Friday, February 27, 2015

A List of (5e) Basic D&D Monsters by Type

Because “why not?” (And because I don't have access to any Savage Worlds books.)

Also, some observations at the end.


Aberration: Nothic, Spectator

Beast: Allosaurus, Ankylosaurus, Ape, Axe Beak, Baboon, Badger, Bat, Black Bear, Blood Hawk, Boar, Brown Bear, Camel, Cat, Constrictor Snake, Crab, Crocodile, Deer, Dire Wolf, Draft Horse, Eagle, Elephant, Elk, Flying Snake, Frog, Giant Ape, Giant Badger, Giant Bat, Giant Boar, Giant Centipede, Giant Constrictor Snake, Giant Crab, Giant Crocodile, Giant Eagle, Giant Elk, Giant Fire Beetle, Giant Frog, Giant Goat, Giant Hyena, Giant Lizard, Giant Octopus, Giant Owl, Giant Poisonous Snake, Giant Rat, Giant Scorpion, Giant Sea Horse, Giant Shark, Giant Spider, Giant Toad, Giant vulture, Giant Wasp, Giant Weasel, Giant Wolf Spider, Goat, Hawk, Hunter Shark, Hyena, Jackal, Killer Whale, Lion, Lizard, Mammoth, Mastiff, Mule, Octopus, Owl, Panther, Plesiosaurus, Poisonous Snake, Polar Bear, Pony, Pteranodon, Quipper, Rat, Raven, Reef Shark, Rhinoceros, Riding Horse, Saber-Toothed Tiger, Scorpion, Sea Horse, Spider, Stirge, Swarm of Bats, Swarm of Insects, Swarm of Poisonous Snakes, Swarm of Quippers, Swarm of Rats, Swarm of Ravens, Tiger, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Vulture, Warhorse, Weasel, Wolf

Celestial: Pegasus 

Construct: Animated Armor, Flesh Golem, Flying Sword, Stone Golem

Dragon: Adult Red Dragon, Wyvern, Young Green Dragon

Elemental: Air Elemental, Earth Elemental, Fire Elemental, Gargoyle, Water Elemental 

Fey: Blink Dog, Satyr 

Fiend: Hell Hound

Giant: Cyclops, Fire Giant, Frost Giant, Hill Giant, Ogre, Troll 

Humanoid: Goblinoid (Bugbear, Goblin, Hobgoblin), Gnoll, Kobold, Lizardfolk, Merfolk, Orc, Shapechanger (Werewolf)

Monstrosity: Basilisk, Centaur, Chimera, Cockatrice, Death Dog, Doppelganger, Grick, Griffon, Harpy, Hippogriff, Hydra, Manticore, Medusa, Minotaur, Owlbear, Phase Spider, Winter Wolf, Worg, Yeti

Ooze: Ochre Jelly 

Plant: Awakened Shrub, Awakened Tree, Twig Blight

Undead: Banshee, Flameskull, Ghost, Ghoul, Mummy, Skeleton, Wight, Zombie


A few things stick out at me from this list.

1) Why are centaurs “monstrosities?” They’re a good-aligned sentient race, for eff’s sake! What kind of weird Island of Dr. Moreau-like racism makes biped hyenas “humanoids” and quadruped horse-dudes “monstrosities?”
2) Dinosaurs, giant animals, monsters from Greek mythology… The emergent setting of Basic D&D looks like a supercut of Ray Harryhausen films.
3) The weird way true dragons are represented only by young green dragons and adult red dragons inspires me to imagine a world where dragons mature – almost Pokémon-like – from amphibious green dragons into powerful red dragons. It would be similar to the life cycle of Komodo dragons, for that matter; young Komodo dragons live in the trees because mature Komodo Dragons eat them. Red dragons are obviously the only natural predator for green dragons, so imagine that the young greens spend their time lurking in non-flammable swamps and lakes while they wait for their gaseous breath weapon to eventually become flammable whereupon they shed their green scales and become adult reds. 
4) I suppose it’s too complicated if banshees are both fey and undead, right?

5) Given the preposterous number of giant animals, I find myself speculating about the existence of giant dinosaurs – like, kaiju-sized Giant Ankylosaurs and Giant Tyrannosaurs. Hee-hee-hee!

6) So many “beasts.”

7) If, for some perverse reason, I restricted a campaign to only what ‘s in Basic D&D, I would probably fold Pegasi into fey, or fold the few celestials, fey, and fiends into monstrosities. Not that it would matter, since Basic D&D doesn’t have rangers.

8) The DIY RPG crowd has been making alternate archetypes for Basic D&D, right? Like making “ranger” a fighter archetype? I hope so (not that it matters since I’m not going to try to run a campaign only using the Basic rules).

9) Flameskulls, but no vampires? What the eff? Jack Shear must be rolling in his grave.

Young Komodo Dragon
We actually have Komodo dragons at the San Antonio Zoo, but I couldn't find any pictures I liked.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

I'm Not Keen on Brooding Loners, Either

I do not think that the brooding loner is as inherently flawed a character concept as the “crazy” or the comic relief character. It is entirely possible to play a brooding loner according to what we can call the Wolverine Principle: the character might say he’s a loner, but he’s actually a central member of the team (or teams).

In other words, brooding loners are fine as long as it’s a character affectation instead of a play style.

The worst player I ever gamed with loved playing brooding loners, and did so in deliberately disruptive ways. He asked me to run a D&D 3.5 campaign for him and his friends – my ex-girlfriend and her husband – and then chose to deliberately not interact with the other players. The first moments of the campaign were essentially me saying “You’ve all gathered outside the mysterious warehouse in Dock Ward…” and him interjecting “Not me! I’m crouching on a rooftop and nobody else knows where I am.”

I do not game with that person anymore. 

(Heck, I don’t even talk to him anymore, but that’s more because of non-gaming dickish behavior.)

Playing a brooding loner is fine if the character is a team player. You can spend your downtime standing next to rooftop gargoyles and glowering at the city below, or living like a hermit in the woods outside of town. That’s fine. I don’t even care if you preface every action you take with the group with some pretentious announcement of your dark, Gothic sensibilities. Brood in a lonely manner before you flank a foe so the thief can backstab. Brood in a lonely manner before you lay on hands. Whatever. It’s all cool with me.

But don’t break immersion by trying to be a “party of one.” The rest of your supposed friends sitting at the gaming table don’t want to sit out the game for 10 minutes – or even five! – while you force the GM to narrate your awesome solo adventures. Don’t deny interaction by literally not interacting with everyone else. As obnoxious as “crazies” and comic relief can be, at least they’re usually in the same scene as the other characters.

Thankfully, most RPGs are constructed to demand players work together. “Don’t split the party” is even better advice than normal when you’re trying to be a party of one.

“You’ve left the rest of the party far behind as you sneak through the Darkening Woods, determined to have your brooding, lonely vengeance on the forces of evil. Suddenly, you nearly trip over a mass of fur and bones. It’s an owl pellet – an owl pellet that contains the undigested hide and bones of an elk. You hear the ominous hooting of an owlbear behind you. Roll for initiative…”

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I Do Not Like "Crazy" PCs

My congratulations to any and all RPG campaigns where someone is playing a wacky “crazy” character or deliberate comic relief and all the players are having a good time. I salute you because my experience is that those types of characters don’t work, and I’ll tell you why.

First, though, let’s set some parameters. When I talk about “crazy” characters, I don’t mean characters with bizarre back stories or weird combinations of classes, races, and skills. I don’t have any problem with half-drow, half-dragon sorcerers from alternate futures who love to play the oboe. I don’t have any problem with steam-powered masseur-bots who know karate and practice ikebana. I don’t have any problem with wererat Halfling mushroom farmers. What I do have a problem with is grinning, giggling wannabe Jokers who try to turn every roleplaying encounter into a chance to freak out the NPCs.

Likewise, when I talk about comedy relief characters, I’m not urging players to stop cracking wise and dropping Monty Python references. I’m talking about characters who are built around being goofy and players who think they get to be the class clown. There’s nothing wrong with being funny, but there’s everything wrong with trying to define yourself as “the funny one.”

The thing is, “crazy” characters and comic relief both do two things I hate in RPGs: they break immersion and they deny interaction.

These characters break immersion by forcing NPCs to behave in either unbelievable ways or by forcing the GM and/or other players to censor those characters. I say “unbelievable” because everything a beholder or orc war chief does is unrealistic; it is, however, obviously unbelievable for a beholder to continue negotiating with a party of adventurers when one of those adventurers is a gibbering madman who keeps trying to get the beholder to kiss his magic squirrel. There’s no way a tense scene like that doesn’t end in bloody combat unless the NPC (and the GM) completely ignores the doofus, or unless one of the other party members has to use her turn to silence her companion. Some character is either not behaving in a way that fits the setting or is spending their time babysitting the wacky character; in either case, one or more players are not getting the chance to immerse themselves in the scene.

The babysitting example also gets into “denying interaction.” A crazy or comic relief character restricts other players’ ability to interact by constantly stealing the spotlight. I loved Robin Williams, but did you ever watch him onstage with other comedians, such as his appearance on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Everybody tried to share the stage and do their own funny thing, but Williams just kept getting louder and louder and crazier and crazier, and pretty soon everybody else was just standing there while Williams ran around like a crazy person. It was not fun for the regular cast and you could see that on their faces.

Everybody playing an RPG wants a chance to shine. Heck, most of them want a chance to be funny. Even if the dude playing the paladin wants to play his character as noble and pure, he still wants to be able to get an awesome action hero one-liner every once in a while. Comic relief characters step on other people’s lines and “crazy” characters wreck the mood of scenes. 

It’s not like silliness and wackiness aren’t going to happen in RPGs – they’re going to happen constantly – but when someone plays a character built around those concepts, they steal the chance for everyone else to contribute some humor. They steal the spontaneity and joy out of games. They’re thieves and we hates them! We hates them forever!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Putting a Pin in a Weird Idea

For all its faults, the classic AD&D 1st Edition Oriental Adventures was an honest attempt to take Asian fable and fantasy and fold them into Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, Kara-Tur – the setting developed out of Oriental Adventures – was a pretty straightforward expy of Asia (with two Chinas and two Japans). It’s actually a much more authentic Asian setting than Legend of the Five Rings.
What if someone (like me) created a D&D setting that did the reverse? What if – instead of fitting an Asian fantasy setting into the D&D rules – you just fit D&D-style fantasy into an Asian setting?

What if such a setting just had elves instead of kitsune? Tieflings instead of oni? Halflings tending rice paddies and gnomes building karakuri? What if the imperial family were dragonborn descended from godlike ancient dragons?

What if “samurai” was just a spin on the noble background, and “onmyoji” was just a spin on sages? What if “ninja” was a background that any class could take?

What if this setting just embraced the assumptions of D&D instead of wrestling with them? What if there were dungeons just like normal, with the usual assumptions of an ancient world and previous civilizations? What if “kami” was just a word used to describe celestials, elementals, feys, and fiends? What if murderhobory was still the lifestyle of choice for desperate peasants eager to stop tilling the soil? (It wouldn’t be so much different from the life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.)

One of the pseudo-Japans in Oriental Adventures is called “Kozakura,” which translates into “Little Cherry Blossom.” That always struck me as a weird name. Wouldn’t a nation rather be known as “the land of ten thousand cherry blossoms?”

Wouldn’t “Senbonzakura” be an awesome name for a setting like this?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Savage Insider Supplemental: Frisco Freakout Pre-Gens

This is a complete misrepresentation of the actual adventure.
The article "Auspicious Archetypes: The Badass" in Savage Insider Vol. 2 Issue 2 contains a groovy grindhouse adventure called "Frisco Freakout," in which I mention that the heroes are "an eclectic assembly of kung-fu masters, ex-Green Berets, and roller derby queens." It belatedly occured to me that I should have included some pre-gens that were exactly that.
Mitzi Comet, Princess of the Roller Derby
Veteran Wild Card (40 XP)
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d8
Skills: Climbing d4, Driving d6, Fighting d8, Intimidation d6, Notice d4, Persuasion d6, Shooting d6, Stealth d4, Streetwise d6
Charisma: +2; Pace: 8 (16 in roller skates); Parry: 6; Toughness: 7 (1)
Hindrances: Curious, Big Mouth, Rival* (Bad Bertha, the Roller Queen)
Edges: Brawler, Bruiser, Extraction/Improved Extraction, Fleet-Footed, King of the Hill,* Steady Hands, Sweep 
Gear: baseball bat (Str+d6), elbow and knee pads (Armor +1), roller skates, sports car
Background: Mitzi Comet is Oakland’s undisputed roller derby champion and owner-operator of Roller Heaven, the most popular roller rink in town. Her prominence in the local youth scene has led her to take an active hand in keeping the city safe – when she isn’t duking it out with her hated Bay City rival.

Mack Peters, the Oakland Sledgehammer
Veteran Wild Card (40 XP)
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d8, Vigor d8
Skills: Climbing d4, Driving d6, Fighting d8, Intimidation d8, Notice d4, Persuasion d6, Shooting d8, Stealth d4, Streetwise d6, Taunt d6
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Toughness: 7
Hindrances: Unlucky in Love [Major],* Stubborn, Vengeful [Minor]
Edges: Brawny, King of the Hill,* Rock and Roll, Scary Muther,* Strong Willed
Gear: Colt .45 (Range 12/24/48, Damage 2d6+1, Rof 1, Shots 7, AP 1, Semi-Auto), M-15 (Range 24/48/96, Damage 2d8, RoF 3, Shots 30, AP 2, Auto, #RB), many more guns, muscle car
Background: An ex-Green Beret who returned to Oakland determined to clean up the streets, Mack Peters has established a rep on the streets as a cat you do not want to cross. His bachelor pad is home to a hidden cache of weapons big enough to take down a Third World dictatorship.

Ramon Estevez, Agent of S.H.A.M.B.A.L.L.A.
Veteran Wild Card (40 XP)
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d8
Skills: Climbing d6, Driving d6, Fighting d10, Initimidation d6, Notice d4, Persuasion d6, Throwing d6, Stealth d6, Streetwise d6
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 8; Toughness: 6
Hindrances: Heroic, Loyal, Pacifist [Minor]
Edges: Block, Counterattack, Frenzy, Martial Artist/Improved Martial Artist, Operative*
Gear: katana (Str+d6+2, AP 2), van (as SUV)
Background: Ramon Estevez went to prison for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. While there, he was recruited by a mysterious extra-governmental agency dedicated to promoting world peace by kicking in the faces of warmongers. He poses as a simple community organizer in order to be close to the people.

*Detailed in the article.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Savage Insider Supplemental: Badass Equipment

Now that Savage Insider Vol.2 Issue 2 is published, I’ve noticed a few lacunae in the articles I wrote. I hope to correct those over the next week, and I’ll begin by adding a few pieces of equipment to supplement my first article, “Auspicious Archetypes: The Badass.”
"The Badass" introduced a charismatic action hero archetype inspired in no small part by  grindhouse action heroes like John Shaft and Cleopatra Jones. The article includes a grindhouse-style One Sheet called "Frisco Freakout," in which I casually mention muscle cars and roller skates without actually giving stats for either. Oops.  
Muscle Car
Acc/TS: 30/56    Toughness: 12 (3)    Crew: 1+1 (two-door) or 1+3 (four-door)    Cost: $20-60k
Muscle cars are high-performance automobiles built to be sturdier and offer more passenger space than sports cars while achieving similar speeds. Famous examples include the Dodge Charger and Pontiac GTO.
Roller Skates
Cost: $50
Weight: 2 lbs if carried, N/A if worn.
Roller skates double a character’s Pace on paved and smooth surfaces, but make even well-cropped grass and dirt roads into difficult ground. They count as an unstable platform for combat purposes.

Monday, February 9, 2015

What's in Savage Insider Vol. 2 Issue 2?

If you're like me, then you flip through a book before you buy it -- especially if it's an anthology or magazine. Savage Insider Vol. 2 Issue 2 seems to be selling pretty well, but I wonder if there are some Savage Worlds fans out there who are wondering just what's in this issue.

Wonder no more! The articles contain:

  • Designer's Diary -- An interview with Michael Edwards about the... um... mythic setting Mythic. I've been curious about this slightly obscure Savage Setting, and this interview has increased my curiosity. (Dudes, I will totally do a review for a comp copy!)
  • Game Prep: Characters with History -- Eric Lamoureaux gives us a random generator to help develop the back story of characters created at higher ranks.
  • Auspicious Archetypes: The Badass -- The first of my three articles is a new Novice archetype based around playing a combat-oriented character with charisma. It includes numerous new Edges and Hindrances, as well as the grindhouse-inspired adventure "Frisco Freakout."
  • Equipment Corral -- Vickey Beaver gives us some neat rules on how to model zip lines and tripwire traps.
  • Character Gallery: La Pantera -- My second article is a Zorro-esque Super Powers Companion heroine complete with a supporting cast and adventure seeds.
  • Mechanics Wise: Trapping-Fu -- David "The Savage Maven" Scott (familiar to Google+ fans from his daily Savage Speculations questions) provides intriguing guidelines about how trappings can be used on practically anything in Savage Worlds to make it all more unique and flavorful.
  • Expanded Mechanics: Savage Archery -- Richard Woolcock brings the same mathematical precision he brings to all of his Savage Worlds work to expand options for bows and crossbows. There's some fun Edges that will really bring out players' inner Legolases.
  • Stories to Inspire: Salvation in the Sewers -- Curious about Morne Schaap's Winter Eternal post-apocalyptic fantasy setting? Now you can see it through the eyes of its inhabitants!
  • Surveyed: Zhàndòu: City of Warriors -- My third and final article is a brief introduction to the wuxia genre (including links to other Savage fan works on the subject) rounded out with a bustling kung-fu city. Please excuse my crappy maps; the rest of it is quite good.
  • Great Adventures: The Damned -- Brian Reeves gives us a survival horror twist on the old "Nazis messing around with the occult" trope. It can be easily adapted to several genres and eras, though, and includes a much better map than what I drew.
  • Great Adventures: Mummy Troubles -- Zach Welhouse rounds out the articles proper with a modern take on mummy cults (well, technically it's modern, though it feels to me inspired -- in a good way -- by '80s action movies). 

There's very little inside that couldn't be adapted to fit another system as easily as Savage Worlds (heck, I'm tempted to do a 5e conversion of the wuxia characters). Trapping-Fu is good advice for FATE players as well as Savages, both of the adventures are plug 'n play for your favorite system, and even Savage Archery contains enough insight into archery that it could serve as inspiration for another system.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Buy More Stuff I Wrote!

It's here!

I'm ecstatic to see this become available. I believe I have multiple articles in it (I haven't read it yet; in fact, I'm only typing this because the cat woke me up in the middle of the night) but, in any case, I do know that the article listed on the cover is something I'm very proud of. Surveyed: Zhàndòu: City of Warriors is a wuxia mini-setting complete with evil sorcerers, fox-women, and monkey monks!

I'll update this later with a full list of all that's available in the issue, but for now please support me (and friends of the blog like Richard Woolcock) by buying Savage Insider: Taking Action at DriveThruRPG!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Belt of Transition (5e)

So... I decided I wanted one of the NPCs in my new 5e campaign to have a girdle of masculinity/femininity. She's a tiefling cleric of Sharess who is also a festhall madam (which is not an unusual occupation for a cleric of Sharess) and has hired the party to escort her from Silverymoon to Waterdeep and back as she recruits workers and buys furnishings for a new festhall in Silverymoon. I thought it would be fun for her to be a potential romantic interest for anyone in the party, so it seemed like a good idea to give her a magic item that allowed her to switch sexes as needed.

I'm well-aware that the girdle was a cursed item back in the AD&D era -- switching the character's sex against their will and not allowing a change back without the intervention of a god -- but Blog of Holding had an awesome idea about allowing PCs to "tame" cursed items rather than simply discarding them after a remove curse spell. This seemed like a good way to redeem the girdle; I thought it would involve something like Hercules' enslavement to Queen Omphale where the character could choose to embrace the sex change, learn to live as the other sex, and then earn the right to change back (after which the girdle would allow for fluid changing between sexes).

And then I realized that such an idea was still based around the offensive ideas that changing sexes is a curse and that cultural gender roles are inherently linked to biological sexes.  So I decided to just make a new magic item.

from The Order of the Stick

Belt of Transition
Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)
This belt has 3 charges, and it regains 1d3 expended charges at dawn. When you don the belt, you may expend one charge to switch to another of your race’s biological sexes, to an intersex form combining aspects of your race's sexes, or to a sexless form. Using the belt to disguise yourself as a different sex gives you advantage on any relevant ability checks. You return to your original sex when you doff the belt.*

*Originally "Common in the enlightened eons of the ancient magical empires, but rare in this decadent days, the belt of transition allows you to switch between your species' biological sexes at will or assume a hermaphroditic form combining your races' sexes. Using the belt to enact a disguise gives you advantage on any relevant ability checks."

Fast and “Fury”-ous

Evil Beagle recently provided me promotional copies of Leonard Pimentel’s Magnum Fury and Six-Gun Fury . No expectation of a review wa...