grant them.

However, the 1st ed. AD&D DMG (p. 38) notes that 1st and 2nd level Cleric spells are not granted by  external agency but by 'education, training and experience', so there's no particular reason that the BOSR Cleric shouldn't be able to cast a few.

But only from 2nd level onwards, as tradition requires - and to hold back the magical industrial revolution.

If you want to be even more generous, a Cleric may cast spells per week as if they had bonus spells for high Wisdom, as per Wisdom Table II.: Adjustments for Clerics (1st ed. AD&D PH, p.11) but based on their Prime Requisite. 

Note that the 3rd and 4th level spells are granted by 'supernatural servants of the cleric's deity', and this should be a more-or-less direct exchange with otherworldly beings. This could definitely be interpreted as a demonic pact or devil worship, even if you believe/claim it's all the lovely saints in heaven. 

Clerics also have the some of the best access to books of instruction in dark magic, and should be allowed to dual-class as Magic Users. They should keep it secret, though.

Holy Relics for Cleric Spell-Casting and Turning Undead.

Let BOSR Clerics use holy relics to cast spells and Turn Undead as a RAW Cleric.

All holy relics allow BOSR Clerics to Turn Undead as a RAW Cleric of the same level. The Cleric must be touching the relic to do so.

If your setting doesn't normally give BOSR Clerics spell-casting, possession of a holy relic does: 1st and 2nd as a Cleric of your level, plus daily bonus spells for high Prime Requisite/ Wisdom. Some relics may be imbued with specific additional spells, which the Cleric may cast if of sufficient level. Spells can only be cast when in physical possession of the relic.

If you do give Clerics basic access to spells in your setting, a holy relic allows them to advance as a RAW spell-casting Cleric. Spell memorisation must be done in the presence of the relic, but it need not be on the Cleric's person. 

Only one Cleric can benefit from a relic at a time - it cannot be passed round.

The Church jealously and zealously keeps its relics close, and will not let just any Cleric stroll in and borrow one. Buying a relic is technically possible, but will be an enormous sum in treasure and obligation. The loan of a relic will often come with a hefty cost, and be accompanied by guardians with a responsibility to protect the relic, and to retrieve it rather than rescue you should your quest fail.


The religious context of the Cleric was explicitly disavowed in Mentzer Basic:

In D&D games, as in real life, people have ethical and theological beliefs.This game does not deal with those beliefs. All characters are assumed to have them, and they do not affect the game. They can be assumed, just as eating, resting, and other activities are assumed, and should not become part of the game.

This, I think, was a disservice, but makes some sense if/when you know that the archetype was Van Helsing from the Hammer films, rather than historical/legendary European figures (eg. Odo, Turpin, Joan of Arc).

Dragonwarriors, while there was no Cleric class (the nearest equivalents would be the Mystic, who might be a pagan, or a Knight with a holy relic), made it clear that religion was as much a part of Legend as it was of medieval Europe. And I also liked the disconnect, in that pagan gods and sorcery had a clear, objective reality, but the True Faith was as real or not real as IRL - holy relics notwithstanding.

The Cleric class, RAW, didn't feel like it had the space for the Clerics I was imagining - there wasn't the room for Joan of Arc and Matthew Hopkins and Brother Cadfael and Urbain Grandier and Hildegard von Bingen. 

My Cleric is based heavily on the Priest living from Maelstrom - apart from Benefit of Clergy (which is from my A-level Medieval History), all the special abilities come from that source. Based in 16th Century England, the milieu was closer to what I mistook for the implied world of D&D. I also drew on the 2e AD&D supplement A Mighty Fortress, which covers the same time period.

I call it the BOSR Cleric because I think British Old School attitudes to religion ranged from mildly agnostic to virulently atheist, with a streak of environmental/apocalyptic paganism running all the way through. And there's the old joke about not needing to believe in God to be part of the Church of England.

There's also a wide streak of bigotry running through the source material for the BOSR Cleric (see all of the above, plus Ken Russell's The Devils, and The Name of the Rose, book or film), but you don't have to play a cruel, misogynist hypocrite to have fun, do you? Despite the Gothic possibilities, not every Cleric has to be a monster.

Post-Script: Bard as Cleric.

The 2nd edition AD&D Bard only needs a light treatment to be reskinned as a Cleric variant: influence reactions (preach), inspire allies (bless/preach), countersong (vs. rival prayers and chants), literacy, history, identify magic items.

Even the Magic User spells and Thief skills can be justified as forbidden learning and general sneakiness.