On Early Tropes

What were some common tropes of early fantasy games?

The Pseudo-Dragon: From Edwina, the familiar of Jallarzi Sallivarian, to Afreeta from Quag Keep, to the captured Pseudo-dragon in U1, the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh the idea of a small dragon familiar was rife in the early days of our hobby. 

And why not? Who doesn't want a dragon familiar? Isn't the idea of owning a dragon a very cool one? Of course it is.

Like most memes, this one fell out of favor because soon, every Tom Strongblade, Dick Swiftwand, and Harry Sneakthrift was walking around with a dragon on their shoulder. 

Historically having a pseudo-dragon familiar provided magic resistance and what it sees and hears within 24" including invisible objects. 

The Deadly Touch: Recently one of my players died to yellow mold. He had never heard of yellow mold. (!)

The early game was filled with things that punished people for touching them. Green Slime. Yellow Mold. Rot Grubs. Each one with a specific way of dealing with them. You can see it from the green slime card in the board game Dungeon (tm) or the frequency with which refuse piles are filled with rot grubs.

That was really where part of the wonder of the early game came from. In the next room, what would you find? Would you die at its touch, or would it be a fabulous chest filled with jewels and wealth?

The violent and sudden nature of the deaths caused this trope to fall by the wayside, but you can see a resurgence in these types of encounters in modern games.

On the Exploration of Numenhalla

So here is the official post. You've seen me write about Numenhalla, talk about design, and espouse theories for a long time.

Now, take the time to actually play a game with me and see what all my theory looks like in practice.

I have no desire to spam a thousand people with game invites. So if you'd like to play, please go to the +Numenhalla page and follow on G+. The plan is to have games on G+, Saturday mornings at 8am Central Standard Time.

I am. . . uncertain of the amount of interest this announcement will generate. I will strive to include as many people as possible, referring to the dice in cases where decisions must be made.

In order to play, go to the +Numenhalla page and click on the about page. There you will see a link to the obsidian portal. Visit the sites obsidian portal page to download the player's guide for instructions on rolling up characters. The game is fundamentally B/X with some changes noted on the obsidian portal page. After a few days have passed, I will make post on the +Numenhalla page with plans for players.

I am shooting to have the first session February 9th, 8am to Noon, CST.

Questions can be directed to my e-mail, or my G+ page, or the Numenhalla G+ page.

On Interesting Treasure, Death Onyx

Your party slew that hideous desiccated corpse that attacked you. Striking the killing blow, and after the blasted thaumaturge found there was only a 'mild magical emanation' from the ring said you could have it.

It is beautiful, but so dark and cold. You just can't seem to get the ring warmed up. Also, you don't seem to recall eating or drinking since acquiring the ring. No matter, surely it will fetch a pretty penny.

Onyx ring set with black opal will sell for 1300 gp to a jeweler. Slightly less on an open market.

On the Ecology of the Bugbear

Dave Southerland
"In the dark, in the forest, lies death that stalks man"
-Slive, entrepreneur

Nomenclature: Bugbear, Boogerbear, Bogeyman, Budy, Bugaboo, Bugge, Bogill

Description: Large, stealthy, furred, creature

Things that are known:

  • They are squat, man-sized or larger creatures covered in fur
  • They have large greenish eyes with no pupils
  • They have wedge-shaped ears on their heads
  • Their hides range in color from light yellow to yellow-brown, and their fur from brown to brick red. 
  • Their mouths are filled with needle sharp teeth
  • They have preternatural skills at stealth and observation
  • They travel alone or in packs
  • They have an exceptional sense of smell

Tony Diterlizzi
Rumors and other whispers in the dark:

  • Bugbears will consume food, but they don't need it to live. They actually survive off the emotions of fear or terror
  • Bugbears record their history in scars on their body
  • The skin and fur of a bugbear can change color to match their surroundings
  • That isn't true, their fur absorbs light like a polar bears and where there is little or no light their coloration becomes ptich black
  • Sometimes after stealing a family member, they leave severed fingers or teeth to be found
  • Bugbears live in nomadic communities
  • They collect mementos of their hunts
  • Bugbear is not actually a specific type of creature, it's actually an elder hobgoblin. Goblins grow into hobgoblins and hobgoblins grow into bugbears
  • This is especially disturbing considering bugbears have a ravenous appetite and will eat anything nearby. Including goblins
  • They are known to worship various dark gods: Hruggek the morningstar, of violence and death; Grankhul two open eyes in darkness, of hunting and surprise; and Skiggaret the black claw, god of fear and despair
  • Some people say that if you get close enough, bugbear eyes do have tiny pinpoint red pupils
  • Some bugbears in winter regions are said to have blue or white fur
  • Bugbears have an unnatural ability to use weapons much larger than another creature their size could wield
  • They are excellent climbers, with an astounding grip. In fact, it is unknown for anyone to ever be able to remove anything from the hands of a bugbear
  • They are actually humanoids who have been corrupted by their bestial nature. Instead of a werewolf, they struggle constantly against the beast in their monstrous form
  • This is because they were rejected by god(s) and in revenge they seek to strangle the faithful and civilized
  • When they stand still and silent, the faintest breeze can cause their fur to rub together, causing a sound like bugs skittering across a floor, hence their name. This is often what people pass the noise off as, until they are surprised by a bugbear
  • Their fur is actually bugs. Thousands of bugs
  • Bugbears actually use some sort of pheremone or psionic invisiblity that allows them to walk around and right in front of other creatures
  • It's actually much worse than that. Only clumsy or surprised bugbears are ever seen. The most skilled are so adapt at hiding that they operate freely in human and demi-human socieity. They adopt a single human to bedevil, continually reminding the human of some petty vexation or minor enemy, until by degrees the human blames that for all their life problems. They then reveal themselves and feed as the human dies from the sight from an apoplectic fit. The bugbear then eats the person and adopts their identity, appearing as a monomanical grouchy old man or woman
  • Elves are immune to this, being whimsical sociopaths. For this same reason they never mention anything about the bugbear to anyone who can't see them
  • They are at home in the wilds, needing no roof or bed for comfort
Erol Otus
  • They love to construct ambushes, but not from a distance. They want to spring out, choke and smash
  • Wet bugbears look like wet cats. They are only so imposing because their hair is so poofy
  • Bugbears are actually a peaceful forest loving race that once really pissed-off a gnomish PR firm
  • Bugbears are the offspring of goblins raped by ogres and giants. They are born clawing their way out of the goblin mother. They are all evil creatures, because it takes a pretty degenerate giant to screw a goblin
  • Bugbears are actually ogre corpses animated by the spirits of dead goblins
  • They actually come from the friction between the underworld and the overworld, spawned by the friction between them. They are tasked with scaring everyone away from the underworld
  • They will not do anything in combat to save their allies, even though they attack in a coordinated manner. They believe that the strong will survive and those that survive are strong
  • Though strong, they are lazy. Who better to work for them but slaves?
  • They are often referred to as having a 'strange gait'. It is true. This is the result of the fact that they have an extra pair of ethereal legs that they use which is the key to their stealth. Watching them move at full speed without making a sound makes them appear to have a very strange gait indeed 
  • Their feet are nothing so supernatural, just plain padded soft underfeet. When they hunt, they do so on all fours like all silent large predators
  • Bugbears are often misrepresented. They are actually half-insect half-bear and they are quiet because their feet are the silent scurrying feet of insects
  • That's wrong too. Bugbears actually have giant pumpkins for heads (not pumpkin-shaped heads)
  • And inside those pumpkin-shaped heads are seeds. . . 
  • The bugbear is actually an insect torso on a bear's lower body, like some twisted centaur
  • They are the creepy uncles of goblin-kind. All of their kin find them disquieting

Bugbear: These large, hairy, goblin-like humanoids are stealthier than their size would suggest, almost always getting the chance to surprise even alert opponents with a roll of 1-3 on a d6 (50%).

HD 3+1; AC 5[14]; Atk 1 bite (2d4) or weapon (1d8+1); Move 9; Save 14; CL 3; XP 120; Special: Surprise opponents, 50% chance.

  • Kardan: Bugbears with dark-grey fur that silent as death. They possess the ability to appear as any object, a clock, a stand, anything.
  • Wikkawak: A local name for the arctic breed of bugbear
  • Murd: A swamp variety of bugbear. Their redneck cousins are fearful of reptiles and it has the ability to turn into a viscous tar
  • Stalker: A variety of bugbear that thrives in cities and towns
  • Koblak: A stillborn bugbear that lives. Their eyes are huge even by bugbear standards and they can see through doors, stone, and earth. They are immortal and undead. They are very resistant to any sort of attack, unless the weapon is coated in fresh grave dirt. Children and men slain by such a beast soon rise again as a malicious spirit

On 10 New and Old Ideas About Wands

Some thoughts on wands. . .

  1. Wands have between 1 and 50 charges that are spent to produce specific effects, such as fireballs or cure light wounds.
  2. Wands do a certain type of damage (Fire, Shock, Ice) if the target fails a save versus spells
  3. Wands of a certain magic school allow the caster to make a save versus spells to avoid losing the spell
  4. Spell wands reduce the resistance between the wizard and the target, either making the save more difficult to resist or increasing the damage per die.
  5. Wizards can store a certain number of spells in the wand to be used that don't count against his daily total.
  6. Wands are actually physical constructs that are spells. Each one provides a very specific unique power. Without access to wands, wizards are nothing more then conjurers of cheap tricks.
  7. A wand provides no special bonus, but without the wand magical energy cannot be focused. The more powerful the energy, the more rare the substance needed. 1st level spells will work with heartoak, but 7th require solid pearl
  8. Wands all produce unique damage effects, like a 10' lightning storm or a force push that knocks someone 15', but only have a handful of charges. Then they become 'burnt out' and must be re-crafted using a variety of items and gemstones
  9. Wands aren't necessary, but they aim the magic like an antenna preventing its detection from nearby wizards and witches. Otherwise it is broadcast like a powerful radio signal.
  10. Wands act like a sidearm, allowing the wizard to cast any spell he knows when out of spells or mana, but at a much reduced effectiveness

On the Ecology of the Aboleth

"We give a name to a thing, and the name limits it. There are creatures before names. We are foolish to think they are limited."
-Obadiah, Taurian speaker

Nomenclature: Aboleth, Uobilyth, spawn of Piscathces, Agnathans, Pleco

Description: Aquatic resperating, psionic, fish-people

Things that are known:

  • They do not display emotion or empathy
  • They resemble large (20' long and 3 tons or so) rubbery blue green fish possessing only caudal (tail) fins
  • Their mucus allows air-breathers to extract oxygen from water. It also prevents them from extrating it from the air
  • It has three slit-like eyes, stacked vertically, each a solid color
  • It has 2 pairs of tentacles. Two thin ones that are 10' long and resemble a mustache, and 2 broader, flatter tentacles that resemble pectoral fins. Outside of water, they literally use these to drag themselves around.
From Monster Manual II
  • It has tube-like orifices along it's body that secrete slime
  • They have powers of illusion and mind, able to trick and dominate other creatures
  • They are assumed to take slaves, though what is done with living captives is unknown
  • Their mouth appears as a giant sucker on the outside
  • From corpses it has been discovered that all Aboleth are hermaphroditic
  • They can breath both air and water
  • Their purposes and reasoning are inscrutable even to the hyper-intelligent

Rumors and other whispers in the dark:

  • Secrecy is of the utmost importance to the Aboleth. It is a biological imperative on the order of breeding in mammals
  • All written language descends from ancient elder Aboleth glyphs. If an aboleth were to become angry and erase the root glyphs to protect them from lesser minds, then language based on those glyphs would corrospondingly vanish
  • No one has ever killed an Aboleth  ever. Those who claim to have killed one have fallen victim to an illusion
  • The description we have of an Aboleth is an illusion. To see their true form would drive the viewer mad
  • All knowledge of encountered Aboleth comes from the weakest members of the tribe, expelled for being too weak to even survive mental interaction with an average Aboleth
  • They are long lived, the weak living 1,000 years and the oldest perhaps being immortal
  • What they use slaves for is unknown, some possibilities have been raised from reports
    • They are used in constructing grand cities
    • They live on the shore and fight each other endlessly for an unknown purpose
    • They keep slaves because slaves are for eating. If we weren't meant to be slaves, why would we taste so delicious
    • Bonding with slaves improves their own abilities. A strong slave makes them stronger
    • They need mental fields in addition to physical substance which is why they take slaves
    • Slaves are subject to deranged biological experimentation
  • They pursue the ancient art of super-science, eschewing magic in all its forms
  • Aboleth slime is a potent narcotic and they treat their slaves much better then their previous life. This has proven to be a surprise for more than one 'rescuer'
  • They do not track time by days and nights, for the sun does not penetrate so far beneath the earth. They instead track time by tidal cycles and patterns, a method poorly understood by land creatures
  • Their power with mental powers and illusion magics stem from not waning hordes of crazed, loving, degenerate drug addicts bothering them. It's a defense mechanism developed to protect them
  • An Aboleth is selected to be a Ruler, which is in contact with all Aboleth of the city at once. His mind knows what they know and increases in size to match
  • They are said to be magic resistant
  • They are worshiped as god-kings by many of the lesser sea creatures like tritons and sahuagin.
  • Their eyes are actual physical manifestations of a pineal gland that acts as a light-sensor. This is actually where the strength of their psionic powers comes from
  • They do not come from a single world, but instead raid many worlds across all dimensions. This means that there is only one Aboleth culture
  • The Aboleth are able to inscribe Glyphs that contain eldritch energies. 
  • The Aboleth were the first creatures that existed from all else. They know this because every Aboleth remembers it
  • They exude their toxic slime via both their tentacles and their large abdominal tubes
  • They are not actually creatures, but simply biological robots doing the bidding of a secret oceanic society
  • They aren't simply biological robots, but an out of control weapon granted to a foolish race bargaining with the Crossroad God of Unsatisfying Bargains. Once they received their psionic, mind-controlling, amphibious, armored, magical bio-weapon, they couldn't control it, leading to their own demise
  • Greed actually is the source of their creation. The desire for wealth, capitalism itself, is not just an idea. Societies that used capitalism discovered it had actual physical form. Once a society accepts capitalism, Aboleths became freed from their cage on the Platonic Plane of Ideal Forms
  • They are actually just tapeworms feeding on the gut we all inhabit. This theory is in general discredit because it comes from the seers of Kashgar, a kingdom far from the sea
Erol Otus
  • They were once human who desired to extend their lives. The enlargement of their organs was the only way to accomplish this and eventually it drove them into the sea. This was long ago and the depths have changed them, made their thoughts and minds grow stranger and stranger, hating the light and land denied them, filled with the desire to eradicate every hint from their past biology.
  • They are living fossils
  • Their flesh is prized by dragons
  • They can easily control anomalocaris and other invertebrates, but the control of vertebrates is more difficult. Chordates have some inborn resistance. They are frustrated at the rise in dominance of vertebrates, because it has reduced the pool of available subjects and size of the invertebrate thrall species. 
  • They are a race of degenerate aesthetes who enslaved people they thought had the ability to make great art
  • They are followed by skinless men who babble insane poetry. If they speak to you, it drives you mad and you attempt to unscrew your own head
  • They are immune to death and disease because they can psioncially control bacteria, viruses, and even the cells in their own body
  • They permanently dominate thralls by absorbing them into their body completely taking over their circulatory fun and birthing them 3 days later with their psyche completely destroyed
  • Aboleth possess racial memory, back to the earliest member of their race
  • Aboleth are immortal, and the world they were born to inhabit is no longer the world they exist in, leading to the decline of their dominance
  • Some Aboleth are amphibious or can fly
  • They actually evolved from frogs and their jelly has developed from a way to stun prey with goo. Suggesting this to an Aboleth would be a unique way to commit suicide!
  • Aboleths are actually a small group of leeches that fed from they body of a god. In thanks, they work tirelessly to bring her back to life
  • Their psionic powers evolved from their ability to control simple fish to protect their lair
  • Some Aboleth are said to enter a deadly death frenzy near death or have their bite adapted to be used in combat 
  • They are very wary of Illithids, because they have no memory of their existence. One day they simply were when they were not before. This gives Illithids the singular distinction of having the ability to make an Aboleth nervous.
  • Actually, Aboleth are a dying race. They have created the Illithids with the best they they are to take their place. They are a new vibrant race created from the Aboleth themselves
  • Neither of those are true, the Aboleth and Illithid meet and immediately fight for superiority
  • The Illithids are from the end of time, beings created by the Aboleth. Upon discovering that the Illithids are part themselves, they decide that they refuse to be eclipsed. They seek alliances suddenly with other races for this reason, to assist them in the war against the far future
  • Aboleths are related to the Illithid (Psionic, 4 tenticles, intelligent, slimy skin, underground, Lawful Evil)
  • The Aboleth are the pregentator of many monsters. Cloakers, mimics and other bizzare creatures under the ground
  • Aboleth are said to absorb the memories of everyone they eat. This defines their culture
  • They come from Piscathces, the blood queen. She no longer cares for her creations. The Aboleth possess this knowledge and it liberates them
  • They were created by a god to protect his tomb while he rested waiting for the surface to wipe itself out. Being good servants, Aboleth have taken steps to make this happen
  • The Aboleth have been asleep, and are really bothered by this terrible monkey infestation that happened while they were asleep
  • Aboleth ruled all the world until man created gods. They strive to reconqer the world and will stop at nothing less then the destruction of all gods
  • They have no religion and such, but exposure to the elder evils causes them to respect their force in daily life
    • Bolothamogg (Him who watches from beyond the stars): They leave gaps and space in their architecture to respect him. He is also known as Yog-Sothoth
    • Holashner (Hunger below): They construct protrusions and use the black bile of the world in their construction. He is also known as Shudde M'ell or Tsathoggua
    • Piscaethces (Blood queen): Red domed windows of red crystal show their respect. She is also known as Cthulhu or Shub-Niggurath
    • Shothotugg (Eater of Worlds): Pools are added, filled with magical, multi-colored liquids heavier than water. Swirls and vortex patterns adorn the floor. He is also known as Azathoth
    • Y'chak (The Violet Flame): Pillars of violet flame that burn underwater are created. These are used to pass information between the members of the city. He is also known as Nyarlathotep or Hastur
  • Aboleth are not actually ancient or long lived. They are only recent creations, the function of hyper-evolution. They are literal living cancer
  • Icebergs do not drift. They are ice vehicles constructed for the transport of Aboleth cities
  • Again, they are not immoral. They are in the process of de-evolution and regression. Now they can only walk on the land with difficulty, and each generation is less bright then the one before. They continue to keep slaves because they always have, but no longer grow. It is the last grasp of a society trying to maintain power before they become nothing but simple, albeit delicious, fish
  • They are actually the creation of all races. Expelling us onto the surface was for the sole purpose of producing a better slave. We "rule" the surface, in the same way a pig "rules" a pen. 
  • They no longer take all their slaves, leaving some in communities to recruit new slaves. 
  • Aboleth Mucus can be kept, stored, and sold as an alchemical grenade
The Aboleth
The Aboleth is a revolting fishlike amphibian, primarily subterranean, roughly the size of a killer whale. It vaguely resembles a catfish, but has four long tentacles and four orifices along its belly. The tentacles can be used to drag its bulk across dry land. These horrid abominations are extremely intelligent: an Aboleth can cast charm monster three times per day, and create a phantasmal force three times per day. In the water, an Aboleth surrounds itself with a cloud of mucus that requires anyone inhaling it to make a saving throw or become unable to breathe air for 3 hours. Finally, the slime on an Aboleth’s tentacles causes disease if a saving throw fails. Those afflicted suffer a change to their skin, which must be immersed in water every hour, or the victim suffers 1d6 points of damage.

Aboleth: HD 9; AC 3 [16]; Atk 4 tentacles (1d6 + slime); Save 6; Move 9 (swim 12); CL 12; XP 2000; Special: Charm monster (3/day), Phantasmal force (3/day), Mucus cloud in water (save or cannot breathe air for 3 hours), special disease upon successful hit (save or must be immersed in water every hour).

SRD Aboleth Entry, Psionic Version
Pathfinder Aboleth Entry
Classic Aboleth Entry

On Reader Mail, How Much Healing is Too Much?

"You did specifically detail how the healing skill works at one point and, out of curiosity, how did you come up with the amount of healing at each skill level?"

Questions about my skill system are pretty popular. I've covered some previous questions here

This skill system is one of the best I've ever used, and I've used a lot.

It has basically solved all my skill system problems. Like Fudge, it allows you to determine what skills are right for your campaign, but is more dynamic then bell curve resolution. It can have the mechanical usefulness of 3.x style skills, but isn't tied into level and bypasses the large variability inherent in the d20. It allows anyone to attempt any skill yet still provides bonuses for the people who possess the skill. Odds of success and improvement are easy to calculate. And, as this question notes, the fact that the skill has three distinct levels, allows it to have more powerful or useful effects as you become more skilled.

Let's look at the healing skill: 
Healing: A successful use of this skill will heal the user of damage after battle. Those unskilled heal 1 point. At skilled this heals 1d6+1 points of damage, at expert it heals 1d8+3 points of damage and at master it heals 2d10+5 points of damage. This may only be used once per wounded person per fight. It takes one full turn to use per person.
How did I come up with the amount of healing at each skill level?

Well, this skill in particular comes from Numenhalla, my mega-dungeon campaign. Numenhalla is wonderful because a mega-dungeon has a very specific limitation in both time and space. Therefore each skill can be very specific and mechanically tweaked for this environment. In my more recent Deathless Gods campaign, the healing skill didn't heal any damage. It instead dealt with critical effects.

Why did I add the ability to heal hit points? Because of the way classes are structured in Numenhalla, it is very unlikely that there will be someone along who can cure light wounds. Without healing from spells, there should be another mechanic available to restore hit points.

How did I arrive at these levels?

First is the cost and limitations, the attempt takes 1 turn after a battle. It has to be used immediately after. This cost (time, torches, wandering monsters) makes the skill an interesting choice in some situations.

Untrained people should have a shot at stopping bleeding and rousing people after battle. 1 point will bring somebody above 0 hit points and stop bleeding.

Being skilled heals from 2-7 points of damage, effectively removing 1 hit taken in combat.

The expert level provides a much better bonus, healing 4-11 points. Unlike the first level, the worst you can heal is 4, and the average will be 9. This is a pretty substantial number of hits in B/X, likely between 20%-50% of the fighters hit points till sixth level. This means that an expert healer can restore a goodly amount of hit points.

Finally a master healer is healing between 7-25 points of damage, with an average of 15. Because this is rolled on two dice, their healing will be much much more consistent at an average that's higher then any of the other levels, truly making them a master healer.

It is not noted above, but the default difficulty of the roll is 5, this allows an untrained character to succeed 33% of the time, and a skilled character to succeed a full one-half of the time. This is astoundingly close to the first aid DC 15 in pathfinder. Someone with 0 ranks will succeed 25% of the time, and a first level character with 3 points in the skill, plus 1 or 2 for the stat will succeed 45-55% of the time.

These values would have to be modified if they were to be applied to a system that utilizes higher hit point totals. In B/X fighters only receive a d8 per level, and are unlikely to have a constitution modifier of higher than 1.

On the Ecology of the Gelatinous Cube

"There is a great concordance in the universe, where many places possess the same result but with quite different causes. . ."
-Mordecai, Gahzan Royal Scribe

Nomenclature: Gelatinous Cube, Athcoid, Kyboid, Qulare, Geldra

Description: Coagulated viscous transparent  hexahedron

A list of rumors and facts regarding cubes and their purposes as codified by the alchemists and sages.

Things that are known:
  • Cubes may produce a pseudopod to attack
  • The touch of the gel causes paralysis
  • They absorb matter. Living matter is digested, non-living matter is eventually excreted.
  • The do not move very quickly
  • They are able to detect and respond to heat and vibration, and can alter their size to fit through cavities as small as 1'
  • They weigh upwards of 15,000 pounds

Things that are said:
  • They are not actually cube-shaped, they just expand to fill the available space
  • It maintains its shape due to filamentous internal fibers. When killed, these decay and it dissolves into a wet mess
  • They asexually reproduce by budding
  • In point of fact, they do not bud, but instead leave small gelatinous polyps
  • Cubes are highly intelligent creatures
  • If you try to trip a gelatinous cube, it is said to tear the fabric of reality
  • It's nonsensical to try and trip a gelatinous cube, but if you string razor-wire across a hallway, you can instead fight weakened gelatinous slices
  • Trying to slice a gelatinous cube apart won't work, because it will just join and reform again like a jelly
  • If you cut a gelatinous cube, the surface begins to bud madly, covered in disgusting polyps, each a baby gelatinous cube
  • They were created exclusively to make pit traps more deadly. They are less an independent creature and more a substance created just for pits
  • They are simply giant paramecium that have evolved to encompass their local space to compensate for their blindness
  • They have a deadly aversion to salt. Its use dries them out
  • They are devoid of any thought, simply being a manifestation of earth (making them immune to mind-affecting effects)
  • When they meet, they join, doubling in size, but later separate into two normal-sized cubes
  • They travel by sliding like a slug
  • They travel by rolling from side to side
  • Actually their skin has a variety of properties and they slide by changing the molecular surface of their surface to increase or decrease resistance, sailing along dungeon corridors
  • They don't actually move at all, they are all absolutely stable in relation to the universe, the universe moves around the cube. The result of all simultaneous cube movement is geography
  • The paralysis effect also anesthetizes prey
  • The acidic digestive properties are contained within movable elastic cavities inside the cube
  • They are said to evolve from Grey Oozes
  • They feed on emotions which strengthen them
  • If you feed the Gelatinous Cube different types of fungi, it grants the cube different powers, from regeneration to auras to magical effects. People who have experimented with this idea universally end up dead from the plague
  • They can be found underwater, but are more visible and have their paralysis abilities diluted (+6 to the save)
  • Gelatinous Cubes aren't really an ooze or jelly at all, but a broodmother of goblins. They bud, producing the menace. When goblins age, they crawl into a depression and liquify. When enough do this, it can create a new cube
  • The creature either has a very rapid adaptation process or dungeons have been around for a long, long time, on the order of 100,000 years or more
  • It is said that their are races mad enough to become gelatinous cube riders. They wear a ring that surrounds them in a bubble of force, and tempt the cube to absorb them. Once within, they direct the cube by slamming the bubble, causing it to move in the desired direction.
  • They are avatars of mechanus, a quasi-living engine designed to scour chaotic organic material from the surface of the earth
  • Cubes aren't actually living creatures at all, but a square vacuum held between the interfaces of seven dimensional bubbles. Touching the surface of these outer bubbles is what causes the paralysis, as you experience shock. It's not actually digestion, but the exposure to a freezing zero-pressure vacuum which causes it to break apart. This is also why metal and stone are unaffected
  • When killed it maintains its shape and paralytic propterties
  • They were originally designed as a healing aid to prevent disease and rot and as a sanitary measure. They eventually escaped and evolved into their current form
  • If you cut off a piece of a cube and cook it with a base such as quicklime, it renders the anesthetic properties inert. This produces a bland, nourishing, protein rich, translucent brown aspic. It is highly valued in subhuman tribes
  • Alchemist's have a need for Gelatinous Cubes because it enhances the process by which they can extract magical essences
  • Gelatinous Cubes are actually leftover material from the construction of the sky, making it theologically relevant
  • They smell of boiled cabbage
  • They are created by gathering minor demons (imps, quasits, etc.) and casting flesh to ooze upon them. The resulting gunk is treated with aboleth slime and purple worm extract before being poured into a mold, most commonly a 10' square wooden mold. 
  • They are not silent, when they attack they yell "Cube!"
  • Gelatinous Cubes can be captured and altered into other forms and creatures. 
  • It's an advanced trap, a container for minds. It intends to lure the party into a trap so that it can exchange minds with one of them
  • They communicate with each other by slamming on the ground, sending shock waves back and forth
  • The cubes aren't the size of the corridor because they have filled the space. The cubes adolescent stage is a rarely encountered Volcanic Cube that hollows out new dungeon corridors, deep within the earth.
  • On death they ossify and turn into giant cubes and shapes of bone. Sometimes their sides harden and pit, and giants collect them for use in divination and games
  • They have a membrane (skin) that holds their insides in. When killed, everything inside leaks out
The Gelatinous Cube
Number Encountered: 1 Attacks: 1
Alignment: Neutral Damage: 2d4+special
Movement: 60' Save: F2
Armor Class: 8 Morale: 12
Hit Dice: 4 Hoard Class: VII
Experience: 245

The nearly transparent gelatinous cube travels slowly along labyrinth corridors and cave floors, absorbing carrion, creatures, and trash. Inorganic material remains trapped and visible inside the cube’s body. A typical gelatinous cube is 10 feet on a side, though much larger specimens are not unknown. The translucent appearance of the gelatinous cube makes characters surprised on a surprise check roll of 1-4 on 1d6. A gelatinous cube attacks by slamming its body into its prey to engulf foes. This attack deals 2d4 hit points of damage, and an opponent must succeed in a saving throw versus paralyze or become paralyzed for 2d4 turns. The spell cure light wounds causes a character to regain movement, but this use does not heal hit points with the same casting. Subsequent attacks against a paralyzed foe always hit. Gelatinous cubes are immune to the effects of lightning and cold-based attacks. They take normal damage from weapons and fire-based attacks. (Labyrinth Lord OGL)

  • Umber (or dung) Cube: It is said that using these to dispose of waste in an earth closet causes this mutation. This is identical to the normal cube, except the stench within 10' requires a save versus poison (Fortitude save DC 20, Con based) or be nauseated. All successful attacks also require a save versus poison or gain a disease (Filth Fever)
  • Volcanic (or fire) Cube: This is a larval form of the cube. Being more dense it has between 4-6 hit dice. It does not paralyze but is resistant to physical damage, taking half damage from melee attacks. It is also immune to fire and has a fire aura, doing 2d4 points of damage to anyone within 10' and 1d4 points of damage to anyone within 20' as a wall of fire. These are never found except in the deepest corridors far away from wandering players. It breaks down the nuclear bonds between the material, fueling it's terrible growth.
  • Grey (or psionic) Cube: certain otherworldly experiments on crossbreeding cubes have given them psionic powers. In addition to their normal features, they have 60+6d10 power points, Attack Modes: B, E, and Defense Modes F, with the Disciplines: Dominate, Cell Repair (6* Hit dice in hit points a round)
  • Ebony (or black) Cube: Crossed with black puddings, these cubes are no longer transparent, but much more acidic. Their strikes also do an additional die of acid damage and have a chance of degrading armor, save versus paralysis or have your armor degrade by one category, from heavy to medium, or medium to light (DC 20 Reflex save or armor becomes broken). Weapons must also make this save.
  • Electric (or yellow) Cube: Can discharge an electric aura every 1-4 rounds, doing a die+2 damage to every target within 10' and causing them to be stunned. A save versus paralyzation will negate the stunning effect (DC 20 Fortitude save versus paralyzation)
  • Frost (or dirty white) Cube: A hybrid of brown mold, these cubes grow when exposed to heat and have an aura of cold doing 3 dice of subdual damage a round to anyone within 10'
  • Spell (or pink) Cube: This brain cube is brilliant and can cast spells.
  • Stunjelly (or dungeon) Cube: This is a cube that adapts by not being transparent, but by taking on the appearance of nearby walls. It smells of vinegar.

On the Unique Beast

Monsters should never just be a name.

Would you rather a lizard man or a sleestak?

A good campaign subverts the players expectations. We've all internalized the idea that you say "The bony forms of three bodies infused with unholy power rise up and move towards you," instead of "you see three skeletons".

That's trivial. If that's all you're doing, then players are only engaged till they find out whatever special powers you've given the current monster. How are these skeletons different? 

This blog is about how to use things directly in play that support agency and improve your game without resorting to numbers. How to apply that to monsters?

The ecology.

Now, taking the naturalistic route is kind of trivial (THANK YOU DRAGON MAGAZINE. I TOTALLY NEEDED TO KNOW NYMPHS DON'T LIKE IT WHEN THEIR HAIR GETS CUT). I don't really believe that's very helpful.

What's important for your campaign is that monsters are exotic. That you know who and what they are. A selection of a few interesting monsters can provide grist for years, over flipping through a book, looking for the next deadly thing. Some companies understand this! (A professional example from a company that understands this).

So this exercise should help.

Do you want to thank me? Use one of the variations in your campaign and come back to comment and tell me how it went!

On the High Cost of Living

Are Role-Playing Game materials good?

I live in America, and there are problems here. (Note that you can replace the word America with any country during any time in history.)

In spite of turning and turning in the widening gyre, the second coming is not occurring.

When the Roman empire 'fell'; men in Europe woke, and committed to their daily tasks. "This too, shall pass."

So the real question, the moneymaker, is what do you think is best

This has an awful lot to do with who you are. If you are Hasbro, well, 20 million dollars profit from the Dungeons & Dragons brand, just isn't enough. Core brands have to make 50 million in profit, on a path to turning 100 million in profit in a year.

Clearly, something that makes 49 million dollars is an abject failure.

What do you think is best?

Me? I personally would rather have 10 RPG products available for purchase, rather than 2. I would rather have 50 than 10. I would rather have 100 than 50.

Did you know that RPG products exist today that would otherwise not exist, if it wasn't for Kickstarter?

What's the problem? I'll tell you what the problem might be. A market flooded with trash. The difference is, for our little corner of the world, is that we, as consumers for the first time in history are the ones who are deciding what makes it to market and what doesn't!

What does that mean? In a free market (like kickstarter), you as a consumer have more responsibility because that market isn't regulated. This, if you've been paying attention at home, is a very very good thing. The cost is, if you are stupid and don't pay attention, you can experience consequences for making poor decisions.

See? This really is a post about role playing!

Having more creative input in the field is a good thing. Having more people being creative is a good and exciting thing. Is it pricey? Sometimes, yes. The costs of everything have risen 10%-50% in the country where I live in the last year. But I still have and use the vast majority of RPG books I've ever bought. They are a niche product and their creation is a labor of love. They maintain their utility years and years after creation. And, being that you're an empowered consumer in a free market, if they don't have that value to you, you can choose not to purchase them and you lose nothing!

Enjoy our present, it is much richer then it might have ever been.

On 10 Ways To Open A Chest

"But assuming it was a treasure hunting expedition (and the lower floors of the tower were reasonably cleared, with a path of escape blocked only by wandering monster rolls) what would a party need to do in one of your games to safely open a chest?"

Here are 10 ways to open a chest safely!

10. Pour acid in the lock.
9. Use a pick and chisel to break apart the lock mechanism.
8. Use a crowbar and specialized tools to pry the lock out of the chest.
7. Saws!
6. Carry the chest back to town and pay the thieves guild to open it.
5. Hammers!
4. Knock!
3. Unscrew the lid hinges.
2. Pry off the back of the lid!

And the number one way to open a chest safely?

1. Have the thief open it, there's always more where they came from!

Why don't they just do these things by default? They are time consuming, loud, or require heavy encumbrance penalties.

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