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.