Posts Tagged ‘ AD&D ’

No Estamos Solos

Woke up early this morning (like I do pretty much every morning ever), and so I watched No Estamos Solos, a Netflix import from Peru. While this movie doesn’t cover any ground not already covered dozens of times by better movies, it does feature some decent performances by Marco Zunino (as Mateo, the papa); Fiorella Díaz (as Mónica, Mateo’s second wife); and Zoe Arévalo (as Sofía, Mateo’s daughter from his first marriage).

I’m pretty sure there’s a checklist for screenwriters working on haunted house and/or possession movies. No Estamos Solos faithfully checks all the boxes, to include some scenes that look so familiar I’m pretty sure they were lifted from other films. On the plus side, the film is short (76 minutes), so I didn’t have to wait long for the bumps, chills, and predictable confrontation between Padre Rafael (played by Lucho Cáceres) and the forces of evil.

Rather than another monster for The Cthulhu Hack, here are a dozen things that can happen in a haunted house, as filtered through the prism of AD&D spells.

September 2nd, 2017  in RPG No Comments »


In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said: “Whatever you ask I shall give you.” Solomon answered: “You have shown great kindness to your servant, David my father, because he walked before you with fidelity, justice, and an upright heart; and you have continued this great kindness toward him today, giving him a son to sit upon his throne. Now, LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed David my father; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act — I, your servant, among the people you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to give judgment for this vast people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:5-9)

Wisdom traditionally has been viewed as the ability to discern good from evil with the aim of doing the first and avoiding the latter. This view is reflected in AD&D‘s explanation of Wisdom, which “is a composite term for the character’s enlightenment, judgement, wile, will power, and (to a certain extent) intuitiveness” (PH, p. 11). It is the attribute which “subsumes the categories of willpower, judgment, wile, enlightenment, and intuitiveness” (DMG, p. 15). The qualities that Wisdom represents help me understand why Wisdom is the principal attribute of clerics, as well as being important for druids, paladins, rangers, and monks. For all but the monk, Wisdom also represents a connection to the divine, and, by extension, is a factor in a character’s alignment.

Some words about alignment. First and foremost, alignment is not a set of rules that dictate how a character must act. Sure, certain characters may suffer major consequences for acting contrary to their alignments, but their alignments per se do not make contrary action impossible. Also, alignment descriptions in the rules (PH, pp. 33-34; DMG, pp. 23-24) are generalizations. But what is alignment? It is a short-hand description of “the broad ethos of thinking, reasoning creatures” (DMG, p. 23). That’s it. Alignment summarizes a particular creature’s “disposition, character, or fundamental values” (to quote the dictionary about ethos). Alignment makes it possible to predict what a certain creature will do in such-and-such situation most of the time. Deviations are always possible, and probably fairly common in at least small ways.

Alignment is not, however, a reflection of a wholly subjective set of value judgments. In AD&D as the rules are written, it makes no sense to say that dwarves only think orcs are evil because dwarves are socially conditioned to think that way, but the orcs don’t view their actions as evil and so those actions are not really evil. It cannot be denied that there is always a subjective element in all moral judgments, but orcs “are cruel and hate living things in general”. They really hate elves “and will always attack them in preference to other creatures.” Orcs “take slaves for work, food, and entertainment (torture, etc) but not elves whom they kill immediately” (emphases added). In no way can cruelty, murderous cannibalism, slavery, torture for fun, et cetera be colored as anything other than evil. Orcs are not misunderstood or functioning under different but equally valid cultural norms. They’re evil as a general rule, both individually and collectively.

Alignment is especially important to classes with a connection to the divine. For example, clerics who “have not been faithful to their teachings, followed the aims of their deity, contributed freely to the cause, and otherwise acted according to the tenets of their faith” may find themselves unable to acquire certain levels of spells (DMG, p. 38). The consequences for paladins are perhaps the most severe of all. Paladins who “knowing perform an act which is chaotic in nature” must do appropriate penance. Those who “ever knowingly and willingly perform an evil act” lose paladin status forever.

My strong suspicion is that Mr. Gygax’s wording about paladins shows at least a familiarity with classical expressions of Christian moral theology. Note that certain actions are “chaotic in nature”. In other words, those actions are in and of themselves chaotic, regardless of what the paladin’s opinion might be or what the circumstances are. Christian moral theology doesn’t really consider things on a law-chaos axis as much as a good-evil axis, but recalling that “law dictates that order and organization [are] necessary and desirable” and “generally supports the group as more important than the individual” helps me grok essential differences. Ultimately, law cannot be concerned with what is merely legal. The Western philosophical tradition, well back before the time of Christ, has understood that unjust laws are not really laws. If torture is evil, for example, no law saying torture is acceptable makes torture not evil. Instead, in its essence, it seems as if law’s main thrust is that the Other and/or the Many have greater priority than the Self and/or the One. Note well that AD&D‘s alignment system conceptually separates such considerations from good-evil.

What this means for the lawful creature is that, all things being equal, the lawful creature puts the needs of others first. If a cleric and her companions are severely injured and in imminent danger of more harm, the lawful cleric probably heals her companions first. Perhaps some practical circumstances makes another use of healing resources more prudent, but, in general, the lawful cleric’s needs take a backseat to the needs of others. Back to the paladin, avoiding chaotic actions probably means that much of the time the paladin’s ability to “lay on hands” is going to be used to heal someone else.

When turning to good-evil, we see that “the tenets of good are human rights, or in the case of AD&D, creature rights. Each creature is entitled to life, relative freedom, and the prospect of happiness. Cruelty and suffering are undesirable.” Evil “does not concern itself with rights or happiness; purpose is the determinant” (DMG, p. 23). In other words, evil is about the will to power, about the ends both justifying and rationalizing the means. Those means may be aimed at the perceived benefit of the group (lawful evil) or entirely selfish (chaotic evil), but questions about life, freedom, and happiness are unimportant. As such, evil actions are evil in and of themselves. They are malum in se, not merely malum prohibitum. They violate what has been variously been called divine law, natural law, moral law, or (to use the term preferred by C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man) the Tao.

Back to what appears to be Mr. Gygax’s familiarity with classical expressions of Christian moral theology. Note that the paladin must “knowingly and willingly” do evil in order to lose paladin status. In classical Christian moral theology, distinctions are made between acts that are venial and mortal. Paladins lose their paladinhood for mortal acts, and for an act to be mortal it must meet certain objective criteria, namely:

1. The act’s subject matter must be grave. In other words, the act itself must be malum in se.
2. The act must be committed with full knowledge/awareness of the action’s evil and the gravity of the offense.
3. The act must be committed with deliberate and complete consent.

Each part above corresponds to part of makes paladins stop being paladins forever:

1. The act must be evil.
2. The act must be knowingly performed.
3. The act must be willingly performed.

In instances where the paladin does not have sufficient knowledge and/or does not act freely, the action remains evil, but does not meet the criteria necessary for him being stripped of paladinhood.

So what does this have to do with Wisdom?

Well, since Wisdom deals in part with a character’s ability to judge good from evil, it stands to reason that a character’s Wisdom somehow reflects at least the voice of conscience that kicks in before a character performs some act that will have dire consequences (such as loss of spells or no longer getting to advance as a paladin). This also means that I, as a DM, need to be clear about what constitutes law-chaos and good-evil in my campaign, and that I clearly communicate that information to my players. It doesn’t means that such considerations are up for debate (although it might). If in my AD&D game I as DM say that torture is always and everywhere evil, then torture is always and everywhere evil.

Does that mean that, for example, a paladin may never resort to torture? No, for one reason: Paladins have free will. Does that mean that a paladin who tortures an enemy immediately and forever ceases to be a paladin? Probably. Referring to the three criteria above and considering that it’s my campaign world governed by certain moral absolutes I’ve defined as DM, the first criterion is met. I’ve communicated such to the players, but that doesn’t mean the paladin is all that hip to the truth. This is where the paladin’s Wisdom comes into play. If the paladin lacks sufficient Wisdom and sufficient moral training, he may be bit off in his understanding about torture. He might be fully aware of torture’s evil and gravity. Even if he is, there is still the third criterion. Does the paladin really have no other acceptable choice? If so, then, yes, the paladin commits a gravely evil act, but does not do so willingly. Some punishment from the gods is appropriate, but this punishment ought not include the permanent loss of paladinhood.

Wisdom reflects a character’s ability to discern good from evil. An exceptionally wise character ought not be surprised to learn after the fact that such-and-such action is evil. The character would have the insight to know ahead of time. The character may choose to ignore that insight as the player decides, and that is one of the ways that the moral drama implied by AD&D‘s alignment system comes into play.

July 31st, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Magical Enervation & Invigoration

Recently, Matt Jackson had a thought about magic in Old School games. “If magic is to be powerful, magic should be dangerous, have consequences, and not always just be perfect,” Jackson wrote. Seems reasonable to me. Then, for some reason, I thought of Fate Dice. If you’re not familiar with Fate Dice, they’re like normal dice, but instead of numbers, their sides are either blank (equal to zero) or else are marked by a plus sign (equal to +1) or a minus sign (equal to -1).

When playing Fate (which you should do at least a few times because it’s a hoot), you roll four Fate Dice (4DF) and total the sides. About 23% of the time, you’ll end up with a zero. About 20% of the time, you end up with a +1, and another 20% of the time you get a -1. You end up with a +2 or -2 about 12% of the time, respectively; +3 or -3 about 5% of time, respectively; and +4 or -4 about 1% of the time.

Enough explanation. Back to Matt Jackson’s observation about magic. Imagine, if you will, a spellcaster, Zot the Wondrous, a 4th-level magic-user.

Confronted by charging lizardmen in a dark, humid cavern, Zot casts web. Zot’s web normally has a range of 2″ and lasts for 8 turns. Zot’s player picks a center point for the spell, hoping it ends up in the middle of the lizardmen. He then rolls 4DF, and gets a -1 total. The web goes into effect as if Zot was a 3rd-level magic-user. The caster’s desired center point for the spell ends up 1/2″ closer than expected, and the web lasts for 6 turns instead of 8. Later, Zot casts magic missile at a gelatinous cube. The player rolls 4DF, and gets a +2. Zot’s magic missile goes into effect as he were a 6th-level magic-user, which means he fires three missiles instead of two.

These increases or decreases to effective casting level can change the odds of the caster overcoming magic resistance. Normally, Zot’s caster level boosts a magically resistant monster’s magic resistance by 35%. If he had cast magic missile at a creature with magic resistance instead of a gelatinous cube, the monster’s magic resistance would have been boosted by only 25% instead of 35% because of the +2 increase to Zot’s caster level. What’s more, increases or decreases to caster level also change the spell’s effective level. In other words, Zot’s web against the gnolls would be treated as 1st-level spell and his magic missile against the cube would have been equal to a 3rd-level spell (a level of spell Zot would not normally be able to cast as a 4th-level magic-user).

Magical Enervation

When Zot’s spells take effect at a lower casting level, it is because of magical enervation. The ebb and flow of magical energies is somewhat unpredictable, and spells often end up at least slightly weaker. If a spell’s adjusted spell level ever equals zero or lower, then the caster does not lose memorization of the spell. For example, if Zot’s web had gone into effect as a 0-level spell, Zot would have not lost memorization of web after casting.

Magical Invigoration

When a spell takes effect at a higher level than normal, the caster experiences magical invigoration. Furthermore, if the spell’s effective level increases to a level the caster cannot normally access (as happened to Zot when he cast that magic missile), the caster must make a saving throw versus spell to avoid being stunned a number of rounds equal to the number of levels of increase applied to the spell. Thus, Zot would have to make that saving throw versus spell to avoid being stunned. If he makes the saving throw, Zot isn’t stunned, and he loses memorization of magic missile as normal. If Zot fails the save, he is stunned for two rounds, but the surge of magical energies burns the spell back into his memory; therefore, Zot does not lose memorization of magic missile.

July 9th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

The Teeth in the Darkness

First, some news: I’ve released the playtest version of The Grimm’s Fairy Hack via DriveThruRPG. It’s listed as Pay What You Want with a suggested price of $2. Of course, as a purchaser (even if you choose to purchase the game for free), you’ll automatically receive updates to TGFH, to include the final, for-sale version. In TGFH, a based on The Black Hack roleplaying game, the players take on the roles of children from our real world who find themselves lost in a dangerous, magical realm. These playtest rules include all the information you need to get started exploring your own versions of grim tales.

And now a monster inspired by an entertaining film starring Finn and half of Firestorm.

Teeth in the Darkness
Frequency: Very rare
No. Appearing: 5-30
Armor Class: 6
Move: 12″
Hit Dice: 2-5
% in Lair: 35%
Treasure Type: O, P, R
No. of Attacks: 3
Damage/Attack: 1-4/1-4/1-6
Special Attacks: Add 1/2 HD to damage rolls
Special Defenses: See below
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Low to Average
Alignment: Neutral evil
Size: S to M (2′ to 5′ at the shoulder)
Psionic Ability: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil
Level/X.P. Value: 60+2/hp (2 HD); 110+3/hp (3 HD); 185+4/hp (4 HD); 290+5/hp (5 HD)

Found in caverns and ancient forests, the teeth in the darkness are intelligent predators that run in packs, hunting much like wolves. These creatures lope about most of the time on all fours, and they are skilled climbers but do not swim well. Their forelegs are longer than their rear legs, giving them an appearance somewhat like an gorilla. The teeth in the darkness have no eyes (and are consequently immune to attacks and illusions that affect the sense of sight). They have highly developed olfactory senses as well a form of echolocation that uses clicks, grunts, snarls, and surprisingly human-like screams; some of the teeth in the darkness’s vocalizations cannot be detected by normal hearing. The teeth in the darkness use these same sounds to communicate with each other. Due to their unusual senses, the teeth in the darkness are surprised only a on 1 (in 6), and they track prey by scent like a bloodhound.

In the dimly lit and shadowy conditions, these monsters are almost impossible to see as long as they keep their mouths closed to conceal their bioluminescent fangs. They move silently with cunning. In the dark when they cannot be seen, they surprise foes 5 in 6 times. Even in lighted conditions, they still surprise foes 3 in 6 times due to their stealth. The size of these monsters (and HD) varies with age and sex. Males are generally larger when fully grown. Regardless of size, they are quite strong. Add one-half the monster’s HD (round up) to damage rolls with its bear-like claws and glowing fangs. Their fur is blacker than black, and it does not reflect light. This makes it difficult to accurately judge their position at distances farther than 15 feet, especially when they are moving; this trait imposes a -4 penalty on “to-hit” rolls with ranged attacks.

July 4th, 2017  in RPG, Spes Magna News No Comments »

Ledpauks & Rojîyans

Ledpauks are monstrous spiders that are difficult to immediately distinguish from the more common web-building giant spider. In combat, however, the differences between giant spiders and ledpauks become evident, revealing why the later are the more dangerous monster. Ledpauks are immune to fire, even magical fire such as a fireball. The bite of a ledpauk is poisonous. A victim must save versus poison or be killed. Ledpauks spin their sticky webs horizontally or vertically so as to entrap any creature which touches them. The web is as tough and clinging as a web spell. Any creature with 18 or greater strength con break free in 1 melee round, a 17 strength requires 2 melee rounds, etc. Webs spun by ledpauks are are invulnerable to fire. Worse still, these webs grow instantaneously upon contact with fire. If a torch, flaming oil, or a fireball contacts the webs, they row 2,4, or 8 times their size as they “feed” on the heat.

Frequency: Rare
No. Appearing: 1-4
Armor Class: 4
Move: 3″*12″
Hit Dice: 4+4
% in Lair: 70%
Treasure Type: C
No. of Attacks: 1
Damage/Attack: 3-9
Special Attacks: See below
Special Defenses: Immune to fire
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Average
Alignment: Any evil
Size: L
Psionic Ability: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil
Level/X.P. Value: V/320 + 5/hp

The link at the top of the next stat block takes you to another excellent illustration by Domenico Neziti.

Armor Class: 3 [16]
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: Claw (1d6)
Special: See below
Move: 15
Save: 15
HDE/XP: 6/400

Rojîyans are embodied spirits sent to punish sinners. Each rojîyan is attuned to a particular sort of sin, such as one of the seven deadly. A rojîyans can always detect such a sinner out to a range of 120 feet. These monsters are immune to all non-magical weapons. Against sinners to which they are attuned to punish, rojîyans drain 1 level per hit, and they take only one-half damage from the sinner’s attacks. Rojîyans are immune to sleep, charm, and hold effects.

April 3rd, 2017  in RPG No Comments »