Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The Black Flask

It turns out that the recipe isn't symbolic, but absolutely literal.

A basic alchemical distillation from a very old recipe. Widespread throughout texts and traditions, it is believed to be a necessary step on the quest to extend life and cheat death. It appears to be an opaque black liquid with the consistency of milk. It tastes inky and metallic, and remains cooler than room temperature.

Once the Dark Sun has risen on the Astral Plane, quaffing from the Black Flask (which does not detect as magic) has the following effects:

First Dose: For 10 minutes (1 turn), you are under the effect of a blur spell. This is does not detect as magic.

Second Dose: For 10 minutes (1 turn), all damage you give and receive is halved but you get an extra attack as your shadow takes on some of your substance and volition. This does not detect as magic.

You must make a Powers Check.

Third Dose: You dematerialise/turn Ethereal and everything held/worn drops to the floor. You can only detected by those in a similar state or by true seeing. Those with second sight will be aware of your presence, but no more.

For 30 minutes (3 turns), you are naked, insubstantial, invisible and unable to interact with the material world, but free do what you can/wish in your new state. You are apparent to any other entities in a similar state, native or otherwise.

You can feel the pull of the Dark Sun even if you do not recognise it. You perceive shadows and reflective surfaces on the material plane as absolute liquid darkness, in contrast to the hazy greys of everything else.

You must make a Powers Check, remaining immaterial if you fail.

Until such time as the Dark Sun rises on the Astral Plane, the Black Flask is merely an otherwise hollow ritual of alchemical research with the following effects:

Obtaining the Black Flask: researching and creating the Black Flask requires a Powers Check, and the resulting potion detects as magical.

Taking a Dose: Save or be nauseated for d6 x10 minutes (not cumulative with further doses).

You experience the effects above as standard drug-based hallucinations and come away disappointed, or determined to try again. 

You are in an Altered State for the durations given above (no save). 

During this time, you will have the sense of being stared at by invisible and/or astral/ethereal creatures, if any happen to be present. Astral/ethereal creatures can be confident that you cannot actually see them; those in the material world might believe they have been detected.


All credit for the original to u/the_pint_is_the_bowl, posting in r/DnDBehindTheScreen.

Powers Checks are from Ravenloft (2e AD&D setting), specifically the Masque of the Red Death supplement. 

I've got a particular setting in mind for this, and the original slotted straight in like there was already a space for it.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Low Armour Settings

Custom armour for special occasions not covered in this post.
Stephen Cartwright for Usborne.

This isn't about historical accuracy/realism, but gameable fiction using a D&D adjacent system.

In my setting defaults, armour is usually low availability/use because that's the fiction I'm going for, and I'll support that with whatever makes sense - fashion, scarcity of materials or knowledge, lack of need, relative local stability, market forces and legal systems (both malevolent and benign).

Bear in mind I came to some of this via using a 3d6 Hit Roll with capped AC and assuming a low level campaign, so even though the numbers aren't that different to regular d20 play, they could break down at higher levels.

Metal Suit Armour is Expensive.

While armour prices generally rise across D&D editions, plate is cheap in BECMI and a suit of full armour (BECMI Master set) is only 250gp - still cheaper than plate in AD&D.. 

Using the 1e AD&D Lankhmar setting as a starting point, chain is x4 the listed cost and plate is unique, beyond the means of common adventurers (so maybe costing the equivalent of XP to reach 2nd level). Little-remembered UK rpg Dragonroar gives price of plate as 600 to 6,000 without commentary.

This is not because metal is especially scarce or because the technology isn't up to it, but because you need one of a dwindling number of specialists to make it, or because it belongs or belonged to someone important. Except for maybe the military during an actual war, there aren't workshops churning out suits of mail and plate.

Leather/Light Armour.

This type of armour exists in all settings except where there is no armour at all. Usually leather, or cloth, or padded, but can be reskinned as whatever you like (even mail or plate) as long as it's Light and protects as such. 

Includes robust clothing, crude animal hides and furs, catsuits, hazmat, otherwise impractical chainmail bikinis - whatever marks out the character as being armoured as opposed to not. 

Helmets and Shields.

Though shields have fallen out of common use, the buckler is still used for fighting practice and is readily available. 

Helmets, bucklers and parrying daggers as in this post. Helmets will be open as standard, but visors etc can be fitted easily enough.

Common Armour Types.

Relatively generic, covering approximately 17th/18th Century European pseudohistorical period (Hammer Horror-ish), but related examples exist in non-Euro settings and both earlier and later.

No prices, because it will vary place-to-place, time-to-time and depend on how fancy you want your goods.

  • Leather Jack/Jerkin gives +1 AC and encumbers as Unarmoured. Basically a padded leather vest or jacket.

  • Soldier's Coat gives +1 AC, but encumbers as Light armour. This is a gambeson or buff coat.

  • Jack of Plates/Brigandine gives +1 AC, encumbers as Medium armour, but gives a 1 on d6 save vs. crits. Layers of cloth/leather reinforced with bits of metal plate (rivetted or sewn).

  • Breastplate gives +2 AC and a save vs. crit, encumbers as Medium armour. Sometimes impractically ornate and expensive and just for show.

  • Mail Shirt gives +3 AC, encumbers as Heavy armour. This is old fashioned kit, the armour of unrefined barbarians.

  • Heavy Breastplate isn't necessarily available, but would be +4 AC Heavy armour with a crit save. Very old fashioned or worn by monsters.

You can wear a Leather Jack, Jack of Plates or Mail Shirt under a Soldier's Coat to stack the benefits.

You can do the same with a Breastplate and a Leather Jack or Soldier's Coat.

If you're wearing a Helmet with your Jack of Plates or Breastplate, you get the save vs. crit from both - so either roll twice or save on 1-2.

I'm assuming padding under the Mail Shirt as standard, but you could allow layering with a Leather Jack for total +4 AC.


Dark Sun pits non-metal vs. metal, but isn't necessarily a low armour setting. 

A Mighty Fortress provides for a specific historical period. Lamentations of the Flame Princess runs with this - with room for adventurers in plate and chain because they're monsters and weirdos.

Orcs of Thar gives rules for armour made of scraps (I think there were other BECMI/RC supplements that used this or a variation on it). I don't think this sits well alongside the primary armour system - maybe for a pure scavenger game. 

Lankhmar - City of Adventure firmly places one of the formative D&D texts in low armour territory, and this supplement (or at least the 1e AD&D character conversion section) is one of my touchstones for thinking about D&D adjacent gaming.

Again, usual caveats that this might all have been done before, done better or should just have played Runequest/ WFRP.

Bonus Extra.

And not just for low armour settings.

Leather, chain or plate on their own give +2 AC and are Light armour (chain shirt, breastplate etc), but you can layer them up to +6 - leather/padded under chain and/or plate.

Cost is cumulative for each layer.

This also leaves room to add optional  +1 AC armour pieces, such as tassets or an alternative to the helmet as a save vs. crit.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Experience! Gold! Thieves! - Kinder Surprise Houserules/Mods.

Your kind of party, eh?
Russ Nicholson for Citadel of Chaos.

Quicker Advancement.

  • If you're playing with only three classes (OD&D style), shift down the XP tables so MUs advance as Fighters, Fighters as Clerics and Clerics as Thieves (or unchanged), or:
  • Use 3e/4e/5e XP tables, and subtract that amount from corresponding older school class XP requirements. So, a BECMI Cleric needs 500 (3e) or 1200 (5e), a Fighter needs 1000 (3e) or 1700 (5e) to hit 2nd level. 

(This is one way of reducing the economy-busting amounts of gold that are an issue for some, and a way of speeding up advancement for the time-poor while keeping the staggered class advancement model)

Bonus Extra: if the table agrees, every time you roll a save, you get XP equal to the amount you missed or made the save by x10. Roll exactly your save value for 100 XP.

It's more book-keeping, but rewards general adventuring behaviour/risk-taking as you get something whether you fail or succeed. As your characters rise in level, it will make much less impact and you can drop it once it gets too cheese-paring.

Less Cash in Circulation.

Related to the lower XP requirement idea above and the fairly common trope that adventurers/heroes start off each story broke, hoping to make one big score and then end up cheated and broke again.

Characters do not keep ANY treasure that goes towards XP. 

It is out of your hands by the time the next adventure comes around, through debt, carousing, alms-giving, theft, gifts, living expenses (at the appropriate level of extravagance), cheats, gambling etc. You can even call it training costs. Narrate or hand wave this as your table likes.

Any cash (or choice items) you want to keep (in hand, in the bank, buried under a particular tree, put towards buying a castle, whatever) or spend on adventuring assistance/supplies does not count towards XP.

For extra misery, allow included living expenses to exceed the amount of XP you gain, so you end up in debt.

Are healing and curse removal costs inclusive or extras? 

More Thief Mods.

Because we just can't help it! 

Under either of the following (and I don't think they can work together), keep Hear Noise as a d6 skill (if that's in the system) and Backstab is unchanged.

Skills as saves: allocate your Thief skills to your saving throws (combine as appropriate), and test them on a d20 (or convert to %). 

You can swap a pair of saves/skills every time you gain a level.

You can apply Ability Score adjustments as agreed/appropriate.

Skills as hit rolls: each skill is an attack roll vs. unarmoured AC (or convert to %).

Your skill advances as a Fighter's attack progression, and leather/chain/plate can be used to represent grades of abnormal difficulty or increasingly stressful conditions.

In a mod of 2e AD&D weapon specialisation, the Thief can spend max. one of their NWP slots to specialise in a single skill at 1st level and get a +1 bonus. They can use a single additional slot gained at higher levels to specialise in another skill, or take their bonus to max. +2. This might also work with the 'skills as saves' method too.

Bonus Extras:

  • Thieves open doors, locks, chests, disarm traps etc on an Open Doors roll, but use INT and/or DEX (depending on characterisation, and Dragonwarriors would suggest an average) to generate a STR bonus equivalent.
  • Keep percentile skills, but you get to add your Prime Requisite % bonus to the base value.
  • Thief skills % start at equivalent of 3rd level and scale from there.


Quick crude mods for a basic D&D adjacent game. Not playtested but someone's probably already tried all/most/some of these already in the last 40+ years.

Realise I could have held them back to pay this Joesky Tax I've heard about, but they've been hanging around my drafts and notes for a while now so I'm putting them out rather than letting them fester.

XP for saves is a rip from T&T.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Helm and Shield for the Unarmoured Old School Fighter (D&D adjacent)

Bearing in mind cavalier attitudes to encumbrance mechanics, this is the common-or-garden 1st level Fighter in the D&D I started out with:

Plate and Shield AC +7
(Citadel D&D Adventurers set/Lost Minis wiki)

Until magic items get into the mix, there is no reason not to load up like this: plate and shield is just better than chain and no shield.  And probably one of the reasons why it has been said that every Human Fighter is/was the same.

Shield AC +1
(Citadel D&D Adventurers set/Lost Minis wiki)

Mechanically, there's no reason to play the Unarmoured Fighter or even to give them a helmet in some of the older editions - except for an exceptionally bad starting gold roll, or after an encounter with one of the equipment-destroying monsters. But this Fighter-type is, I think, an iconic/important archetype/figure in the fiction and was poorly supported by the game.

(I know the Unarmoured DEX Fighter comes into their own and then goes beyond in later editions (3e onwards?), but I'm still living in a past when Clerics were Clumsy and Thieves were Foolish)


I owe an awful lot to this post I stumbled on via an OSR Facebook group.

It covers (the now venerable) Shields Will Be Splintered, but my main takeaway was from Wolves of God: shields give you significant AC bonus, but don't stack with worn armour

So, I'll offer three shields following the basic/classic AC scale, with cost and weight half that of the equivalent armour. There’s even room for a buckler/parrying dagger at +1 AC (cost and weight of a shortsword?).

Materials and designs as you see fit. Pay extra for mods like horns or spikes. Still can be splintered. Shield bash like a club or subdual strike. 

Whether as a Fighter benefit or so it's not just an either/or choice, +1 AC for having a shield when using armour that's the same or better.

Maybe there shouldn't be an AC +6 shield so that plate mail remains The Best. This is better than full cover in a number of D&D adjacents, and might be better applied to static (or semi-static) shields like the pavise or mantlet. Or you need a trained shieldbearer to wield it two-handed on your behalf.

With shields having many more ‘points’ in them and possibly scaling to 6, there’s room for doing something with them if you want that sweet further complexity. Like, they can suffer attrition until they are broken or repaired - WFRP rimless shields were only good for one adventure. Or the AC value is also a save vs. shield-breaking attacks, or the threshold for triggering a usage die.

Gary Chalk for Talisman.


In lots of D&D adjacents, the helmet is more something that you lose for a penalty than possess for its defensive value, which seems to do it a disservice. After all, it's one of the pieces of armour kit that has survived into the modern era. 

I believe (as in "I heard or read it somewhere") that the (re)introduction of the helmet into the British (?) army led to a rise in recorded head-injuries, as soldiers survived previously fatal wounds. Like with that diagram of the bullet holes in the aeroplane.

Tucked away in the 1e AD&D DMG is the information that, if you're not wearing a helmet, there's a 1 on d6 chance of attacks going for the unarmoured head and being made vs. unarmoured AC (don't think it specifies whether or not you get your DEX adjustment). This feels like a spot ruling that made it into the rules (d6 would break down into a basic hit location roll of head, torso, each arms, each leg) and feels a bit clunky.

Instead, use the 1 in d6 as a save vs. critical hits (thank you, abstract combat and hit points). I don’t think this is game breaking, and makes it worth wearing one if you can’t afford full armour. 

(Yes, not all systems use crits, but it's one of those houserules that was so instinctive a lot of us thought it was written down somewhere. I can't remember ever not using it)

This x-in-x save vs. crit/fatality can also be used for pocket Bibles, a locket from your beloved, silver cigarette cases and so on, if you like.


Does this mean everyone in a suit of chain or plate (my assumption is that leather doesn't come with a metal helmet) gets a save vs. crit? 

My intention was to make helmets mean something by themselves, rather than give all armour a boost, and I was coming at it from the perspective of a low armour setting where people don't go around in full battle dress day-to-day.

In Dragonwarriors, wielding a shield in combat gave a 1 on d6 saving throw. There was no guidance on whether shields were class specific, how many blocks per round they could do, nor if they were effective vs. crits (in DW, crits auto-penetrate armour). Magical shields gave you a Defence bonus rather than improved the save, and a little reading around suggests that the d6 save was often forgotten at the table or houseruled as a Defence bonus (so back to +1 AC for a shield).

A feature of the older editions of Talisman and Warhammer that I'm familiar with: roll d6 to save your life.

Which is why I've labelled this post BOSR.

DW makes the shield different in execution to worn armour and to normal combat defence, and I like that mechanical diversity for its own sake.

I've seen (in passing, over years, so not sure where or when) other options for unarmoured Fighters, such as allowing them to use a STR or CHA modifier to their AC (in addition to DEX and shield), representing the bare-chested barbarian/chainmail bikini end of the fiction.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

FOMORIANS (the Fhoi Myore from the Chronicles of Corum)

They look like this, more or less.

 Armour Class +7     Hit Dice 13     Move 75% Normal Human     Morale 10

Seven rotten mountains stumbled out of the sea or from under the ground, groaning under the weight of their diseases, and found the world not to their liking. Too loud, too warm, too bright - it is agony to them. They seek to make conditions more hospitable by laying the peace of death on the mortal sphere, muffling it in eternal snow and endless fog.

Gigantic and at least roughly humanoid, the gross and unpleasing shapes of the Fomorians are mercifully obscured from mortal sight by a dense shroud of freezing mist. Yet their hazy bulk can still strike terror into those that glimpse them.

They creak across the landscape in hefty chariots and carts - slowly, inevitably, like entropy - never setting foot on the mortal earth. It might be that they deem themselves too grand to walk or have lost their divine toes to millennia of metaphysical gangrene.

As well as bringing the Hounds, the Fomorians are served by the Half-Dead and Bitter Dryads. They are also served by mortals and others that give up on resisting them in the hope of surviving just a little longer, or because they too yearn for oblivion.

They seem capable only of making hooting, braying, squealing, snorting and gibbering noises, without language or wit. Or maybe this is the sound of unseen beasts that pull the carts, and the Fomorians are no more the masters here than the Bitter Dryads?

The Fomorians are gods:

  • Of a sort. Not omniscient or omnipotent, but can be assumed to have plot armour and legendary actions as needed.
  • Their effect on the local environment (fog and winter) expands and becomes self-sustaining the longer they remain, eventually changing the climate indefinitely.
  • Use subvocal/telepathic communication without barrier of language or distance. They know things. Can send visions. Prefer to deal via intermediaries (Bitter Dryads). Will not acknowledge direct communication in the field.
  • Their divine presence causes awe and horror:
    • 1st to 3rd level suffer -2 to all dice rolls except damage; 4th to 7th level -1. Higher levels no penalty, but can feel it.
    • For NPCs, monsters, animals, also apply to Loyalty/Morale.
    • At the start of a combat round, a Fomorian can force a Loyalty/Morale check on individual NPC of max. 3rd level as a free action (or whatever you want to call it) 
  • Minimum 6 hp/HD and use d6 up to d12 (depending on system/edition/needs).
  • Invulnerable Monsters and min. possible damage from non-magical source.
  • Regenerate damage from any source, 1 hp/round, even from 0 hp or less.
  • Very hot/large (min. 10+ hp damage per attack/round) and magical fires cause half damage and the Fomorian must take a Morale test or retreat 1 combat round.

Their presence changes local conditions:

  • Fog surrounds them out to normal/unadjusted wilderness encounter ranges.
  • Gives disadvantage on all vision, distance, getting lost and missile attack rolls.
  • Fomorians, Hounds and mounted Bitter Dryads are unaffected.
  • The Fomorians and their allies get advantage on surprising you (or a +1 to +3 situational bonus), or advantage on stealth etc. Encounter range is point-blank.
  • Aura of cold causes cumulative harm in 1 round increments at melee range.
    • Outside of encounter range, use longer intervals as appropriate.

They can make one attack per round for 4 damage dice:

  • 4d6 or 4d8 depending on game/edition.
  • Describe/narrate as appropriate: uprooted tree as a club, giant rotting fist, filthy serrated bronze knife, boulder hurled from out of the mist, a ponderous cart rolling inexorably over as they ignore you in the fog.
    • Wounds at least double chance of infection with revolting and unusual diseases.
    • vs. monsters/NPCs only: excess damage from kills cleaves others nearby until used up.
  • Compare damage roll vs. Ability Scores and AC (either ascending, or 20-minus-descending, or something) for special weapon effects (excess as hp damage):
    • net of intestines and spinal columns: vs. STR or pinned (d6 targets in a group).
    • whip of tangled ancient roots: vs. DEX or grappled at range (min. Fomorian STR is 19).
    • bolas of severed heads: vs. DEX or pinned; vs. STR or KO'd.
    • ballista-sized crossbow bolt: vs. CON or impaled and pinned until you can remove it (STR check per round, excess on failure is more damage).

One of them has a baleful Evil Eye:

  • It's Balahr/Balor, and that Eye can be difficult/slow to open.
  • Gaze automatically ignites combustible material. This is normal fire.
  • Save or spontaneously combust for 2-13 unsoakable magical fire damage. 
  • Save or be turned to stone.
  • Fail both and turn to stone, then collapse/explode into smoking chunks - irrevocably dead, even if you're otherwise immune to magical fire.
  • Range as you like, AoE as you like, non-flammable cover must save or collapse/explode.

One of them carries the Horn of the Hounds:

  • In the Chronicles, this is the chief of the Fhoi Myore, Kerenos. Described as male, with antlers, if that helps. Calatin, a mortal wizard, is able to counterfeit the Horn, so its power does not appear solely concentrated in the object.
  • The Horn is at least giant-sized, and requires min. STR 18 to lift/blow. 
  • It can be used to command, dismiss, slay and summon Fomorian minions. I suggest only the Hounds can be conjured out of nothing, coalescing out of the mists and bloodstained snow.

They are vulnerable to the Tathlum:

  • A missile/sling shot made of brains and bones of your enemies, ideally used against their relatives. They are effective for one attack only, successful or not.
  • Process can be as simple or as convoluted as you like, with or without magical ingredients and spells to enchant it. Resists mass production, resulting in numerous unidentifiable duds (and possible curses, if magical).
  • Tathlum damage to Fomorians regenerates at equivalent natural healing rate rather than 1hp/round, and is fatal if it brings them to 0 hp or less.
  • If made of the remains of Bitter Dryads, Half-Dead and/or Hounds, the Tathlum inflicts normal sling/thrown rock damage. 
    • On a crit, all Fomorians present must make a Morale Check.
  • If made of the remains of a Fomorian, roll to hit vs. unarmoured AC and it inflicts flat damage equal to half the donor's undamaged hit points. No save and all Fomorians make a Morale Check at ML 8. 
    • Instant kill on a crit, and all Fomorians make a Morale Check at ML 6.


I rather like this summary description of them as implacable leprous nihilistic geriatrics with a death wish.

The Fhoi Myore/Fomorians occupy an elevated position in my imagination, hitting the confluence of the Cthulhu Mythos, Steven King's The Mist, the Mists of Ravenloft, mythological retelling and (retrospectively) Silent Hill and Shadow of the Colossus. The Chronicles/Moorcock suggests that they are remnants, the bitter end of the deposed Chaos Gods, thrown out of their Heaven and eking out their existence by spreading their doom around. 

Figures of pity as much as horror, this affected my view of weakly godlike colossal Cthulhuvian entities since. They (and things like them) are uncomfortable and unhappy and without much hope - we'd sympathise if they weren't also actively incompatible with our existence. Or possibly if they were sexier.

The Chronicles is fairly low on detail on the Fhoi Myore, but does give hints and names. Balahr and Kerenos are the most obvious links back to Irish myth.

One (possibly two) are characterised as being female, whatever that would mean in their context - in the Chronicles, it means the sexual mutilation of male victims. Sreng is described as wearing a kilt of seven swords, but not if these are captured mortal swords or of more appropriate scale. One is credited with the creation of the Ghoolegh - is this an exclusive ability or just a statement of innovation?

One is named Bress, and as one of the Irish Fomorians is Bres the Beautiful, I like the idea that he/it can project an appearance more palatable to mortals or even a semi-independent astral body not working entirely in the interests of the original.

The motive force for the carts/chariots is opaque in the Chronicles, but it could be magic or alien technology or some horrible beast of burden (or dominant symbiote, as noted above).

I used the basic Fomorian statblock from AD&D 1e Monster Manual 2 as a mechanical starting point. They might need beefing up depending on your campaign - I'm envisaging a world where Corum is only a 4th level Fighter (a Hero, right?).

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.