Tuesday, October 27, 2015

First Level Death Spell!

   The door was locked and bolted, but it swung silently open and Xaltotun stood before them, calm, tranquil, stroking his patriarchal beard; but the lambent lights of Hell flickered in his eyes.
   “I have taught you too much,” he said calmly, pointing a finger like an index of doom at Orastes. And before any could move, he had cast a handful of dust on the floor near the feet of the priest, who stood like a man turned to marble. It flamed, smoldered; a blue serpentine of smoke rose and swayed upward about Orastes in a slender spiral. And when it had arisen above his shoulders it curled about his neck with a whipping suddenness like the stroke of a snake. Orastes’ scream was choked to a gurgle. His hands flew to his neck, his eyes were distended, his tongue protruded. The smoke was like a blue rope about his neck; then it faded and was gone, and Orastes slumped to the floor a dead man.
-- Hour of the Dragon, Robert E. Howard 

So you want to pump up the magic-user class?

How about a 1st level Death Spell!

Herein I am using Labyrinth Lord stats and descriptions…

Think about it. Magic Missile is a 1st level spell. It has a range of 150’, deals 1d6+1 hit points of damage (average 4.5), and always hits its target. That’s powerful enough to kill most 0-level Normal Men and even powerful enough to kill most 1st level characters and 1 HD monsters.

Death Spell is a 6th level spell (can be used as early as 11th level). It has a range of 240’ and kills 4d8 HD of creatures of 8 HD or less (essentially, Name Level characters are immune), though all the targets get a saving throw versus Death.

Poisons… all characters of all levels fear poison, as all characters of all levels can still be slain by the same simple poison…

So let’s just up the ante a little bit, and give everyone a reason to fear magic-users… because no one fears low-level magic-users once they have reached 5th level (no more sleep effects on you, right).

Try this on for size…

Death Spell
Level: 1
Duration: Instant
Range: 40’ plus 20’ per level

When this spell is cast a ray of black, coruscating energy emits from the caster’s finger, directed at a single target within range. The target must then make a saving throw versus Death; failure indicates instant death. If the target is of a higher level or hit dice than the level of the caster, the target gets a +4 bonus to their saving throw. If the saving throw succeeds, and the target is of higher level or hit dice, nothing happens. If the target is of equal or lower level or hit dice, the target suffers 1d6 points of damage plus 1 point of damage per level of the caster.

The appearance of the spell can vary from caster to caster, though once a magic-user learns the spell it will always have the same appearance (d10):

1. Arc of Black Lightning
2. Sickly Purple Ray
3. Coiling Indigo Tendril of Smoke
4. Flash of Blue Flames
5. Whip of Green Energy
6. Staccato Bursts of Yellow Beams
7. Scintillating Orange Beam
8. Scorching Red Ray
9. Blinding White Flash of Light
10. Invisible

If you want to limit the use of this spell, have each casting require the use of a material component, such as black lotus, or demon ichor, or some other such material rare and expensive (say, 1,000 gp per casting). Or perhaps the magic-user must craft a special wand to use as a focus, costing 1,000 gp; without the wand, the caster cannot cast the spell.

   Bellatrix laughed, the same exhilarated laugh her cousin Sirius had given as he toppled backward through the veil, and suddenly Harry knew what was going to happen before it did.
   Molly’s curse soared beneath Bellatrix’s outstretched arm and hit her squarely in the chest, directly over her heart.
   Bellatrix’s gloating smile froze, her eyes seemed to bulge: For the tiniest space of time she knew what had happened, and then she toppled, and the watching crowd roared, and Voldemort screamed.
-- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling

Monday, October 12, 2015

[Review] These Goblins Won't Kill Themselves

These Goblins Won’t Kill Themselves
For 3-6 adventurers of low to moderate levels of experience
By Christopher Clark (Inner City, Fuzzy Heroes, My First LARP)
Art by Dave Peterson (interior) and Lloyd Metcalf (cover)
34 pages, $6.00 PDF, $14.95 POD SC

TL; DR: These Goblins Won’t Kill Themselves (TGWKT) is a fun, one-shot dungeon delving adventure in the classic, humorous style reminiscent of the early days of fantasy gaming. If you liked Keep on the Borderlands and the April issues of Dragon, this is right up your alley…

In Short: TGWKT is a fantasy adventure module written in a classical style; that is to say, it deals with a fairly standard type of adventure (Seek the Treasures Lost in the Bad Guys Lair), and to this it adds a heaping helping of another classic element – humor. TGWKT isn’t anything new – it evokes the same style of adventure classic in TSR modules in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, down to Gygaxian naturalism, flavor text, puns, and in-jokes. But for this reviewer, that is very much a feature, not a bug. Much like In Search of the Unknown, Keep on the Borderlands, and Horror on the Hill, it is a light dungeon crawl adventure, suitable for play in one to three sessions. So if that is what you are into, it will be right up your alley.

The Look: TGWKT evokes the classic look; most of the interior art by Dave Peterson would be at home in any classic OSR style adventure. The art mostly depicts scenes and characters in the module, so you can print those separately to show to your players. The maps are simple, but well done and utilitarian. The font is simple and easy to read. Flavor text is in bold. Like many of the old modules, it’s not fancy, but it works, and unlike a lot of modern works, it won’t kill your printer cartridge to print it up to have a paper copy at the table.

The Feel: TGWKT definitely falls within the “classic punster” or “tongue-in-cheek” style of adventure; the fact that it is the first in a series of adventures taking place in the “Lands of Igpay” should give anyone reading the cover fair warning of the style of play expected. It feels like something one would find as an insert in a classic April issue of Dragon Magazine. However, while the adventure certainly works well with the humor style of play, if that’s not your thing, the core elements can also be used with a more heroic style of play with minimal work. Minus the humorous elements, TGWKT fall solidly in the “heroic fantasy” style of play, with a dash of Faerie style (as Igpay is a “land apart” from the character’s normal homeland).

The System: TGWKT uses a generic system, much like the various Eldritch Enterprises adventure modules that Clark has published with Frank Mentzer, Jim Ward, and Tim Kask. This is really a non-issue; most of the monsters can simply be lifted from whatever system you are using by simply looking for the monster name or a similar type in your core rules. A little conversion might be needed on the fly, but even for an inexperienced game master, the conversion needed is minimal.

The Adventure: The characters, removed from their own natal lands, somehow end up in the Land of Igpay, a fairy-tale land where the Elves have been at odds with the Goblins over an unfortunate misunderstanding. Elven heroes put a stop to the Goblin War some time ago, but now the Goblins are back, and the Elves today have no defenses, being pacifists. Thus they offer their treasures to the adventurers if they will go into the Goblin caves and rout out the enemy, or at least, return to the Elves their lost weapons of power so that the Elves can once again defend themselves. After a short wilderness trek, the adventurers must delve into the lair of the goblins, where several fearsome tricks and traps await, in addition to the martial menace of the goblins. There is also a lead-in to the sequel, though this can be ignored if the game master simply wants to run the adventure as a one-shot.

Some of the traps in the module are outright lethal… which again, to this reviewer is a feature, not a bug. So if you do not like the “Save or Die” style of gaming (or worse, the “No Save and Die” style), you might need to tone down a few things.

NB: Back when TGWKT was originally released, Inner City Games Designs sent me a complementary copy of the PDF to review. As they have now released the sequel Why Are We Here? These Things Are Already Dead! I was reminded of TGWKT and went to find it to finally write the review… and discovered that at some point in the previous year, I had lost it in a purge of my computer. So I went and bought a copy of the PDF in order to review it.

5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, October 8, 2015

[Horseclans] Coming of the Horseclans

One of the strongest influences on all my works has been the writings of Robert Adams, specifically his Horseclans series of 18 novels and two Friends of the Horseclans short story compilations.

The Horseclans series take place in a post-apocalyptic North America. The titular Horseclans are nomads from the Sea of Grass, the PA Great Plains, from the Mississippi to the High Plains of the Rocky Mountains, and from southern Canada to the Rio Grande. The Horseclans themselves are descended primarily from the youthful survivors of a bomb shelter in Los Angeles who, over the first several generations, migrate east, eventually taking to a nomadic life after the climate change that follows the war makes farming difficult if not impossible in the West (or was Adams simply prophetic about the forthcoming centuries-long Great Drought?).

Along the way they bring into their tribal alliance various other survivors, including descendants of Canadian military, Anglo-Canadian and French-Canadian refugees, campers from Yellowstone, experimental ranchers from Texas, descendants of National Guardsmen from Missouri, and others. Though most of the ancestors of the Kindred, as they are called, are white, their culture is more Mongolian-Turkic, including yurts, wagons, sabers, and an intense dislike of Dirtmen (farmers), who are worthy only of raiding and taking as slaves.

The Kindred are mutants, most of them, with powerful telepathic powers; some exhibit other powers, but other abilities are rare. Using their telepathy, they are better able to work with their horses, which are also telepathic and smarter than your typical horse. Their major allies, however, are the prairie cats, which are descended from an attempt to re-create the saber-toothed tiger through back-breeding. These are as intelligent as humans, and have very strong telepathy, of greater power usually than even the strongest Kindred.

The leader of the Horseclans is Milo Morai, an immortal, one of the Undying. He was born long before WW III; how long before is unknown, as he lost his memory before the 1930's, but he was obviously a fighting man in the era before guns became popular, because even then he was a past-master of swordplay and knew dozens of languages, many of them long dead. My own theory is that he was a Greek or Roman from the Migration era; the author at one point mentioned that he was actually an alien, but that makes no sense, as there are other Undying. The Undying can die, it just takes cutting off their head; drowning them; or burning them at the stake; all things that can kill them faster than they can regenerate, which is at a speed as to turn a troll's head.

Most of the early action in the series focuses on the east coast, as that is where the Horseclans migrate to in the first book, The Coming of the Horseclans. It is the late 26th century, about 700 years after the Two Day War and the Great Dyings, which are by now a time of myth and legend. In the early series the war was ~1980; as that year passed, the author later placed the war ca. 2015 (starting in the Middle East, likely with a local dictator getting a nuke and hitting Israel, but as it was intimated that it was Libya and Qaddafi, I'm not too worried today). An ancient prophecy among the Kindred tells that the clans would one day return to the Holy City of Ehlai; as Milo knows that it is a radioactive ruin, most of which slid into the sea after the Big One finally hit in the 23rd Century, he takes them east instead.

There they run into the kingdoms of the Ehleens, or Greeks, who migrated to the east coast some centuries ago, fleeing the depredations of the Turkish Sultan. They built a great kingdom on the east coast, from Virginia to the Mississippi and south of the savage lands of Tennessee, that broke up after the Big One (which was continent-wide, and took out much of the east coast and the coastal cities with tidal waves). So when the Horseclans arrive, they find three divided countries of now decadent and debased Ehleens.

In The Coming of the Horseclans, the Kindred conquer the northern country, Kehnooryos Ehlahs or New Greece, in the process discovering the presence of the Witchmen, who are men from the old world who use technology to move their minds from one body to another, and thus try to re-build their kingdom, which was destroyed when the Ehleens invaded. They defeat the current machinations of the Witchmen, defeat the decadent Ehleen nobles, and start a new united kingdom from their city of New Ehlai, built atop the ruins of Hampton, Virginia, where Milo spent some years following WW II as part of the budding military-industrial complex.

In  the second book, Swords of the Horseclans, the other two kingdoms come calling, wanting to re-conquer the lands the Horseclans took in the previous generation (the books follow Milo at this stage, and as he is immortal, each book jumps a generation or two). The Kingdom of Karaleenos (the Carolinas, of course) is at first at war with the new Confederation, which is a union of the Ehleens and the Kindred. Then the vast army of Zastros, the newly-crowned King of the Southern Kingdom, comes up to wipe away both forces. Zastros is under the influence of the Witchmen, and doesn't care how many are killed, as all the chaos is needed to enable the Witchmen to reconquer the eastern coast (they are stuck in the swampy ruins of Florida, where they were based before the war, at Cape Canaveral/Cape Kennedy Research Center). Thanks to prophecies provided by Blind Hari of Kroogah, a Kindred bard with many of the other unusual psychic powers the Kindred can possess, High Lord Milo and his allies are able to defeat Zastros, and unite all three kingdoms into the Confederation.

In the third book, Revenge of the Horseclans, we find that things are going well for the Kindred, as they now mostly rule the Confederation. However, the Ehleens, now sharing or losing much of their power, seek to regain it, and unite behind the Ehleen Church, a debased and decadent version of the old Greek Orthodox faith, long ago infiltrated and perverted by the Witchmen. During the Great Rebellion, we see Thoheeks (Duke) Bili Morguhn, son of a chieftain and Duke of Morguhn, rise to the occasion and rout the Ehleens, though other counties are not so lucky, such as the Kindred of the Duchy of Gafnee, the whole clan of which is extirpated when their virtually impregnable fortress is struck by a "miracle" i.e., a Witchman magic item, an ancient missile!

These were the first three in the series, originally published by Pinnacle Books in 1975, 1976, and 1977, and later picked up by Signet for the rest of the run beginning in 1982. The first prints of the first and second books had covers by Carl Lundgren, the third by Ken Kelly, who went on to do the covers for the whole series under Signet.

You may well ask why I am posting about the Horseclans like this. Well, with Richard Le Blanc of New Big Dragon Games nearing completion of the Basic Psionics Handbook, I hope to revive an old dream of mine... to run a science-fantasy version of the Horseclans. Rather than just adding in bits and bobs from the series, or adding elements inspired by the series, I'll be able to run the series using Labyrinth Lord with bits of Mutant Future. While an official GURPS supplement came out ages ago -- GURPS Horseclans, which was excellent -- I much prefer B/X and Labyrinth Lord. So I am hoping that this new book will enable me to run that campaign without a lot of house-ruling, as I've tried in the past...

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

[Now Available] Ghosts -- The Incorporeal Undead

Ghosts – The Incorporeal Undead
By James Mishler and Jodi Moran-Mishler
 64 pages * $16 MSRP * JMG 00704

On sale for $6.66 through Halloween!

Designed for use with Labyrinth Lord, compatible with most Old School style fantasy and science-fantasy RPGs.

Ghosts – The Incorporeal Undead includes everything needed to develop and use ghosts in your Labyrinth Lord campaign.

Deadly Details on Fear Attacks and Life Draining Touch!

Eerie Information on the Incorporeal powers of ghosts and other Undead Special Abilities!

Full disclosure on the Sinister Sixth Sense, Scary Sensitives, and Mysterious Mediums!

Ten different base ghostly types, covering each hit die from 1 to 10 hit dice, with countless thousands of combinations of 75 different ghostly special abilities!

Secrets of the uses and dangers of Uncanny Ectoplasm!

An expose of Eerie Enchanted Items!

Scads of rulings on Spooky Spells, new and old!

And a (relatively complete) Creepy Appendix N!

What more can you ask for?

How about protection from the Terrifying Table of Contents of…

   Fear Attack
      Fear Effects Table
      Spawn Ghost
      Powerless in Sunlight
      Weapon Immunity
   Life Draining Touch
      Spawn Ghost
   Undead Special Abilities Package
      Poison Immunity
      Silent as the Grave
      Susceptible to Turning
   Other Special Abilities
      Special Ability Notation
   Incorporeal Undead Summary Table

   Presence (1 HD Lesser Ghost)
   Apparition (2 HD Lesser Ghost)
   Lost Soul (3 HD Lesser Ghost)
   Wraith (4 HD Greater Ghost)
   Haunt (5 HD Greater Ghost)
   Spectre (6 HD Greater Ghost)
   Spirit (7 HD Greater Ghost)
   Wyrd (8 HD Greater Ghost)
   Phantom (9 HD Greater Ghost)
   Geist (10 HD Greater Ghost)

   Ghostly Special Abilities
   Uncanny Ectoplasm
   Eerie Enchanted Items
   Spooky Spells
   Creepy Appendix N

List of Ghostly Special Abilities
   Acid Ghost
   Alien Ghost
   Ancestral Ghost
   Animal Ghost
   Animate Corpse
   Armored Ghost
   Blinking Ghost
   Bloody Ghost
   Chained Ghost [Earthly Remains]
   Chained Ghost [Location]
   Child Ghost
   Create Remnants
   Cursed Ghost
   Damned to Walk the Earth
   Demon Ghost
   Dream Killer
   Drowned Ghost
   Drunken Ghost
   Ectoplasmic Blast
   Ectoplasmic Touch
   Embodied Ghost
   Entropic Attack
   Environmental Ghost
   Fast Ghost
   Fiery Ghost
   Fortean Apportation
   Friendly Ghost
   Frightening Ghost
   Frost Ghost
   Ghost Lover
   Ghost Magician
   Ghost Object
   Ghost Priest
   Ghost Ship
   Ghost Sovereign
   Ghostly Head
   Guardian Ghost
   Headless Ghost
   Hungry Ghost
   Keening Ghost
   Laser Ghost
   Lifelike Ghost
   Lightning Ghost
   Material Susceptibility
   Monster Ghost
   Nanny Ghost
   Negative Energy Blast
   Nightmare Ghost
   Object Animator
   Pipeweed Ghost
   Plague Ghost
   Poison Ghost
   Possess the Living
   Radioactive Ghost
   Robotic Ghost
   Shackled Ghost [Item]
   Shrouded Ghost
   Skull Thrower Ghost
   Special Immunity
   Spectral Music
   Spectral Steed
   Stuck in Time
   Tasked Ghost
   Thunder Ghost
   Trickster Ghost
   Unwitting Ghost
   Vengeful Ghost
   Wandering Ghost
   Warning Ghost [White Lady]
   Wind Ghost