On Reader Mail, Your Favorite Version

Christopher writes in "I've been doing a lot of reading on Hack & Slash, and I was wondering what your favorite style of Dungeons & Dragons is. Do you prefer Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Original Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder or some other version? I have been looking for ways to make my Pathfinder games better, and I am being converted more and more to the original rules of Original Dungeons & Dragons. I was just wondering what you liked best and perhaps a short description as to why. Thanks so much for your time!"

What is my favorite style of Dungeons and Dragons to play?

I am perhaps, the worst player.

Original Dungeons & Dragons: This is a version I've never run, but certainly the one I would choose to run for people who have never played Dungeons & Dragons before. How do you start? Roll dice immediately! What do you do? What you can do in life! How do things work? It is uncertain!

Basic/Expert: This is one of my favorite versions to hack and modify. The core of the system is so simple, well put together, and direct, It certainly is very conducive to adding lots of entertaining house rules

1st Edition: I very much like running this game, particularly the version known as Hackmaster 4e. It captures a certain type of adventuring spirit, where tactical considerations blend with strategic ones and the existing systems motivate both the players and the characters to continue to adventure. This is certainly my choice for a long term campaign of heroic adventure.

2nd Edition: Splitting Strength in to Muscle and Fitness? No thank you. Spelljammer, Planescape and Dark Sun are worth it though.

Pathfinder: If I were going to play with gamers I didn't know, I'd want to play this. I mean, at least that way there's some objective definition of what should be occurring. I wouldn't attempt a grapple though.

I sometimes get a jonesing for a character build and the old 3.x, but it only takes a session or two of that before I realize how much time we spend just dealing with the numbers instead of playing.

I think 4e could be a fun thing, but the fact that I need a software subscription and 900$ worth of games to play mean I'm not really interested in trying. Also, the fact that on first pass the system was way broken left a very bad taste in my mouth.

On the Blue Mage

A Blue Mage is a Spellcaster that gains abilities by experiencing monster attacks. This allows them to use attacks exclusive to monsters or enemies. The downside is that they must be subject to the attacks first. This is a Labyrinth Lord Class.

Experience  Level Energy Hit Dice (1d6)
0 1 1
1,500 3 2
3,000 4 3
5,000 6 4
10,000 5
20,000 10 6
40,000 12  7
90,000 8 14  8
180,000 16  9
280,000 10  17  +2 hp only
400,000 11  18  +4 hp only
540,000 12  19  +6 hp only
660,000 13  20  +8 hp only
780,000 14  21  +10 hp only
900,000 15  22  +11 hp only
1,100,000 16  23  +12 hp only
1,300,000 17  24  +13 hp only
1,500,000 18  25 +14 hp only
1,700,000 19  26  +15 hp only
1,900,000 20 27  +16 hp only

Level Breath Attacks Poison or Death Ray Petrification or Paralyzation Rods, Staves, and Wands Spells
1 16 14 13 15 15
2-3 14 12 10 15 14
4 10 8 7 13 13
5-6 8 7 6 13 12 
7-8 8 6 5 11 11 
9-12 6 5 4 11 10 
13-16 6 4 3 9
17-19 4 4 2 9
20 2 3 2 7

They fight as a Fighter. They may not use any armor and may only use daggers, light hammers, clubs, and slings. If for any reason they receive training or proficiency in any other weapon, they fight as a Thief.

Blue Energy: Blue Mages have Energy. Their constitution modifier affects their energy pool. A first level Blue Mage with a Constitution of 16 has 3 points in their energy pool.

Blue Missile: Blue Mages can conjure and fire a bolt of force. This bolt is as a long bow arrow and they may fire it as a fighter of their level proficient with a long bow. It costs 1 energy to use and does 2-9 damage. This does not count against the limit of their spells and abilities

Blue Magic:

  • Blue Mages may learn special monster attacks and abilities once they have been the target of them. 
  • Once targeted by an ability they may choose to learn the monster ability. 
  • Learning an ability takes 1 turn after combat.
  • They then may use the monster ability by expending 1 energy point
  • Blue Mages may also learn spells, by being the target of a spell. This takes 1 turn after being the target of the spell.
  • They can then use the spells by expending a number of energy points equal to the spell level
  • Blue Mages may not know more spells and abilities total greater than their level + their Constitution modifier.
  • The ability or spell is learned, even if the Blue Mage dies from the attack.
  • If the Blue Mage is protected by spell resistance or a globe of invulnerability, they will not learn the ability. They must be affected, personally, by the ability
  • They may learn an ability regardless of the success or failure of their saving throw versus the attack.
  • They must be a target of a spell or ability to learn it, seeing it is not enough.
  • Energy points are refreshed after a nights rest.
Azure Consumption: The Blue Mage can attempt to learn passive or defensive abilities from creatures by eating them. They must save versus poison after consuming a corpse to learn the ability. Otherwise they are sick and vomit up the corpse which is ruined. A whole corpse must be consumed and this takes 1 turn.

Each of these passive abilities counts against the total number of abilities the Blue Mage can learn. Each passive ability 1 point of energy to maintain, reducing the available energy to cast blue magic. These abilities are always 'on' and cannot be turned off to regain access to the reserved energy points.

Examples of Blue Magic:
Surviving a Basilisks gaze, will grant the ability to petrify. Touching an opponent can force a save versus petrify to avoid being turned to stone
Surviving a Bat's Confusion swarm effect, will grant the ability to confuse opponents. Select a target to be the subject of a phantasmal bat swarm. While under the effect of this swarm, an opponent makes all to hit and saving throw rolls with a penalty of -2 and no spell casting is possible.
Surviving a Bear Hug. The caster grows claws and can attack as a bear, with 1-3 damage with each melee attack, and an additional 2-16 damage if both attacks hit.
Giant Killer Bee poison. The caster grows a stinger (on their hand, forehead, wherever) and can make an attack with it. On a successful attack the opponent must save versus poison or die. If they survive, they take 1 damage a round from the stinger. The stinger being ripped out is painful, and the caster takes 2d6 points of damage.
Surviving a Red Dragon's Breath. After surviving a breath from a dragon, the Blue Mage may spend 1/3 of their total Energy Points points to breath flame. This is a cone 90' long, and 30' wide at the terminus. Creatures within this cone take damage equal to the current hit point total of the Blue Mage, but may save vs. Breath Weapon for half damage

Examples of Azure Consumption:
Eating a Fire Beetle, will grant the ability of biolumisence. The caster can cause a part of their body to glow, casting light out to a distance of 10'
Eating a Displacer Beast, will grant the ability of displacement, subtracting 2 from all opponent's to hit rolls and giving a bonus of +2 to all saving throws

After battle, the DM should delineate the complete abilities available for the Blue Mage to learn, and allow them to decide if they want to learn them or not. It takes 1 turn to learn an ability. If a Blue Mage knows the maximum number of abilities they can learn, they have the option to trade out new abilities for old ones. The ability is a magical effect which means, for example, the caster doesn't actually have to fly around opponents to confuse them.

Conversions should be made so that the Blue Mage can have useful abilities of the opponents in the spirit of the original ability e.g. Dragons breath takes 1/3 of the energy points because Dragons can use it 3/day, The stinger of the killer bee doesn't kill the caster, but does hurt him.

1st Edition: Abilities learned are permanent, and may not be traded out.
S&W: Blue mages have a saving throw of 15 (as a magic user) and have a +6 versus any monster effects or attacks

A 3.5 version is here.
A Pathfinder version is here.

On Theory, Defined: Railroad

Games are very specific, very quantifiable things.

Name any game!

Whatever the game, there are very specific rules. And even for those situations where the rules don't clearly cover a corner case, the house rule, resolution, or consensus-based solution is also a quantifiable action!

This is why in game theory and design the definitions of the terms must be clear and succinct.

In many games with broad design space, this is very true. Mana cost, tempo, psychographic profiles, color pie; each of these is very specific jargon that allows Magic: the gathering designers to communicate clearly about the structure of a game.

This is often not true of role playing game design. What is common is that every person has a personal definition of a word that they use. This has two immediate effects. It makes the person look like an idiot to anyone who actually knows what the definition of the word is and it inhibits communication about design.

Communication is about shared meaning. So lets share some meaning and clear up some terms and how they are frequently misused.

Railroading (v.): The act of removing agency from a player in a game.
Railroad (n.): A game or situation in a game where the agency of the player within the structure of the game has been actively removed.
Player Agency (n.): “the feeling of empowerment that comes from being able to take actions in the [virtual] world whose effects relate to the player’s intention” -Mateas, 2001

[Edit: Added the definitions of Player Agency, since I guess some people don't know it]

I have often seen these terms applied to JRPG's like Final Fantasy or to situations where a player says "Let's run this module or adventure path." These are not railroads. If they were railroads, then the fact that you have to pay mana to play spells in magic would be a railroad because it limits your choices.

Please please note that the actions you can take are proscribed by the rules of the game.

Games are designed. That means there are places where the player has agency by design and places where they do not. 

Final Fantasy games aren't railroads, because the agency is in how you level up your party and fight the battles*. The agency in checkers is which diagonal you select for your piece. If you were given a list of where you had to move each piece in order, you would no longer be playing a game. Why? Because you would no longer be making choices.

When does railroading happen within a role playing game? That's right! When player choice or ability is invalidated! Because this most often happens in situations that are important, it is especially galling for players.  (e.g. Do we kill the bad guy or does he escape? Can we bypass this encounter? Can we ambush and kill this dangerous encounter without having to fight it?)

Note that railroading is an active process. Generalizations are often inaccurate, because cases where this occurs are specific. i.e. There are many examples of older Dungeons & Dragons modules where the Dungeon Master is encouraged to railroad her players in specific situations.

This means that if you like knowing where the story is going or you enjoy playing in role playing adventure paths, this does not mean you are a fan of railroading. It just means you like your agency to be in other areas. The insight that the agency is not always in deciding the direction of the story was noted by Jason Alexander.

If you were being railroaded, you wouldn't be playing a game, because by definition your agency is being invalidated. No one likes that.

Updates from the comments:
Brendan: "In other games, there is no such expectation. PCs can go wherever they want and do whatever they want and the setting will respond appropriately. This is not extreme improv either (a setting can be designed to handle this)."There should be terminology for this difference as well, because it is important."
Yes, but this terminology exists without needing to overload the word railroad.
Module. Sandbox. Adventure Path. Series:Episode:Scene. Campaign.

"If you think about the original metaphor-- a train that starts at one place and goes to another-- expectations have little to do with it. If we both play a video game and the game makes us meet the same people, watch the same cutscenes, fight the same bosses, we are essentially trains on the same rails. . . "I think railroad is an important descriptive term and shouldn't be discarded because people have become familiar with railroads or enjoy them."
According to the example given, every game ever is a railroad, because by following the rules of the game, you are stuck on the train. Every game must have some sort of agency. Otherwise it would be a movie or book - a passively consumed experience.

*Since XIII actually removed part of this agency, having basic stances that determined how you fight battles, it is one of the most reviled of the series.

On Interesting Treasure, Jade Bowl

You didn't find anything but some dirty humanoids no longer living and some sort of ancient kitchen.

An ancient kitchen where apparently they all ate off jade dinnerware.

Jade bowl, 800 gp

On the Ecology of the Doppelganger

"But you see, I'm not the Duke of southern Ostland at all." -Last words heard by the knight Fineous, as replayed by the crypt necropticon

Nomenclature: double goer, doppelgänger, etiäinen, vardøger, Ankou, Ka, metamorph, skin-walker, mimic, therianthrope
Description: metamorphs

Things that are known:
  • They are shapeshifters that infiltrate humanoid societies. 
  • They are bipedal, probably.
  • They can read minds

Rumors and other whispers in the dark:
  • They derive ecstasy from the emotions of fear and confusion. They thrive on disrupting intimate relationships
  • They start their lives by taking over tribes of small dumb humanoids, before moving on to larger more complicated power structures
  • They are humans who receive training from a rare akashic clan. They are trained from birth, given strange potions all in service to their clan. They are the ultimate ninja
  • Prestige among their races is dictated by the complexity of their schemes. The most powerful of them simultaneously impersonate dozens of separate individuals
  • Master doppelgangers can emulate any forms: fire, fog, any organic or non-organic substance
  • There are no doppelgangers. They are actually you, located in another place or time
  • They dwell in a place called the black lodge, where they are trapped, until released by a demon, or the entrance of a naive humanoid
  • They have no shadow or reflection
  • They are actually born of rare human children, having no race or culture of their own
  • They are actually elven children switched with human children. There is no such thing as an elf, just a face the doppelganger chooses to show us
  • In combat, they can change in a dazzling burst, making the opponents uncertain which is the dopple and which is real
  • Doppelgangers all suffer from amnesia, they don't know who they are or what they are doing. They are just doing what comes instinctually and seems like a good idea at the time
  • They are actually extraplanar, and are summoned and bound by wizards
  • That isn't true, the wizards create them like homunculi, and claim they are from the outer plains
  • They bargain with states and other socio-political entities, asking for strange deliveries and indebting themselves to work as spies for short periods
  • All rulers of men have been replaced by doppelgangers. They live among us
  • They have a compulsion to impersonate and believe they are who they impersonate. They will become hostile and kill anyone who attempts to make them confront their delusion
  • No doppelganger ever dies. When killed their consciousness is reborn in a new body
  • They can't actually survive in civilisation for very long because they are just too alien. They lose their forms both mentally and physically
  • They detest others of their own kind
  • Doppelgangers are actually very timid creatures having no sense of worth, believing themselves to be a non-entity. They take other forms in a desperate attempt to please others and escape their emotional turmoil
  • A long time ago, they made an ancient pact with an otherworldly intelligence. They serve this great outer power in exchange for their abilities
  • Doppelgangers may come from any place at any time. They all exist as transient, detached, driftwood through the corridors of time
  • The outer intelligence that controls them stores all their souls in an ever changing box
  • Doppelgangers are actually magical plants created by wizards. They grow in pods that hang from vines where they ripen like fruit
  • They are social parasites, stealing identities to give themselves purpose and meaning
  • Doppelgangers gain more pleasure from mental pursuits then physical ones
  • Doppelgangers view humanoids with contempt, seeing them as agressive and egocentric creatures who will never truly know each other
  • They are stunted elemental creatures. They steal forms and identities to experience life. In their own form the world is grey and lifeless
  • Doppelgangers follow certain people, watching their thoughts like television. They get caught up in their lives and make sure to follow all their favorite characters
  • Shapeshifting is their religion and they will ascend once they have assumed every perfect shape
  • Doppelgangers often live in the wilds as animals
  • They all live in a great link, a giant pool where they all exist together in liquid form
  • They can only hold their shape for 18 hours before they must revert to liquid form 
  • Doppelgangers are mentally unstable. They quickly adopt any odd habits or beliefs picked up by anyone they contact, which then quickly spread back to their conclave
  • In fact, doppelgangers that infiltrate non-doppelganger society for a long time eventually adopt the culture and mannerisms of the locals, they forget they're a doppelganger. They either are the subject of a raid from a doppelganger clan or have an emotional breakdown when they discover they are a monster
  • Some of these doppelgangers see the mental instability as a mirror to their physical malleability. They isolate living aesthetic lives trying to quell their inner turmoil by rejecting their ability to shape shift
  • What is beauty to the formless? They only find beauty in their own form, when they are isolated from all other races. They wear their disguises with disgust. With no home to go to, they have to wander, disgusted by their forms, terrified by exposure
  • When they mate with each other, they produce a doppelganger. When they mate with humans they produce changelings
  • They are thought forms made from concentrated hate and frustrated desires of one or more people, and aimed at an individual which is an object of loathing, fear, unrequited lust or one that you wish to subjugate
    They are the double of this person in particular (or more rarely a tribe, corporation, or idea), the master of its face. It is created with the sole purpose of destroying, humiliating, or replacing that master
    But the doppelganger is filled with complexity and incoherence. It creates a double that is self-directed and strongly willed. It borrows features from its hate-donors, shifting faces freely on the way to meeting its master. It pursues its own bizarre agendas as long as they don't conflict with the inevitable showdown
    Once the master is destroyed and its mission complete? The funny thing about hate and lust and loathing is that they don't just disappear. It is now free to explore the meaning of its existence. Very often, it seeks out those who created it, its wrathful parents
  • They are actually from elsewhere, visiting humanoids and capturing them for study
  • Doppelgangers are like honeybees, led by a queen. The personality of the hive is based on the personalities the queen has copied
  • They were originally humans, modified by wizards to be concubines and spies. At some point, the goose got away from the gander
  • Doppelgangers are actually an advanced ooze that has recently picked itself up and left the dungeon. They just can't seem to maintain their humanoid form, so they borrow it from others to prevent returning to an ooze like state
  • This has caused a rift in doppelganger society, some wish to pursue a hedonistic lifestyle, while others become morose and philosophical, becoming violent and loving to inflict pain on those weaker then themselves
  • They are a strongly secretly religious culture. They perform rituals in private to help remind them of who they truly are
  • They are not just men. Werewolves, mimics, trappers, cloakers, all are doppelgangers in different stages of their life cycle
  • They stole the source of true names and fled where only the damned go. They have returned, paying another price; their own visage. They imprinted the book on each of their souls, allowing them to take any form. You may have them do a task for you, but you must give your name to the book, allowing them the right to use your own face
  • They are violently territorial sociopaths. They do not experience guilt or remorse. They are driven to succeed and control everything, driven by their utter solitude
  • Doppelgangers don't burn
  • They pool them memories in clansmen who become memory wells
  • These memory wells allow doppelgangers to take on the skills and knowledge of those people's minds contained within
  • When unconscious they revert back to their natural form
  • Certain elder doppelgangers can consume the brain of a creature, gaining access to the memories and personality of the victim
  • Doppelgangers believe that the world and everything in it is alive and all existance is a compitition, a test of physical and mental superiority 
  • They are failed alchemical creations, the detritus of attempts to create artificial life
  • Their origin is human, undeniably. Altered by magic, alchemy, or surgery in some bizarre fashion
  • Blood from a doppelganger exhibits life-like traits. It ripples and avoids hazards, oozing away from them
  • Doppelgangers eventually replace every building, person, and object in a city with one of their kind
  • They do not sweat or produce other skin excretions
  • They are the liquid sea-formed soldiers of chaos, walking among the stone of the land to destroy law and all its stable forms. That war never ended
  • They often collect rubbish. Small rocks, bits of string, screws, pieces of metal
  • Their natural skin appears greasy, but is actually dry to the touch and feels leathery
  • Doppelgangers are able to alter their voice to reproduce any sound
  • They are immune to charm and their ability to detect thoughts operates constantly
  • After death, their natural form quickly petrifies
  • They evolved in a dungeon environment to take advantage of large groups of unorganized men. A party with more hirelings then it can keep its eye on at once is particularly prone to a doppelganger infestation
  • They lust and desire the wealth of humans, wealth they are unable or unwilling to create themselves
  • They can only reproduce with the aid of humans and leave their children among human children as the cuckoo does
  • Part of their superiority in combat comes from their mental abilities. Against opponents with protected minds (psionics, etc.) they are considered to have a much lower armor class and fight much worse, hitting much less often and doing reduced damage
From the brilliant OGLAF (NSFW)
  • They do not sleep
  • They form their clothing and weapons from their own mass
  • They are the stuff of life that first came forth, protean and ever-shifting. Originally it took on the many varied forms, learning to be born, hold a shape, and die. Now it has appeared again, perhaps to herald the end of the race of men
  • Doppelganger society if founded on honesty and truth, being unable to lie to each other
  • Doppelgangers actually avoid each other because they are the only race they can't read, leading to severe distrust
  • When they age, the take the form of large structures, forest glens, or other giant permanent structures and become powerful psionic beacons containing repositories of memories
  • This large structure then will birth new doppelgangers
  • They respond to their targets, always displaying what each expects to see
  • They are each born without a face of their own. They either break off and worship their own lack of identity, or as is more often the case, just steal one
  • They are creatures without a conscious. They just kill and replace people on a whim, not from malice, but simply from habit and temperament
  • Their natural form is non-viable. They must change form to breed
  • The doppelganger isn't a separate creature, but your own dark side, released. It kills your mind, in a very real sense taking over your body and becoming the evil that lurks inside you manifest
  • Doppelgangers exist only as a curse. They do and accomplish what the original desires, yet cannot accomplish himself
  • They are creatures of balance. When a creature, perhaps descended from the divine, drifts from its nature, a doppelganger appears and reasserts the balance by their actions. This always ends in misery and the balancing creature can only be killed by destroying the original creature
  • A religious order is the source of all doppelgangers. Once sought, the god curses the joiner. They must seek out, defeat, and re-assimilate the doppelganger to be inducted. Often they die or fail. Once a great many had, they bound together and brought down the order that created them. They now seek to bring down the god himself
  • They are robotic killers from the future to kill those who will disadvantage their creator
  • They are servants of the gods who kill those who interfere with worship and their god's divine supremacy
  • They are dreams that survive their dreamer's death

Thus it appeared, I say,but it was not. It was my antagonist - it was Wilson, who then stood before me in the agonies of his dissolution. His mask and cloak lay, where he had thrown then, upon the floor. Not a thread in all his raiment - not a line in all the marked and singular lineaments of his face which was not, even in the most absolute identity, mine own!- Edgar Allan Poe, “William Wilson”

On Reader Mail, The Acceptable DMPC?

Garth writes in "Is a Dungeon Master ran Player Character okay ONLY for a completely new-to-role-playing-games group, so long as they exist only to answer local questions, provide feedback when prompted, and perhaps provide support to the group (if, say, nobody wants to be a thief with lock-picking or a healer)?"

Nope, a Dungeon Master Player Character is never ok.

What you are talking about are services NPC's, henchmen, and hirelings can provide. This is different then a DMPC who is a character the DM rolls up to play.

Will the DM make a ruling that will restrict his character's power? Is the party willing to not only wait on the DM to reply to their actions, but spend a portion playing the game by himself? Will the DM resist being able to show off how smart he is by solving his own puzzles? Does anyone have patience for the overwhelming narcissism of a person who not only wants to run a game, but also be the most important character in it? How could it be otherwise, being that he is literally being played by god.

The NPC and Hireling? Controlled by the player, untrusted, subject to morale, is a different situation.

The last sentence of your letter is telling of your background. The appropriate response to them not rolling up a lock-picking thief or healer is that they don't get to pick locks or heal.

On the Monster Species

So who ever fought a medusa in Dungeons and Dragons?

You know that Google/Chrome flags that as misspelled.

Do you know what the correct spelling is?

Medusa. Because it's a proper noun.

So this is core to the idea of Dungeons and Dragons. A world of monsters, inspired by unique creatures in our own mythologies. I'm not the first one to think of this. Nor the second.

Here are some ideas for individuals that are ripe to be turned into playable monsters:

Krugers: Have knives for hands and haunt players in their dreams
Cujos: Mad dogs with the strength of five men
Hunters: Soft spoken, religious men that have simple words tattooed across their knuckles. They protest their innocence as they stab you in the back to fulfill their greed.
Hannibals: Well dressed cannibals. Eloquent.
Carries: Young psychic girls
Normans: Cross-dressing men with knives
Torrances: Wild-eyed drunk beasts with axes
Kurtzes: Gigantic slothful poetic warriors
Vaders: Robotic warriors dressed in all black
Kahns: Genetically modified humans seeking vengeance
Jokers: Gruesome clowns that attack with poisons
Audreys: Alien man-eating plants

On a Hexmap, Illustrated

I get bigger!
This is a map from my Deathless Gods campaign. On this map you will see the Seamoor community in the lower left, a house on a moat, an alchemist's house, and a temple. Also there is a mysterious forest with a witch's hut.

I used various modules and inserted them in this six-mile hex.

As a working artist, I'd have rates if anyone would like one of these for their campaign or a product.

On Interesting Treasure, Golden Flagon

That little man on top is gonna announce the hell out of your success when you get back to town. You are selling the rest of your loot but keeping this.

It's not like your going to keep drinking and whoring till you're out of money this time is it?

Gold flagon with figurine, 750 gp

On the Ecology of the Cockatrice

"Those are stone hens up in that den. You'll be a work of art coming out." -Ophid, Country rustic

Nomenclature: Cockatrice, Stone Hen, Rockbird, Cocatris, Calcatrix, Ichneumon, Basilicok, Basilikos, Cocatriz, Velchukruk ("lil peckers" in Stone Giant), Skoffin

Description: Advanced reptillian arcane hen

Things that are known:

  • Their gaze or touch can petrify people, even after death
  • They can fly short distances
  • It is immune to poison
  • A cockatrice has the head and body of a rooster, bat wings, and the long tail of a lizard.
  • A male has wattles and a comb like a rooster
  • The much rarer female appear the same, lacking wattles and a comb only
  • It has red or black eyes
  • It is about the size of a goose or turkey
  • They lay eggs

Rumors and other whispers in the dark:

  • A cockatrice is actually a dragon, possibly born from a dragon mating with something other than a pure dragon
  • Once it has caught the sent of prey, it can unerringly track
  • Any toad or snake incubating an cock egg will produce a cockatrice
  • The weasel is immune to their petrifaction
  • The sound of a roosters crow will kill a cockatrice dead.
  • A mirror will not stone a cockatrice, but they will violently attack the reflection (or any other live cockatrice) until dead or exhausted
  • Its hiss can route all serpents, reptiles, and vipers
  • It doesn't actually petrify, but withers plants, scotches grass, and bursts stone from heat and its deadly breath
  • Its blood is poison that spreads when struck, up the weapon into the body of the person holding it
  • The bite doesn't kill, but passes on hydrophobia to the victim.
  • They are impossible to kill by stabbing. Perhaps this is due to poison or perhaps their skin is resistance to piercing weapons
  • The beak and claws of a cockatrice are made of iron
  • A cockatrice has three tails, not a single snakes tail
  • It is the mortal enemy of the crocodile
  • They are filthy, stupid, and vicious animals
  • If in a city, they can kill many with their poison breath. A cockatrice that has done so, can only be ousted with the power of the gods
  • The cockatrice doesn't actually turn anyone or thing into stone. It has venom that causes calcium to multiply and crystallize, replacing flesh. The stoning that results from this causes a porous appearance versus the statue-like look caused by a medusa or gogon. It is this calcium that they eat
  • The crowing of a cockatrice will curdle the milk inside a cow
  • A pregnant sow will birth deaf piglets if exposed to the crow of a cockatrice
  • The feathers are quite magical, and useful for arrows, quills, bu they must be used quickly
  • The cockatrice is actually a passive grazing animal and not a predator at all. Their deadly gaze is for insects, not man
  • A cockatrice grinds the stone it eats using hard diamonds stored in its stomach. 
  • Sometimes called the "excuse bird" it is often credited with ills it did not cause. They have never been known to eat homework or cause a late snow or poor harvest
  • This name offends them and they retreat into their study of geology, hiding in caves
  • Cockatrices are actually very wise and know many profound and secret thoughts of the origin of things, learned from the earth itself
  • They often correspond with wizards under the guise of being a geothaumatologist or ignohistorian. They pay for their research by providing the locations of gems and raw magic.
  • These locations are the subject of many treasure maps
  • They are not natural creatures, they are created from a rooster of superior chickens and a still living snake plucked from the head of a medusa
  • They don't actually consume stone, but eat it in order to help them digest food. They don't eat rocks like a reasonable animal because they have very tiny brains
  • It is actually a being of extra-dimensional origin. It is a normal hunter and scavenger on its home plane, but on ours it is deadly. It has a envenomed beak and its feathers contain toxic material. It petrifies organic matter, leaving behind crystallized salts
  • Cockatrices are quite fecund, but poisoned easily by toxins in this planar environment  Those that survive all learned to bury their crystalline eggs underground
  • They have a particular vulnerability to strong acids, sonic vibrations and metal poisoning
  • It has a strong affinity for natural forces
  • Cocksatroises was once widely accepted as the plural of cockatrice, now there is debate that it refers to an intelligent breed of cockatrice whose eggs were incubated by tortoises
  • Victims do not turn to stone, but are nearly instantaneously fossilized. The tap from the beak pulls the victim out of sync with its time frame, stealing all the motion from the targets life. This motion is lost to the universe, funneled into another somehow
  • The result of this is every time a victim is refleshed and recovered, that is stealing energy from another dimension. Do that enough and you might be noticed
  • They are used to herd stone giant children and keep them safe
  • They were designed by the wizard Vora Elgath, a wizard and friend of the stone giants who found them peaceful company
  • A cockatrice is not a separate creature, but is in actuality an infected chicken  This mutated form can only survive on venom, kept on hand by their stone giant keepers
  • They are actually the cursed offspring of Ur Kardar, a dragon foolish enough to attack a god. He lost and his eggs were all turned to chicken eggs. A trickster god coaxed the dragonish to the surface by changing how they hatched, becoming his favorite assassins
  • That trickster god's clerics can attune to the cockatrice and command its actions; possessing it for a time and petrifying their foes
  • The flesh of a cockatrice is quite delicious
Dan Scott
  • They are vain, bullying creatures and constantly battle for status among themselves
  • Females lay 1 to 2 eggs a month at the waxing of the moon. The eggs are brownish-red, flecked with rust-red speckles and have hard brittle shells. They hatch in 11-19 days.
  • They love to line their nests with shiny sparkly items. The more shiny their nest, the higher the status among cockatrices
  • Cockatrice have the option of petrifying, it does not automatically petrify by touch.
  • The feathers of a cockatrice can turn creatures to stone for a long time after their removal or the death of the cockatrice
  • The females keep a harem of males and kick their young out at six weeks
  • They are the damned combination of a basilisk and its mortal enemy, the rooster.
  • They grow a crowstone inside their vestigial gizzards ranging in size from a grain of sand to marble size. This cloudy colorless gem is a potent cure for poisons and venom  Swallowing the rank tasting stone is the most effective application. The larger the crowstone the more effective it will be
  • Cockatrice feathers are useful as magical quills because of their durability against caustic substances
  • Cockatrice do not always turn you to stone. Some turn you to gold, disintegrate you, liquefy your bones, or turn you into a thrall. Some change your alignment, or polymorph you
  • Cockatrice flesh is a delicacy
  • The saliva of a cockatrice can turn stone back to flesh
Cockatrice: The cockatrice is a magical creature that has the body of a rooster, but the tail of a reptile. It is a small creature, about the size of a natural rooster, but has a powerful beak that inflicts 1d6 hit points of damage. If an opponent touches a cockatrice, or if the cockatrice successfully attacks/touches an opponent, the opponent must succeed in a saving throw versus petrify or turn to stone. Cockatrices are ill-tempered creatures, and though they primarily eat small insects or rodents, they will engage larger animals, and characters, in combat with little provocation. They live in any climate, including labyrinths.

HD 5; AC 6[13]; Atk 1 bite (1d3 + petrifaction); Move 6 (Fly 18); Save 12; CL 7; XP 600; Special: bite turns to stone.


Pyrolisk is a cockatrice that causes opponents to burst into flame
Cyrolisk is a cockatrice that freezes opponents solid
Aqualisk is an aquatic cockatrice that eats coral and breaths water
Perfidalisk is a cockatrice that causes wounds that do not heal
Regalisk is cockatrice the size of an elephant
Bicockatrice, a cockatrice with two heads
Somnolisk causes a deathless sleep
Miasmalisk breaths a killer venom that spreads out like a fog

On Gameplay in the Megadungeon

It's different than you might expect.

There are three primary activities that take place within the megadungeon.

Exploration: This is the process of moving within the environment. The key factors in this are moving from area to area, examining things and searching for secrets, avoiding traps, and mapping.

Decisions made while engaged in this activity result in several things. Your choices struggle to conserve resources. Your approach determines your preparedness for battle. And gaining knowledge about your environment allows discoveries of hidden chambers and the ability to flee.

  • Are you scouting ahead? Or will you be surprised by monsters?
  • Will you discover secret rooms using your map?
  • Will you avoid the traps and the relevant reduction in resources?
  • Have you made good choices to maximize your distance moved per turn to minimize your chance of a wandering encounter?
Encounters: This occurs when you interact with other denizens. The key factors in this are surviving the encounter, extracting information from the denizen, and managing your faction relationships. 

When you encounter non-monstrous denizens (which should be the majority of encounters you will have in a mega-dungeon) your choices determine how they feel about you, what requests they are likely to make, and what information they are likely to tell you.

  • Are you playing the factions against each other?
  • What can you gain from the encounter, versus what you have to lose? Information? A quest? Fighting and losing hit points?
  • If you do encounter a monster denizen, can you lure it away? avoid it? make sure you have the advantage when you kill it?
Extraction: This occurs when you have found treasure. Treasure is heavy and a substantial part of game-play is attempting to remove treasure from the dungeon.

When you encounter treasure, you are inundated with choices. What is most valuable? How slowly are we willing to move (i.e. how many random encounters are we willing to expose ourselves to) bringing this treasure out of the dungeon?

  • Did you bring a cart? a mule? Are you willing to take the extra risk of encounters by bringing a tasty mule?
  • Do you have a method of determining which treasure is most valuable? 

Megadungeon activities

In my experience, the idea of what people believe is in a mega-dungeon is far removed from the actual reality of what is occurring in play.

Megadungeon play is not fast, slay all the monsters, and throw the treasure in a bag, type play. It's a slow, methodical, game, where every decision is one of degrees of badness, the tension mounting and mounting as you move further away from safety. When you discover a treasure hoard, there is no possibility you will be able to remove the whole thing, so you must pick and choose, knowing the more you take, the more vulnerable it makes you to death. When you become friendly with one faction, several others dislike you. Every choice is one between what you believe is the least worst option. And when action finally occurs, with the fire and the yelling and screaming and dying, you know you've already failed.

On Interesting Treasure, The Wood Wolf

What a beautiful carving!

The wizard you filched it from will never notice it missing. It even appears to be magical. Every time you sell it, it reappears in your possession the next day. It has made the last few weeks a bit exciting for you.

Now if they can just get someone to kill that hideous beast that's terrorizing the countryside at night, everything will come up roses!

Wooden carving, warm to the touch (except the skull) 750 gold
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