On the Fiat Failure Fallacy

Deciding things as a Dungeon Master is not DM Fiat.

Fiat is authoritative and arbitrary.

My decisions as Dungeon Master are neither.

My goal in making a choice is to maintain the balance of enjoyment and challenge. To do that I must be impartial and confident. Part of being impartial is listening to what the players are saying and thinking about how the adventure is constructed.

That is neither authoritative, nor arbitrary.

Agency is not freedom. It is when the action taken matches the intent of that action.

Making a decision about putting a module in a sandbox, or deciding to run a certain game system, or outlawing certain classes do not affect agency. It just creates parameters.

What does this mean? It means that you can create a wandering monster table, declare that the duke goes to war, make these goblins automatically hostile, and you can even pick an encounter off your table to place in front of the players that you think will be interesting - all without violating agency or relying on DM Fiat.

It's not about decisions.

It's about control. It's about when you, as the Dungeon Master, think you know better to force something to happen. When you're going to fix it - keep anything bad from happening. Make it go the way you want and to hell with whatever anyone else things. No, you're track skill doesn't work. Anti-magic! Illusions! Palette switching!

Everyone always has a really good reason for this. "I wanted them to have a good time." "He brought the beer." "This encounter was too hard!" "This fight wasn't dramatic enough." etc. But, you know, the person robbing the bank had a really, really, good reason to do that. Doesn't make it right.

Some notes:

Some games pre-suppose narrative control for the players and aren't about character intent. Those games are cool and are not what is being discussed here. What is being discussed here are old school games, and there's an expectation of both freedom and fairness within them. That include the freedom to lose terribly. When not given that it turns into the kind of railroaded horror stories that drove people away from gaming in the 80's.

Running games are social activities. They are not neat, like math or chess. They are complicated, messy, draining, often stressful and forgetful situations. Dungeon Mastering is hard. Sometimes the line between what is and is not fair is truly blurry. Sometimes it's hard to even parse out if agency has been affected. If you're listening to your players and your priority is on maximizing the enjoyment of the activity, rather than on you (telling your adventure, having things go the way you want, maintaining verisimilitude or the literary integrity of your setting) then you have the correct stance.

On Reader Mail, The Skill of the Roll

Ryan writes in,

"I do have another question though. In games without things like perception, players must skillfully decide what to spend their time investigating. This is all fine and well. However, when it comes to things like secret doors and traps why is there still a roll after the player has used both their skill and time to investigate something that ultimately is chance?"

Misunderstanding, perhaps?

This is completely understandable, if you move to classic D&D from a version with a search check. Why the very existence of this rule seems baffling!

Why is there a roll to find secret doors?

Here is the pedantic information: Old games centered around dungeons. These dungeons were vast, mostly empty, and had a very high percentage of secret doors. Often, the secret doors connected two areas that you could just walk to by going around to the outside of the room.

What was the point?

I have two answers for this: first, how secret doors were used classically; secondly, how I use them today.

Classic: Dungeons were mostly empty, filling most of a sheet of paper solid, having half a dozen or so 'special' rooms, and the contents mostly being defined as entries on a wandering monster table. Dungeons were not 'adventure sites', they were underground battlefields. In this situation you would search for secret doors for two reasons. One, to have access to mobility and control over the battlefield ("Oh shit, we flee from the trolls and run into this room and out the secret door to evade them."), and two to gain early access to other areas of the dungeon (i.e. "we've explored all we can here, but there's still probably something down in this corner, and we don't want to go through the hobgoblin camp to get there"). Secret doors also helped the Dungeon Master, by providing alternate routes for the movement of wandering monsters.

In this case, player skill wasn't used to find secret doors. It was a mechanical rule of the game that allowed the players to spend resources, to gain an advantage and solve problems in an indirect way. The resources being light, spell durations, and wandering monster risk. The skill was in decoding the map to understand where they were, and selectively using it in a way that minimized resource expenditure.

Classicly, you could use both choice and character skill to discover traps (sending victi henchmen forward, tapping with a pole, etc.) The thief's ability to detect traps was focused on things like doors, chests, or other areas where they were likely.

Modern: I create mechanisms via which secret doors are triggered. It is certainly possible for players to locate a secret door, and still not have or understand the means by which it opens. The areas, along with the secret door triggers, are designed to present a challenge for the players. Spending time looking for the secret door will just confirm that one is there, for the same cost paid in earlier games. The real challenge comes in trying to discover the trigger and how to open the door.

The person running the game must have no preconceived notion of what should or should not happen. The secret doors should always be optional (truly the entire everything in the game should be optional and player driven) and should never create a situation where nothing can continue until the passage forward is discovered. This allows the doors to have a specific solution in order to open them without it being pixel bitching.

Regarding traps, currently, if there is a trap in a room or corridor, there is always some sign of it given (if it would leave a sign, and it usually does.) As for doors and chests, if a player asks I just go ahead and tell them truthfully if it's trapped. They have to remember to ask though.

In conclusion  the secret door roll is a mechanical feature of games, much like the chances to bash down a door or the frequency of wandering monster checks. It is a game mechanism with a cost that can be activated by the players. The key feature is that it is one of the moving parts of a game, rather than a character ability, characterized by it never increasing and being tied to permanent, non-changeable, selections like race.

I think there's a large swath of games history where the issue of secret doors and traps is designed pretty incoherently. I think it works quite well in the original system, and am finding the modifications I've made to the way I run traps and secret doors working out fantastically now, but --

How it was supposed to work in 1986? Errrrr. . . 2001? Hmmm. . . .

Speaking in a generalization, those eras were characterized by searches being down to character skill. Lots of rolling, few costs for doing so. Designs were very linear, so secret doors either hid treasure or blocked the completion of the module. There were methods for addressing this (take 10, etc.) but were fairly uninteresting for the participants. At that point, the roll was the game, and the role of the player was minimized.

If you have any questions of your own you'd like answered, message me on Google Plus, or give me an e-mail at campbell at oook dot cz

On the Ecology of the Minotaur

"What lairs in a maze is good hunting" - General Zaroff

Nomenclature: Minotaur, Tarus, Taurian, Bull-man, Brutal Beast

Description: Taurine humanoid, with the head of a bull

Things that are known:

  • They are fond of mazes
  • They are terrifically strong

Rumors and other whispers in the dark:
  • It is very important that the labyrinth the minotaurs inhabit contain no furniture. They must be bare of decoration
  • They are actually terrible at mazes. If they were any good, they'd all be living in sunny little villages retiring ,eh? No minotaur has ever escaped from a maze and they are all a bit sore about it
  • They fight and slay all intruders, because they are endlessly seeking someone worthy to end their eternal vigil over the infinite labyrinth
  • Any mortal that isolates themselves over a long enough period will slowly change and shift into the form of a minotaur. Dwarves who do so turn into particularly powerful monsters, larger and more powerful than the default beast
  • It isn't only isolation that causes the change in form. It's also stubbornness. This is the origin of the phrase, "bull-headed"
  • Minotaurs are all autistic, hence the predilection for mazes
  • Sometimes this happens quite quickly, the most famous incident was a Tartocrate the philosopher who transformed in the middle of a debate. His bewildering and confusing argumentation made of layers of unassailable facts manifested as a maze around him
  • Minotaur shamans wear human masks for their ceremonies
  • All minotaurs are hermaphrodites that can reproduce by parthenogenesis
  • Though known for the axe, this is actually confusion of the word Labrys, considered to be more than just a word describing the narrow mazes they inhabit. They actually prefer daggers and poignards, weapons much for suitable for tight quarters
  • The labyrinth is eternal, it is the equilibration matrix of the universe and minotaurs are its defense vectors, much like white blood cells
  • They are actually mechanical and scientific geniuses, the labyrinth is a training ground for the young. They are so aggressive because they are young arrogant teens, who know their species is vastly more intelligent than other humanoids. And what they do in the labyrinth is never spoken of once they escape
  • It is said were-minotaurs lair in the tangled groves of Kalabrinthia
  • The construction of labyrinths is an insane compulsion that overcomes them, until such structures reach a certain size. After these unknown criteria are met they abandon their maze. More than one dungeon was created by this method. 
  • There's just one minotaur and just one labyrinth, but the labyrinth is very very large and the minotaur is very very good at playing dead
  • The labyrinth is a physical representation of their crazed mind, and changes and shifts with their schizophrenic thoughts. An entrance or exit only appears during the rare dawns of lucidity and it never lasts long. Once slain, the labyrinth is disconnected from reality, and as a chaotic thought it is transported to the plane of Limbo, where it will slowly degrade over time. . .
  • Minotaurs aren't evil, just virile and well hung, causing writers and chroniclers (mostly male) to depict them as monsters, helping to exterminate them across Priapia
  • The first minotaur was a unsanctioned and terrible union between a god and a woman, but it was not a god of men, but one of beasts and the wilds that took her. This abomination at birth bred true with both beast and man. The labyrinths are their temples to their father, their savage rites honor their animal nature, their war, weapon, and brew craft, homages to the race of their mother. They are the true hybrid, both man and beast, mortal and divine
  • The labyrinths of particularly devout minotaurs can serve as gateways to other realms
  • Minotaurs are builders cursed into terrible shapes and obsessed with labyrinth building as punishment for cutting corners when building the temples of Zoes the Munificent and Magnificent in Phthyria Minor
  • Minotaur horns are indestructible. It is not possible to take one as a trophy. Other parts, however. . . 
  • Paying the gods: A minotaur feels compelled to peel the skin and pull the nerves and muscle fibers apart in their prey. They do this because they know the soul is aware of the body for days after death, and it clouds it's travel into the far planes, leaving it adrift. Such suffering feeds the taurian dark heart.
  • Having the head of a bull, they also have the teeth. In order to swallow flesh, it must be in large chunks, hence the popularity of axes among their kind. They also have trouble digesting it, giving them foul breath and a terrible temper
  • The (sunny?) disposition of the minotaur gives it an aura of inspiration, improving the morale of all bovine attacks and defenses within 35 feet
  • They are usually quite pleasant and docile, but at some point they all turned anthropophage. This is attributed to the spread of mad minotaur disease
  • The minotaur is a weak subspecies of a beast called a Majotaur which is 13 feet tall and breathes smoke and brimstone from its nostrils
  • The devil-man city of Trumachi is the source of all minotaurs. The high king would not pay homage to their throne, instead wanting to cast down the battlements and shatter the dark tower. The king's sapper's who wore hides of the bull were fused to their trappings. They entered the devil maze beneath the tower and found that the tower went into them. Curses shot, crackling and ricocheting through their ranks. Both the high king and the city are hollow ruins, but this is still a great sorrow, for the wash of monsters fills the ancient guts of the broken unassailable fortress
  • All minotaurs are actually vegan
  • Minotaurs have no sense of smell
  • The Hurrian sages disagree, claiming it is by smell and hearing alone that the beady-eyed beasts navigate their mazes
  • The Samnitians go one further, claiming minotaurs have the ears of bats and use echolocation
  • They await the end-times, heralded by the coming of the great two-headed bull-man
  • The Bull God Dongbah insisted that all bulls be given free range. When economy-minded humans (who cared about not having their children trampled and so on) began to pen them up, Dongbah punished them by creating prisons to herd humans, to see how THEY liked it. Now Dongbah is quite unintentionally the Gaol God, and the warders are vestigial symbols from his pastoral history, now long gone
  • They all actually have the scrotum of a snake, but few know this
  • Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, minotaurs never eat beef
  • The arch mage Alsaziar was an arms dealer, specializing in organic siege engines. The minotaur was his greatest success, the ultimate berserker warrior that breeds true. The only way he found to control them was to lock them in mazes. Inevitably, Alsaziar was slain, and his island was left alone for many many years. A thousand years later, the minotaurs emerged, eyes brimming with magic and insanity of dark mazes, wielding massive shackles as weapons. Their mazes had grown dull, and they now sought new entertainments

Minotaur Guardianby *el-grimlock

  • They are considered a delicacy by the Paztecas, eaten with pasta al dente
  • The bellow of a Minotaur can attract cows from up to 3 miles away
  • Female minotaur milk is said to be liquid gold, prized in the markets the world over
  • The Daedelmar fleshcrafters blended men with horses to guard the plains and blended men with bulls to guard the mountains. They explained that all that was required was a burning heart of anger and a gut that trembles with lust for man-flesh. Sages pointed out that these things were not traits of bulls, the fleshcrafters mentioned that they spent long crafting the bulls before merging them with men. In the aeons since this event, minotaurs worked their way in and along the roots of the mountains and they are nothing but one large connected maze, bound by magic where it is not bound by stone
  • Their tails are components of magical whips
  • They don't construct mazes, but actually live in labyrinth-like towers.
  • There is a rare subspecies of minotaur, the 'dwarf' or 'pygmy' minotaur; who's body is that of a halfling and head is that of a calf
  • Emperor Flanyeer enjoyed board games, so he created the grandest game as creatures and men were coerced into costume to play at a life sized board. Mages would gain favor for creating the most spectacular pieces. Magus Dulwither created the minotaur which was considered a superb creation till it ran amok, killing and eating several other pieces. Dulwither created several others to protect him, and that was the downfall of the empire. They smashed and destroyed that city, and now they still play the grand game, making up their own rules. But the minotaurs have transcended their roles, becoming referees in their own right
  • They all have a third eye hidden under the skin on their foreheads, which allows them to see the true path through any maze or labyrinth
  • Savage tribes wear masks to take on aspects of the spirits. When a tribe nears its end, those who go into the last battle or journey take the form permanently, and some always survive the death of their people.
  • When rancher's moved in, spoiling the land of the peaceful halflings of Vestilech, they protested. The protests were of course ignored. The halflings captured the horsemen and painfully mated them with large stud bulls using powerful curses learned from the spider folk. The monsters that were made fear halflings as elephants fear mice, but hate humans with a burning passion. It was not long till the minotaurs managed the herds, treating the halflings with respect. The halflings are now long dead, but the minotaurs still tend the herds
  • There is no such thing as a minotaur. It is just tribal shamans wearing masks.
  • Boiled minotaur tongue is an aphrodisiac, sold in the markets of Farkathae, hence the rarity of said beasts today
  • The first of them were spelunkers. Shamans would mark the known routes on a bull hide which them would meld into the explorer. They would become bigger, stronger, and have their explorations marked on the hide. Some few got trapped, the hide unremoveable, and with time became terrible beasts under the earth
  • They are a nasty joke perpetrated by the god of fertility, while drinking in a bar where strippers rode a mechanical bull
  • Some star-crossed lovers were involved in a theater production practicing out in the woods with fey watching. One of the fey enchanted the dour pimp of the group, giving him a bull head. He was not a good sport, and he ended up slaying all the fey with his magic sword and grumbling off. That's how it all started...
  • They all have EM sensors in their horns, which is how they navigate in pitch blackness
  • They do not breed true. They are the product of human rape or curses placed on men
  • Shulabu of Hulum created a chimeric creature, combining a minotaur and a gargantuan mantis shrimp, creating a deadly aquatic predator
  • A prank by a fledgling god is the beginning of it, bulls were struck with lightning, holding great transformative power. The resulting creatures, minotaurs, were so fascinated by the lightning that they ever strove to recreate its complex patterns, digging out labyrinth after labyrinth.
  • In the beginning was Minotaur, firstborn son of the All-Father, the Great Bull of Sky. When he rebelled against All-Father and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge All-Father exiled him from the Pasture of Ease and split him into men and cattle, that his stolen knowledge would be scattered and lost. Now and again All-Father sends another divine minotaur son to see how the mortals live on the lost Earth. Some become bitter with their lot, others not. The greatest of the Messiah Minotaurs ascend bodily back to the All-Father with their judgements, others fall from grace and become demonic reavers
  • They are all human, blessed by the evil Baphomet with strength and power
  • Minotaurs like delftware and collect it in preference to all other valueables
  • Minotaurs are actually cyborgs - robot heads mounted on the slain bodies of humans. For cost-cutting reasons the Elven Transhumescence Corporation decided to mount the hardware in a bull's head, because the extra space allowed for cheaper, off-the-shelf equipment
  • The minotaurs of southern Tauriscia are organized in several crime syndicates collectively called the Corno Nostro. They are primarily active in smuggling dairy products, drugs and fermented mare's milk. (Ha Ha Luka Rejec, funny)
Special Minotaur Combat attacks
  • The Doubled Shaft: Double crossbow at range, fires two bolts at once for double damage, one to hit roll. Save vs. paralyzation or be knocked prone. One round to reload
  • Charge: Minotaurs recieve double benifits from charge (i.e. +4 to hit and double damage)
  • Impalement: On a succesful charge that is a critical hit, the target is impaled on the horns, taking gore damage every turn they are held. They must succeed at a grapple (against the minotaurs full hit dice) to escape
  • The Push: Minotaurs are experts at knocking people back and down. If their only action, they get a large (+4) bonus, or they may attempt it as part of a normal attack action. The penalty is that they are terrible at grappling, being hoofed, top-heavy creatures, acting as if they had half their hit dice. 
  • Vengance at Death: Upon being reduced to 0 hit points or less, the minotaur can make one final attack with a bonus to hit, doing double damage against the nearest melee target.
  • Savage Ferocity: Every time the minotaur attacks and missess, he becomes more angry, getting a cumulative +2 bonus on damage and +1d8 temporary hit points until the end of combat.

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 Noisms is also a source of inspiration.  Special thanks to Luka Rejec and Andrew Shields who does great work.

On Flight

Disengaging from an encounter or fight

Two options are available. The first is a defensive withdrawal, and the second is fleeing. If characters make a defensive withdrawal they give up 1/2 their movement and may leave combat safely. If there is no one available to stop the pursuit of the monsters, then they will advance and strike using their full attack routine. Fleeing melee combat grants your opponent a complete attack routine against your rear and begins fleeing an encounter. You start the next round at your movement rate distance from the monster.

Misdirection (Darkness, Fog Cloud, etc.) will prevent melee opponents from making their attack in response to flight.

Fleeing an encounter

Monsters and humanoids with reaction roll results of 2-9 will generally pursue any target that flees, the exception being monsters weaker than the party. Once in pursuit, monsters will continue to pursue as long as they still hold out hope of catching the pursued party.

Hope tends to diminish if the party is far away and in sight at the end of the round, or if out of sight and somewhat distant, or if pursuit has continued for a turn (10 rounds) or longer. Far away is approximately double the monsters movement rate, somewhat distant is about equal to the monsters movement rate.


Dropping food for unintelligent monsters or treasure for intelligent opponents will give a 1-3 on a d6 (50%) chance of ending pursuit. Creating a hazard will end pursuit on a 1-4 on a d6 (66%), unless the hazard is impassable for the creature, in which case pursuit is automatically ended. Hiding in a room behind a door that is spiked shut gives a 1-4 on a d6 (66%) to stop pursuit per round. The monster will attempt to bash open the door until then with the same 1-2 on a d6 chance as characters have. Caltrops cause monsters who fail a save vs Paralyzation to reduce their speed by 1/2. Looking around, asking questions, and taking actions reduce your speed by half during the round.


While fleeing all traps are triggered if crossed (i.e. no 2 in 6 chance) and directions given consist of left, right, and ahead choices. If the answer is not given in a timely manner, the direction is decided randomly OR the monsters catch the party, players choice. No mapping or referencing a map may occur.

(From "On the Non-Player Character: Avoiding the Social Trap" Forthcoming)

On Alignment, by Gygax

Welcome i09 readers, be sure to visit the index!

"Paladins are not stupid, and in general there is no rule of Lawful Good against killing enemies. The old adage about nits making lice applies. Also, as I have often noted, a paladin can freely dispatch prisoners of Evil alignment that have surrendered and renounced that alignment in favor of Lawful Good. They are then sent on to their reward before they can backslide.

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is by no means anything but Lawful and Good. Prisoners guilty of murder or similar capital crimes can be executed without violating any precept of the alignment. Hanging is likely the usual method of such execution, although it might be beheading, strangulation, etc. A paladin is likely a figure that would be considered a fair judge of criminal conduct.

The Anglo-Saxon punishment for rape and/or murder of a woman was as follows: tearing off of the scalp, cutting off of the ears and nose, blinding, chopping off of the feet and hands, and leaving the criminal beside the road for all bypassers to see. I don't know if they cauterized the limb stumps or not before doing that. It was said that a woman and child could walk the length and breadth of England without fear of molestation then... 

Chivington might have been quoted as saying "nits make lice," but he is certainly not the first one to make such an observation as it is an observable fact. If you have read the account of wooden Leg, a warrior of the Cheyenne tribe that fought against Custer et al., he dispassionately noted killing an enemy squaw for the reason in question.  

I am not going to waste my time and yours debating ethics and philosophy. I will state unequivocally that in the alignment system as presented in OAD&D, an eye for an eye is lawful and just, Lawful Good, as misconduct is to be punished under just laws. 

Lawful Neutrality countenances malign laws. Lawful Good does not. 

Mercy is to be displayed for the lawbreaker that does so by accident. Benevolence is for the harmless. Pacifism in the fantasy milieu is for those who would be slaves. They have no place in determining general alignment, albeit justice tempered by mercy is a NG manifestation, whilst well-considered benevolence is generally a mark of Good." -Gary Gygax 2005

On the Original Grapple Rule

From the Strategic Review Volume 1: #2

"As they outnumber their opponent so heavily it is likely that they will try to over-power him rather than kill, so each hit they score will be counted as attempts to grapple the Hero"

Two of the 5 orcs that can attack hit.

"Two of the Orcs have grappled the Hero, and if his score with 4 dice is less than their score with 2 dice he has been pinned helplessly."

This is the fighter's Hit Dice (as indicated by the level title "Hero") versus the total of the hit dice of the creatures who successfully hit.

"If it is a tie they are struggling, with the Hero still on his feet, but he will be unable to defend himself with his weapon. If the Hero scores higher than the Orcs use the positive difference to throw off his attackers, i.e. the Hero scores 15 and the Orcs scored but 8, so the Hero has tossed both aside, stunning them for 7 turns between them."

It is unsaid, of course, that if the Orcs win, the Hero is captured. Obviously the level of success indicates the rounds of stunning divided among all participants.

This example includes a common technique that I use, of not dicing for monster hit points, till the monster is struck.

This grapple rule, simply put:

Grappling: Attack as normal, without weapons. The successful attackers and defender both roll a combined number of d6's equal to their Hit Dice.

On a tie, both parties struggle, neither able to take action.

If the defender wins, he throws off all the successful attackers. They are stunned for a round. He may take his action as normal.

If the attackers win, the defender is pinned and helpless.

And some optional modifiers:

Advanced Option 1: The difference between the defenders winning roll and the attackers losing roll is the number of rounds of stunning that may be divided among the defenders.

Advanced Option 2: Once overpowered, the defender may try to escape using half his hit dice, versus the hit dice of the creatures restraining him. On a loss he takes the difference as subdual damage.

On the OSR New Wave, Greg Gorgonmilk

Some people can motivate people and get things done.

Gorgonmilk brings out the dungeon hipster in me. His first post that really captured my attention was the Memory Cell chart. This is a big group of cells that represent the wizard's brain, and each spell has a shape. I ran it (in spite of the work it required) to a fair amount of success. The wizards fretting over having to lose experience or skills taking up space in their brain, not leaving enough space for the spells was great fun.

He followed it up quickly with the Crypt Cockerel which is a bad-ass Dungeon Chicken.

In the words of Dalt Doogins the Delfer, the notorious explorer and tomb-pilferer: "I'd trade ye five cowardly henchmen for a single, seasoned crypt cock. For one, the fowl is smarter. For another, he's more loyal. And of course he'll taste better when ye've reached the end of yer rations."

Is there a more cool sentence in Dungeons & Dragons? Perhaps, but they are not frequent. I've been a follower ever since.

Oh, and he got a little project called Petty Gods into peoples hands, and has a Expanded version coming very soon.

Welcome to the OSR New Wave; an interview with Greg Gorgonmilk.

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

Gorgonmilk is part-my-blog, part-community-bullpen where a bunch of OSR people put book and pamphlet projects together.

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

First thought is an 80s-era anime called BASTARD! about a megalomaniac wizard named Dark Schneider (no joke) who looks like the lead singer of a hair metal band. He kicks a lot of ass across a pseudo-Medieval backdrop and gets a lot of tail. It's what any D&D magic-user would fantasize about when he's not busy memorizing spells or cowering in the back.

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

Eat them, obvs. HA! (But seriously -- baby orc ribs are excellent.)

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

My number one house rule is: No fudging dice on my side of the screen. I try as much as possible to adjudicate situations through random rolls. Once I start asserting my own will over the flow of the campaign, it begins to lose all pretense to simulation and becomes a big fantasy wankfest. Like a WOD game or something.

What's your favorite edition and why?

OD&D for the simple reason that it's the most bare bones ruleset out there and totally open to customization. Holmes D&D is a close second -- really it's just a better-organized re-write of the original.

Thieves? Clerics?

Really all classes should be open to thievery, so it seems limiting to confine those rules to a single class. Clerics should be altered to fit the setting. There's nothing wrong with the traditional faith-healer archetype, but why stop there?

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

The hobby was always naturally diluted by homebrew systems -- some of these (e.g. Arduin and RuneQuest) grew into their own games. The difference now is that it's much easier to get your homebrew stuff published in an attractive format. So the change is aesthetic, in my opinion.

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

That's already happening.

Do you get to play?

Every couple weeks or so, which is only slightly less than when I was a kid. When I'm running a campaign I like to have a couple weeks to mull the events of the last session over.

What is your favorite class?

Magic-user. They're such useful little weirdos. A whole party of them is feasible, whereas a bunch of fighting-men without any magical back-up would be severely handicapped.

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?

Gary Gygax becomes ridiculously wealthy and builds a D&D-theme park in Wisconsin. Things go really well until the bodies are found in the steam tunnels beneath Tiamat's Temple... Oh, Gary. How could you?

What is the worst player you've ever had?

The one who has too many preconceived notions about "fairness" and "game balance" and "why the DM can't stare at my tits".

What is your favorite base version to use?

OD&D -- though I am really warming to ACKS and may go that route for a while.

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?

H. P. Lovecraft is behind the screen, with Clark Ashton Smith whispering in his ear. I'm sitting next to Jack Vance and Joseph Campbell, while Carl Jung sits across from us.

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

All of them mashed together. Because.

What is your own personal appendix N?

This can change over time, so lately I'm thinking Moorcock's Elric books, Leiber's Nehwon stories, Jack Vance's Dying Earth (of course), and Howard's Conan stories. All of them have reasonably detailed settings that are not over-weighted with background and feature adventures that I could easily see played out in a D&D campaign.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I'm going to edit three more books in the vein of PETTY GODS. The next is UNDERWORLD LORE, which will focus on generating subterranean settings and stocking them with all manner of goodies.

On the Ecology of the Lammasu and Lamia

"The offer she makes you seems like a good idea, but so does the worm on the hook to a fish" - Aldervile, Neo-Imperian Speaker

Nomenclature: Lammasu, Lamia, Manticores, Nagas, Sphinx, Shedu, Lilith, Empusa

Description: Creatures that have the head of a human and the body of a lion, goat, deer or snake, said to eat children

Things that are known:

  • Human are their prey
  • They are intelligent and have powers of illusion
  • They like to live in arid desolate places
  • They have the heads and/or torso's of humans, with animal lower bodies
  • They can see in darkness
  • They bait and trap men, using them for sex, sport, and supper

Rumors and other whispers in the dark:

  • They aren't evil monsters, just superior beings who view our children as a delicious source of tender veal
  • Their morality is complex, beyond human understanding. Amashotep's seminal works, Beyond Good and Evil, Also Sprach Lammathustra, Ecce Lammia, and Antilamia address the vast subject
  • They are likely jerks
  • It is a well kept secret that there is no separate species as lamia, it is the curse of all human females one night a month to become one
  • They are fond of associating with various other half-breeds, such as harpies and centaur. Whether this is due to distant relations or some other reason is unknown
  • They aren't any special - lions are just super horny and have no problem mating with human females. Lucky to survive, this rape is rarely mentioned. Lots of half-lion monsters though
  • The gods dream secrets, and these secrets slip into the world. They find a feline form, because those receive and transmit secrets. The forcefulness and power of the secret can sometimes mutate and warp the feline. 
  • Were a mortal to unravel the secrets of the leonine dreams, then immortality, even godhood, may be within reach. Two gods in the pantheon ascended in this way, and a secret order of questers pursues this murderous quest.
  • They are actually Zensunni post-buddhists, explaining their preference for arid, dune-filled environments
Art Adams
  • They keep dustworms as pets, from which they harvest mysture, a substance used to make lions and snakes grow human-like faces and intellects.
  • All lions are inherently evil. They lust after human flesh, and when they consume enough, they become a monster. Manticores come from the flesh of old men, young women produce lamias. Kings produce Sphinxes. 
  • They are a species that breeds true, and they suffer no defects from incest. The meaning of this is uncertain 
  • Demons don't just tempt men, sometimes noble lions fall prey, and the demonic corruption causes this horrific change
  • The Lamia-kind are neither good, nor evil, being beyond such matters. Some follow chaos and others law. Mortals try to ascribe morality to their actions, but they are simply angelic messengers of the balance, disinterested in the fate of men
  • A lamassotto is an underdark version of a lammassu
  • That Which Prowls stalks the trade routes, and celebrates melding the creatures of the wasteland and the humans who trespass into it. Some of the survivors swear loyalty to That Which Prowls and assist in playing out the long, incomprehensible, sadistic game of cat and mouse with humanity that may end in the elevation or destruction of the world.
  • They are truly vegetarians and child-like playful beasts. Guarding wastelands and other desolate places, however, poses them as a threat to the Lords of Law. The end result is that they are portrayed as a vicious, bloodthirsty, childnibbling beast.
  • A male Lamia is called a Lamio. Rare creatures with silvery hides and prodigious. . . manes. The lammassu is a protector of Lamia
  • The Goddess of Trees was struck ill, and barely managed to escape the battle of the gods, stumbling into civilization. There, she was cared for by the awed and ignorant human savages. She saw their lives up close; the way they turned to meat and away from the energy of the sun and the plants. She saw how they kept cats to eat meat that threatened what they wanted to protect. And, as we all know, the war of the gods caught up to the village and the terrified villagers betrayed the Goddess of Trees to the Master of Forges. Her dying curse was that humanity would become the mice, and their hunters would bear the cruelty of their faces.
  • They are not half-lion, all of these creatures are simply torsos on swarms of countless insects, each representing the soul of a living creature
  • Simply another form of an aberration of chaos, like satyrs, centaurs, minotaurs and platypi
  • The spectacular orgies of the Arch Magus Wyvaria tended to focus on reptiles. Lilariasha tended to use shape changing (mercifully) or just gear (best not to think about it) for coupling with spiders. But Vashtoor... he had a thing for lions. There's a reason we've killed all the wizards we could catch.
  • The Kingdom of Farragut does a spectacular trade in lamia sized slippers. They are fascinated by wearing soft, woolen booties while at home
  • Their internal organs are suffused with magic - their guts can be used to make magical bowstrings +2 of distance and deceit
  • They are not actually lion-headed creatures. They are Penanggalan, which many people believe are vampires but are actually a type of sky demon. If they feast on the flesh of men, a body eventually grows to support them. This body if feline. If they feast on other creatures, they become other creatures. Horses and steeds become centaur, felines and cats become Manticores, etc.
  • Lamias have no digestive systems, in fact their bodies are purely mechanical support systems for their heads. Their heads are the last remnants of an ancient empire that depended on machinery for survival. They were cursed by the gods for the misuse of their physical bodies and now suffer, eternally 
  • Lamias and Lammasu can remove their own eyes. When they do so, they loudly utter prophecies. No one knows the accuracy of these prophecies, it's hard to listen after you've just seen something rip out its own eyes
  • They are difficult to perceive and viewing such creatures is difficult on the mind, draining sanity or wisdom
  • No matter their form, they detest combat. Much better through spell, word, or deed to have lower forms do their fighting for them
  • Each is violent and aggressive because when they tear themselves into existence a dark shadow is created at the same time. This shadow form hunts them to destruction
  • Each is a different manifestation of a pure emotionally ideal, Lammasu's are intelligence, Lamia's jealousy, Manticores are anger, etc.
  • All of these are in fact guardians of thresholds, doorways, and portals. It is impossible to cross one without being within their vision. This is the root of their knowledge and power.
  • They are all just different lineages of Rakasta bloodlines
  • It is the name for a female vampire. Their powers of mentalism are so strong, that the only memories are those of a beautiful woman crossed with a deadly predator
  • They are actually enlightened ascetic beings who have chosen to remain behind in earthly form
  • House cats were ordered to play nice with humans so that they could serve as a spy network, funneling truth about humans and witness of their deeds to the dark judges that await them. When enough intelligence about humans reaches them, these strange leonines transform in a more human direction, shaped by the nature of the insights the cats send them about what humans really are.
  • The leonines are assigned by the cosmic to shepherd the human race, but they chose servants of the wrong temperament. They were unable to agree on how best to handle humanity. Those that insisted on control, pushing, and goading humanity to achieve its destiny became male. Those who preferred seduction, trickery, and thinning the herd became female. Their task is a failure and the dissapointment of the cosmic is palpable.
  • Leonines once ruled the world. Humans could only ascend by wielding chaos magic, and crushing human frailties into the animal perfection of the world's rulers. By forcing human flaw and personality in to permanently shatter the balance of these once-regal beasts, they destroyed their ability to work together.
  • At the end, the heroes faced Gozer, who insisted they choose the form of their destruction. All Rae could think about was Mr. Mittens, his innocent and wise house cat. Since then, the leonine form of the destroyer has gained in power and aggression in the corners of the world, as a millennial-long agenda of destruction unfolds.
  • The foundation of the world is not stone, but secrets. The leonine guardians of the world are tasked with protecting it. However, their society is matriarchal. The men dislike their servitude and the discrimination against them. Some slipped out of their enclaves (a man's place is at the hearth) and try to support and encourage the seekers of secrets, the faster to erode the world's underpinnings so they can transcend to the next world. Meanwhile, the ladies seek out the races that are addicted to riddles and puzzles, and finish them off as cruelly as they can--still, they cannot quench the thirst for mystery that humans stole from the cats long, long ago.
  • The priests of the Rakasta are gifted by their feline goddess with more and more leonine features as they are infused with more and more cosmic and divine energy, eventually becoming immortal. Therefore, when slain, they must contextualize and motivate their existence as they re-exist. They go insane a little, but the better they manage their obsessions, the more lucid they remain.
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 Noisms is also a source of inspiration.  

On a Grotty Muppet Aesthetic

You know it's a show, see?

But it's really a show about how a show is put on, because to watch a thing is boring. Boring compared to putting it on.

Verisimilitude is secondary to pure glee. Characters arrive in the middle of play by muppet bouncing in from the distance and announcing "I'm here!" Consequently the player spends zero time not playing while serving the ostensibly dramatic "needs" of the story.

The story doesn't have needs - the players do.

Magic? Technology? There's no dividing line. There is just simply a realm of things that are not understood, that do things.

Brutal Beast of
How is the mechanism by which things are accomplished? The only thing you know is whoever created it is long dead and gone. Why does it still work? Because it does.

But in this mystic obfuscation, danger lurks. That creature will likely talk to you -- maybe. Perhaps today it is hungry. For you are small, and unimportant, and taste exceedingly good raw.

The Alchemist
And the danger is real. You will survive being shot from a cannon, but you may never walk again. Wounds, suffering, pain, and surprising violent death are your companions. Your death will be as amusing to your companions as your antics were while you were alive.

After all, there's always another muppet.

But that isn't the real danger. What you are doing is deadly and serious. Sadly, the most powerful delver is a prophet, beset by madness, so weak and crazy (Str 3, Wis 4) that he believes he is the master of the dungeon from his throne atop a pile of trash. (Played by John Bell). The people you would hire, depend on, and likewise ensure your survival are incompetent. There was no job interview. There were no qualifications. They were standing near the lighting rig, so the lighting rig is what they control.There is no one competent to take on the task.

They have no qualms about sending people to their doom.

And like a half forgotten memory from childhood, much is forgotten. And those that remember, have no qualms about turning it to their own ends.

Darkness is not gone, and it stands against any light or goodness.

But at least that, that is defeatable.

Strangeness is in the depths. Weird cultures. Bizarre creatures. Willing to talk and trade and bargain. And perhaps hunt you down, should you prove treacherous.

What is really frightening are the depths, where the cacogenic horrors lurk. Monsters who's means of comprehending the world are alien to that of all right thinking creatures.

Numenhalla Obsidian Portal

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On Classic Tropes, The Black Reservoir

There is a tale several decades old, with a bit of storied past, about Erac and his adventures beneath a certain Castle of the Grey Crested Hawks. It is well worth hearing once again.

The Expedition Into the Black Reservoir; a Dungeon Adventure at Greyhawk Castle 

By Gary Gygax

To the east of the busy walled city of Greyhawk the land is forsaken, overgrown with thorns and thistles. Oozing marsh creeps slowly down. The copses are huddles of weird, bloated trees. The wiry grass seems to grasp at the feet of any who dare to tread upon it. In the center of this unwholesome place, on a rock-boned prominence, hulks the ruin of the grim Greyhawk Castle. Still a few of the bravest sort regularly frequent its precincts---one such as Erac, a spellcaster, Erac the Enchanter, Erac the ambitious, a paladin of Law.
          This same magic-user now commanded a party of four bent on despoiling the wicked dwellers of the underworld beneath the castle of some goodly treasure. At Erac’s side paced the lama Londlar. At the back of one was Nulfyke, a dwarf swordsman, while behind the other was the acolyte Ugubb of the Lake of Crystals. The fallen west gate of Greyhawk Castle was at hand, and through this mouldering portal the party passed. In a few moments they had entered the great central keep, heaved open an inner door, and carefully proceeded down a set of winding stone steps---steps worn with age and slippery with dampness. They had entered the dungeons.
          A huge oaken door at the bottom of the tower gave into a corridor running east and west. Erac led eastward, turned south at an intersection, followed a branching passage southeasterly, and halted the group in a large natural cavern which was lighted by glowing clumps of foxfire upon floor, walls, and ceiling.
          At least a score of elves were lounging about, and they greeted the four adventurers in a businesslike manner. These were the guardians of the eastern stairs. Who or what had made them the warders of this ingress to the dungeon depths no-one knew or cared; for they were there, and no-one cared to dispute their right.
          A bargain was quickly arranged: On their return the expedition would allow the elves their choice of any one magical item plus a tithe of silver and gold---all this assuming that the party DID return, and if they returned that they had any treasure to divide. The deeper dungeons are most hazardous, prizes are hard won, and mortality is high. A few parting words and the four went further into the cavern, up a small passage, and then began a long descent by means of uneven steps cut into living rock.
          When the end of the stairs was finally reached, the party quickly decided to attempt to explore mostly northward, and proceeded accordingly. Most of the passages seemed to by running laterally, but by dint of much criss-crossing they had gained some measure of progress when a chance entry into a narrow southerly tunnel discovered a flight of steps going deeper still into the bowels of the castle.
          One of the adventurers demurred, and an argument ensued as to the wisdom of going further down. This discussion ceased abruptly when a bellowing arose from the corridor they had just left, and without further ado all four hastened on. The end of the steps brought something totally unexpected, however. The space there was seemingly boundless and cloaked with a murk of ebon vapors which allowed but feeble penetration by lanthorn or torch.
          It was only after considerable careful probing in all directions that it was discovered that northward lay a sudden drop. The ledge was only a few feet above a sheet of inky water---water of unknown depths. Passing along its edge the four went westward, and within a few yards came upon a large raft moored to an iron ring.  Erac wished to set out upon the waters then and there; but Londlar prevailed upon him, so the party explored yet further west along the strange shore.
          Some two hundred feet ahead they found a flight of stairs winding upward, and as they passed these by a strange scraping from beyond brought all four to a state of utmost alert. Lanthorns were raised high, and a faint glimmering from afar told them that something unusual lurked ahead. Then the scraping came again, and this time a loud clacking accompanied it.
          Into the light scuttled an immense crab, with pincers of sword-like proportion poised in front snapping open and shut as the monster charged its intended prey.  Formidable, certainly, but why face a senseless brute for nothing except a chance of death? The four discreetly withdrew at a dead run.
          Nothing pursued beyond a few score feet, and Erac called a halt in order to devise a detailed plan. “No more aimlessness!  We will now set out upon the dark waters yonder, for I am sure that somewhere within that expanse a vast treasure awaits our taking.”  In a trice all were aboard the raft, and with long poles the four shoved the clumsy raft away from the ledge into the unknown.
          The raft slowly lost way after the initial rush of ten feet, but Ugubb whispered that a pillar loomed but a few feet ahead, and gradually the raft drifted forward until they touched the granite post with a gentle thump. Working around the support so as to be able to go further northward, the four repeated the pushing off process.
          Eventually they discovered that the body of water was apparently a large reservoir. The roof of the place was lost from view in the murk, but everywhere rose mighty granite pillars to support it---hexagonal posts of several yards’ diameter.  These supports enabled the party to make their way about the place, and were nearly the undoing of them all.
          Quietly the four made their way from pillar to post, fearing that some lurker in the deeps might arise at any moment to overturn their frail craft and devour them whole.Yet nothing broke the still surface of the water save the ripples from the passing of their own raft, and soon they discovered a line of supports stretching away to the left and the right. Pillars which were placed so close to each other that the raft would not pass between them. Further exploration revealed that these obstacles took the form of an oval. What was within?
          On the far side the sharp-eyed dwarf espied a rusty lever protruding from one of the pillars. Nulfyke seized it and attempted to move the arm, but it gave only a bit and groaned horribly. Erac then came to the assistance of his lieutenant, but they met with no success until Ugubb too lent his weight. Finally the iron bar slowly moved downward, protesting rustily as it went, and as it moved the stone post slowly and silently began to descend.
          There was nothing to be done now but to see what results their efforts would bring, for the monolith sank so rapidly as to prevent any attempt to return the lever to its original position. The raft was drawn into the vortex created by the descending shaft, and as it moved ahead all four of the explorers peered into the space heretofore inaccessible to them.
          Terror! The water in the middle of the oval was beginning to roll. A snaky head broke the surface!  A sea monster had been awakened and released, and they had unwittingly invited their doom. Londlar, Nulfyke, and Ugubb frantically paddled and thrust with the poles to escape the area as quickly as possible, but the horrid head regarded them balefully.
          Erac stepped to the part of the raft nearest the monster, turned his back on it, and chanted strange words while his fingers drew runes in the air.  The monster was a scant ten yards distant,and closing fast. It had not come close enough to seize the raft or its occupants, however, when their motions seemed to blur.  The clever enchanter had cast a spell of haste upon them, and each now moved at incredible speed. The sluggish craft leaped ahead, but even then it was not moving as fast as its pursuer.
          “Faster!” shouted Erac, as he turned again toward the sea monster and again raised his hand. He pointed his finger at the gaping mouth of the beast, and spoke a single word. A glowing orb sped from his hand and streaked toward its target, growing larger until it burst in searing flame just behind the monster’s outstretched neck. A deafening honk came from the beast, and it momentarily writhed in pain.
          Would they thus escape? No!  They were against the westernmost boundary of the black reservoir now, and the monster was cleaving the water behind in fury to avenge its hurt. And then it was upon them!  Its serpent’s neck shot forth and it struck.  A blast of fetid breath and rending teeth, and Erac lay dazed and bleeding.
          The three paddlers forced the cumbersome vessel northward as Erac struggled upright and reached for his last hope, a strange device taken from a quasi-human in another dimension. He aimed the stubby rod as well as the unsteady platform and the poor visibility allowed, and pressed the small stud on its side.
          A beam of blue radiance darted forth, striking the water near the monster and causing it to boil.  Another hideous honk of pain and great thrashing.  What was that ahead?  It looked like another ledge and the hope of deliverance.  Erac sent another beam at their pursuer, and then the raft was at the raised stone platform.  As it neared the ledge, all four leaped out.
          They had gone twenty feet or so along the ledge when two things happened simultaneously: The sea serpent heaved itself upon the ledge behind them, determined not to allow this prey to escape; and from above five pteradons dove upon Ugubb and Nulfyke, who were in the lead.  As Londlar rushed into the fray ahead and smote at the menace from above, Erac loosed yet another bolt from the thick rod. This time it fell full upon the head of the monster, and in a second its truncated corpse thrashed on the stone blocks, spattering ichor everywhere.
          A scream from his rear caused the magic-user to turn hastily from the death throes of the sea monster. Both Ugubb and Nulfyke were in the grip of the flying horrors, and yet more could be seen dropping into the fray. Would the strange rod respond again? Pressure upon the stud brought forth another searing flash. One, two! Two of the pteradons flamed and crashed upon the pavestones.
           The lama’s armored form was now visible in the midst of the melee, his arm flailing left and right with a great mace of holy power. As another of the winged reptiles was crushed by one of his blows, the others lost all taste for such meat and flapped upward, voicing raucous cries.
           The party paused to regain strength, and Londlar began to bind up the wounds of the injured. As he did so he made passes over the rent flesh, and uttered prayers in a tongue strange to the ears. Before the eyes of the wounded, their flesh knit itself. He then turned to Erac and performed the same office.
           Somewhat revitalized, the adventurers sought to regain their raft, but in vain; It was gone. Undaunted, they began to search about the stone spit, and finally upon its northernmost extremity they found a punt. Here indeed was a sign that they were being helped by the gods.
           Clambering into the boat, they set out to find the lair of the sea monster so as to discover what prize it had guarded. Who, though, could find their way in this maze of pillars and silent water? Again Nulfyke saw something unusual ahead, this time a slender tower upon a stone island.
           When they reached the place the four stole silently ashore. An entrance to the tower was discovered, but it would not yield to their pressure. Erac cast a spell of opening upon it, for he could detect a strong enchantment upon the portal. The door gave only a few inches, but this proved barely sufficient for the four to pass through.
           The inner chamber contained only a few furnishings, but a stairway drew them upward. This time they wasted no effort trying to open the trapdoor above with force. Erac spoke forth the opening spell once again, and the barrier was magically flung back.
           There in a stupor sat a figure in black robes and tall pointed hat, lost in the vapors arising from some hellish censer. He was overcome with ease, bound, and dragged back to the punt. Although he was obviously a magic-user of some sort, the party could find no magical apparatus of use to them. This misfortune was mitigated by the discovery of a chest filled with gold coins and glittering gems.
           By the time the chest was resting in the bottom of the punt the four could see that they would have trouble fitting themselves in, let alone taking their prisoner.  Nulfyke slipped away for a moment and returned dragging another boat, apparently belonging to the tower’s inhabitant.  Ugubb suggested that their captive be placed therein and the fellow’s boat lashed to theirs.  It was agreed, and soon they were off once again in search of the sea serpent’s former prison.
           After much rowing the prison was located, and nothing befell the party during the search.  The punt was positioned over the approximate center of the enclosed area. The acolyte was the strongest swimmer, so he stripped off his armor.  A hundred-foot length of rope was weighted and thrown over the side, one end securely tied to the boat, and Ugubb dove overboard with a sack of iron spikes to bear him quickly to the required depth.
           Londlar felt a tug on the rope, then nothing. Had something struck it? Swallowed the acolyte?  No.  In another minute Ugubb was back to inform them that when he had reached the end of the line he had found that the bottom was still deeper---how deep he knew not. It was decided that nothing more could be done at this time, and a speedy return to the surface was in order.
           Ugubb donned his armor, Londlar and the dwarf began to row, and Erac tried to draw the towed punt close so that he could question their prisoner.  Perhaps he would prove of considerable use to them yet. But as the enchanter began to pull the craft closer the captive leaped up, shook off his bonds, and dove overboard!
           Nothing could prevent his escape.  He had managed to slip from his ties and had been biding his time.  This was not the most-opportune moment, but the captive had acted in desperation. As the four rowed for their starting point and the route up, they heard a great hollow voice cry behind them: “I am the Sorcerer of Black Reservoir, and I shall be avenged for the theft of my treasure!”
           After a few more narrow escapes, the four adventurers managed to regain the outer world of fresh air and sunlight.  The loot from the chest was adequate, but none of them felt called upon to retire to the quiet life.  The question uppermost in all of their minds was how to find what, if anything, that terrible sea monster had guarded.  There was also a nagging worry as to the ability of the Black Sorcerer to carry out his threat.  None voiced their thoughts, but all felt that soon they would again plumb the depths of the ebon lake for the wealth that it hid.


This story is reprinted over at Greyhawk Online, Here is some discussion by BadMike over at the Acaeum. The story is Copyright Gary Gygax, 1975,

On the Effects of Magic, 4th level Wizard

The magical energies contained in the brain could cause side effects. When the wizard acts as a conduit there
are risks. As these are fourth level side-effects, the results should be noticeable.

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:

  • Charm Monster: All reactions with non-sentient creatures are improved by 1, however sentient creatures detect something monstrous within you, and have their reaction penalized by the same amount.
  • Confusion: There is a 1 in 6 chance per spell cast while confusion is memorized, that the lowest-level spell memorized is actually a different spell then the one the wizard prepared.
  • Dig: Where the wizard walks dirt is kicked up leaving holes. These holes make rough terrain. Stone is unaffected, but eventually cracks and crumbles if repeatedly crossed
  • Dimension door: When objects are retrieved by anyone standing near the wizard, there is a 1 in 6 chance that it is any random object, and there is a 2 in 6 chance that it is a random object possessed by the party. This roll is made any time the Dungeon Master wishes to roll, not every time an object is retrieved.
  • Enchanted Weapon: Any weapon held by the wizard for a single round, acts as a +1 magical weapon for the purposes of damaging monsters only damaged by magical weapons. This lasts 1 turn after the wizard releases the weapon.
  • Extension I: All spells possessed by the wizard last an additional round while cast while this is memorized.
  • Fear: The caster no longer has a penalty when engaged in social combat and attempting to scare an opponent. Alternately, the caster receives a a +4 bonus versus fear saves, while those around him receive a -2.
  • Fire Charm: The magic user's eyes turn into fire. This allows them to either cast 10' of light, or see 30' in the dark. It does not otherwise affect vision
  • Fire Shield: Flames lick from the bottom of the wizards robe or pants. They will unintentionally catch things on fire.
  • Fire Trap: A flaming tattoo of a magical rune floats underneath the caster's skin.
  • Fumble: Any one rolled on an attack causes a critical failure.
  • Hallucinatory Terrain: Strange weather follows the caster, covered in sunlight in the dungeon, snowing when at the inn, etc.
  • Ice Storm: The caster's clothes are covered in frost. When they walk, the leave little patches of ice. This does not alter the terrain, but does create puddles of water that trail after the caster. They receive a +1 to saves versus fire effects.
  • Massmorph: The caster becomes stiff and loses 1" of movement. Everyone nearby constantly finds leaves in their clothing and armor.
  • Minor Globe of Invulnerability: While prepared, spells have a 3 - level chance of failure on a d6, i.e. a 1st level spell fails when the wizard casts it or has it cast against them 2 in 6 times. A 2nd level spell fails on a 1 in 6 chance.
  • Monster Summoning II:  Pentagrams float on the surface of the wizards clothing and flesh, moving freely between them.
  • Plant Growth: When near plants they visibly move to face the caster. Sprouts and grass grow up in the footprints of the wizard.
  • Polymorph Other/Self: The casters form becomes unstable. He may smell like a elk, have claws momentarily, have his hair turn into feathers, or various other transitory effects. These have the side effects of attracting predators and unnerving sentient opponents. +1 on wandering monster checks and -1 on reactions.
  • Rary's Mnemonic Enhancer: There is a 4-level chance per spell cast on a d10 that a spell when cast will not be forgotten. A first level spell has a 3 in 10 chance of being retained, a third level spell has a 1 in 10 chance of being retained.
  • Remove Curse: Caster receives a +1 bonus on saving throws. Magic items and spells have a 2% malfunction/mishap chance.
  • Wall of Fire: Caster's clothing appears to be coated in licks of fire.
  • Wall of Ice: Caster's clothing appears to be coated in sheets of ice and frost.
  • Wizard Eyes: The wizards eyes begin to bulge, and occasionally float out of their sockets.

On the OSR New Wave: Gus L of Dungeon of Signs

It's a giant ship! It's a Megadungeon! It's the HMS Apollyon!

Gus's creativity is spectacular. He runs a gonzo game, but it is not a game where players find a laser gun and think "Oh, now I'm more powerful than everything else!" What they really think is "Now that giant metal monstrosity has FIVE holes in it, and yet I'm still dead."

There is a Rustgate. There are ship spirits. There is boiler plate armor.

Blah, blah, blah, you think. READ THIS NEXT SENTENCE:

The HMS Apollyon is a miles long demon and monster haunted cruise ship that travels between worlds and frequently 'rescues' individuals from the seas it traverses.

Seriously. The full introduction is here! Follow Dungeon of Signs! Follow Gus L. on G+!

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

It's a blog that I write stuff on.  Mostly about the games I run or the games I play. Lots of ASE stuff and lots of stuff on my own diesel/steam/witchcraft punk settling aboard a giant rotting luxury liner. Occasionally I write about my thoughts on games and how they work - but not often, mostly a put up game content.

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

Well Adventure Time is pretty obvious - and sort of captures the bizarre sensibility of most games worth playing.  Not really sure - as for written stuff, maybe the new Prophet, or Dungeon Quest by Joe Daly?

If you ran across a group of baby orcs in a game;  what do you do with them?
Try to sell them as pets at the local bazaar, return them to their parents with a note about parental responsibility and an offer for mercenary service? There aren't any orcs in the games I play though.  Orc equivalents, which usually means nasty people - I think it's more a matter of how I encounter said beasts, and what kind of PC I'm playing.  I really hate simplistic play where humanoids are just something to hack up,  and I think orcs have pretty much been rehabilitated in the past few years - noble savage and all that.  Also humanoids should be some of the scariest opponents and one should be forced to scheme to deal with them rather than charge and collect their babies from the ruins of the orc huts.

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?

Well Bryce has some pretty nice stuff to say about my work - which I am pretty proud of.  I think we have a similar sensibility in that running a by the book Tolkien and Gygax generic fantasy doesn't really appeal and has been cliched to death.  The hard part of GMing isn't figuring out that the bandits are stealing from the village and have an ogre with them., it's making that interesting by either pushing aside cliches or slipping in some great detail.  Simplistic fantasy has become the domain of video games, but even there the best ones are well beyond the cliched AD&D style world.  Tabletop games don't really have much to offer that a video game can't outside the open world aspect, and to make an open world interesting it has to actually be varied and interesting.  With history and plot and strange things that a player can engage with if they want.  If not at least the scene dressing should be fun, and an ogre guarding 300GP and a +1 dagger is not fun or compelling anymore.

What is the most important house rule or change you make to the game?
Hmmm? depends - I am fond of my save or die rules with a statistic reducing injury if you survive.
The HMS Apollyon gun rules are rather game changing, but I think I most enjoy my "On a critical hit you can do double damage, or do something cool."  This allows a player to have some nice moments in combat - like the time the moleman got to ride atop that giant face colored fungal worm and wail on it with his axe.  It created a pretty good image.

What's your favorite edition and why?
B/X - because everyone plays it?  Seriously though I don't know any addition beyond AD&D 1e - and that I only vaguely remember the lazy house-ruled 12 year old boy version of.  I am enjoying the 1979 whitebox rules lately (or Little Brown Books) because they are so simple and make combat a terrible idea.

Thieves? Clerics?
Yes?  I like Clerics but I tend to encourage them to be nuts. ASE has the best version of Clerics I've seen, with an infinity of unreasonable AI satellites as gods, and every PC must obey all of them - especially the one the player made up.  Thieves need more variation - assassin, scout, dubber, yegg, duelist, con man, bounder - all should be options within the class.  The D&D classic is just a pile of skills without much sense.  Also I hate thieves guilds.

What are your thoughts on the proliferation of rulesets for sale?
Well honestly I don't buy rulesets... I have a 1979 Whitebox I found in my folks basement, and the Labyrinth Lord book - not likely I'll need much more.  Wish people would write setting books that were cool (like a decent Mesoamerican one) rather than rules.

How long before the inevitable saturation occurs and we go though the classic fox/hare die-off?
I'm pretty optimistic - I think humanity has proven itself remarkably able to avoid a serious die-off and that technological progress will continue until we change ourselves into something else rather than wipe ourselves out.

Do you get to play?
Yes, I run a game almost every week and play one as well - via Google Hangouts

What is your favorite class?
Fighter perhaps, though these days I have a thief, an assassin and a old West wizard that I'm fond of.  It's more how well the PC hangs together, not what they can do.

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?
War, famine, pestilence, religious fanaticism?  As far as the worst thing about these D&D themed television shows, I suppose it's that they've become trite and cliched? Sort of like most D&D products seem these days - glossy and terribly boring.

What is the worst player you've ever had?
Not sure - I've been lucky.

What is your favorite base version to use?
B/X or LBB OD&D - it's all I know

Which is best: Adventure, hexcrawl or mega-dungeon? Why?
A megadungeon, adventure hexcrawl! I think there's a false dichotomy there.  The best game is one run by someone who has a style and world you enjoy. I personally think I'm best at running dungeons and social situations and have found my efforts at overland travel to be shoddy.  Of course others are good at them, crafting interesting hex encounters and such.

What is your own personal appendix N?
I've read a lot of books, I think my D&D is currently informed by the New Corbuzon novels by China Mieville.  There's something about the oppressive social fabric of the 19th century laid over a weird fantasy world that works for me.  Also I read a lot of wikipedia.

What can we expect from you in the future?
Nothing really,  I'll keep doing what I do until I get bored.  I'm thinking about self-publishing some stuff.  Either an HMS Apollyon setting book designed for OD&D play (with a few house rules) or a bundled set of small adventures for levels 1-6 focusing on Patrick Wetmore's Land of 1,000 Towers (ASE).  Basically the idea is that when your party gets tired of the megadungeon there's a bit of other weird going on outside.  I'm going to put out a PDF of one of those soon - entitled "Tomb of the Rocketmen", but none of these plans are set in stone.

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