Tuesday, August 17, 2021

BITTER DRYADS (Brothers/Children of the Pines from the Chronicles of Corum)

The People of the Pines/ Rodney Matthews/ 1977

AC +4 (see below)    HD 4+4 (see below)     Move 100% Normal Human     ML 10 (see below)

Once mortals, the Fomorians poisoned the first with mistleberries and transfused them with the sap of winter pines, making them undead. The Dryads now carry out the ritual themselves, sometimes even persuading the living to join them of their own will - but otherwise by submission.

Bitter Dryads retain their mortal form but skin and hair turns green. Morphic resonance has evergreen leaves and needles, moss, lichens and berry-like growths replace their hair, clothing and personal ornament over time. They bleed green, sticky and slow.

They prefer the shade of the forest, the gloom of winter, and the dark of night, but are not vulnerable to sunlight.

Retaining their intelligence and memories, the Bitter Dryads are the ironic, rustling voice of the  Fomorians in the mortal sphere. They are fully conscious of what they do even as it goes against anything they once loved or believed in their mortal life.

Three blasts of the Horn will strike them as instantly dead as it does the Half-Dead.

The Dryads are inextricably linked (and loyal) to the Fomorians through their weird reptilian steeds.

Dryad Horses are intelligent, capable of subvocal/telepathic communication with their rider and the Fomorians, and serve to direct the Dryads according to that greater will.

It is said that these lizard-things are vomited up by the Fomorians, fully formed extensions of their dire personality.

  • As long as a Dryad is in the presence of their Horse, they are an AC +4 HD 4+4 Invulnerable Monster. If they are mounted, they regenerate 1 hp/round - even from 0 hp - and cannot be Turned. 
    • Treat mount and rider as a single unit/statblock wherever possible/reasonable.
    • A Dryad without a Horse is AC +2 HD 2+2 and normally vulnerable; they also have a -1 Initiative penalty. Morale drops to 8 (or 6 vs. fire). Turned as similar HD undead.
    • A Horse without a Dryad is AC +4 HD 2+2, an Invulnerable Monster and regenerates 1 hp/round. Move without a rider is 200% Normal Human, 150% with an unarmoured or shielded rider, 100% with an armoured rider. It is otherwise mechanically the same as a Bitter Dryad.
  • No armour benefit unless it is better than their base AC. Shield bonus stacks.
  • Can make weapon, missile and unarmed attacks with a Strength of 13 and a Dexterity of 10.
  • Immune to cold, gas, hold, charm, sleep and missiles (inc. magic missile).
  • Save vs. fire at -2 and take +1 damage per die (ML 8 vs. fire).
  • Surprise 1-3 on d6 and undetectable when stationary 1-4 on d6 in evergreen/winter forest.
  • At 0 hp, unless by fire or acid, the Dryad is helpless, not killed, and able only to sense and speak. Even beheading and dismembering cannot silence them.
    • Dryad Horses try to recover their fallen riders.
    • Killing a Dryad's Horse allows the Dryad to be killed with normal damage.


I first encountered the Brothers of the Pine in The Best of White Dwarf Scenarios Vol. II

I hadn't read the Chronicles of Corum at this stage, so they were just a cool monster in their own right. 

I remember being fazed by the '-20% Morale' because I thought Morale was on 2d6 not d%, but assumed it was the kind of shorthand that I'd eventually get to understand. At that stage, I thought of rpgs (and rpgs being mainly D&D) in general being a new thing, rather than something that had been around for 10+ years, and expected there to be a lot more compatibility between them than there was.

I've used the BECMI/OSE Wood Golem as the base monster for both mount and rider. 

The relationship of the Pine People to their mounts was something I'd forgotten about, and I couldn't not include it.

THE HALF-DEAD (Ghoolegh from the Chronicles of Corum)

I have a very strong mental image of what the Ghoolegh look like. This is not it, but this is what I could find.

AC as armour     Move 50% Normal Human     HD 5+5 (hp only)     ML 12 (see below)

Balanced on the very edge of death, their blood runs cold and slow and only at the behest of their Fomorian controllers/creators.

They are death pale with bloody red eyes. They are dull-witted, clumsy and sluggish, but capable of operating devices and independently carrying out orders. Their speech is halting and sombre, without emotion. They dimly remember their mortal life and skills.

The Half-Dead act as handlers to packs of Hounds of the Horn (Fomorian hunting dogs) and may be mounted on Ghoul Horses (unarmoured light warhorse, immunity and attacks as a Ghoul and Horse, will not accept rider with more than light armour & shield; carnivorous, intelligent, disloyal and sly).

They must obey whoever blows/holds the Horn of the Hounds, allowing new saves vs. charms etc. If they do not respond promptly to the first two blasts, the third will instantly slay them.

  • Always loses Initiative/acts last in a combat round.
  • Only defeated when finally cut to pieces or beheaded:
    • On critical and/or 9+ damage hits, they lose a limb. On 12+ damage hits, they lose their head.
  • Attacks as a Normal Human at -1 to Hit, damage bonus of +2 (or as Strength 16).
    • Makes missile attacks as Dexterity 6.
    • Can also make unarmed strikes, grapples and overbearing attacks.
  • Immune to cold and do not breathe, but are otherwise not undead and can't be Turned.
  • The Half Dead are without fear of mortal foe, but fear fire (ML 8), though they can and do use it and are not especially vulnerable to it.
  • When the Horn blows once, they panic, struggling to interpret meaning and respond (ML 6).


I'm genuinely surprised that I can't find more gaming material related to The Chronicles of Corum (Michael Moorcock), though that might be because they (especially the more strongly pseudo-Celtic second part) made such an impression on me rather than any wider merit or need.

In an attempt to fill that gap, here's the Ghoolegh (pronounced however you like) in approximately older edition D&D dress-up. I'll follow up with the Hounds of Kerenos, the Brothers/Children of the Pines, and the Fhoi Myore.

I've used Dragonwarriors Zombies converted to D&D adjacent - all those hit points represent how much punishment they can take. In the books, one still slithers on its belly to attack when all the bones in its body are broken.

If you don't like the cop-out of a big sack of abstract hit points, use regular Zombies or even Normal Humans but make them Invulnerable Monsters.

I've seen the suggestion to use the AD&D Juju Zombie, though I don't think it's a good fit.

THE HOUNDS OF THE HORN (Hounds of Kerenos from the Chronicles of Corum)

Jill Thompson (art)/Ray Murtagh (colour)
From the comic adaptation of The Bull and the Spear

AC +4     HD 4+1     Move 125% Normal Human     Morale 10

Dead white hounds, the size of a pony or a small cow. Blood red ears - sometimes tails, paws and bellies, too. Capable of great leaps in the air and running tirelessly over miles of snow-covered terrain.

They obey the Fomorians as much because they recognise their power as because they are bound to the Horn. The Horn calls and controls them, but does not strike them dead.

  • Bites for 2d4 damage.
    • On a crit or if damage rolled >target HD/level, you're knocked prone (50% drop whatever you're holding)
    • If they hit a prone target, they worry for 2d4 hits per round.
    • If two Hounds both bite the same target, they try to pull them limb-from-limb for 4d4 hits per round; if damage is 12+, they have pulled off a limb and will release the victim to fight over it.
  • If you have 3 HD or less, save vs. fear or flee when attacked by a Hound or Hounds; Morale check to hear their baying in the distance.
  • Immune to cold.
  • They absolutely obey whoever blows/holds the Horn of the Hounds (overriding any other mental control), but can otherwise be directed by anyone able to handle them successfully.
  • For even bigger Hounds, swap d6/d8 HD for a d10 or even a d12. Add one or more d4 to damage or give it a 2d6 bite attack like the Bloodbeast.


White Dwarf no. 18 carries stats for Hounds of Kerenos, pitching them as frosty Hell Hounds - though a Winter Wolf would work just as well.

I've used the BECMI Dire Wolf with a bit of Giant Shrew as the base, but there are various monster hounds and wolves across various games and their editions that would work just as well. 

I think that they're living things rather than magical beasts, which is why I've not given them a breath weapon. They are specifically a reference to the Cwn Annwn, with their white coat and red ears.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

ALLANSIAN BLOODBEAST: Monster Conversion - Fighting Fantasy to Old School

Iain McCaig 1984

Armour Class +4     Hit Dice 7     Move n/a     Morale n/a

Bloated and limbless, it eternally wallows in the pool of slime it was spawned in.

The Allansian Bloodbeast is an Invulnerable Monster and regenerates 3 hp/round from any source. 

It is immune to acid and normal fire. Very hot/large and magical fires (causing 10+ hp damage) cause half damage but it retreats to the bottom of its slime pool for at least 1 combat round.

Electricity causes only 1 point per die, but reduces its attacks by 50% for 1 combat round. It will 50% retreat to the bottom of its slime pool for the duration instead.

Tongue: Its 10' prehensile tongue will grab a victim of size M or smaller and drag them to be bitten or (50%) into the slime pool on the next round. To resist the drag, grapple vs. STR 18.

The tongue can be severed with 6 points of slashing damage in a single round. If this happens, the Bloodbeast retreats to the bottom of its slime pool and will not emerge until the tongue regenerates (1 on d6 on the first day, 1-2 on the second and so on).

Bite: It bites for 2d6 hits. On a 9+, you lose a limb. On a 12, it crushes your skull/bites off your head.

Only those grabbed by the tongue or attempting to attack its weak spot can be bitten.

Slime Pool: If unprotected and susceptible, you must save vs. fumes each round or be nauseated (as Troglodyte stench) and partially blinded (as if trying to avoid a gaze attack). 

On a critical fail, you are overcome and collapse helpless. The Bloodbeast will grab you with its tongue at the next opportunity and drag you into its pool.

Anyone dragged into the slime pool suffers d6 acid damage each round and is unconscious after 2 rounds.

Weak Spot - Real Eyes: The Bloodbeast has hundreds of false eyes that burst from blisters on its head. Its vulnerable real eyes are hidden amongst these.

A crit against the head will hit a real eye (or 5% chance). If the attacker knows the Bloodbeast's weak spot, they can increase their chance to 10% equivalent. If this seems too much of a challenge, apply a -4/20% penalty to hit instead (called shot equivalent).

Striking an eye causes the Bloodbeast to suffer half its HD in damage (3d6+3 or 3d8+4, and instead of weapon damage). It will retreat to the bottom of its slime pool to recover at the next opportunity.


I sometimes forget how awesome the Bloodbeast from Deathtrap Dungeon is/was. 

IIRC correctly, in the gamebook you can't fight it normally and must either get a lucky strike against an eye, sever its tongue or dodge past it. Or die, of course.

It's not a monster you're meant to kill. However, Fighting Fantasy as a setting tends to the lower end of magic weapon allowance so you might need to go the whole hog and make it like some iterations of the Hydra so it can't be killed with body hits alone. Or go the Call of Cthulhu route and reducing it to 0 hp merely drives it the bottom of its pit.

The cover illustration suggests it has a stinger, but this is not mentioned in the gamebook or in Out of the Pit. But it does get used in the Playstation game, in which it also gets to spit poison, use magic, is vulnerable to the Venom Sword, and has only one real eye.

No idea how the Bloodbeast is meant to have evolved or how it breeds or how it even gets about. It seems likely that it secretes its own slime, as it uses it as a pre-digester. 

Maybe that stinger is an ovipositor and implanted eggs are carried away by adventurers and wandering monsters? 

Mechanically, used some bits of the (AD&D) Froghemoth and the (Dark Sun) Fael and stuck them onto a (B/X et al) Cave Bear. I imagine the solo adventurer as being a 4th level Fighter (YOU are the Hero).

Hope I've done it justice.

Friday, July 16, 2021

The Perils & Pleasures of Tobacco.

Russ Nicholson/ Warlock of Firetop Mountain/ 1982.

Do you need some quick rules for smoking in your fantasy game (those Dwarves look like they're having a great time) and don't already have them? 

Roll 2d6 of different colours. 

First roll is a beneficial effect, second maleficent. Roll doubles and you keep the benefit roll, but suffer a permanent consequence.

Habitual (dedicated?) smokers make a minimum of one roll a day. You can roll every time your character lights up or every time they're in a smoking situation. Casual smokers take the same risk.

Multiple penalties are cumulative over the day; benefits replace each other.

Perfect Pleasure:

  1. Reaction Roll +1 if you offer cigarettes/snuff/tobacco in your next encounter.
  2. Charisma +1 because you look cool.
  3. Wisdom +1 because take a little time to think things through while you smoke.
  4. Intelligence +1 because it helps you to concentrate.
  5. Morale/Loyalty +1 if you share a smoke with your hirelings/followers.
  6. Reroll failed fear save if you light up afterwards.
Vile Custom:
  1. Reroll successful fear save because of withdrawal nerves.
  2. Charisma -1 because it's a low and filthy habit.
  3. Strength -1 because you just went a little bit dizzy there, that's all.
  4. Dexterity -1 because you're fiddling with your smoker's gear, if you're not actually smoking.
  5. Constitution -1 because you just need to catch your breath, that's all.
  6. Reaction Roll -1 because it's intimidating/irritating/disrespectful.

Consequences of your actions:

    11.  -1 of your max. hp now or a full HD off your unrealised potential maximum.
    22.  -1 Dexterity.
    33.  -5 years of life.
    44.  -1 year of life.
    55.  -1 Strength.
    66.  -1 Constitution.

You'll need to work out the length of your character's lifespan and then start counting backwards. Once you hit your current age, you will fail any disease saves and lose d3 from each Ability Score per month until you're helpless and/or dead.

Giving up smoking allows recovery of 1 year/hp/Ability Score per year you don't fall back into the habit, but you never get back your first permanent losses in any categories. Smoking damage might be one of those things (like radiation poisoning) that doesn't respond to magical treatment.

I've made this with humans in mind, but we know that of the basic vanilla fantasy kindred at least Dwarves and Hobbits smoke, too. Either treat them the same, or say that their biology is in greater sympathy with smoking so they get none of the positive or negative effects.

Whether it's actually tobacco they smoke is another question.

My gut says that Elves don't smoke (but might take snuff), and that Ogres go for huge reeking cigars that double as improvised weapons. Wizards won't be told it's bad for them, which is why 'embarrassment of liches' is a collective noun.

There's an entry for Tobacco in the Ghastly Affair Presenter's Manual - gives you the asset of Patience.

Give up smoking. Don't start smoking. Don't scrub it from old movies. Use it for traditional sacred purposes. Fuck tobacco companies throughout history.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

THE SLEEP PARALYSIS DEMON - Monster for Old School Fantasy & Horror.

It was going to be this or Fuseli's The Nightmare, wasn't it?

Armour Class Unarmoured     Hit Dice ½     Move 50% Normal Human     Morale 6

Neutral (evil) with Unratable Intelligence

An oneiric phobophage, trolling the borders of sleep.

Not every sleep paralysis episode is a demon, and it’s not necessarily a demon.

It can be a man with a hat, a hooded figure, a thing without thumbs, a ghoul, a ghost, a goblin, the incubus-succubus, a recently dead relative, your double, someone else's double, a dolphin transformed into a handsome young man, the Old Hag, a coiled snake, a house cat, a caterpillar, a spider as big as a pony, wings beating against your face and chest, an old woman combing her long shaggy black hair, a dead person on you, a little jewel-eyed idol, an enormous dog or cat, a demon lover, your favourite childhood toy, a side of beef, an astral body, a glistening blood red horse, a statue, a mossy tree trunk, a gargantuan pig, a toad, a tombstone, a single piece of straw, a wheezing voice calling for "more weight", nothing you can see.

It has a thousand forms, appearing across cultures and history.

By day, it barely exists - a thing without shape, sapience or senses. It cannot be detected except by extraordinary means. Second sight glimpses it, but makes no sense of what was seen. The demon wanders without trace or volition.

As night falls, it gravitates towards intelligent beings as they settle down to sleep. Second sight may catch it, mistaking it for a small animal slinking through the shadows - if the demon is surprised, the form that it shows its victim will be seen (save vs. fear as a watcher, below). 

Randomise/pick a PC/NPC as a subject, likewise the hour of the demon's visit. It will come when the subject is alone or asleep or when everyone else is asleep/suitably diverted.

Under ordinary circumstances, only the victim can see, hear and feel the demon, and must make three saves against sleep paralysis per visit.

Three successes or a single crit. Paralysis is broken and the demon vanquished; it will not prey on this character again.

One fail. You have a horrible night. The demon feeds and it as if you have had no rest at all - you are Fatigued as well as any other consequences of losing a night's sleep.

Two fails. Fatigued as above, and the demon will come back again tonight for another go. 

Three fails or a single crit. The demon latches on, visiting you night after night. You make saves vs. charm, disease, fear and illusion at disadvantage, in addition to losing sleep. Thereafter, only a critical success or other means will vanquish the demon - three successes only ensures your Fatigue doesn't get worse.

Fatigue is cumulative: Exhausted, then Spent, and then you make death saves each night to see if you wake up at all. While under the influence of the demon, you are in an Altered State.

Sleeping in a protection from evil circle (or an equivalent effective traditional folk remedy) allows you to get an undisturbed rest and reduce your Fatigue, but does not break any link between you and the demon.

Having someone watch over and wake you from paralysis episodes will prevent your Fatigue worsening - if they're prompt, you won't have to risk any saves.  

The watcher must roll to see if they are surprised by the demon. If they are, they will catch a glimpse of it and must save vs. fear or be frightened - all ability checks and attacks at disadvantage while watching over the sleeper thereafter. On a critical success the demon is vanquished; on a critical fail the demon will visit the watcher next time they sleep, and they will make their saves at disadvantage.

Using detect evil or detect invisible carries the same risk as being surprised.

Other than withdrawing, the demon's only defence is to make a fright attack. As above, but a crit success does not vanquish. It may make one per round.

It is immune to non-magical damage, except where appropriate for an effective folk remedy. A bless spell vanquishes the demon, no save.


Did you ever have sleep paralysis? I have - with the murky dark-on-dark shapes and the pressing feeling and the desperation to make a sound, twitch a limb to break it. 

These mechanics can serve for mundane sleep paralysis and/or SADS, if you don't want them attached to a monster. The spells mentioned probably don't do you any good, in that case.

Unless the demon latches on to you, I think you can probably get away from it by sleeping somewhere else. This could be as easy as changing rooms (its senses are rudimentary, its intelligence negligible) or as significant as leaving the region/country.

And there's not sleeping on your back, too.

There are numerous traditions that the demon has a hat you can grab and pull out of the dreaming. Wouldn't that be a thing to see?

The dreaming may also touch the Astral/Ethereal/Spirit Plane(s), depending on the setting cosmology, so the sleep paralysis demon may have another form or be the minion of something that dwells there.

While it could be a pushover for your traditional fantasy adventurers, it's almost impossible to detect or fight if you're nearer the Normal Human end of the spectrum. It's not meant to be a combat monster, but to make your life miserable until you can find some way of dealing with it other than hoping for good dice rolls. If you're all willing to play the fiction and the mechanics, you can even pretend that there's no monster threat until properly diagnosed.

In another iteration it doesn't have to be a monster in its own right, just some of the abilities of a ghost/haunting - like the Walker Alone.

Owes a debt to the Nightmare from Dragonwarriors Book 4 and the Dreamslayer from Spelljammer (for crits on saves, too).

Thursday, July 8, 2021

THE WALKER ALONE - Monster for Old School Fantasy & Horror.

Don' Look Now/ Nicholas Roeg/ 1973

Armour Class +5     Hit Dice 4+3     Move Normal Human     Morale 11

Neutral (evil) with Unratable Intelligence

It's a ghost. A haunt. It walks where it walks, alone. 

Sort of.

It abides in the places that you'd think there'd to be ghosts, places to which stories accrue. Sometimes it makes those stories, other times it slips in and fits within a pre-existing tradition. Give it an identity and it won't disabuse you of that notion, allowing you to interpret its acts as typical to that personality, that history.

It appears as a young woman, a gargantuan spider, a hoofed shaggy beast, two little girls, a man without skin, a child with no face and its feet on backwards, you, a carpet of creeping things, a dog with a human head, a rat with human hands, a celestial radiance just around the corner, her, something twitching and gobbling behind the curtain, a spinning top whistling at the top of the stairs, the shadow of a bird dying in its cage, him, a boneless thing of plaited hair, a spectral horse, a historical villain, a headless bear rolled thin like pastry, a column of glowing gas, an empty wedding dress, a dear little pig, them, a bulky cigar-smoking shape in an upholstered chair, a hanging judge, long-nailed children with a dark ragged hole in their breasts, a tide of blood, the shifting pareidolia of the fittings and furniture.

It has no personality of its own, but accumulates characteristics from the living and the dead things, the things said and the things written in and about its locus. It does not read minds, but it can know secret thoughts.

In sunlight, it is intangible, invisible, powerless and silent, but may hint its presence in dense fog or smoke, interior gloom, or subterranean spaces. 

Those with the second sight will also catch glimpses, whispers, suggestions of a scent, a breathe of air in passing, raised hairs on the arms and neck, the sense of being stared at.

If you are surprised, then you see slightly more than you want to and must make a fear save or let go of whatever you are holding. On a critical failure, you are frightened and make ability checks and attacks at disadvantage until you have a had a good night's sleep.

When a new person arrives at the Walker's locus, make a Reaction Roll to see if it takes a particular shine to them.

A Hostile result means they will be the focus of a campaign of terror and torment.

A Friendly result means that they will be the recipient of unsettling gifts and eerie attempts at affection/ sympathy, and there will be outrageous retributions against those who harm, upset or otherwise inconvenience them.

It can have one of each mortal focus at a time, and can sense their presence and general location within d4 miles. It will remember/remain faithful to them for d6+1 months if they leave and no one new replaces them.

During the hours of darkness, the presence becomes more active and more tangible. 

It can become invisible at will and can appear in any form it wishes (see above). It can use any language spoken or written within d4 miles of the locus, including ancient and dead languages.

You are unable to look at it directly as it roams the locus, so you can never be truly sure what you are seeing (use mechanics for avoiding a gaze attack). Because of this, the Walker hides and sneaks with advantage (when it is not invisible). It cannot be targeted directly by spells.

If it surprises you, then you see much more than you bargained for and must make a fear save. Failure means you let go of whatever you were holding and are frightened until you get a good night's sleep.

It is able to use the following spell-like abilities, each with a cooldown of d4 hours each:

  • continual darkness.
  • hallucinatory terrain: more robust than the named spell and not cancelled by touch; INT checks to disbelieve, CHA checks to convince others; as well as the usual applications, can be used to make doors, windows and other exits vanish or seem barricaded, or overlay what is already there so you miss your footing.
  • hold person: can be applied RAW, but can also be used to contain those affected at the locus for the rest of the night, a subdivision of this for d3 hours, or specific sub-location for d6 ten minute turns. Or use spell duration.
  • phantasmal force.
  • web (ectoplasm, if you like).

It can use audible glamour, and ventriloquism at will. 

If not otherwise dispelled, all these effects end at daybreak.

The Walker can cause d6 non-lethal damage, striking vs. unarmoured, per attack (STR or DEX check not to be stunned, knocked down or pushed). It can also suffocate/strangle to unconsciousness, but not to death - save vs. spells/paralysis to resist/break free.

If not before, then lost hit points and/or ability scores are recovered at daybreak.

You can treat it as an Invulnerable Monster for purposes of trying to fight it but its ability is immunity is non-magical damage, rather than magic weapon to hit, so you could treat this damage as non-lethal - good only for driving off its immediate manifestation or giving you the false feeling that you're achieving something by violence.

Even magical damage will only drive it away for a time (d6+1 months).

Something exists within d4 miles of the central locus that when confronted with, the Walker will instantly vanish forever. Most likely would be associated mortal remains, but it could be a hard truth or historical fact, buried treasures or legal documents.


Vancian magic and regenerating Trolls were something I could easily get on board with when starting out with D&D, even if they did not reflect the fiction I was expecting.

But Ghosts, I think, were my first big disappointment. 

Firstly, they were not in the Basic set. Second, the stats I saw for AD&D were clearly a monster challenge.

They did not really reflect the ghosts (fiction and non-fiction) I'd already been exposed to and their place on the undead threat scale meant they weren't going to feature as much as I'd want.

It felt like a flaw in the system.

BECMI still had the power scale problem, but the Companion set Haunts, Phantoms and Spirits made for interesting reading/thinking.

The Ghost as presented in Call of Cthulhu and Dragonwarriors (and then the Barudath in Book 4) were much more what I was looking for. So I had those to work with.

Things like the Ravenloft setting introduced more options for shaking up the standard undead (Van Richten's Guides).

The Walker Alone, though, is actually mostly a Wight, as detailed in Dragon magazine 180. The 27th part of The Voyage of the Princess Ark gives details of what happens when you die (other than rolling a new character, undeath or being raised).

When a Wight kills you, it then goes into a nightly trance to hunt your soul and devour it on the plane of Limbo - and it's got special powers! That's the mechanical basis for the Walker, with a little bit of the Fiend Folio Astral Searcher, and a lot of ghost traditions (experience, folklore, fiction, spiritualism and parapsychology).

The Walker Alone (and all ghosts) is not necessarily a spirit of the dead, but it may act like it is and you may believe it is. It is a haunting, in the same way as the Drummer of Tedworth or the Amityville Horror or Hill House and the Overlook Hotel and will seem to respond as such. Until it doesn't.

If you 'invite it in' (and this is deliberately ambiguous), it is able to cause physical harm: 2d3 lethal damage claw attack + fright attack as if it had surprised you. Claw damage blocked by armour, but not the fright attack. Maybe inviting it in also allows possession.

I've left lots of gaps, because the milieu this draws on is more M.R. James than Robert E. Howard. For heroic direct action, I think we're looking at things like oil of etherealness, truesight and fighting it on the Astral Plane - in which case, why not make it a RAW Ghost when you get there?

Monday, June 28, 2021

Alternatives to Poison/Venom Save-or-Die.

Save or die is an Old School marker and by way of poison/venom a commonplace.

Some suggestions for devastating toxic effects that aren't just game over.

If you're not already using delayed effect mechanics, then: d6 time units (as appropriate) from the poison/venom being administered until it starts to do something. 

Decide whether the save is made at delivery or onset.

Recovery from poisoning could be entirely reliant on medical or magical treatment, or could be dealt with in a similar way to natural recovery from disease.

Until the character receives cure poison or comparable:

  1. Must make a death save every day or die in their sleep.
  2. Disadvantage/auto-fail all STR and CON checks (odds/evens).
  3. Disadvantage/auto-fail all saves (odds/evens).
  4. No magical/natural healing (odds/evens).
  5. Lose 1 point from each Ability Score per day (until cured or dead).
  6. Minimum hit points for class, level and CON.
  7. If you're exposed to the same poison/venom again, you will die.
  8. Sickness/Nausea (like a Troglodyte's stench or Giant Centipede's venom).
  9. Weakness/Fatigue (as a spell or subsystem).
  10. All your Ability Scores reduced to 3 (or minimum for your system).
  11. Natural healing rate uses next longest time unit (e.g. day to week, week to month).
  12. Must make a death save every time you have to roll any other dice.

Retain any non-fatal special effects of a particular toxin, for distinction and flavour.

A fatal poison/venom can have ongoing effects as above, but be ultimately deadly within d6 time units (the shorter, the deadlier) after onset unless properly treated. There's drama here.

In addition, poisoned NPCs and monsters could have disadvantage/auto-fail on Morale/Loyalty checks and saves against fear due to the trauma of thinking they're going to die.

STR or CON minus a flat or random number can also be used as a measure of time units for onset/ fatality/ recovery.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

"Demons To Some; Angels To Others" - The Order of the Gash for Old School.

We'll stick with Cenobites for convenience, but they're called other things by those outside the Order: Cold Ones, Flesh Mechanics, Inquisitors, Surgeons, Theologians, Hell Priests, Clinicians, Engineers, Keepers, Sensates etc. 

Cenobite/ Clive Barker/ 1986.

You know what they are and what they do, right?

"It is not hands that call us... it is desire".

They come when called and will not willingly go back unaccompanied. They can be bargained with, but are instinctively proprietorial. While pain-and-pleasure indivisible is their meat and drink, they are not compulsive missionaries to the innocent/ignorant.

Solving the Puzzle opens the Schism, allowing d6 Cenobites to pass through, but it is the obsession for a solution or desire to contact the Order that summons them.

You must figuratively or literally...

  1. open the Box
  2. count the Stones
  3. walk the Labyrinth
  4. cross the Threshold
  5. escape the Maze
  6. set the Clock
  7. debug the Program
  8. crack the Code
  9. play the Music
  10. cast the Spell
  11. grow the Tree
  12. deliver the Child
  13. honour the Mother/Father
  14. slay the Dragon/ defeat the Minotaur
  15. get the Joke
  16. draw down the Moon
  17. navigate the River
  18. transcend the Flesh
  19. raise the Cathedral
  20. plumb the Depths
You can be tricked into solving the Puzzle on behalf of another, and the Order is willing to educate the innocent even though they prefer to reward the guilty. Your desire to contact the Order can be subconscious.

The Schism allows traffic both ways.

What is it Wearing?

Cenobite/ Clive Barker/ 1986.

  1. Gory Skin Suit (Unarmoured)
  2. Naked Marmoreal Perfection (Unarmoured)
  3. Butcher’s Apron and Gauntlets (Leather)
  4. Full S&M (Leather)
  5. Full S&M with Extreme Implants (Scale)
  6. Hooked and Spiked Chains (Chain)

Bod mod, ornament, masks, jewellery, helmets, gloves, boots, uniforms, cosplay etc., to taste.

What is it Wielding?

Cenobite/ Clive Barker/ 1986.

  1. Antique Hand Weapon (sword, mace, warhammer etc.)
  2. Notched Heavy Cutting Blade
  3. Nothing, Apparently
  4. Tools of a Trade (surgeon, butcher, whaler, taxidermist, lepidopterist etc.)
  5. Whip/ Scourge
  6. Brutal Flail

That a Cenobite wouldn't be carrying a wicked knife somewhere about its person is almost unthinkable, but a spike, hook, blade, strangling line or cudgel are all startlingly easily improvised from everyday objects and body parts. 


Cenobites are ascended/corrupted mortals, but are neither demonic nor undead despite their strong affinities.

Some of my choices for suitable reskins:

  1. Bugbear
  2. Shadow
  3. Troglodyte
  4. Golem, Wood
  5. Mummy
  6. Troll

Early Cenobite/ Clive Barker/ 1986.

Per combat round, one attack can be reskinned as an animated hooked/spiked chain. In addition to damage, this will constrict/entangle/grapple as a whip, tentacle or similar.

If they are not already immune to normal weapons, consider treating them as Invulnerable Monsters anyway - particularly if you're using them for horror purposes.

Cenobite/ Clive Barker/ 1986.


  1. Absent-minded Professor/ Eager Physician
  2. Pompous Martinet/ Avant Garde Vivisectionist
  3. Jaded Aesthete/ Jovial Sadomasochist
  4. Aching to Fill the Hollow/ Transdimensional Jobsworth
  5. True Believer/ Imaginative Taxonomist
  6. Brutal Sycophant/ Fallen Avenger
Roll 2d6; read one as odds/evens.

Generally, only one Cenobite in a party will have a personality distinct from the others.and will probably but not always be both the leader and most powerful. All subservient Cenobites will be either/or of result 4.

Alignment: Lawful Evil Neutral.

The Order styles/ claims itself to be beyond human morality and outside the mainstream cosmology of your setting, beholden only to themselves. 

Protection from evil and the like works against them because they're summoned monsters.

Intelligence: Human scale, though with the advantage of forbidden knowledge and weird experience across an immortal existence.


Having explored the furthest regions of experience, some Cenobites get bored with being Cenobites (double ones on 2d6, either no more than one in a group or it's all of them) and behave uncharacteristically: 

  • showing mercy
  • studying and practising magic
  • planar adventuring
  • attempting to kill God
  • attempting the dethrone the Adversary
  • generally upsetting the balance of the cosmos
  • indirectly opposing the Order
  • falling in love
  • offering to trade places with mortals
  • remembering their lost humanity
  • seeking glory or redemption
  • taking up mundane hobbies
  • directly opposing the Order
  • trying to divide and conquer the Order
  • seeking Ascension
  • slumming it as an earthbound haunting spirit

Cenobite/ Clive Barker/ 1986.

Don't Just Use Kytons.

D&D adjacent, the most obvious choice is to reskin a Kyton, as the Chain Devil is already an off-brand Cenobite anyway. 

This isn't meant as absolute proscription.

What Was Left Out/ Further Reading.

There's a lot of conflicting canon out there. How much lore do you want?

Compare and contrast the Cenobites in The Hellbound Heart, the first two Hellraiser movies, and The Scarlet Gospels - Clive Barker himself takes them from weird sort-of-sexy mystery, through Lovecraft-adjacent menace, to rather conventional demons in an apparently Judeo-Christian cosmology. 

Plus, there are some minor references across his other works, and prototypes in The Books of Blood.

Then consider the later films, the unrealised projects, the comic books (which in particular extend them into history and myth), and pseudo-cameos in Extreme Ghostbusters, Dark City, Event Horizon and The Cabin in the Woods (maybe The Void, too).

There're at least two Hellraiser Wikis on Fandom.

Not more than passing familiar with either, but The Machine Orthodoxy (MTG) and the Kyton monster type (Pathfinder) set their tents out on Cenobite territory. 

Via EN World - Hellraiser for d20 Call of Cthulhu (so 3e compatible, I suppose).

On Tumblr, Hellbound for 5e D&D at The 5th Edition Foundry.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Old School Thief Variant - Adventurer, Ranger, Rogue.

There comes a time in all our lives when we have to 'fix' the Old School Thief.

Considering they're part of the core text of D&D, they needed a lot of modding.

Description: Thief, adventurer, ranger, rogue, ruffian, swashbuckler, scoundrel, hero.

Whatever they call you, your traditional ancestors are still Cugel and the Grey Mouser. But roll high STR/ CON and you're also Conan or Fafhrd without having to multiclass or otherwise bend/break the rules.

You might want this kind of Thief to specify if they're more inclined to the rural, the urban or the dungeon environment, and tweak their abilities accordingly.

XP, Saving Throws, & Attacks: All as Thief.

Hit Dice: Depending on the base system, you start with 2d4 or 2d6 hit points, but gain only 1d4 or 1d6 per level as normal thereafter.

Prime Requisite: Dexterity.

Armour: Any, but as Thief only when you want to do Thief stuff.

Weapons: Any, but you prefer the lighter/smaller hand weapons for special ability reasons.

Alignment Restrictions: None, unless that's important for in your setting/system.

Special Abilities.

Thief Skills: Everything a Thief can normally do, but agree which of either Hear Noise probabilities or boosted percentiles you use before play begins.

If you have a CHA, INT or WIS bonus (highest applies), you can start casting from scrolls that many levels earlier but chances of failure do not change until your levels catch up.

Snipe: You can Backstab using a missile weapon if this is not already allowed.

Dual Wield: When fighting with two weapons, you get +1 to Hit or AC. This also applies to unarmed strikes. You cannot Dual Wield while performing a Backstab.

Choose which bonus to use at the beginning of each combat round, before you roll any dice. 

If you hit, use the higher rolled damage or choose which weapon inflicted the wound (for magic and poisoned weapons, for example)

If you have 18 STR, you can wield a max. d8 and d6 weapon simultaneously; STR 15, 16 or 17, a max. d8 and d4 or d6 and d6; all other STR scores, the max. is d6 and d4.

(This presumes you don't already have Dual Wielding going on anyway)

Cleave: If Fighters get extra attacks vs. <1HD opponents, so do you but only when Dual Wielding.

Surprise: If you are alone or with no more than three other Thieves in leather or no armour, your first surprise attacks count as Backstabs.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Survival Horror - Fighting Invulnerable Monsters

CW: spoilers for Dog Soldiers, a c. 20 year old film.

There's a genre convention (survival horror or otherwise) that The Monster is near or totally invulnerable (but only until the final act). In D&D terms, we say 'magic weapon to hit' and that's near enough.

From BECMI, Basic level monsters that you can't harm with normal weapons include Gargoyles, Lycanthropes and Wights. AD&D has 1-4 Manes demons as a 1st level dungeon random encounter.  These are all things you might have to contend with on your first delve, let alone in the recognisable modern world.

Most of the mechanics presented here have been adapted/ lifted wholesale from Night Howlers by Ann Dupuis, which allows you to play as werecreatures - though it's more heroic fantasy than World of Darkness.

Whether or not The Monster can survive being hit by a car or driven over by a steamroller or being dropped off a cliff  or shot by a tank cannon will be a judgement call. 

Special specific immunity/vulnerability is just that: The Rules differ from iteration-to-iteration of The Monster - compare Buffy's Vampires to 30 Days of Night to Hammer Horror to Twilight, for example - so nothing here is absolute, just information to get things going.

As a general rule, firearms are normal weapons, from the humble musket to the sub-machine gun. 

Send An Elephant To Catch A Werewolf.

Monsters themselves immune to normal weapons or of sufficient size/power can harm nominally invulnerable monsters. My sources do not draw a distinction between natural and weapon attacks, but do stress that it's HD that count, not character levels.

Night Howlers gives the threshold as 8 HD+, so all Giants (but not all Dragons). 

AD&D starts at 4+1 HD (Ogres) and then climbs the magical bonus equivalent scale.

Alongside or instead of this, >15 hp from a single source/attack (in one combat round) causes the excess in damage, and >30 hp from multiple sources/attacks. Which potentially covers monsters missed out by the HD thresholds, as well as torch-and-pitchfork mobs. 

Adjust down to 10/20 hp thresholds if this suits your game better.

Falling damage (excuse me) falls into this category, too, either as number of dice rolled or damage inflicted.

Bolts & Boulders.

Even if not covered by the HD or hp values above, boulders (catapult or Giant thrown) and siege engines could harm invulnerable monsters - I guess they are not normal weapons.

You could extend this to any devices that cause hull or structural damage, if there are such things in your system.

Fire & Brimstone.

Unless explicitly or logically resistant, The Monster can be expected to be afraid of/vulnerable to fire, and takes normal damage from it.

As an option, successful fire attacks can force a Morale Check or block/parry/spoil The Monster's attack that round.

The Monster may overcome its fear of fire, or go berserk as a response, depending on how you see the fiction.

And, if not fire, why not acid, electricity, radiation and/or cold? These would normally be magical in heroic fantasy, but are certainly available in some form in other milieu.

Sticks of dynamite, kegs of gunpowder and/or vials of nitro-glycerine feature in the Gothic/Victorian horror setting The Masque of Red Death. Damage output is d6 per unit, with increasing explosion size. Whether thrown or just piled high and blown up, do they count as normal weapons (subject to damage thresholds), as fire or as siege weapons (capable of hull/structural damage)?

Non-Abstract Damage/ Special Effects.

(I'm planning to cover something along these lines in more depth as a separate post, so I'll edit in a link to that when I do)

The special and secondary effects of weapons and unarmed attacks are effective against invulnerable monsters, within reason: you can't tangle a Ghost in a net, you can't drown a Vampire, you can't snap John Carpenter's The Thing's neck (or whatever it's using at the time).

Decisions need to be made about the extent of invulnerability. Can you strangle a Werewolf, or would you have to use enchanted gauntlets to do so? Is a monster immune to poison gas because it does not need to breath at all or because it is unharmed by the toxins? What if instead of poison gas, it was dunked underwater? If shot with a tank cannon, does a Manes demon take no damage from the missile but get thrown back/ knocked over or does it bounce of them/ drop to the ground?

Hercules throttling the Nemean Lion is a guiding precedent.

In an abstract hit point system with few special/secondary effects, you could use subdual damage - although I'm not entirely sure whether or not you actually can beat (say) Pyramid Head into submission, or what you would do with them if you could.

Dog Soldiers (2002).

This film is an extended example of fighting invulnerable monsters that illustrates a lot of what I've covered here - to answer or raise questions.

Silver is still the traditional vulnerability, but (spoiler) this is backed up with a head shot, raising the possibility that The Monster can be rendered vulnerable to normal weapons, to be dealt with using more traditional fantasy rpg violence.

Werewolves are punched, scalded with boiling water, struck with frying pans. They aren't killed (no damage), but they are affected - call it a stun or a blocking of their attacks in game terms. Same with a camera flash, it dazzles them but does no equivalent of hp damage.

They survive being impaled on a normal metal sword. And there has been discussion as to whether a limb is severed - though what this means in our context, I don't know (unless these Werewolves are Trolls).

They survive sustained automatic gunfire, which may or may not have been enough to beat the 15/30 thresholds. Do you measure damage output as each bullet being a single attack, the gun being a single source, the burst being a single or multiple source? 

Are the Werewolves taking no damage or minimal damage from gunfire? Because (spoiler) they're all killed when the house is blown up, so maybe it was just that there weren't enough dice being rolled.

How Does Invulnerability Work?

Some pseudo-scientific terms for how immunity to non-magical weapons (etc.) manifests. Sci-fi and superhero sources are handy for things like this if you want to extend it.

Roll d6:

  1. Contact energy conversion
  2. Tactile psycho/telekinesis
  3. Superhealing
  4. Lubricant forcefield
  5. Object/subject specific immateriality
  6. Unconscious superdensity

Trying to root The Monster too much in reality will lead to plot holes and heated debate. How does Superman shave? Which midnight should a Gremlin not eat after and for how long should they abstain?

Option: Heroes & Superheroes.

This probably won't crop up in survival horror scenarios, but it derives from what I've been thinking about here.

Older edition D&D titles for 4th and 8th level Fighters, approximately matching the HD qualifications given above. I can't say if that's design or coincidence.

Anyway, how about:

Heroes can hit monsters that are otherwise immune to non-magical weapons, as if they were armed with a +1 weapon; Superheroes as if with +2. This gives no bonuses and does not stack with any actual enchantment - it's just about what you can hit whether or not you are armed with a magic weapon.

Use for low-magic settings and/or systems where you think Fighters get a poor deal.

Raises the possibility that a weapon might take on some enchantment from the heroism of the bearer, so the number of random +1 and +2 swords in a setting is related to the number of Heroes and Superheroes who have passed away or invested their arms in others.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Survival Horror - Just Use Trolls

A Troll.

For old school adjacent play in the survival horror genre, rather than a specific setting or system.

It's already established that, mechanically, you can just use Bears to represent unknown monsters, with a spread of threat to suit adventurer level. No problem with that.


Trolls are ready-made horror monsters, by statline and mechanics - especially the 2e AD&D iteration with detachable body parts. Older edition RAW, it can't be killed unless fire or acid is applied, and regenerates from 0 hp. It's not always specified if each severed piece could or could not regenerate into a whole, either.

A Troll.

Flavour the bare statblock to taste and serve, burning hot or freezing cold.

In the scenario I envisage, it doesn't matter that a 6 HD monster is going up against 0/1st level characters. In fact, that's the point - the threat is absolute rather than relative. The characters are up against The Monster (or Monsters), not representatives of a global type.

Troll Variants, Too.

These are from 1e AD&D Fiend Folio.

Because it's only the variation rather than the actual monster I'm interested in, keeping the basic Troll statline is no big deal. Exception being the Ice Troll, which can be used RAW as something other than a lone monster.

Are they all vulnerable to fire and acid in the same way as the base Troll? It wasn't always specified in the text. If you've got access to 2e stats, they all get a damage boost.

Giant Troll.

  • AC +6, Move Normal Human, HD 8, Attacks 2-16 (weapon) or 2x 2-7 (can split between opponents)
    • regenerates 2 hp/round, cannot reattach limbs, but will regenerate from 0 hp unless 10+ fire damage has been inflicted
    • if you're using the sever on critical hit option for Trolls, it doesn't work on these
    • catch missiles 25% chance
  • 2e AD&D says it will grab opponents and use them as a weapon

Ice Troll.

  • AC +2, Move 75% Normal Human, HD 2, Attacks 2x 1-8 (can split between opponents)
    • regenerates 2 hp/round if in contact with water; detached limbs will travel up to 30' towards water
    • magic weapon to hit
    • immune to cold
    • double damage from fire
    • critical hits break off brittle parts rather than sever/slice

Spirit Troll.

  • AC +8 (invisible), Move 125% Normal Human, HD 5+5, Attacks claw/claw/bite for 1-3/1-3/1-6 (can split between opponents)
    • regenerate 3 hp/round
    • magic weapon to hit
    • immune to cold
    • adds bite damage to its hit points
    • claw damage comes off STR, too - recovery in 2-8 turns
  • 2e Spirit Troll is AC +10, HD 8 and claw/claw/bite for 2x 3-6 (1d4+2)/ 4-10 (2d4+2)

Two-headed Troll.

  • AC +6, Move Normal Human, HD 10, Attacks claw/claw/bite/bite for 1-6/1-6/1-10/1-10 (can split between opponents, but both bites must have same target)
    • regenerate 1 hp/ round, cannot reattach limbs
    • if you're using the sever on critical hit option for Trolls, it doesn't work on these
    • surprised only on 1 on d6

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Lactate of Great Mother Vore.

The Dakomyd. Gary Chalk, The Kingdoms of Terror.

Yes, it does sound a bit death metal, doesn't it?

No mechanics. System agnostic. Fit to your system/setting. Black Milk and Black Ichor have canon status elsewhere, but don't you worry about that.

Odds/evens, Great Mother Vore is a physical entity you can encounter/ a symbolic phenomenon.

Odds/evens, the Lactate is only effective from the source (breaking down if exposed to the air/taken away)/ can be stored and distributed.

Roll d6:

  1. Black Milk: a powerful mutagen - blessing to some, corruption to others.
  2. Black Ichor: as you undertake your dismal delves thereafter, you are compelled to whisper thanks and imprecations to the Mother.
  3. Yellow Acid: lethal poison - save or die; permanent damage even if save made; burns through flesh and metal, bone and stone somewhat resistant; considered Holy Water.
  4. Amber Oil: soporific, stupefying, highly volatile, highly flammable, addictive.
  5. Ghostmilk: local term for ectoplasm; reacts to magical, psychic and powerful emotional stimuli; capable of possession and being possessed.
  6. Lactate Incarnadine: like no other high you have ever experienced; supercharges aura, body and mind; ultimately destroys mortal vessels - they were not made to contain it.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Simple Aging For Old School.

It's a bit of a shower thought, but:

Mechanics from recent posts about the hazards of Outer Space and arctic conditions could also be applied to Aging.

Instead of age bands and multiple modifiers (as in D&D, for example), why not just rule that when a player character is significantly 'older' or 'elderly':

  • they must rest twice as often and/or twice as long
  • rates of natural healing are halved
  • optional: saves vs. disease at disadvantage/penalty

This hasn't been tested, but in principle I prefer it to unsoakable permanent Ability Score damage and penalising attack rolls.

Some of this came from mechanics; some from surveying my own decrepit corpus.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

GHOST OF A DEATH WATCH BEETLE - Monster for Old School Fantasy & Horror

From some thoughts I had while reading Monster Manual 2 and thinking about survival horror. Feels a bit of a work in progress and I wish I could find a suitable pic.

By stun, confusion, save, advantage and damage etc, I don't necessarily mean what's in any particular rulebook, but they should be familiar/generic enough terms for this to be system agnostic.

Decide if it's unique or a monster species. Prevention and/or cure of special effects as for your system and setting, or a blessing from the right priest.

  • Armour Class: as leather, scale or plate (your choice)
  • Move: 9 - it can climb walls, cling to ceilings, move through treetops and across webs, but usually just squats in place
  • Hit Dice: 5 (but it's got damage resistance, too)
  • Attacks: 2 (which you can treat as whips) + special
  • Intelligence: it can have Unratable with Neutral (evil) Alignment, which seems to be the default for alien intelligences (at least in AD&D MM2) - it's probably immune to charm.
It looks like a tarpaulin has been thrown over a squatting or cross-legged figure, and the tarpaulin has been festooned in rubbish and old bits of tree. Mushrooms sprout here and there, amongst the mosses and slime moulds. It rarely looks out of place or out of the ordinary.

When it shifts position - which it does so only seldom and slightly - a hint of its hidden form might peek out from beneath the debris - glistening chitinous claw, slender antennae, wan submarine glow of featureless orb, hairy tips of dozens of bony feet. The tarp is not a tarp but a skirt of tough fungus.

The Ghost of a Death Watch Beetle can only be harmed by magic, silver weapons and fire. It takes only 1 hit plus any magic bonus from weapons, and only 1 hit per damage die from fire because it is so wet and slimy (it does not always appear so due to a clinging layer of dust, debris and powdery spores).

It cannot see but can sense all movement around it (to 120', if you're measuring), and when it does it will start to click quietly - so quietly you'll need to roll Hear Noise to detect it with only 10% chance of pinpointing the source.

After 2 rounds, save or suffer Fatigue. It's audible as background noise, like the ticking of a clock or a Geiger counter.

After 4 rounds, save or suffer confusion. By now you can hear it all around you, nearly impossible to pinpoint the source (only 10%, and a critical fumble means you blunder straight into it's clutches, automatically surprised).

After 6 rounds, it's booming and cracking and tolling like a catastrophe - Morale and Loyalty Checks for everyone who has to make them. No communication is possible - even mind-to-mind requires both parties to do nothing else but concentrate on doing so. Spell casting is at disadvantage, however you rule that (chance of failure, mishap, corruption, cost in energy is increased etc).

The clicking abruptly ceases on the 7th round and everyone still in range must save or be inflicted with the Quivering Palm - in 5 days, anyone who succumbs will suddenly and gruesomely vibrate to death. Up until then, they will seem to have a slightly fuzzy outline, a metallic timbre to their voice and mild delusional parasitosis - they don't feel the cold as much, either (advantage to saves, reduction to damage).

The Ghost of a Death Watch Beetle is stunned by exposure to light, delaying or interrupting its clicking for 1-6 rounds depending on the brightness. Being exposed to daylight prevents it clicking at all until it has retreated into the darkness to recover.

Anything that gets close enough will be attacked with two long and slender fishing rod-like antennae that shoot from beneath (or through holes in) the tarp. These drain 2 Dexterity per hit by otherworldly chill (or use an alternative - even classic Energy Drain), and on a natural 20 whip around the throat of a victim and strangle for automatic damage - use your preferred mechanic for this (there are plenty). Treat the antennae as actual whips if you prefer.

Living beings reduced to 0 Dexterity (or slain) are released, having become the shambling servants of the Ghost of a Death Watch Beetle. They are will-less zombies and can only attack by strangling (again, use a preferred method). Servitors also produce a clicking noise not unlike that of the Ghost itself, though only causing confusion at most and over turns, not rounds - penalise saves for multiple clickers. Multiple clicking servitors makes it even harder to locate the Ghost.

All Ghost servitors will eventually die of natural causes, but will survive as some kind of fungoid undead until they rot to uselessness or are completely colonised. Fungoid monsters will associate with the Ghost, and there is communication between them.

The Ghost of a Death Watch Beetle is neither undead, nor arthropod, nor plant - but speak with dead and speak with plants allow communication, though there is still the gulf of incomprehension between minds so alien to each other. It can sometimes speak through its servitors.

If slain, it collapses into a pile of fungus-infested rubbish and liquefying slime, but will reform in a week if not exorcised - it can also be destroyed for good by spells such as dismissal, plane shift and dispel evil. 

The Ghost of a Death Watch Beetle and its servitors are unable to cross a protection from evil circle.

Monday, March 29, 2021

"First Goddamn Week Of Winter..." - Snow-Bound.

Misery (1990).

This is entirely intended to be used for survival scenarios - it might not be suitable for ongoing, in-game weather.

It's a blunt instrument that treats a night in the desert the same as a season at McMurdo Sound or an hour on the frozen lake around Satan's genitals or a bad day on the mountainside.

Unspecified variables of shelter, clothing, equipment and morale-sapping accident can adjust dice rolls, damage suffered, time needed to recover etc.

Gaming terms are generic - disadvantage could mean roll-twice-keep-worst or a penalty to the roll; saves are actual saving throws or relevant ability checks; 'Classic Six' Ability Scores should be easy enough to interpret; same for 'proper' names of conditions and spells.

My starting point was 1e AD&D Wilderness Survival Guide, but that's heavy on the tables, the variables and the Fahrenheit. It's there if you want it. Working on the Outer Space hazards gave me some ideas that I've applied here.

As an option, Hypothermia (or just being cold enough) or being in a Whiteout could be Altered States, if that sort of thing is part of your game.

Cold Conditions - An Easy Way.

Fold everything in together and abstract it as follows.

When it's cold, you take 1 (or more) temporary damage to CON, DEX and WIS every time you fail a save - and you make a save every time unit you spend in those conditions, with adjustments to the roll for wearing the proper clothes, or being soaked to the skin, or being a bare-chested barbarian.

The frequency of the save determines the severity of the cold: shorter time between saves is worse.

If any Ability Score hits 0, you collapse and take d6 hits per time unit until you are rescued or you die. 

Ability Scores recover at a rate of 1/hour in warmth and shelter.

(You could also mod this for hot conditions - temporary damage to DEX, INT and STR, and recovery requires shade and water)

Cold Conditions - Further Elaboration.

Severity is based on the length of the time units that trigger a save or are counted against your CON (or fraction of CON).

Failing a save or hitting the limit means you suffer harm: -1, -3 then -6 to STR, CON and DEX (does not stack).

Ability Scores recover at 1/hour in warmth and shelter.


If you fail 3 cold saves in a row or hit a pre-determined CON threshold, you will begin suffering from Hypothermia.

For each time unit you suffer Hypothermia, you advance levels of harm:

  • Disadvantage on attacks and manipulation (or -2 attack penalty).
  • Move rate halved, always lose Initiative, disadvantage on movements and manoeuvres (or slowed).
  • Disoriented, disadvantage on CHA, INT and WIS (or confusion).
  • Save per time unit or pass out (or damage per time unit).
  • Save per time unit or die (or damage per time unit).

Recovery is at the rate of 1 hour per level of harm once you're out of danger - regaining Ability Scores can stack with this if you're being properly looked after, otherwise it all happens in reverse order.

(This only slightly modified subsystem has been cheerfully pillaged from Leicester's Ramble because Vance's is better than the one I was trying to construct from the Wilderness Survival Guide)


Hypothermia and Frostbite do not necessarily go together, but you can use the 3 failed saves in a row or CON threshold methods to determine when Frostbite sets in (or model it after chill metal). 

Frostbite has three stages:

  • Painful: disadvantage on attacks and manipulation if it's your hands; half move and disadvantage on movements and manoeuvres if it's your feet; treat in 2 turns or it becomes Severe.
  • Severe (Numb): take non-lethal hit point damage; treat in 2 turns or it becomes Permanent.
  • Permanent: take lethal hit point damage and you lose the body part. Risk of infection doubled until treated, plus new parts of the body are exposed.

Base hp damage on the severity of the cold and the size of the body part.

Timely treatment stops harm advancing. Recovery is 3 turns of proper treatment per level of harm, but that's not going to bring your nose back.

Snow Glare/ Snow Blindness.

When subjected to Snow Glare without eye-protection, it's like you are trying to avoid a gaze attack - apply the appropriate penalties (you at -1 to hit, enemy at +2 to hit you and no DEX, if you don't have something already).

You might still have to take the penalties even with eye protection, as it could obscure your vision in an equivalent manner, but at least you won't have to make a save every time unit (again, the shorter the more severe) or suffer Snow Blindness.

Snow Blindness means you are Blind, but you recover in exploding d6 hours once you are no longer exposed to the glare. Proper rest and treatment can reduce this to exploding d6 turns.


Chances of getting lost are rolled with disadvantage or are rolled twice as often. You must also rest twice as often or twice as long, and you can only move at half rate.

Encounter distance is reduced to minimum. Surprise chances are doubled.

For melee and missile attacks, it's as if you are trying to avoid a gaze attack - apply the appropriate penalties. Missile attacks are at disadvantage (option for crossbows and firearms to be the exception).

In a Whiteout, it's as if everything is invisible and everyone is Blind. Save vs. confusion every time unit you attempt to do anything other than hunker down and wait it out.

30 Days of Night (2007).

Other People's Stuff.

These are self-contained systems I've mentioned before, but can be bolted onto any scenario with similar winter survival concerns - as alternative or supplement.

There's Something in the Ice.

Electricity and Heat in your base is yes/no - for each day you don't have Heat, you take damage or an Injury. Every time you take an Injury, roll over your total on 2d6 or you die.

(Food and Water is counted in units per person per day, with the same result if you go without)

Do Not Let Us Die in the Dark Night of This Cold Winter.

Cold vs. Fuel, measured as units, and Fuel is consumed even if there isn't enough to beat the Cold.

Someone dies every game turn (could be a day, could be a week) when Cold beats Fuel - or you could have a death with no Fuel, but with not enough a person gets Sick.

(Also covers Hungry? vs. Food and Sick? vs. Medicine, but it's only the NPCs that suffer in this mini-game)