On Reader Mail, The Eloquent NPC

Ryan asks:

"2) A PC playing an eloquent speaker enters a debate with an NPC eloquent speaker. How do you allow player skill without holding them to being an eloquent speaker themselves?"

Ryan's second question is a good one!

How do we allow the encounter to be decided by skill of the player, rather than skill at oratory?

First, I would like to say that personally in my own games, I try to have as little as possible be a completely subjective judgement. Any judgements that have to be subjective, I prefer to decide by consensus or random die roll.

That said, I think it is important to remember what player skill isIt's your ability to gather information by asking questions and make decisions to survive and succeed at encounters.

This is no different when encountering an NPC. They don't have to use oratory to convince you. They don't have to impress you or be charismatic or smooth.

They have to gather information and make choices.

So how do we do this?

Constructing the NPC

Encounters with NPC's need to be designed. Inside that design there need to be mechanical systems and hooks for resolving conflicts. Then the encounter then becomes again about gathering information and making choices.

For encounters, I generally set a timer based on the reaction roll. Every action during the parley reduces the timer by one step. This means they have to weigh what interactions are most important. Will they spend the whole time asking questions? Will they Threaten (Check Result & Morale modified by situational factors. Apply result to the current reaction roll) or Offer aid and possibly get a quest? Will they joke or drink in order to gain time for more actions? Offer to hire the NPC (only accepts if his reaction is 9 or higher)? (The complete list is forthcoming.)

This means the NPC's are designed with various reactions to these choices. This means the players get a chance to explore an NPC. They gather information by asking questions about what the NPC looks like and how he responds, then they make choices. Their ability to orate or speak eloquently has absolutely no bearing on the encounter.

This works in city adventures too. Information about other NPC's can be asked. Players can be given quests, end feuds, get swords left at home, and kill rats!

For longer term PC's, they provide literal hooks, like menus, to allow the players to accomplish tasks. Sages will turn gold into answers. Mages will turn gold into identified items and magic goods. Alchemists will turn gold into potions. All will give quests.

For those that travel with the party, long term loyalty and bond relations can be tracked for romance options and in-game benefits.

In all cases it requires a little bit of forethought and design, and then the NPC becomes like any other part of the game. One that becomes a test of player skill, and not something subject to pixel bitching, DM Fiat, or attempts at mind reading.

On the Archaic Prestige Class

"A neutral cleric of 9th level or greater may choose to study nature instead of remaining among "civilized" areas. This type of cleric is called a druid." - Dungeons & Dragons, Players Companion: Book One

This article discusses prestige classes and unintentionally seeks a goal that turns them into an insidious trap.

I love prestige classes. My standard operating procedure in games is when players hire henchmen, if they survive to level one, they receive a class. Examples of classes that have been acquired by my player's henchmen include Woodsman, Dandy, Incantrix, Thug, Jester, and Deathmaster.

Humans have a lot of flexibility in how they gain levels. But that doesn't negate the ability for them to enter a special prestige class either. In fact, such an idea is awesome!

So what's the trap in Prestige classes?

If you are sitting around with your friends playing a game, you should be actively playing the game now.

"This build doesn't work yet, I'll need to get to level 5 to really make it work."

"I know that feat seems kind of useless, but I have to pick it up so I can get two levels in this prestige class."

"What do you mean, where do I find a member to teach me? It's right here in the book and I qualify for it, so I'm going to take a level in it."

The problem with codifying prestige classes is that players cannot help but focus on what they are going to be instead of what they are. This isn't a problem with prestige classes, this is a problem with codifying them. So we don't need a book of prestige classes, we don't need a book filled with restrictions and limits and builds. We really don't even need rules on how to construct a prestige class.

What do we need?

Simply the idea that perhaps somewhere in the world is someone willing to teach you something you don't
already know.

I am no large fan of worrying a great deal about taking efforts to maintain verisimilitude. Any group of people willing to role-play should in a matter of seconds be able to come up with a reasonable explanation for any event that occurs in game. In this case, I believe the concept of prestige classes is greatly improved when it's approached not from a mechanical angle, but from a fictional one.

Hints should be dropped of strange sorcerous cults. Non-player characters with bizarre powers and abilities not listed in the handbook should be met. Monsters may know ancient techniques that they will only share with those adventurers brave enough to enter their lair unarmed. Strange beings from the void move about in secret in large cities and only by stowing away in their hidden ships may their secrets be uncovered. Ancient texts contain forgotten and hidden-

But that's enough isn't it? You have ideas of your own bait to drop into your campaign at this point, just to see which players bite.

What don't we need?

You don't need rules to stat up a class. Quick, think of four or five powers a pyromancer might have! Think of some restrictions to go with it! BAM. You have a new prestige class. Use any book, any resource to get ideas and drop some hints in your campaign this week.

To his credit, Venger finishes his article with "I thought it was important to sow the seeds of imagination before anything else.  In fact, I would rather have a short paragraph describing each career path than a list of numbers, bonuses, modifiers, and rules." and that does sound like a good idea.

On Old Posts Revisited, On Old School Gaming

This post was originally written on October 18, 2010 at 4:44 am. I have always considered it a quite useful tool for playing in an adventure game. I imagine if I were to codify a list for hexcrawling or megadungeons it might be different. Some of the advice for interacting with NPC's was based on my neophyte ideas of NPC design and interaction. If I wrote the post today, I would change many things, not the least of which is the title.

I perused the "A Quick Primer to Old School Gaming" document earlier tonight, and it got me thinking about our game. (Although the link above is currently not letting me download, it can be read here at Scribd but for goodness sakes, don't try to download it from there!)

Although the core of our game is an old school aesthetic, there are strong new school influences on our game. I talked earlier about really starting to know my players, and there are several 'new-school' things that I think many of my players would be unhappy without.

We like our numbers and our fiddly skills. I often call for rolls for things like identifying spells or various other small things, none of those things are truly important. For the most part, simply having a skill no matter the level it is at is enough to succeed. I think without those skills many players would feel a much reduced sense of accomplishment. Skill selection is the single longest part of character creation. Even though something like the SIEGE system is much faster and in game achieves the same effect, while removing a vast amount of bookkeeping; my players would be much less happy without the fiddly bits. They like the crunchy gamey stuff.

The other thing I think is difficult for my players has little to do with what they think is fun, and more to do with the type of people they are. Not that there is such a thing as 'true' old school gaming, but when faced with the classical 'search each room in the dungeon as if you were actually there' scenario given inside the document several problems would quickly start to occur. One of my players would wonder why we were 'wasting time' that could have been spent fighting something. Another would have a great idea, but get distracted and totally forget about any sequential plan of action. Another would be concerned about the abstract fairness of the meta-interaction. Another is just happy someone besides him is taking point.

The point of this post is not just commentary on 'what my players are like' but instead a step by step primer on 'how to go about role-playing successfully in an old school style'. They touched on this within the document, but I found their list lacking. This is a listing on what I would do if I were a player within my game. Perhaps this will help other players be more effective and proactive in their old school games.

  • Make a listing of all your goals and keep it in front of you on a 3"x5" note card.
  • Have a blank scratch paper for the sole purpose of writing down names, ideas, thoughts, and questions when talking with NPC's
  • Seek out various NPC's before doing anything and talk to them. A list of suggested NPC's are below.
    • Townspeople
    • Guardsmen
    • Town Officals
    • Bartenders
    • Bar Patrons/Other Adventuers
    • Various 'guilds' (Merchant as well as nefarious)
    • Religious Organizations
    • Sages and Magic-Users
  • Talking to NPC's: 
    • When you talk to the NPC's GET THEIR NAMES.  Your DM is running these people as people - when you walk up to them rudely, they respond rudely. Don't be overly obsequious either.
    • 50%-70% of all rumors and NPC information is false in all published materials. This should be a clue to how much  you believe what they say. Default into thinking that what you are being told is false - even when it looks like they know what they are talking about. (This advice is NOT relevant for sages. They charge a pretty penny, because you know what you are getting is the truth).
    • Trust your eyes and your investigation abilities. 
    • Think very hard about their perspective on the situation. When you do get information from someone, even if you are sure it is true, remember to treat it like a theory. Be prepared to revise it as soon as you receive additional or conflicting information.
    • Cover each and every goal on your list with every NPC! Use your goals sheet as a checklist. In a sandbox game there will be many threads going on at once.
  • Accomplishing goals
    • There are two ways to accomplish anything in old school play. Money, and Adventure. 
    • You can pay the gold to buy training, or answers from the sages, or spells cast for you, or certain specific magic items. Often this is a way to compensate for bad play (except in the case of sages - sometimes your only option). This (money) is the real source of power in old school gaming, and it's fast and effective - but very expensive.
    • Or you can engineer the situation to get what you want. 
      • Do not walk up to the person and go "What can I do to make you X" Where X is 'give me free training' or 'lead me to the magical whosit'. It may work at the very start of a campaign or adventure, but mostly it gets blank stares. (Think about someone coming up to you and going "What can I say to make you buy a vacuum today/believe in Jesus Christ our zombie lord/donate blood" Mostly the response is "Gah!")
      • Do observe the person. See where they go, who they talk to, what they do.
      • Talk to other people about the person indirectly. Say something that you know is just slightly wrong, and listen to the way people correct you. "Joesph isn't just in charge of the lighthouse - he also is on the city council, right?"
      • Then, once you know the score, you can assist/blackmail/bribe/coerce the person into giving you information, training, etc. 
      • Often there may simply not be anything prepared there, but that becomes less and less likely the more important the person is. Most old school DM's have exploitable relationships like this prepared. If they don't they will either develop something on the spot or use this to lead you to what is going on that's interesting.
  • Going on an Adventure
    • Be a boy scout. (Be prepared!)
    • That means mounts, pets, men-at-arms, torchbearers, equipment, food, and supplies, weapons, armor, and spare shields.
    • Treat those men you buy well! Give them extra gold, take risks for them. Talk to them and make sure they are comfortable. Over 100% loyalty is crazy nice. 
    • Scout ahead! Time and time again, I've seen the scout not be sent ahead because it was dangerous. That is their 'fsking job! It's not like they are nearly as effective as any of the other classes in combat. Their biggest advantage is not getting surprised, discovering the enemies and reporting back to the party. This helps the party avoid being surprised - the single biggest killer of PC's.
    • Avoid combat at all costs. Experience comes from treasure. Monsters give very little ep value compared to treasure and carry a high risk. If you have an encounter with an enemy that appears even mildly intelligent PARLEY. Even if their alignment is diametrically opposed to yours, your job isn't fixing the whole world (at this point), it's accomplishing your immediate goal. This is why certain inflexible classes are so difficult to adventure with (Paladin, I'm looking in your direction).
    • If in doubt, run. I've started pretending to track damage for creatures immune to weapons the party is using unless it is very obvious that they are not working. You cannot kill everything, and you will run into things you can't kill.
    • Make sure your party mapper comes prepared with actual real world tools to map (Paper) and some sort of organizational scheme for the maps.
    • Ask lots of questions about the environment. Remember any unusual words the DM mentions. There is an economy of language - rooms 'seem' empty, you 'think' you don't find any traps. If there's dust on the floor, is it ancient debris? Or pulverized bone from the ceiling crushing down every 4 minutes? Or powdered blood and flesh from a disintegrate trap? Not asking about the dust on the floor means you're going to be the dust on the floor.
    • Look up
    • Test the floor - every floor, every time.
    • Make sure your marching order is effective. Like Gygax says, short people up front, then elven bowmen, then your men with pikes. Maximize your damage potential. Focus fire on targets until they are down. Don't ever assume anything is dead. 
    • Cut open the stomach of every monster, even if you didn't kill it. (Especially if you didn't kill it).
    • Search every item in every room. Break apart rusty pipes, check pedestals, daises, idols, everything.
    • Set a watch at a chokepoint while you're searching.
    • The most important thing of all: Have a party goal and STICK TO THE PARTY GOAL. Do not be distracted.
That's a start. Think of anything I missed? Please comment!

On the Effects of Magic, 1st level Wizard

There was an idea posited over at Grognardia that actually having the spell prepared might have side effects. Other people have created lists like these for spells before like Trollsmyth.

The magical energies contained in the brain could cause side effects. When the wizard acts as a conduit there are risks. As these are first level side-effects, the results should be minor. But higher levels of spells could certainly have more powerful or more far reaching side effects.

This makes wizards somewhat more unique based on the spells they know and can prepare. It also can make them more useful or somewhat of a liability.

Here is a listing of those side effects:

  • Affect Normal Fires: Light wisps of smoke rise from wizards collar
  • Burning Hands: The wizards hands are warm and sweat oil
  • Charm Person: The wizards voice become mildly hypnotic.
  • Comprehend Languages: The wizard experiences a slight delay in hearing all auditory phenomena
  • Dancing lights: When in motion, the wizard appears to shimmer momentarily in multi-colored light
  • Detect Magic: The wizard's sight becomes slightly blurry
  • Enlarge: The wizard becomes slightly larger, and when hit his skin bulges strangely
  • Erase: The wizard's clothes become slightly washed out in appearance
  • Feather Fall: The wizard has the same mass, but weighs ten pounds less
  • Find Familiar: A strange forest scent exudes from the wizard
  • Friends: The wizard's teeth become whiter and straighter, his hair appears luxurious and rich, and he smells good.
  • Hold Portal: The wizard's hair knots at the tips
  • Identify: While memorized his eyes become slightly larger
  • Jump: The wizard's skin becomes slightly elastic
  • Light: The character's skin becomes mildly luminescent. Not enough to illuminate his current space, but in a pitch black room, you could eventually make out his features. 
    • Alternately, his eyes may cast a dim light
  • Magic Missile: The wizard gains a slight echo to his voice.
    • Alternately, flickers of force may appear across his hands and arms
  • Mending: The wizard's clothing shrinks a size
  • Message: The wizard speaks with a mild rasp while this spell is prepared
  • Nystul's Magic Aura: The wizard radiates magic if detected
  • Protection from Evil: The wizard's skin takes on a dimensional sheen
  • Push: The wizard's skin actually repulses nearby object. His hands no longer grasp things directly, there is a very small (~1mm) invisible force surrounding the wizards skin. This does not protect the wizard from spells, weapons, or hazardous materials
  • Read Magic: When the wizard speaks, runes appear in the air for just a split second
  • Shield: The wizard's testicles shrink to the size of peas
  • Shocking Grasp: The wizard is charged with static electricity, zapping anything he touches
  • Sleep: The wizard become tired and his voice is somewhat monotone
  • Spider Climb: The wizard's hands are sticky as if he had just recently eaten an apple or some ice cream
  • Tenser's Floating Disc: The objects carried by the wizard are weirdly supported, seeming to be held up by invisible wires. This does not directly affect the encumbrance of the wizard (although it may reduce the effective encumbrance of items with bulk)
  • Unseen Servant: Objects will fall of tables and jump up out of sheathes without warning
  • Write: The wizard's hands appear inkstained.

On the OSR New Wave: Patrick Stuart of False Machine

The OSR is currently today, vibrant in a way it has never, ever, been. The ideas are bright and strange and
more creative than can be believed.

I've interviewed some of the most prolific and creative bloggers in the OSR with some non-standard questions. We are going to start this week with Patrick Stuart of False Machine. I first became aware of his blog with a link to shadow biology and how it relates to Dungeons and Dragons. He is currently involved in producing content on his blog eventually to be collected in a great work of the ultimate tool for underdark creation for the DM called Veins of the Earth.

A short quote from Fungal Ambassodiles disscussing how crocodiles are the ambassadors of fungal kind.
"There is a food chain of decay. A sun-linked chain made by plants. A red chain of animal flesh. A dark chain of dead and dying things. The doomed feasting on the ruined who ate the dead. A pyramid of ghouls. Crocodiles survive every extinction. They are a final link of the negative chain. Slow. Patient. Waiting for the world to make a mistake. The river-dwellers eat the things that ate the things that ate the world. They live on."
He is brilliant and you should read him in spite of his protestations.

Without further ado, Patrick Stuart:

Pitch me on you and your blog right now before I get bored and stop reading this article!

I probably never will. I have deeply ambivalent feelings about people actually reading my blog. I like attention and having my ideas validated by a public audience, I am also a strange introverted antisocial crab-thing creature who feels the gazes of others like a whip across his skin.

I deal with these powerfully conflicting impulses by being odd on my blog. I make no attempt to be normal, reach a wide audience, advertise or pump up my page hits. I don’t link much to others (which I feel vaguely guilty about). I keep a blog list on my sidebar so people can see what I’m reading and because it seems unfair not to let people link out to other blogs from mine when a lot of my hits come from other OSR blogs. I G+ something if I think it’s any good and if I think the people on G+ might like it.

Someone asked Alan Moore why he wrote the first chapter of his book in an invented 1st person pseudo-neolithic minimal-vocabulary style designed to reflect the world view of a mentally challenged young man in a prehistoric world. He said “to keep the scum out.” The only people reading the rest of the book are the ones who could get through the first chapter. So you don’t have to deal with any stupid questions later on. My blog is a bit like that.

Which cartoon not named "Dungeons & Dragons" is  most like Dungeons & Dragons?

Probably Adventure Time? There is a more clever, funnier answer out there somewhere I’m sure. Like maybe one of those strange stop-motion Russian animated shorts from behind the iron curtain about woodland animals because they are actually a bit like being in another world. Or Ray Harryhausens animated work because the monsters, or any 80’s group-hero show because they are paratactic* like D&D games and they group has to strive endlessly to end up back in the same place by the end. But it’s probably Adventure Time

*paratactic means something is like a string of pearls, each thing goes in sequence, but could easily be unrelated to the other things, one thing does not necessarily mean another has to happen.

If you ran across a group of baby orcs in a game;  what do you do with them?

Leave them alone probably. If I had the time, maybe take them off to a ruined monastery and raise them as ninja-turtle-style kung-fu heroes. Probably you should take them back to the orc parents, but you killed them didn’t you. Yeah you gotta raise them now. That’s your campaign.

You all have highly creative blogs. Bryce over at tenfootpole.org has reviews of adventures that are simple and direct, mostly involving killing things in rooms and getting +1 swords. Describe your philosophy behind why those aren't good enough for you?

I have eaten enough culture. I think like a lot of people of my age and generation, I grew up choking down everything in popular culture like a fat man eating buttered white bread. Sometimes you get the original thing, but most of the time you get the ironic re-imagining of the thing. So I was introduced to a lot of good ideas by reading jaded cleverclogs making ironic fiction based on the weaknesses in the idea, then years later, I get the original idea that everything was about. I think this must be a strange way to grow up.

Anyway.. I have eaten most culture and the patterns are within me now. If I absorb something, most times, stuff from the thing is just like the old patterns. It’s like if you could only eat old meals. Like if every week you could only eat stuff you had the week before, but you could change one ingredient. Only one each time. How frustrated would you be? Just waiting and waiting and waiting for that new taste.

It’s not really a philosophy, I don’t think things through like that. When I experience something and it has a gem of imaginative energy inside, when there is something new or lively or beautiful or something I haven’t seen or wouldn't expect then it kind of lights me up inside. Some part of me vibrates in sympathy. A E Van Vogt said that when he wanted to know if a book was worth buying he would pick it off the shelf and read the first page to see if it contained ‘story energy’. That is a good phrase to use, it can’t be broken down to any particular abstract analysis, no school or method will be an absolute guide. I am hungry for the energy. I do not know what it is. It will be like walking into an unexpected room, or finding an unlikely view unfold between mountains or when it snows your school off and you wander round a familiar place alone with everything changed and alien. I am hungry for something to change me, for something that can’t be explained in terms I already have.

As regards writing things. There is a book of poems by my bed by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It’s about as thick as my fingernail. It’s the best of his lifes work. There is no-one else who could have written any of them and nothing else they could possibly be. They are a world themselves. I would like to leave something behind me like that.

(as an addendum, there is nothing really wrong with liking or playing or reviewing  or making stuff that is vanilla, the point of an adventure is the people playing it, the activity of play and the contact with others is the real thing, the actual solid thing, the stuff written down is just a pale ghost, it seems more permanent because it is a material thing and not a process but it is not, the play is real. If an adventure gets people playing then it is good, if someone wants a +1 sword than get the fucking sword, kill that orc, live that thing, the rest is noise)

I think probably I have failed to answer that question. If I can’t do it with that much blathering I doubt I can do it at all.

What is the most important house rule or change you make to the game?

Ahhhh, I got nothing. I like the ‘daggers explode’ rule because I have a mild knife fetish. Maybe the drinking spirits in the dungeon lets you swap points from WIS to HP temporarily rule, drunk adventurers are fun. Sometimes I start games by telling people ‘you do not have to like each other but you do have to be on the same side’, is that a house rule? I bolt a lot of crap on but no one thing seems more important than any other.

 What's your favorite edition and why?

Man I don’t really know anything about all the different editions. I started with 4th, found it quite difficult. Started reading the internet and found out about LOTFP, since then that’s all I use for D&D. My RPG history is shamefully short. I only started playing in about 2010 I think? So I have probably played less games for less time than almost anyone else with an RPG blog. I am kind of a faker Johnny-come-lately. I have played BECMI 2nd Ed with my friend.

Why is LOTFP good? Its very short very simple very cheap and written with clarity and rigour. It’s fucking amazing that Raggi put it together, if you look at his online persona, the rules he made, or the way he made them, are almost like the opposite of his personality, they feel like the construction of a careful puritan.

Other people have talked a lot about the benefits of a simple ruleset. You can bolt anything on to them, mix anything from almost any other scource. With LOTFP in particular, the game is harsh so I don’t have to be. I have a hippy art teacher aspect to my DMing style where I really want the players to pull together and win, I use open rolls to keep me honest and Raggi’s rules are like having a complete bastard dm the game with you. They lend a toughness I might not otherwise posess.

Thieves? Clerics?

Clerics, obviously yes. Every cleric is evidence of a strange and unpredictable god. Religion is one of the weirdest and most powerful forces in human culture so yes it should be in the game. There are so many things you can do with that

Thieves, yes, if you want. I agree with Raggi that the name thief is a bit stupid and makes people behave in stupid ways. Specialist is a bit dull. I replaced it with ‘Artifex’ which is the latin translation of specialist and sounds cooler.

My friend Noisms doesn’t like thieves for the relatively sound reason that the skill system lays on top of the other systems like a bad rug and maybe persuades other PCs that they should not do stuff they could obviously do because they don’t have the skill for it written on their sheet.

He’s right but I don’t care. I love the idea of the Indiana Jones figure, or the black cloaked dude with a grapple and a bag full of useful tools, or the girl with rope and all the knives, the idea of just being really fucking professional at something and having lots of cool shit to go with it.

Violence, Magic, Faith and Greed. Imagine setting out to make a story with the four characters powered by some of the most fundamental strangeness in human culture, how could that no go horribly wrong and be amazing?

What are your thoughts on the proliferation of rulesets for sale?

I don’t have many, probably good? The dawn of life was marked by many proto-organisms swapping genetic code back and forth, this increased adaptivity and probably helped lay the groundwork for the genetic complexity and sophistication that allowed the creation of higher forms. The mitochondria in your cells are a pirated from some ancient bacterium, its why you can move around and do stuff. So make more make stranger make better.

How long before the inevitable saturation occurs and we go though the classic fox/hare die-off?

Soon? Two or three years. As 4th sinks into the ocean of time things will begin to change. The 4th escapees will join together and work their strange and vengeful art on some new ultraweapon to destroy us all. 5th will war with Pathfinder in the stores. Hasbro will work out there is no money in this stuff. Someone in the mainstream will work out how good Vincent Baker is. G+ will slowly grow until somewhere in google a meeting is had about how to profitise it. They will try some new fucking bullshit, not ads, some new ghastly thing, and G+ will likewise sink into the waves and we must all swim for the distant shore by the light of dying stars while the drwoned ghost of 4th edition curls between our toes.

Do you get to play? 

Yes. I play in my friends games. Once or twice a week. I should play more over G+ but I have a weird schedule and I am a neurotic anti-social.

What is your favorite class?

Probably the Thief/Specialist/Artifex, for reasons given above. Any class can think but with them its assumed both you and the character are thinking in the same way maybe? Use the environment, don’t get sloppy, survive.

There is an alternate universe where the tedious 1980's sitcom was bypassed and instead replaced by D&D. What is the worst thing about this alternate reality?

You mean instead of sitcoms there is D&D? For everyone? Everywhere? I don’t know, no Fraiser? No Friends? Probably everyone having a fucking opinion  It’s bad enough as it is on the internet when there is a pretty powerful cultural filter. If I imagine the shit I have to read in magazines and papers about normal stuff, just the inane blathering claptrap, but now about something  actually care about, that would be bad.

What is the worst player you've ever had?

I had a friend who went a bit mental and killed a kid in the first session. Don’t see much of him anymore.

You gain the ability to summon anyone living or dead, and if they are dead, grant them a permanent corporeal form. You take this radical power and do the only logical thing with it. Build a bunker where you force anyone you wish to play Dungeons and Dragons with you. Who do you summon? Who is the DM and what are everyone's characters?

Thomas Cromwell from Hllary Mantles Wolf Hall can be the DM.

Id like to have met Slippery Jim DiGriz, he can be the thief.

Julie d'Aubigny can be the fighter

Jessa Crispin because I’ve always wanted to hang out with her, she can choose her own class.

Cleric cleric cleric… Gerard Manley Hopkins

Maaaaaaage James Tiptree/Alice Sheldon in either of their genderforms.

And I will play Richard G’s Monster trainer class

And I want to play inside a Space Hulk from 40k.
(Cromwell is a killer DM, this game will not last long)

Which is best: Adventure, hexcrawl or mega dungeon? Why?

I have not played enough of any of those to be able to make a meaningful choice. I suppose a hexcrawl can contain both a megadungeon and multiple Adventures, the same is not true of the others.

What is your own personal appendix N?

Everything I have ever read and I read constantly. Let me look though my shelf and pick out a few of the more pertinent ones

The Master and His Emissary by Ian McGilcrist

A paradise built in hell by Rebecca Solnit

The Book Of The Courtier by Castiglione


The Muqaddimah

Atrocitology by Matthew White

The 40k universe

Walt Simonsons Thor comics

Alan Moore and Grant Morrisons collected works

Jeff Longs the descent was a good book

Too much there is too much, I don’t base my games on any of it, it just piles into my head and stuff comes out later, I do not have a Canon, I have a process, a kind of journey that I am on.


If you want to know more you could try here http://falsemachine.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Appendix P

Or here http://falsemachine.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/I read a book

What can we expect from you in the future?

Maybe one day in a trillion years time I might actually finish my Veins Of The Earth Vornheim inspired  Underdark book. It seems it will never be done, however it keeps building up so I cannot deny it is possible that it might eventually enter a state of completion. If I ever finish that I might turn the City Without a Name into a thing.

I am a moody loser and a massive flake though, I am the king of flakingham palace where I wear a crown of welsh slate and live with Tony the fucking Tiger, I have never finished anything in my life except meals, so don’t hold your breath.

That was a rather grim end wasn't it? Sorry.

Patrick Stuart on G+
False Machine, Patrick's Blog

On the Ecology of the Ixitxachitl

Christopher Burdett

"There's no debate about how to say the name! Don't be absurd." - Nenemith, Sage

Nomenclature: Ixitxachitl, Intelligent rays, Demon Rays, Devil fish

Ixitxachitl is pronounced:

Description: Evil intelligent clerical manta rays

Things that are known:

  • They are highly intelligent and wield malicious divine powers
  • They live underwater
  • They are shaped similar to manta rays
  • Their lairs are often hidden quite well
  • Members appear to be vampiric in nature

Rumors and other whispers in the dark:

  • They have their magical powers, because they sacrifice to the old and forgotten gods 
  • They sacrifice not just the flesh of men and treasure, but also sculpture and metal-works. In times of scarcity, they must occasionally sacrifice one of their own number
  • Evil is subjective. There are greater things below in the deeps that thirst and hunger. If their need becomes too great, they could consume all life. The Ixitxachitl serve a need, feeling the god-beasts and leviathans of the sea, keeping them in sated torpor. The lives sacrificed are for a greater purpose
  • They are particularly deadly to rangers. Crikey!
  • Each carries an energy, when more than 20 gather the barriers between the prime material and the realms of the old gods weaken, and they feed their gods directly by draining the life from those they face
  • They are mercenary, hiring out their services to any deity meeting their horrific demands.
  • They dislike having their name mispronounced
  • They kill and sacrifice opponents because they desire to turn their life energy into magic items
  • Vampiric Ixitxachitl are conduits for the Great Adminstrator, She Who Waits Beneath The Sands. They gather blood and funnel it to her vats, to be turned into pucks, shaped like pontefract cakes. 
  • Any who consume these pucks is turned into a Wooper (an infant Ixitxachitl)
Dungeons and Drawings
  • The Ixitxachitl are actually just sentient coral. They aren't evil, but seeking revenge for the destruction of coral by surface dwellers. They are focused on finding a way to flood the world
  • Ixitxachitl like poetry, haunting organ music, and whale song
  • Ixitxachitl can be tanned into scrolls. These scrolls allow the spell on them to be reused up to 1d12 times, but there remains a small (~5%) chance that the spell will be changed from whatever it is to summoning vampiric Ixitxachitls
  • Ixitxachitl have one six fingered hand on the end of their long, prehensile tail
  • The vampiric Ixitxachitls vary in size. The smaller they are, the more of a knack they have for traps and mimicry. They will often disguise themselves as treasure in order to access to secret places. They favor disguising themselves as one of the following: Bag of holding that can hold up to 2000 coins. After that, it explosively vomits them out. Tricorn hat, Book dust jacket, Girdle of uncomfortable looks
  • Ixitxachitl believe sea cows are sacred manifestations of their deities and must never be harmed
  • Vorpal Ixitxachitls have poisonous spines on their tails. On a natrual 20, the spine pierces the heart of their enemy, causing instant death
  • They create forbidden alien intelligences as recreation
  • They are arrogant and self-important to a fault. Anything that does not concern their world is of no importance at all to them
  • In the deep heavy ocean trenches, portals are refined by the crushing pressures of the deep. The dark intelligences of that place send their scouting spells through to see what the thin space is like, alien astronomers exploring our airy realm. Their magic is more durable than our weak magic. If the portal closes before the spell returns, it cures taking on intelligence and independent life. It maintains a thread of connection and can draw energy from its ancient source. The Ixitxachitl have not forgotten their original purpose, they secretly labor to build chambers for when their masters arrive to claim this realm
  • They worship dark gods like Demogorgon
  • Ixitxachitl worship the death cult of Skulli, the six-flippered manta of destruction
  • Ixitxachitl explosively expel their guts to entangle foes. This is why Ixitxachitl become vampiric, they need living blood to regrow their intestines

  • Ixitxachitl implant their eggs in the posteriors of their victims. There the eggs hatch into little mantas that eventually emerge from the victim's mouth
  • Ixitxachitl aren't aquatic. They are amphibious. Out of water they are called cloakers
  • Stupid wizards. Valek the sea wizard wanted a magical cloak. He wanted it to see and warn him of incoming attacks. He wanted it to channel divine magic to heal him and refill spells. He wanted it to help him swim like a creature of the sea. Imagine his surprise when it grew weary of his endless pedantic speechifying, stabbed him, and swam off. It dug into the glimmering cosmic connection infused by Valek, found a patron and had but one wish. A mate
  • Male Ixitxachitl paint their flippers with gaudy patterns of green, red, and mauve to woo females. They also enjoy wearing kilts
  • They are not cruel. They just don't understand that other creatures besides Ixitxachitl are sentient. They treat the whole world as if it exists for their use and pleasure
  • Lochsbaed, a cruel sea goddess, subjects all sahuagin clerics to judgement when they begin to attract attention with their spell demands. The failures become Ixitxachitl, scales cast from her divine body
  • Despite looking like manta rays, Ixitxachitl actually taste like beef
  • This is true, and the Ixitxachitl are literal scales, seeking to construct her body on earth. When a critical mass of failure is reached, she will be drawn to the frame of her scales and her avatar will cleanse the earth, boiling them with blood and death
  • When the moon is full the Ixitxachitl can fly through the air in bubbles of suspended water. This makes them more difficult to hit
  • They originally are space creatures and came here clinging on the hulls of spelljammers
  • They dissolve into hundreds of pearls when slain
  • They are parasites of the cosmic life force, sucking divine energy. The most refined become vampiric. Every god wants them killed, but a cult is studying them to learn how they steal energy from the gods without worship
  • The vampiric Ixitxachitl are actually ancestors, the source of their clerical spells, and summonable through pheromonal and ink gestures from the Great Swimming Grounds beyond to act as champions and protectors
  • A defected drow faction moved to the deep sea, worshiping an ancient monstrosity they crafted with atrocity and deep magic. They worship it, granting it power and it flakes off Ixitxachitl like dead skin. Now, however, it favors the Ixitxachitl more than the drow
  • A city of bloodthirsty killer cultists worshipping evil was flooded by a group of powerful adventurers. However, some were saved with new bodies granted by underwater darkness spirits
  • The Ixitxachitl do not serve gods. They take divine power from lost underwater temples. The vampiric ones serve as hosts for stolen divine sparks
  • There is a caste of four-armed engineers and builders among the mantis folk called the Fixitxachitl
  • They are symbiotic with evil halflings that live on tropical islands. They surf the large ones, use the small ones as frisbees for sports. The dead Ixitxachitl are made into hide shields and armor. Their spines are wonderful spear tips and daggers. What's the exchange? The halflings make sacrifices at a dark altar. All Ixitxachitl magic is fueled by that altar
  • The Ixitxachitl are pure vegetarian nature-lovers. Their clerics are really druids and the 'vampiric' Ixitxachitl use mouth daggers to perform sacrifices to balance the ocean
  • Ixitxachitl are hunted by the penguin folk to be made into cloaks and jackets of warmth and spell resistance
  • An aboleth from the elemental plane of water (or more likely, mucus) crafted a magic item that devours its victims. When successful, they are transformed and excreted out onto the prime material as Ixitxachitl. The aboleth does this without concern but the thought of destroying the item might appeal to mortals
  • They are obsessed with acquiring slaves that can function underwater
  • But although they can raise dead, they are unable to control them, due to the enmity of the gods of death (e.g. Orcus)
  • Ixitxachitl are the larval stage of the space manta, sailing through the folded planes of the multiverse, spreading their dark blood cult to primitive worlds
  • The vampiric liches of Sonburnne wanted to invade their elven rivals across the sea. However the sea was too dangerous to sail, the elven navy prepared with magic and arms for every incursion. They experimented with various options, transforming soldiers into rays, event transforming some of their own vampiric number. They eventually abandoned the plan and the tests, discarding them into the ocean. Some lived. They blame the elves
  • Riverine Ixitxachitl enslave elementals to carve maze like branching canyons and canals in which they raise their young
Ixitxachitl Attack, Ben Wootten, Gallery
  • For the mermaid festival the princess trained her ray friends to form a bubble and force out water to reduce the pressure. She would show off a hot air balloon underwater and use it to sing her solo. But an evil sea witch had cursed her rays. As they approached the crowd, they turned black and scattered, stabbing and casting and sucking. The problem was solved, but the sea witches achieved great fame as a result. All the other witches wanted to know the curse, and the witch was able to sell it and retire in style. Enough castings have assured the remains drift around the sea, forming a people of her own. A few have begun to question where the witch got her curse
  • The Ixitxachitl are not sea creatures at all. They live in a city on the dark side of the moon, travelling to the sea on moonbeams for their coming of age rituals
  • The truth of their origin is that they are simple shed skin from greater evil gods, who would sooner invent a creature to eat them then listen to their endless pleas
  • Dried Ixitxachitl brains are used to make the traditional elven soup of wisdom which grants a bonus to intelligence and wisdom. With each serving you risk addiction
  • The females breed annually and are seeking to improve the race by engaging in a selective breeding program
  • The Zzar wizard house was trying to build a godzilla-class undead monster. However the tank began to bloat and rot. They repurposed local rays to eat flesh once it was ripe, but the profound necromantic energies had unpredictable effects. Not only did some of them become vampiric, but they began to grow a vague malign intelligence. One of the Zzar necromancers staged a coup using these as foot soldiers, then using the brainjuicer increased the intelligence of his minion. It worked too well. They ate him and escaped. It has been speculated that they continue to have the goal of building a leviathan of the deep to rampage across the surface
  • They come from one of the seas of the moon or from within the great reservoir inside it
  • Certain varieties have adapted to thrive in sewers
  • Ixitxachitl are forbidden from dealing the killing blow to a creature. This is why they swarm, because there is some question as to who is the killer. A lone Ixitxachitl will prefer to injure and leave a target bleeding. Vampiric Ixitxachitl are created when they knowingly take the life of a victim. 
  • Vampiric Ixitxachitl are treated with suspicion by other Ixitxachitl and are worshiped by Kua-toa
  • Aberrant mermen or triton mages have grafted Ixitxachitl to their backs, learning to adopt either form and increase the arcane powers they wield
  • Powerful Ixitxachitl know the spells Desalination, Wall of Coral, and Squirming Doom
  • The name Ixitxachitl is a cruel joke played on outsiders, seeking to twist their tongue into perfidious knots. The malicious creatures have a different name for themselves
  • The Ixitxachitl grow an extra eye for every sentient creature they kill
  • The Ixitxachitl are not vampiric. This is poppycock based on magical thinking. Much like the mosquito, Ixitxachitl females need mammalian blood to produce eggs
  • The Ixitxachitl believe that negative emotions are destroying the balance of nature. They seek to provoke other creatures to draw them out, this is why some Ixitxachitl are vampiric. Others feel 'drained' after being drawn out. The Ixitxachitl are only acting as supernatural psychotherapists. "Survivors" of Ixitxachitl "attacks" report that they feel more positive and motivated about themselves and they feel less depressed or angry
  • Ixitxachitl may only be turned if their name is pronounced correctly
Tactics and Special Attacks:
  • They will burrow underneath the sand to hide or surprise opponents
  • They can swarm creatures, losing their individual attacks but doing an automatic 3d4 damage for every 3 Ixitxachitl in the swarm

The ecology series is a crowdsourced series of articles, and contributors can be found on google+ under the hashtag #crowdecology. They are limited posts, but following me on G+ will allow you to see them. All artwork is credited where the artist could be found. Classic ecology articles from Dragon magazine are used both for reference and inspiration; the whole impetus of the idea was to create 'classic' ecology articles that are actually useful. Let's Read the Monster Manual by Noism's is also a source of inspiration.  

On Reader Mail, A Hidden Thief

Ryan Latta writes in and says:

"I have a hard time imagining certain circumstances in a game where skills like Perception are [not used]."

He then asks some more specific questions, one of which we will be looking at today.

"1) A thief hides (With a successful secret roll). How can he be discovered? "

Anyone can hide.

Seriously. Anywhere.

"I hide in the barrel." or "I hide in the closet." or "I hide underneath the bed." There isn't a roll involved in these circumstances. Characters are just hidden.

Mechanically, two things are of note:
  1. The older editions of the game gave the ability of the thief to hide in shadows, effectively being able to hide in a darkened area where there was no place to hide.
  2. In the modern game hiding has more to do with the style of play and the assumptions of imminent combat. The contested hide roll is more about a mechanic for surprise rather than hiding. This is handled in older games with the strangely named "surprise roll".
How do we discover this thief?

If an NPC thief is hiding from a player: Then the thief is discovered when the player takes some action that reveals the thief. Depending on the specifics of the situation, the hiding thief may or may not receive a surprise action.
"I look in the room."
"You just see the bed and the dresser."
"I search the room starting over by the bed."
"You feel a stabbing pain, in your back, where the hidden thief put the knife."
"I look in the room, shining my lantern around in all the corners"
"As you do, there in the corner, you see a cowled form, cowering in the darkness."
Why is this not pixel bitching? Because it sounds like pixel bitching.

It is because the game mechanics give a certain class a specific semi-supernatural ability to remain unseen. I am assuming that the players are doing due diligence when they enter a room, but unless they take specific action to counter a known special ability, then by virtue of having that special ability the creature overcomes that specific normal level of safe exploration.

Let's look at the same example using the normal and standard output of your traditional mill; a goblin. Once with him hiding under the bed, once with him hiding 'in the shadows'

Goblin hiding in the shadows
"I look in the room."
"You just see the bed and the dresser, and a short goblin pressing against the wall, hoping to remain unseen."
Goblin hiding under the bed
"I look in the room."
"You just see the bed and the dresser."
"I search the room starting over by the bed."
"Roll a d6" {calling for a standard surprise roll}
 If a PC thief is hiding from an NPC: The NPC should not discover the player, unless there are
exceptional circumstances.

  • If the NPC is not searching for the player, and the player hides in a specific place, then unless the NPC is there to go into that specific place then they will not be discovered. i.e. if a player hides in the closet, then unless the NPC is there to go into the closet, then the player will not be discovered. Any player. No chance.
  • If the NPC is not searching for the player, and the player is a thief who makes a successful hide in shadows roll, then unless the NPC is there to make the room as bright as the day, then the thief will not be discovered.
  • If the NPC is searching for the player, and they are not brain damaged, then they will check all obvious places (closets, beds, and the like). People of above-average intelligence will check non-obvious places, (dusting for invisibility, checking for reduced or duo-dimensional casters, eliminating all shadows). I would suggest restricting above-average to things like officers, vampires, mages, and the like, not simple guard captains. If they check somewhere the players are hiding, then the players will be discovered.
  • If the NPC is searching for the player, and the player is a thief who makes a successful hide in shadows roll, then unless the NPC is brilliant or tasked with the specific purpose of making the room as bright as the day, then the thief will not be discovered.

A good metric to use to is to ask the player if he agrees that the NPC searching that location is reasonable.

There are several mechanical concerns that make it fairly obvious that this should be the way things are handled.

First: It is difficult enough to make the roll in the first place. Why would you be looking for ways to negate a rarely used ability that is fun for the players to use?

Second: It creates one of two situations. Either they are successful at hiding and feel empowered and enjoy making the decision on when to get the drop on nearby opponents, or they will realize that they are going to be discovered and have to make a choice about what to do before they are discovered. It is extra fun for the players because they don't know which result they achieved.

I hope the discussion has been of some use, and let's look forward to answering more of Ryan's questions next week.

As always, feel free to submit questions to reader mail at "campbellNOSPAM AT oook DOTGOESHERE cz"

On Saves, Skills, and Design

I wrote an awful lot about skills once. I've also written about saving throws. Some people have been talking about the same things.

My thoughts lately have become somewhat distilled.

Save or die

Saving throws are the chance to avoid a consequence; All save or die traps are actually just die traps. But the first time that happened, someone probably felt like a dick, so saving throw.

Anyone who complains should be listened to and the save should be removed.

Natural or Magical

A great many things are not improved by improvement. Why give players a system where they can be more 'skilled' in searching or surprise when scaling those systems causes problems?

Mundane systems (like surprise, trap setting off, drowning chance, door opening) that are modified situationally (Strength, armor worn) ground the game making the world more threatening and real.

Constant Improvement in Both Difficulty and Skill is Illusionary

It is also pretty trivial common knowledge now that subjective improvement has many consequences over objective improvement. A ninth level fighter saves on a 2 because he has a lot of opportunities to face instant death. If he has the same 60% fail rate he does at first level, then he isn't really ninth level now is he?

This goes double if you turn it around for monsters. Wizards push their save and monsters succumb. Trivial common knowledge


Games need to be designed, and since nobody really knew what gamers were doing with their home campaigns, this was hard.

An example. I have this post here where I completely trash the appraisal skill.

I run +Numenhalla here where appraisal is a key skill on a very short list of skills. 

Why? Because "How do we get the treasure out of the dungeon?" is a key pillar of play. So for that game design a mechanic of, "Do we know how much this is worth?" is crucial.

This results in systems with too many skills. The skill list should be an indicator of what the players are going to be spending time doing in the game, not a cohesive list of everything that might be possible for a player to try. Fewer choices are also better for the players.

On Old Posts, The Uncounted Dead Revisited

This post was originally posted on September 9, 2010. With the theme of player death, it seemed interesting to bring this up. I believe the article in question came from Dragon. I do find some of the statistics quite interesting.

23 dead from sacrifice, execution, or torture?

Ran across an article by one 'Lyle Fitzgerald' noting the causes of death over his 4 year campaign. It contains a fair degree of accuracy, because of the over 600 deaths that it logs.


Now that's a number to reach for. That's a death every 2.4 days. I've been playing in old school campaigns for just over a year and only have 17 to my credit. Sadly, I have not been counting henchmen, which Mr. Fitzgerald seems to do, so my total is a little higher than 17 using his accounting system. Someday if I ever hit 100, I will certainly provide a similar statistical analysis. Here is his list of deaths.

"Goblin races (61) 10.1%
Dragons (45) 7.5%
Giants (34) 5.7%
General Combat (26) 4.3%
Lycanthropes (24) 4.0%
Execution/ torture, sacrifice (23) 3.8%
Undead (21) 3.5%
Bandits/ pirates/etc. (20) 3.3%
Giant insects (20) 3.3%
Assasination/ treachery (18) 3.0%
Giant rocs (18) 3.0%
Fireballs/ lightning (17) 2.8%
Trolls (16) 2.7%
Turned to stone (14) 2.3%
Guards, military patrols (13) 2.2%
Evil high priests (13) 2.2%
Man-eating vegetation (13) 2.2%
Related dragon species (13) 2.2%
Cursed items/ booby traps (12) 2.0%
Giant animals (12) 2.0%
Falls (12) 2.0%
Gnolls (11) 1.8%
Gargoyles (9) 1.4%
Hell Hounds (8) 1.3%
Demons (8) 1.3%
Elementals (8) 1.3%
Griffins (8) 1.3%
Kindred races (elves/dwarves)(6) 1.0%
Misc. spells (6) 1.O%
War (6) 1.0%
Misc. causes (85) 14.6%"

He notes that nearly 1 in 4 deaths results from the hand of man. He also notes 4 main factors that cause deaths from encounters are the power of the creature, the number of creatures, the willingness of the creature to attack, and the frequency of encounter. The main thing notable here is that the player approach has the most to do with the willingness of the creature to attack. In the end, I've found, players are most responsible for their deaths.

He also notes that the worst thing that can happen is to become surprised, even by relatively weak creatures. With this I agree. If you read my session logs, you can see that I might have killed 3 or 4 players earlier if their rolls hadn't been good when they were surprised by the Wyvern.

On the Top Ten Bruiser Monsters

Dick the Bruiser
So you've got a mastermind. What are the top classic enforcers?

What are the top ten brutiest brutes? Let's check it out!

[Edit: Left #10 out!]
10) Bugbears: Because when you want to drop the hammer, it's best if they don't see it coming.

9) Ogre: Maybe seems a little dull, but when you need four hit dice, bonus damage and something to make first level characters panic, the ogre is a classic for a reason.

8) Bears: Because to hell with your ranger Paul.

7) Giants: You know, an additional point of damage doesn't do it for me. How about an additional seven damage. How does that treat you?

6) Trolls: Yes, yes, pull out the flame. But still, they hit hard and keep coming.

5) Minotaurs: That first hit is a doozy. Also mazes!

Christopher Burdett
4) Men: Oh, you overlooked this one. Yes, what can a zero-level human do? not much. What can 20-200 do? Cause a lot of problems for eighth level characters.

3) Hydra: Not your classic enforcer, I know. But seriously, if you use these as guards, the PC's will think twice when your attack routines require borrowing their dice.

2) Elementals: No reason to feel bad for killing these, right?

1) Umber Hulk: You got your small brain, you got your tunneling  you got your eyes of confusion, you got your three attacks, using 2 or 3 dice of damage each. Also, no chance of any Neogi around, right?

On the Thursday Trick, Sliding Staircase

Locked Inside
Sliding Staircase (Special)

Trigger: Mechanical: Pressure PlateEffectsNever Miss
Multiple Targets
Save: DexterityDuration: Instant
Resets: AutomaticBypass: None (Avoid)

Description: Not enough attention is given to stairways.

I have lots of them in my dungeon and my players are much too trusting. I've seen plenty of Scooby Doo, and even the most naive gamer should know that when you're chasing ghosts, stairways invariably turn into slides.

Note that unless the stairs are very steep, characters may not slide to the bottom of the stairway. A dexterity or reflex check may be used to stop your fall. Modifications may be made. Variations include:

  • Coating the stairs with oil
  • Setting fire to said oil
  • Having a pit trap open up at the bottom of the stairway
  • Weapons such as razors, hammers or spikes coming from the ceiling or the landing where the characters end up.

Detection/Disarming: If you describe something interesting about this stairway when you have never said anything about stairways before, then your players will of course not be tricked. They will immediately become suspicious and examine this stairway like it hides the secret to the eternal life.

So make sure you always mention some things about each stairway your players traverse. That said, when the players examine the stairs, these are some of the things they will note.

  • There will be gouges and scratch marks from where metal has scraped along the stairs.
  • Near the walls, there will be curved marks from the stairs shifting down
  • Each step may have some fairly minor "give" because of the fact that it mechanically moves up and down
  • If the stairways are coated in oil (or set aflame) residue, scent, and other physical detritus from that should be detectable
  • There may be bloodstains or other signs of injury. Also, if people slide to the bottom and die, there may be a pile of dead bodies

The Tricks and Traps series examines original and classic traps discussing how to present the traps while maintaining the agency of the players. A complete list of sources may be found here. The Tricks and Traps Index page contains a complete listing of all the tricks and traps on this site, or you may browse by tags.

On the Ecology of the Hydra

"At first I thought it was a snake, den 2 snakes. 'da third head gave it away." - Holfandun, Othlandic cook

Nomenclature: Hydra

Description: Reptilia Hydroza, Many-headed Reptile, Chthonic water beast, Hydroraptor, Water serpent

Things that are known:
  • They are reptiles
  • They often live in swamps or near water
  • They have multiple heads
Rumors and other whispers in the dark:

  • Hydra isn't a separate creature. They are actually reptile elementals
  • Each hydra starts off as a genius. However when they are forced to regenerate or grow a new head, their intelligence is forced to be split between each surviving head
  • Something about the regenerative powers is easily influenced by the elemental planes. When fire influences a hydra, you get a pyrohydra, when ice does, you get a cyrohydra
  • Hydra does not refer to a specific creature, but rather a mutation or disease that grants extra heads
  • There are rarer elements that affect hydras, from chronohydras to mirror hydras, radioactive to vacuum hydras
Dungeons and Dragons Cartoon
  • There is always one head that plots against the others. It strives to secretly acquire aid, which is difficult being that it is attached to the other heads
  • Hydras are not quadrapeds. They are actually bipedal
  • Several varieties of hydras exist, winged dragon types, slow moving swamp types. Serpent types and even types that walk like a man.
  • There is a dimension of snakes, and hydras are just ancient reptiles who contain a genetic code that grows a mobile portal to that realm
  • Killing the snakes just allows more to work their way through the portal, but whatever you do, make sure to close that gate. If a hydra body ends up wedging it open a whole circus of snakes can pour out
  • Hydras only have a single head, but it is displaced throughout time. That is how so many heads appear from a single neck
  • Hydras heads are not actually heads. They are just tooth and spiked tentacles that appear to be heads. Its actual head is in its tail
  • That is a particularly nasty rumor that has no truth to it. Its brain and organs are all safe inside the armored body, and its real mouth is a sucking orifice in its belly
  • Hydras don't really 'grow new heads', they are just actually better regenerators than trolls
  • That said, each part of a hydra cut off will grow a new hydra. Once there was just one, chopped into a million pieces by brave heroes
  • The hydra isn't a predator at all. It's a freshwater filter feeder, needing many heads to siphon plankton, small fish, and algee from the water. They are the most peaceful of swamp creatures
  • Hydra isn't a creature, it's the titanic form that the apocalypse comes in, each head devouring a part of the world
  • It isn't just the heads but all limbs that grow back, hence the origin of the hydracentipede
  • Not only is their breath poisonous, but also their blood and even the tracks they leave on the ground
  • Hydra eggs are quite valuable
Jeff Dee
  • Hydra is simply a word to describe the endless hordes of reptile peoples in the swamp. They are the hydra, stealing and raiding from the edge of civilisation
  • The hydra is a boneless creature, supported by hydrostatic pressurized vesicles
  • Hydras don't eat meat, they actually drain all liquid from their prey. They are hydroraptors (water-thieves)
  • Hydra heads once cut off leave stumps that regrow new (or multiple) heads. This can be cauterized by fire
  • They can also be effectively cauterized by electricity or acids, which can work much faster than fire and reduce the risk of blood poisoning
  • Hydras are actually squid
  • Hydra's tongues can predict the weather by changing colors
  • If cauterized the heads never grow back
  • Hydra are docile herd animals, raised for food. They have multiple heads due to breeding practices to increase the yield of the head which is used to make delicious soups and jellies.
  • They hydra will continue to grow heads as needed, but when it reaches the high teens, it's blood pressure goes too low to maintain consciousness. Slowly, as it rests, many of the heads are reabsorbed after a number of hours
  • The above is a lie, because as magical beasts, the hydra has nothing so prosaic as blood. The growth is caused by the salty tears of innocent slaughtered animals, slain without propitiating the spirits of the forest.
Ruth Tay
  • The hydra is no reptile, but a mobile aggressive plant
  • Hydras, experiencing aggressive unpopularity due to their "All mobile things are food" international relations policy, have a strong preference to lair in dismal out of the way places
  • The hydra has only a single brain, meaning psionic attacks, charms, and other features do indeed only need to be applied once against the hydra, not against each head
  • The former piece of information is an ancient propaganda piece by the hydra ministry of public relations Don't be caught off guard
  • Hydras love riddles, it has one for each head. If you can solve all the riddles, it will allow you to have its hoard. Answering all the riddles and the hydra will allow you to claim its hoard. Answer incorrectly and the hydra will attempt to make you into dinner
  • Yuan-ti are servants of the hydra, each desperately hoping to be blessed with the honor of becoming a hydra itself
  • Hydras are the weaponized result of possibility harvesting. The hydra is just a single large snake, but each head is simply the altered positions all manifesting at the same time. This means on any give round a hydra has 3-18 heads
Historiae Animalium, illus. unknown (1551).
Public domain; thanks to the 
National Library of Medicine
for the photo.
  • A multi-headed hydra only has one head, inside the mouth of which is another head, like a russian stacked doll. It's heads all the way down.
  • Hydras are living beings with fractal DNA
  • Someone once made a wish to never be lonely. Every hydra ever is the result
  • The hydra has a regenerative organ deep within its body. It is coconut-sized and gristly and is called a terratocopia, shaped like strange, juicy sea-shell. 
  • Many people, especially elves, believe that powered terratocopia is the cure to any ills. Especially erectile dysfunction
  • Each hydra is not a separate beast, but an individual sensory organ of a much larger creature. They are extensions into this dimensional realm and learn about it much like babies, by taking the things within it and consuming it.
  • A hydra is like a rat king but for dragons
  • Hydras are an endangered species. This is purely coincidental and has nothing to do with the terratocopia or any cultures specific believes about the said organ.
  • A maiden per head surrounding the hydra works as an effective method of neutralizing the beast. Spread in a circle equidistant from the hydra results in confusion.
    • "The hero Arthix promised the Lord of Thambar that he would nullify a particularly troublesome seven headed hydra that dwelt in the bottom of a well and guarded a gem called 'the Heartstone' that the Lord coveted. Arthix asked for the loan of seven of the Lord's tenderest and most desirable concubines. These he chained in a circle around the well, each one the exact same distance from the well and an equal distance from each other -- like numbers on a dial. The hydra crawled up from the well with each head looking in a different direction as was its custom. Each head saw a writhing, shrieking, delicious concubine and each head strained to pull the beast towards that desired morsel, but each head was equally strong so the beast remained stationary. Arthix snuck in, stole the Heartstone and buggered off. One of the concubines managed to wriggle free of her chains, and, likewise, buggered off. The head that had been eyeing her turned it's attention to the next concubine in the circle... suddenly that concubine had two heads looking at her and the hydra pulled itself in her direction, devoured her and then devoured the other five concubines in turn. The Lord of Thambar was furious. The escaped concubine followed Arthix back to his boat and professed her undying love for him. After they escaped the island together, she chopped off his head with his sword while he slept, threw his body overboard, sailed for the mainland and used the proceeds from the Heartstone to live life on her own terms rather than having to be a concubine for the Lord of Thambar. The Lord of Thambar was furious, but wasted his time looking for Arthix (who was fish food)." - Stephen Poag
  • The hydra is a natural apex of Lamarckian evolution. The regeneration abilities of the lizard are taken to extremes and produces a succession of multi-headed beasts,  not immediately or obviously related to the hydra
  • All hydras are related to the Ur-Hydra and as such are psionically linked
  • Hydras gain immunity to an attack that removes a head, making the single or double-headed hydras the most dangerous.
Illustration from AD&D Monster Manual
  • Hydras aren't monsters! It's the name of a refreshing summer pastry with ice-cream filling and seven raisins served at the forty-four courts of the vile queen Ayuwainya
  • Each head believes itself to be the main head and is conflicted between protecting the body and eliminating its competition. 
  • There are no hydras, but their are anti-hydras, with one head and multiple bodies
  • Hydras are kept as pets by ettins who give them each one name per head
  • Hydra reproduce asexually by budding
  • Hydras have horns that are not used in combat. The females horns are shorter then the males
  • They can see in the dark with no problem
  • The hydra isn't a reptile but is actually a type of land jellyfish, distantly related to coral
  • Hydras are magic creatures that require no food. They kill out of inborn aggression and pleasure. Soon even this grows dim and they become insanely aggressive. 
  • Hydras are actually a larval form of medusea
  • It's actually the other way around, a medusa that lives long enough becomes a hydra
  • Hydras are former pets flushed by elven owners once too big for their aquariums
  • They hydra is actually a normal river serpent, affected by a terratic virus. It reproduces by shedding the virus in waters where it prefers to live. Eventually it becomes ill and overwhelmed, resulting in a frenzied, demented final stage characterized by staggering regenerative powers. If it survives long enough, its whole body sloughs away and collapses in a mass of aggressive tumors
  • Fish and game designed and introduced the hydra as a simple fish control measure. The fact that they aggressively eat every native species including humans was an unfortunate side effect
  • Hydra are actually mutated fish or possibly plesiosaurs
  • Hydras fling themselves at knights and other monsters, because when they have too many heads they can't move to feed themselves and starve

On the Villain Force

A house rule, to increase the enjoyment of using villains in play without needing henchmen to make them a challenge.

The Weak Villain Rule

Villains receive 2 actions and every time a player acts, they have a 1 in 6 chance of receiving an additional action. Roll this check each time a player completes their turn

The Strong Villain Rule

Villains receive their normal action, plus one for every additional party member along with a chance for a bonus.

They take their normal action once per round, and an additional action after each party member acts. They have an additional 1 in 10 chance of getting a double action after each party member acts instead of a single one.
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