Archive for the ‘Random Encounters’ Category

Random Encounters: The Shackled City for Pathfinder (Chapter Three Flood Season)

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Currently I am running a Pathfinder campaign for my gaming group, and since I never got the chance to use my copy of The Shackled City hardcover while we were playing 3.5 I figured it wouldn’t be too much work to convert to ‘3.75’.  In spite of Paizo’s claims of backwards compatibility, you can’t really use 3.5 D&D adventures off the shelf for Pathfinder.  Most of it works, but the monsters and NPCs in particular are too weak to be a real challenge to a party of Pathfinder characters.  Converting the stat blocks isn’t impossible, but it does take time, and since I’m doing the work anyway (I’m a bit of a stat block perfectionist) I thought I would share (click on the pictures at the end of the article to download PDFs of the updated stat blocks for all the monsters and NPCs as well as some additional handouts I created for the third chapter).  You can find a conversion of the first chapter of the adventure path, Life’s Bazaar, as well as Pathfinder-style versions of the Greyhawk gods here, and the second chapter, Drakthar’s Way, here.
SPOILER ALERT
Obviously there are a ton of spoilers here, both for the campaign and the adventure.  So if you plan on playing in The Shackled City, peeking ahead is going to ruin a lot of the fun.  If you are one of my players, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t read any further.  You’ve been warned.

Flood Season

The following changes should be made to the adventure for it to play smoothly using the Pathfinder edition of D&D.   Click on the pictures at the end of the article to download a PDF of Pathfinder stat blocks for every NPC and monster in the adventure (when I DM I like to have the monster stat blocks in front of me, instead of having to flip to the back of the book or shuffle through Bestiaries), as well as a few additional handouts useful to the adventure (some handbills advertising Flood Festival events, double-sided invitations to the Demonskar Ball, maps that the PCs can buy to aid them at the Lucky Monkey, the symbol of the Ebon Triad, and an excerpt from Skaven’s scroll detailing the kopru civilization).

Event 6: Meet the Competition
I added a class level to each of the Stormblades to maintain their original CR.  Since there isn’t a Swashbuckler base class in Pathfinder I made Cora Lathenmire a Fighter – with her choice of feats and skills she will still be able to take levels in the Duelist prestige class later in the campaign.

Inside the Lucky Monkey
M1. Common Room
I added a level to both the alleybashers and the hillfolk to maintain their CR in Pathfinder.  I also slightly altered the hillfolk to give them more of an Olman flavor (the jungle barbarians that live in this area of the World of Greyhawk).  I traded out their masterwork longswords for obsidian war clubs (with the stats of a masterwork warhammer), but kept their armor (assuming they had acquired chainmail through raiding or as payment from Triel).  If you want the Hillfolk to be more of a traditional European barbarian, just give them longswords.

M21. Courtyard
The hill baboon was never updated in any of the Pathfinder books, so I replaced them with advanced chimpanzees, but kept the description and flavor.

M27. Kitchen
Tongueater was a mess.  As originally presented, Tongueater was an infected lycanthrope, which adds a needless amount of rolling for the DM and doesn’t really add anything to either the story or the game – so I changed him into a natural lycanthrope.  The second problem was that Tongueater was given levels of Barbarian, a class restricted to non-lawful alignments (and Tongueater is LE), so I switched these out with levels of Ranger (and took the two-handed weapon combat style from the Advanced Player’s Guide to keep him as a falchion wielder).  Finally, the way CR works with lycanthropy and class levels is slightly different in Pathfinder, so he wound up with 5 class levels instead of 3.  Even after all these changes I still think that my version of Tongueater maintains his core identity – a ferocious melee combatant able to tear through PCs quickly.
For DMs interested in a little more flavor than ‘120 pounds of loot worth 4,500 gp’ I broke it down as follows:

  • A large painting of the setting sun on a far horizon with a darkwood frame (taken from area M15); 300 gp; 5 pounds.
  • A case of 12 bottles of fine wine from the Holds of the Sea Princes; 10 gp each; 18 pounds total.
  • 4 bottles of Keoish brandy; 20 gp each; 8 pounds total.
  • Assorted silverware; 100 gp; 10 pounds total.
  • A pair of gold candleholders, elegant in their simplicity; 100 gp each; 2 pounds total.
  • Silver dinner service, embossed with native Amedio fruits and animals; 500 gp; 7 pounds total.
  • 4 golden monkey statuettes with chipped emeralds for eyes; 500 gp each; 15 pounds total.
  • A sea chart of the trade winds of Jeklea Bay and the Northern Azure Sea; 200 gp.
  • A letter of bond for Maavu’s Imports; 500 gp (a great set-up for the next chapter).
  • A lapis ornamental comb; 75 gp.
  • A silver mirror with folding cosmetics plate; 50 gp.
  • A small bottle of spicy smelling perfume oil; 25 gp.
  • 7 moonstones; 50 gp each.

M39. Battlefield
Switch out Sarcem’s 3.5 style periapt of Wisdom +2 with a Pathfinder headband of inspired Wisdom +2 (since the item is a headband, you might consider keeping it with Sarcem’s head in area M27.).

M43. Well Room
I added an additional class level to Shensen in order to maintain her CR, following the guidelines for her advancement in the appendix of the hardcover.

Event 10: Information for Sale
I added an additional class level to Artus in order to maintain his CR.  I interpreted his high ranks in Use Magic Device as an interest in magic so I gave him the Rogue talents of minor magic and major magic.

The Kopru Ruins
K7. Nightmare Beach
The skulvyn has never been updated to the Pathfinder game so I replaced it with a fiendish bunyip.  It’s not a perfect fit, but it’s fairly close (and I get the impression the skulvyn was chosen only to showcase the then-released Monster Manual II).

K8. Kopru Lair
The kopru has never been updated for the Pathfinder game, but rather than substitute another monster I decided to rebuild it using the monster guidelines in the Bestiary (as the race plays such a central role in the adventure).  Since it’s essentially a new monster for the game, I included the extended stat block in the PDF (and now that the work is already done, the kopru makes a perfect candidate for the next installment of Classic Monsters).

K13. The Gauntlet
The Reflex save DC for the pit trap here should be DC 20, as that is now the standard for all pit traps regardless of CR.

K16. Workroom
The mud slaad has never been updated to the Pathfinder game (and won’t be by Paizo as slaad are considered WOTC intellectual property) so I replaced it with a cerberi.  This is a case where I think the replacement works better than the original.  Thematically, the cerberi is a better fit for the role of leftover mystic guardian.

K24. Skaven’s Parlor
With arcane lock, the Disable Device check to pick the lock is DC 40 and the door’s break DC is 38.
I added a class level to Skaven to maintain his CR.  In 3.5 diviner Wizards only had a single opposition school, in converting Skaven to Pathfinder I added the opposition school of conjuration as that didn’t have any effect on the spells he had memorized.
In addition to the scroll on the kopru (included in the PDF of handouts) Skaven’s collection of esoteric books contains the following:

  • The Last Will and Testament of Lawethika of Ket
  • Ruminations of Charnel Fulminations
  • The Hours of Tintinnabulatory Twilight
  • Fragments from the Digested Notebooks of Tenrast Inktongue, a Blackmailer

K25: Skaven’s Bedchamber
With arcane lock, the Disable Device check to pick the lock is DC 40 and the door’s break DC is 38.

K27. Spider Nest
Spiders are one of the monsters that went through a lot of changes between 3.5 and Pathfinder, messing up the sizes and CRs of the spiders presented in this adventure.  In order to maintain CR replace the small spiders in this room with 2 spider swarms.

K30. Webbed Cavern
In order to maintain the CR of this encounter, replace the medium and large monstrous spiders with 4 giant spiders and 1 giant black widow.

K31. Ettercap Lair
This room should have 3 ettercaps for the given CR.

K32. Harpoon Spider Lair
The harpoon spider has never been updated for the Pathfinder game (and I suspect it was included in the adventure for the same reason as the skulvyn), so I replaced it with another intelligent arachnid foe, the phase spider (which could just as easily be worshipped as a god by ettercaps).  I made two slight modifications to the phase spider’s stat block to better reflect the adventure.  I changed its alignment to NE to reflect Skaven’s corrupting influence on the creature and I gave it Common instead of Aklo, since there is no Greyhawk equivalent of that language.

K33. Trapped Chamber
The poison on the spikes should read as follows:
Medium Spider Poison—injury; save Fort DC 14; frequency 1/round for 4 rounds; effect 1d2 Strength damage; cure 1 save.

K36. Triel’s Chamber
I added a class level to Triel to maintain her CR.

K41. Bloodbath
The bloodbloater ooze has never been updated for the Pathfinder game so I replaced it with an amoeba swarm.  While technically the amoeba swarm could crawl out of the pit in search of food, I assumed their preference for an aquatic environment and regular feedings would keep them in the pit.

K50. Undead Ogres
The pair of ogre zombies are slightly below the target CR, but the skeletal tyrannosaurus in area K48. is so brutal it more than makes up for it.

K52. Cult Treasury
The spawn of Kyuss have never been updated for the Pathfinder game so I replaced them with a pair of giant crawling hands.  I’ll admit it’s not a perfect fit, but the giant crawling hands are the right CR, and their pus burst has a similar gross-out factor as the spawn of Kyuss’ worms.
The poison on the chest should read as follows:
Nitharit poison—contact; save Fort DC 13; onset 1 min.; frequency 1/min. for 6 min.; effect 1d3 Constitution damage; cure 1 save.

K55. Undead Minions
There should only be 6 zombies in this encounter for the target CR.  Just so these monsters wouldn’t seem exactly the same as the zombie ogres in K50., I used the plague variant included in the Bestiary (plus, I hoped they would make up for the missing spawn of Kyuss in K52.).

K56. Tarkilar’s Cavern
Huecuva work very differently in Pathfinder then they did in 3.5 so it was next to impossible to do a straight conversion of Tarkilar.  Instead, I rebuilt him from the ground up.  Starting with a standard huecuva, I added class levels of Cleric until I hit the target CR (adding class levels also gave the huecuva a bonuses to its stats, which I used to replicate Tarkilar’s original stats as closely as possible).  I also fiddled a little with the standard racial skills and feats of the huecuva in order to better emulate the original Tarkilar.  Finally, I allowed the huecuva’s disease to be spread through the creature’s weapon attacks (it is wired directly into his flesh, so the spiked chain is probably filled with all sorts of disgusting bits of rotting gnoll flesh).

Random Encounters: Time Travelling Magic for Pathfinder

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

In my recent It Came from the DVR article on the film Detention, I outlined how to run a campaign centered on time travel (it’s after the movie review), but all that advice isn’t very helpful without a means for the PCs to start time trekking.  As promised, I present the fulcrum of ages, a time travelling artifact for the Pathfinder game.  As a bonus, I’ve also included a new spell, detect temporal flux, which should prove useful for burgeoning time lord PCs.  What’s more fun that slaying an orc and taking his stuff?  Preventing an orc from being born and taking his great-grandparents’ stuff.

The Fulcrum of Ages

Aura overwhelming conjuration and transmutation; CL 22nd.
Slot none; Weight unmoveable
This complex arcane machine occupies the better part of a small room, it’s most distinguishing feature a massive hourglass held in the grip of a quartet of petrified monsters.  By manipulating the fulcrum of ages’ menagerie of gears and levers, the user can transport themselves and anyone in the room that houses the fulcrum back in time (a maximum of 8 medium creatures).  The fulcrum can facilitate travel only into the past; users appear as if by teleportation, in the room that houses the artifact, albeit in some previous time.  Each trip into the past lasts for 48 hours, after which the user and any who travelled with her reappear back in the present, a moment after they left, in the room that houses the fulcrum.  This travel can cross planar barriers, and cannot be impeded by any physical or magical obstacle.  There is no known means to shorten or extend the 48 hour time limit. The fulcrum of ages will only work for users in the present – time travellers cannot use the artifact in the past to make a series of jumps.
The fulcrum of ages is difficult to master.  To activate the fulcrum the user must spend 10 consecutive rounds manipulating the device, after which she makes a Knowledge (history) or Use Magic Device check.  The result of this check determines the upper limit of how far into the past the user can travel.

Check DC        Historical Age
20                      Months in the past
25                      Years in the past
30                      Decades in the past
35                      Centuries in the past

Destruction
The fulcrum of ages is affixed to the very fabric of space and cannot be moved out of the room that houses it.  It cannot be disassembled or damaged.  The only way to destroy the artifact is to travel into the dim ages of prehistory and prevent the fulcrum’s powerful creators from completing the fulcrum’s construction.

Detect Temporal Flux

School divination; Level bard 1, cleric 1, druid 1, sorcerer/wizard 1
Casting Time 1 standard action
Range 60 ft.
Area cone shaped emanation
Duration concentration, up to 1 min./level (D)
Saving Throw none; Spell Resistance no
You can read the auras of things that are outside of their regular place in the timeline.  The amount of information revealed depends on how long you study a particular area or subject.
1st Round: Presence or absence of temporal flux.
2nd Round: Number of different auras in flux and the strength of the most potent aura present.
3rd Round: The power and location of each aura.  If an aura is outside of your line of sight, then you discern its direction but not its exact location.
Aura Strength: An aura’s power depends on how far the subject is outside of its regular place in the timeline.  If an aura falls into more than one category, detect temporal flux indicates the stronger of the two.
Aura Power
   Faint                                 Moderate                  Strong                             Overwhelming
Months out of synch.   Years out of synch.   Decades out of synch.      Centuries out of synch.
Lingering Aura: An aura in temporal flux lingers afters its original source is destroyed.  If detect temporal flux is cast and directed at such a location, the spell indicates an aura strength of dim (even weaker than faint).  How long the aura lingers at this dim level depends on its original power:
Original Strength       Duration of Lingering Aura
Faint                                   1d6 rounds
Moderate                           1d6 minutes
Strong                                1d6 x 10 minutes
Overwhelming                  1d6 days
Each round you can turn to detect temporal flux in a new area.  The spell can penetrate barriers, but 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood or dirt blocks it.

Notes:

I intentionally left the creators of the fulcrum vague.  Depending on the campaign world they could be the artificers of ancient Netheril, the Suloise mages of power, or the Rune Lords of ancient Thassilon – any group of beings far enough in the past to be extremely difficult to reach and of a sufficiently legendary power level that only high level PCs would even consider the challenge.

Random Encounters: The Shackled City for Pathfinder (Chapter Two Drakthar’s Way)

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Currently I am running a Pathfinder campaign for my gaming group, and since I never got the chance to use my copy of The Shackled City hardcover while we were playing 3.5 I figured it wouldn’t be too much work to convert to ‘3.75’.  In spite of Paizo’s claims of backwards compatibility, you can’t really use 3.5 D&D adventures off the shelf for Pathfinder.  Most of it works, but the monsters and NPCs in particular are too weak to be a real challenge to a party of Pathfinder characters.  Converting the stat blocks isn’t impossible, but it does take time, and since I’m doing the work anyway (I’m a bit of a stat block perfectionist) I thought I would share (click on the pictures at the end of the article to download PDFs of the updated stat blocks for all the monsters and NPCs as well as some additional handouts I created for the second chapter).  You can find a conversion of the first chapter of the adventure path, Life’s Bazaar, as well as Pathfinder-style versions of the Greyhawk gods here.
SPOILER ALERT
Obviously there are a ton of spoilers here, both for the campaign and the adventure.  So if you plan on playing in The Shackled City, peeking ahead is going to ruin a lot of the fun.  If you are one of my players, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t read any further.  You’ve been warned.

Drakthar’s Way

The following changes should be made to the adventure for it to play smoothly using the Pathfinder edition of D&D.   Click on the pictures at the end of the article to download a PDF of Pathfinder stat blocks for every NPC and monster in the adventure (when I DM I like to have the monster stat blocks in front of me, instead of having to flip to the back of the book or shuffle through Bestiaries), as well as a few additional handouts useful to the adventure (a remade copy of Terseon’s letter using my version of the Cauldron arms as a seal; the symbol of the Cagewrights burnt onto the storage crates; and a few examples of goblin graffiti – I tried to keep them primitive and crude).

Jil’s Tip
Jil’s total bonus to Disguise, including all modifiers and her disguise self spell, is +25.  She has a Challenge Rating of 5 instead of 6.

Rats in the Bathhouse
Orak’s challenge rating is reduced from a 4 to a 3.  I kept him the same level in spite of this, since even at CR 4, Orak isn’t much of a real threat to a well-equipped party (he hasn’t got any armor or a decent weapon).  The wererats, who are the real combatants in this encounter, are the proper challenge rating.

Wandering Monsters
I used Tricky Owlbear Publishing’s version of the ethereal filcher from the PFSRD, which is only a CR 2 instead of the called for CR 3.  Rather than beefing the creature up, I kept it as is, since an encounter with this creature is all about preventing it from stealing your magic items – not protracted combat.

6. Storage
The rules for determining CR for creatures with class levels are slightly different in Pathfinder than 3.5e, which means that 1st level goblin rogues only have a CR or ½ instead of 1.  To compensate, I gave them another level in rogue.  Alternatively you could keep them as level 1 rogues and increase their numbers.

13. Adept’s Lair
Like the goblin sneaks, in order to maintain a CR of 3, I increased the level of the goblin adepts.  Since this only results in more spells, not a new spell level, it shouldn’t be problematic.

17. Silent Wolf Goblins
Normally I try and maintain feat choice between the 3.5e and Pathfinder versions of NPCs.  In this case I broke that rule and substituted Mounted Combat for Dodge.   The adventure states that the silent wolf goblins get off their mounts to fight on the ground in combat, but I ignored this for a few reasons: it seems like a waste letting the goblin’s high ride checks go unused; the cramped layout of the map means that combat space is at a premium; and most importantly, the image of a dual-wielding goblin riding into battle on the back of a worg is just too awesome to pass up.  I also added an extra level of rogue to maintain the creature’s original CR.

26. Mercenary Quarters
To maintain Chorlyndyr’s CR of 4 I added another level of Sorcerer (since it doesn’t result in a new level of spells).  However, I kept Kallev at 4th level and lowered her CR to 3 – even with the pair bickering, this is a tough encounter and Kallev has a ton of hit points.

31. Drakthar’s Throne Room
Drakthar’s throne, a unique creature, seemed heavily based off of the 3.5e version of the skeleton, so rather than attempting to translate it, I used a Pathfinder version of the skeleton with enough hit dice to reach CR 3, and added a pair of claw attacks (with damage appropriate to the CR) as well as blindsight.
To create Drakthar I added the vampire template to a stock bugbear (even though technically it should only be added to a creature with at least 5 hit dice), substituted putrefy corpse for create spawn and lowering his energy drain to a single level (the standard two levels seems high for a party of 3rd level characters, and his fast healing is challenge enough all by itself).

35. Half-Orc Mercenaries
Like most of the monsters with class levels in this adventure, I added a level of expert to Xoden and a level of fighter to the Half-Orc mercenaries to maintain their CR.

A Note on Magic Items
In my previous post on the Shackled City, I never explained the strange codes in the lists of NPC gear.  It isn’t a typo.  One of the practices I picked up DMing 3e games that I’ve carried over into Pathfinder is coding all the magic items in the campaign.  There are so many magic items (especially one-shot items like potions and scrolls) that it’s easy to forget where they came from in the time between ‘looting the body’ and getting the item identified.  To help keep track of everything, I simply give the players the item’s code when they find it, and refer back to a master list when the item is identified.  For potions I also add a visual descriptor to help identify the concoction by sight.  Each particular type of potion has a standard description, which helps provide some internal consistency to the game world and speeds up the identification process (my players now know that when they find syrupy, red potions they can start using them immediately to heal).

Random Encounters: The Shackled City for Pathfinder (Chapter 1 Life’s Bazaar)

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Currently I am running a Pathfinder campaign for my group, and since I never got the chance to use my copy of The Shackled City hardcover while we were playing 3.5 I figured it wouldn’t be too much work to convert to ‘3.75’.  In spite of Paizo’s claims of backwards compatibility, you can’t really use 3.5 D&D adventures off the shelf for Pathfinder.  Most of it works, but the monsters and NPCs in particular are too weak to be a real challenge to a party of Pathfinder characters (I’m not worried about the traps, as The Shackled City has a reputation for the traps being a little too deadly anyway).  Converting the stat blocks isn’t impossible, but it is a little bit of work, and since I’m doing the work anyway (I’m a bit of a stat block perfectionist) I thought I would share (click on the pictures at the end of the article to download PDFs of the updated stat blocks for all the monsters and NPCs as well as some additional handouts I created for the first chapter).
SPOILER ALERT
Obviously there are a ton of spoilers here, both for the campaign and the first adventure.  So if you plan on playing in The Shackled City, peeking ahead is going to ruin a lot of the fun.  If you are one of my players, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t read any further.  You’ve been warned.

Greyhawk Gods in Pathfinder

Since my gaming group has had many previous adventures in the world of Greyhawk, it was important for me to keep the city of Cauldron in that setting.  That meant using the Greyhawk deities that were the default for 3e D&D and rejecting the Golarion Gods of Pathfinder.  However, the Gods in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook were each given 5 domains, rather than a number of domains based on deific power, as was the custom in 3.5.  In order to bring the Greyhawk deities more in line with the Pathfinder rule set, the following list updates all the Greyhawk deities of core 3e with 5 domains each, except for Obad-Hai who always had six and Fharlanghn who I couldn’t find an appropriate fifth domain for.  I used the official RPGA expanded domain lists for Living Greyhawk as a guideline, deviating in order to make sure that all the Pathfinder domains were covered.

  • Heironeous: LG; Glory, Good, Law, Nobility, War
  • Moradin: LG; Artifice, Earth, Good, Law, Protection
  • Yondalla: LG; Community, Good, Law, Plant, Protection
  • Ehlonna:  NG; Air, Animal, Good, Plant, Sun
  • Garl Glittergold: NG Community, Earth, Good, Protection, Trickery
  • Pelor: NG; Glory, Good, Healing, Nobility, Sun
  • Corellon Larethian: CG; Chaos, Good, Liberation, Magic, War
  • Kord: CG; Chaos, Good, Luck, Nobility, Strength
  • Wee Jas: LN; Charm, Death, Law, Magic, Repose
  • St. Cuthbert: LN; Community, Destruction, Law, Protection, Strength
  • Boccob: N; Artifice, Knowledge, Magic, Rune, Trickery
  • Fharlanghn: N; Luck, Protection, Travel, Weather
  • Obad-Hai: N; Air, Animal, Earth, Fire, Plant, Water
  • Olidammara: CN; Chaos, Charm, Luck, Protection, Trickery
  • Hextor: LE; Destruction, Evil, Law, Strength, War
  • Nerull: NE; Darkness, Death, Evil, Water, Weather
  • Vecna: NE; Darkness, Evil, Knowledge, Madness, Magic
  • Erythnul: CE; Chaos, Evil, Madness, Trickery, War
  • Gruumsh: CE; Chaos, Destruction, Evil, Strength, War

Life’s Bazaar

The following changes should be made to the adventure for it to play smoothly using the Pathfinder edition of D&D.   Click on the pictures at the end of the article to download a PDF of Pathfinder stat blocks for every NPC and monster in the adventure (when I DM I like to have the monster stat blocks in front of me, instead of having to flip to the back of the book or shuffle through Bestiaries), as well as a few additional handouts useful to the adventure (Jenya Urikas’ list of abductions, Vervil Ashmantle’s letter to Kazmogen, the Cauldron coat of arms, and the first issue of Cauldron’s populist handbill – The Cauldron Crier).

Gear Door
Twilight mist trap; CR 1; type mechanical; Perception DC 21; Disable Device DC 20; Trigger touch; Reset none; Effect poison gas (twilight mist), multiple targets (all targets in a 10-ft.-square area).
Twilight Mist; type poison, inhaled; Save Fortitude DC 13; Frequency 1/round for 4 rounds; Effect 1d2 Dex damage; Cure 1 save

J4: Lurking Shadows
The challenge rating for most creatures has been reduced in Pathfinder, so to keep the adventure challenging and maintain the experience level, I increased the number of monsters.
Add an additional skulk in this room for a total of 3.

J11: Control Lever
I removed the Nystul’s undetectable aura on the bag of tricks.  That spell is now covered by Pathfinder’s magic aura, but because of the slightly different mechanics for detecting and identifying magic items, concealing “the bag’s aura but not its magical nature” doesn’t make sense anymore.  It is still just as dangerous for the party to find since it’s infected with the vanishing.

J17: Hall of Dancing Lights
Add an additional 2 skulks in this room for a total of 4.

J22: Theatre
The fine cloak in the chest has magic aura instead of Nystul’s magic aura.  If detected, it radiates moderate transmutation (a character who casts identify or who uses Spellcraft to determine the function of the cloak must make a DC 14 Will save to pierce the illusion).

J26: Automaton Factory
I never really liked the raggamoffyn as a creature, and thankfully Paizo has never made a Pathfinder version of it.  Rather than creating a new monster (when I wasn’t crazy about the original) just substitute a single adamantine cobra (included in the PDF) for the captured skulk and raggamoffyn (its poison and damage reduction will make it enough of a challenge).

J27: Gearworks
To simulate the pulverizer I used a clockwork servant and just gave it the ‘self-winding’ special quality (at the beginning of each encounter the clockwork creature winds itself as a swift action and carries out its last orders).  It has a net instead of a sonic attack, but the battlefield control elements of the attack are very similar (and visually it can spit the net out of the same opening the pulverizer uses for its sonic attack).

J31: Alchemy Lab
Replace the raggamoffyn with an adamantine cobra.

J36: Great Factory
Since there isn’t a Pathfinder version of it (along with mind flayers and umber hulks), I replaced the grell with a grick.  There are some pretty good Pathfinder versions of the grell online, but in the last 2 campaigns my group has played in they encountered quite a few grells, so I thought I’d give another creature a turn.

J40: Woodshop
Add an additional dark creeper for a total of 2.

J44: Hidden Foes
Add an additional dark creeper for a total of 2, plus the pulverizer.

J48: Secret Vault
I replaced the dread guard with an animated object, and styled it after an animated suit of metal armor.  It is Medium sized instead of Small, but so is the dread guard.

J52: Kitchen
Add an additional dark creeper for a total of 3.

M3: Stony Greetings
I substituted a Medium earth elemental for the stone spike – it is slightly more powerful but has many of the same abilities.

M4: Major-Domo`s Quarters
Xukasus is a very strange creature in the original adventure, whose statistics rely on the 3.5 edition polymorph rules, which have been drastically overhauled in Pathfinder.  To save the DM a headache (and also because I don`t really buy Xukasus’ neutral alignment) I have made the Major-Domo a ‘normal’ ogre – albeit a mentally ill one who believes he is really an otyugh.

M14: Automaton Guard
I used robot fighters with warhammers and short swords to simulate the hammerers.  If used as is, this encounter will be CR 6, which is incredibly tough.  I recommend damaging the hammerers as they are in the original adventure and treating each as a CR 3 creature (which would make this encounter CR 5 – the same as it is in the original adventure).

M34: Slave Bazaar
Kazmogen’s strange heritage was easy enough to replicate from his 3.5 stat block, although in Pathfinder his fighter levels lead to a monster with a weaker CR (which is OK since Prickles is now more effective than it was in 3.5).  Pyllrak was a different story.  To simulate a durgazon I used a duergar monk, applied the devil-bound template (bearded devil), and removed the ‘battle-frenzy’ ability since Pathfinder bearded devils lost this ability.
With his high hit points and fast healing, Kazmogen and his pet should be a formidable encounter.

Event 5: Orbius’ Intervention
I didn’t include stats for the Beholder or Thifirane in the PDF since this event is obviously not intended as a combat encounter.

Random Encounters: The Steading of Cyberworks 7

Friday, July 29th, 2011

As I promised in my last post, I present my conversion notes for running the Gamma World boxed set’s introductory adventure, Steading of the Iron King, in the world of Rifts. This covers the entire adventure, so the post is a little long.
Spoiler Alert!  If you haven’t played through Steading of the Iron King, and plan to (or if you are one of my players – there’s a ton of spoilers in here about the campaign!) my commentary and walkthrough of the adventure is going to spoil it.  Not that there’s any world shattering secrets in the adventure, but still, spoilers.  You have been warned.

Introduction

Reading through the adventure when I first picked up the boxed set is one of the things that helped convince me that Gamma World was a suitable rule set for the Rifts setting.  The final encounter with the Iron King immediately brought to mind the cover of the Rifts Sourcebook, with Hagan Lonovich sitting on a cybernetic throne, stroking a bottweiler and wearing A.R.C.H.I.E’s interface helmet.  Also, for the campaign I am running, I wanted the tone to be a little more serious than the ‘stupendico’ installation evoked, and the mixture of insane A.I. and Wizard of Oz that is Cyberworks in Rifts seemed a perfect fit (deadly serious and ridiculous at the same time).
I moved the action to a pre-rifts Cyberworks facility in the tech heavy area of Mississauga, just outside of Toronto, now the magic rich city of Lazlo (as a Torontonian, Lazlo’s prominence in the world of Rifts is one of the features that attracted me to the setting in the first place).  In Rifts canon, A.R.C.H.I.E. 3 and Cyberworks are located underneath the Aberdeen proving ground in the state of Maryland.  I try not to break canon when I use an official setting, but I do like to bend it (there’s nothing wrong with breaking canon, but I find working within it a useful tool to the thought exercise of building a campaign), so in my game, A.R.C.H.I.E. 3 is only the most successful of Cyberworks’ experiments in artificial intelligence.  Scattered across North America are other facilities with less developed A.I.s, including A.R.C.H.I.E. 7 in Mississauga.

Background

Once the players had developed their own backstories, laying out their motivations for joining a mercenary company working for Lazlo (‘the Misfits’ mentioned in the previous post), I used the following vignette to set up the adventure:

Against all odds, for the past two weeks, life has been sweet.  Sitting in you bunker atop the bombed out shell of an old hotel, the most dangerous obstacle you’ve had to face was boredom.  The ruins of the lonely highway, the highway for one, over which you have been keeping watch, has lived up to its name.  Two days ago you even had the fortune of unearthing a pre-rifts mini-bar with its contents intact!  Some of it was even fit to drink.
The recent war between the Coalition and Tolkeen has everyone on edge.  That was the reason the city of Lazlo hired you in the first place.  With more troops than they could spare reinforcing their allies to the west, Lazlo’s generals were concentrating what little strength they had, back behind the city walls.  That meant they needed mercenaries like you to act as scouts and sentries (early warning systems and cannon fodder), along Lazlo’s most accessible entry routes.  But hey, what did you have to complain about?  You haven’t heard a peep out of the Detroit and Windsor rifts, and it sure beat dodging dog packs and Xiticix on your own.
Life has been sweet… until yesterday.  You were deep in contemplation that it probably wasn’t a good idea to drink anything out of a pre-rifts bottle, even if the seal was intact, when the perimeter microwave fence was tripped.  After you pulled your head out of the latrine, you and your team sprang into action.  It turned out to be a decrepit robot, waving its limbs threateningly and trying to speak with a busted, crackling loudspeaker.  Then, without warning, it caught fire and exploded.  Odd, but considering what was walking around the wastelands of North America, not completely out of the ordinary.
Then the same thing happened today.  Only this time the robot managed to fire off a small missile into the building next door before it expired.   It also gave you a message: “Run program 1!  All enemies of the Iron King must be destroyed!”  It was a small sample size, but you didn’t like the pattern that was developing.  It was time to earn your pay.

Note: Anyone not from southern Ontario probably isn’t going to get the ‘highway for one’ play on words.

The Real Story

The Iron King (his assumed name) and his cronies were once a part of the Bloody Cavaliers, a gang of bandits raiding the area between Lazlo, Iron Heart and Free Quebec.  They were sent to the Cyberworks facility by Captain ‘cross-eyes’ Zora, the gang’s infamous leader (nicknamed for her habit of putting iron spikes through the eyes of those foolish enough to stare at her disfigurement), to use Cyberworks’ robot stockpile to create a diversion and distract Lazlo’s defenders.
Instead, the Iron King found A.R.C.H.I.E. 7’s cybernetic control helm and began tinkering with one of Cyberworks’ failed experiments.  Unlike the fully sentient A.R.C.H.I.E. 3, this machine intelligence can only communicate empathically and is vaguely self-aware.  Mastering control of the facility’s manufacturing capabilities is a long process of trial and error, and unfortunately for the Iron King, exposes the human mind to dangerous levels of psychic feedback.  It wasn’t long before such mental damage caused the Iron King to descend into all absorbing megalomania.  Cutting off communication with Captain Zora and the rest of the Bloody Cavaliers, the Iron King has taken the first small steps to creating his own robotic fiefdom.
Clues that the adventurers find here might put them on the trail of the Bloody Cavaliers, which is good, since Captain Zora has been busy in Lazlo…

The Handouts

Click on the picture below to download the 2 page PDF.  I apologize for the general monochromatic tone; I have a black and white printer, so I make most of my play aids in grayscale.
If you’ve ever played Portal 2, you’ll notice I cribbed most of Cyberworks’ warning signs from that game.  I’ve never actually played the game myself (or its precursor), but I found Aperture Laboratories’ signs while Googling ‘insane A.I.’ and I thought they were hilarious.

Encounters

Encounter S1: Tower Defense

The old trail you discovered while backtracking the robots’ trail skirts a glowing crater.  It ends at the base of an ancient, sunken, office tower, where wastelanders carrying crossbows stand watch, supported by porcine humanoids carrying flails.

For the adventure, I re-skinned the badder steading guards as wasteland vagabonds, which I described as looking like central casting punks out of The Road Warrior (which worked nicely since the armour, weapons, and powers fit perfectly).  The porkers I kept as is, but described as looking like the gamorrean guards from Return of the Jedi.

Encounter S2: Tower Interior

Two interior cornices have been converted to guard platforms, where wastelanders wait with crossbows.  In the far corner an aerie is heaped with bones and carrion, the roost for a dragon-like creature with iridescent yellow scales.  An old carpet, embroidered with runes lies on the floor near the doors.

For this encounter, I made the planter of grab grass into a magically sticky carpet of adhesion, with the same effects.  I re-skinned the yexil as a winged dragonsaurus (from the Atlantis book), with the power of acidic spittle, instead of laser eyes (does acid instead of laser damage, but is otherwise the same).
The wastelanders’ barracks room is an old ‘executive quiet room’ complete with scavenged pre-rifts ergonomic cots.

Encounter S3: Warren Entry

A pair of wastelanders are taking cover behind a boardroom table, pushed on its side at the bottom of the stairs.  Strange, dust covered statues line the corridor, depicting what looks like an android holding the Cyberworks logo triumphantly in the air.

I re-skinned the badder slave drivers as momma’s boys – wastelanders with pop can sized M.O.M. implants sticking out of their skulls wielding crowbars.  I exchanged their flails for crowbars and renamed crippling fail as leg breaker (with the same effect).  Fear wave and control pain work fine as is, psychic powers granted by the implants.
Since the human slaves in the cage are effectively brain-dead, I made the destruction of the machine (the AR-06 Psychotron) end their lives and put them out of their misery.  It was a little too early in the game for the kind of moral quandary that rescuing vegetative captives presents.  Other GMs may feel differently.

Encounter S4: Moth Infestation

The chamber is dimly lit by patches of blue moss that glow with the same radiance as a ley line.  An earthen ramp spirals down into an enormous pit in the center of the cavern.  Scattered amidst the luxurious clumps of moss are half a dozen humanoid skeletons.

I kept the black blaashes as they were, since radiation shooting, giant moths are perfect for Gamma World and Rifts.  I know that radiation was the theme tying the two monsters together, but the blood birds weren’t insectoid enough for me to be teamed up with the blaashes, so I re-skinned them as radioactive stirges (from D&D, not Rifts).  All that was needed was to rename radioactive plumage to radioactive aura and beak to proboscis (no mechanical changes).
Since this is an encounter with lurkers and artillery, instead of having the monsters flying around in the open when the encounter began, as in the original text, I had them hiding in the cover of the deep moss, waiting to ambush anything that entered the chamber  (such as adventurers lured in to investigate the skeletons).
I also wanted to add a bit more exploration to the session and mitigate the feeling of ‘next room, next combat’ that this adventure is prone to, so when my players decided to scout the chamber’s adjoining tunnels I added the following encounters in.

The walls of the first cave are festooned with strange leathery sacks, stuck to the stone with some kind of secreted resin.

A moderate (DC 13) Nature check reveals the sacks to be blaash egg cases (as well as the danger of destroying them).  Like their parents, destroying a blaash egg sack releases an explosion of radioactive goo (close burst 1, +6 vs. Fortitude, 1d6+3 radiation damage).  Note: I use Nature for monster knowledge checks about creatures with the terrestrial origin, Science for the extraterrestrial origin, and Arcana for the extradimensional origin.

The secondary tunnel twists back and forth for about 40 ft. and then stops at a dead end.  There is a small tracked robot here, similar in design to the one whose trail led the party to this base, trapped in the corner, grinding away its motor in an effort to get out.  Judging by the rut in the ground it’s created, you think it’s been here for a few days at least.

Stuck in a failed program, the robot is oblivious to anything the party does, but its volatile construction makes tampering with the machine potentially dangerous.  I made this encounter a complexity 1 skill challenge (4 successes before 3 failures), that begins with an easy (DC 9) Mechanics check (opening up the control panel on the robot without damaging it), and ends with a hard (DC 17) Science check (reprogramming the robot to obey the party instead of the Iron King).  In between are moderate (DC 13) skill checks that reflect the idea of repairing, reprogramming, and using Kirk-esque cajoling to get the robot to do what the players want (my players used Mechanics, Science, and Interaction respectively).
Success at the skill challenge means the party has reprogrammed the robot and can use it in combat (the robot has 1 Hit Point, a movement of 3, 13 in all defenses; as a standard action an ally can command it to fire its missile which destroys the robot and has the following attack: burst 1 in 10, +7 vs. Reflex, 2d6+7 fire and physical damage, half-damage on a miss).
Failure means that the party has accidentally triggered the robot’s missile, destroying it and damaging themselves (close burst 1, +7 vs. Reflex, 2d6+7 fire and physical damage, half-damage on a miss).
Outside of combat characters can try and get information from the robot with hard (DC 17) skill checks (I allowed a hard Science check to access the robots memory files, which gave the party a glimpse of the map as well as an image recognition file for the Iron King).

S5: Cyberworks Factory Exterior
This encounter is appropriate for Rifts without modification.

S6:  Cyberworks Showroom

Light panels on the ceiling flicker intermittently, casting sinister shadows in this stunningly clean chamber of steel and ceramic.  Strange machines, labelled AR-72 action inverters, hum and blink in the center of the room.  Alcoves line some of the walls, proudly displaying their wares – a veritable legion of robots in various states of decay.  The sounds of hydraulic lifts whoosh form adjoining chambers.

The only changes I made to this encounter was to re-skin the soldierbots as A-63 all-purpose heavy bots, with no changes to their powers (the robots seen flanking the throne on the cover of the Rifts Sourcebook, sans rifles).

S7:  Cyberworks Restricted Area

Except for a space near the doors, the floor here slopes toward a central trench that is filled, floor to ceiling, with flickering beams of red light.  A pair of partial conversion ‘borgs stand on the other side, flanked by two tracked robots that look like the perfected versions of the machine that attacked your bunker at the hotel.  Near them is a panel of flickering lights.

I re-skinned the hoop sharpshooters as wasteland head-hunters, armed with JA-11 sniper rifles.  I renamed axe hack as bionic wrist claws, and hop as bionic leap (no mechanical change to either).  Since I wanted the rocketbots to fit thematically with the opening of the adventure and the robot found in area S4, I got rid of their fly speed, upped their land speed to 5 and gave them the treaded trait (rocketbots ignore difficult terrain).

S8:  Cyberworks Factory Floor

A huge mechanized arm hangs from the 30-foot-high ceiling.  Machines and dynamos hum along the chamber’s periphery.  Two massive vats swirl with scintillating colors; the fluid appears to move on its own.  On a 10-foot-high platform at the rear of the room stands a full conversion cyborg with a crazed look in his eyes, wearing a large, almost spherical helmet, connected to the machines by endlessly coiling spools of wires.  Standing between you and the ‘borg are a pair of robotic hounds and two scowling juicers.  One of the juicers has decorated her light plate armour with the cartoon logo of a bear, the other with the cartoon logo of a frog.

I re-skinned the laserbots as bottweilers (they shoot their lasers from a concealed cannon in their mouths), got rid of their fly speed, increased their land speed to 6, and replaced electrojolt with bite (physical instead of electricity damage).  I re-skinned the hoop warriors as the sugar twins, a pair of deadly juicers wielding vibro-swords, replaced axe slash with vibro slash, big hop with steroid jump, and transmuting touch with sundering strike (no mechanical changes to any of the powers).  The Iron King kept his name but I re-skinned him as a full conversion cyborg, added the robot keyword, and replaced katana with bionic wrist claws (no mechanical change).
Once the battle is over, characters can try and use the cybernetic control helm.  Each use inflicts 2d6+7 psychic damage on the operator (optionally, rather than killing the operator, a character reduced to 0 Hit Points by this can develop an insanity adjudicated by the GM or by rolling on the insanity tables in the Rifts rpg).  Characters using the helm can do one of the following: an easy (DC 9) Science or Interaction check reveals what A.R.C.H.I.E. stands for (Artificial Robot Cerebellum Housing Intellect Experiment); a moderate (DC 13) Science or Nature check reveals the location of two other A.R.C.H.I.E. experiments, one in London Towne (pre-rifts London Ontario), and one in the Hammer (pre-rifts Hamilton Ontario); a hard (DC 17) Science or Arcana check (depending on what the character is trying to create) allows the operator to use the mechanized arm and wild nano vats to create an Omega Tech item (draw two cards as a reward and choose one);  a successful complexity 1 skill challenge allows the operator to create a bottweiler minion with 1 Hit Point that follows the commands (a standard action) of the operator (this option is guaranteed to kill or drive the operator insane so use with caution).

Random Encounters: Ilya Ivanov, real life Dr. Moreau

Friday, June 10th, 2011

I’ve always thought the RPG Blog Carnival was a cool idea – a group of writers coming together just for the fun of exploring an interesting theme (like a digital flash mob); but the topics covered so far have been outside of the focus of this site.  Fortunately, this month’s host for the carnival, Dungeon’s Master, have set a theme I can really sink my teeth into: RPG characters based on real life people (using no less awesome an example than Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer).
Growing up, my father, an electrical engineer, taught me a healthy respect for alternating current, so naturally my first choice was Nikola Tesla, but Greg at Lungfishopolis beat me to the punch.  So I decided to move on to another, lesser known eastern European ‘mad scientist’, Ilya Ivanov.
Ilya Ivanov was a Russian biologist who worked from the turn of the century until the early 1930’s.  He pioneered revolutionary artificial insemination techniques and used the technology to create a wide variety of hybrids, including zebra-donkey, antelope-cow, and rabbit-guinea pig mixes (hello owlbear!).  As if that wasn’t enough RPG fodder, Ivanov is most infamous for his efforts to create a human-ape hybrid.  His first attempts using apes impregnated with human sperm failed.  Logically then, the next step was to impregnate human females with ape sperm.  In spite of actually having a volunteer willing to carry the hybrid, Ilya Ivanov was arrested in one of Stalin’s shakedowns of the Russian scientific community before he could get the experiment underway.  As far as I know, Stalin had no moral objection to human-ape crossbreeds, and the arrest was a purely political one.  Ivanov never got a chance to return to his mad work, dying in exile in Kazakhstan in 1932.
Not surprisingly, since then Ivanov pops up regularly in conspiracy theories, fringe science, and pop culture every few years (or the shadow of his ideas do).  The forbidden and frightening act of creating a human hybrid, mixed with the sinister exoticism of Stalinist Russia is a brew too powerful to resist.  Seriously, we’re talking about an army of cold war, soviet, super apes!  That’s pure gold.
The legacy of Ilya Ivanov can be felt in the classic Fantastic Four villain Red Ghost (and his super apes), in DC’s Gorilla Grodd, and in the Planet of the Apes movies (including the soon to be released reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes).
Taking my cue from Seth Grahame-Smith, I’m going to use a similar over the top approach; one that posits Ivanov succeeding where history tells us he failed.  And I can think of no better RPG suited to house Ilya Ivanov than one already filled with mutant animals, a blatant disregard for the laws of nature and bucket loads of cold war sensibility: Gamma World.
I present, for use with the current edition of Gamma World (as well as Dungeons and Dragons), Ilya Ivanov and his super apes.

United Soviet Simian Republic

“Species of the world, unite! (Literally)”

Ilya Ivanov was a soviet scientist who worked to create the first human-ape hybrid.  In most realities he failed and was arrested by Stalin, but in a few, the mad visionary was able to escape imprisonment and create an army of super apes.  With his hybrid commandoes, Ivanov quickly overthrew Stalin and carved out a new Soviet empire.  Ivanov, in his role as dictator, ushered in an age of undreamed scientific progress untainted by political ideology, and unfettered by morality or ethics.
By the time of the Big Mistake, Ivanov had ‘outgrown’ his old, perishing body and had transferred his brain to a series of simian hosts.

Doktor Ivanov

“You know how I know that monkey is smart?  I can see its brain.”

Doktor Ivanov lost the last shreds of his empathy when he abandoned his human body and put his brain in a jar.  Now he views everything through the cold, detached lens of a science experiment.  In combat Ivanov uses his bestial strength to rip raw hunks of meat out of his opponents, analyze their genetic imprints, and absorb any beneficial mutations found for further study.  Should his host body become damaged in his pursuit of test subjects, Doktor Ivanov doesn’t hesitate to transfer his brain to one of his humanzee ‘children’.  That the process decapitates the host doesn’t seem to bother either Ivanov or his creations.

Humanzee Shock Trooper

“To err is human, to ape divine.”

Humanzees combine humanity’s capacity for war and violence with the strength and agility of an ape.  They are the perfect soldiers, and obey strong commanders without question so long as there is war to wage.  Even on Gamma Terra, there is little more horrifying than seeing the raw hatred and naked brutality of a swarm of boiler suited humanzees washing over their foes like a crimson tidal wave.

LoreAlthough he built his empire with the savage power of human-ape hybrids (and they remain his most successful creation), Doktor Ivanov experimented with many other human –animal combinations.  With the proliferation of creatures such as badders, hoops, dabbers, fen, and porkers wandering the wastes one has to wonder if prevailing origin theories are wrong and these beasts are actually the orphaned offspring of Ivanov’s abandoned experiments.

Notes

I did it.  I made another ape monster even though I promised I would keep them to a minimum.  I really did want to stat-up Tesla, and when I was looking around for other real life mad scientists to replace him Ivanov just jumped out at me.  I’m glad I broke my promise though, I really like how everything came together (there were a few Gamma World monsters that affected the use of Alpha and Omega cards but nothing that took advantage of the card mechanic itself, so I wanted to incorporate that into the design).  Plus, I really wasn’t happy with how the picture for Thak turned out, and I wanted another shot at drawing a primate before the next instalment of Monsters of the Hyborian Age.
Incidentally, the brain in a jar aspect of the monster was inspired by another Russian, a contemporary named Sergei Bryukhonenko, who invented a heart and lung machine that could keep a dog’s head alive and responsive detached from its body.  I’m sure Ivanov would have had access to that technology during his soviet renaissance of scientific research.

Random Encounters: Put on a Grey Ribbon

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Thanks to myths and monsters week on Daily Planet, I discovered that May is Zombie Awareness month.  According to the Zombie Research Society (who I guess are the ones who decided this… I wonder if they have a government grant?), the month of May was chosen because:

“Many films important to the evolution of the modern zombie are set in the month of May, from the original Night of the Living Dead, 1968, to the well received Dawn of The Dead remake of 2004.  Also, because spring naturally brings with it a sense of renewal and hopefulness, May is the perfect month to emphasize continued vigilance in the face of the coming zombie pandemic.”

Well, as the picture can attest to (circa the 2008 Toronto Zombie Walk); I’m certainly not unaware of the coming zombie apocalypse (in the future, undead Canadians will look at me dressed up in that picture and be offended).  And even though I’ve never really talked about the undead on this blog (hey, where’s the underwater beholder awareness month?), they are an important ingredient to any ménage à monster.
That said, zombie awareness month actually got me thinking about something else – fake undead (maybe it was the photo).  During the days of 1st edition D&D (and bleeding over into 2nd), there was a popular trend of ‘gotcha’ monster design.  That is, monsters that look like something they are not to trick adventurers into using ineffective tactics against them.  The best example of this is probably the gas spore – a monster that looked just like a beholder, but exploded in a cloud of deadly spores if you panicked and hit it with a weapon (I happen to like the gas spore – but it probably has more to do with nostalgia and the sweet Trampier illustration than good design), but it was by no means the only one.  That’s where the fake undead come in.  These were a category of gotcha monsters that looked like undead (and sometimes acted like it too)… but weren’t.  So while your party’s cleric was busy wasting time trying to turn undead, it was killing the rest of you in some non-undead way.
Now some people like using this kind of monster, and maybe I’ve been brainwashed by post 3rd edition thinking, but these creatures just strike me as cheesy one-shot adversaries designed solely to exploit the game’s mechanical assumptions.  But complaining about the design choices of monsters from the dustbin of D&D’s history doesn’t get us anywhere.  If Zak from Playing D&D with Pornstars can rehabilitate the gas spore, then perhaps some of D&D’s fake undead can be salvaged as well:

  • Adherer (from Fiend Folio): This humanoid was covered in loose folds of flesh that made it look like a mummy.  It secreted glue from its skin that made your weapons stick to it (I actually did use this monster in 2e, more for its sticky power than its resemblance to a mummy).  Surprisingly, this monster has already been rehabilitated – by Paizo in their book Misfit Monsters Redeemed.  Here they are presented as living relics of a horrible experiment conducted by phase spiders on the ethereal plane.
  • Drelb (Monster Manual II): A creature native to the plane of negative energy that looks like a wraith, and is summoned to guard an area or treasure.  It cannot be turned, but tricks clerics who try to do so by appearing to move away, but actually shrinks and moves forward.  The drelb’s special power is as lame as a monster that attacks by pretending its going down a flight of stairs.  To rehabilitate it I’d get rid of the shrinking thing and quit making it imitate wraiths.  Now it’s a malevolent blot of pure necrotic energy that can only manifest in the zone it was summoned to protect (using a mechanic like 4e homunculi).   To keep its anti-clerical theme it could do something bad (like an attack or imposing a condition) to anyone who used a power in its aura with the radiant keyword (or someone who used a healing power instead).
  • Gambado (from Fiend Folio): This one-legged creature uses a discarded skull as a head prosthetic, digs a hole in the ground, and when some adventurer comes to investigate the skull, it jumps out at them.  I’m amazed this thing survived two editions of the game.  I’d take away the ambush predator aspect of this monster and instead focus on the bone stealing and collecting.  Reimagined, it becomes a sort of necromantic caddisfly that forms a cocoon out of bones.  It can animate its grisly shell to move around the battlefield and attack.  Perhaps absorbing new bones heals it, or maybe the gambado grows weaker as its protective cocoon is shattered (yes the name comes from ‘leaping and springing’, I guess it could leap out at you and try to bite your face off it its cocoon is destroyed).
  • Necrophidius (from Fiend Folio) and Yellow Musk Zombie (from Monster Manual II): OK, neither one of these monsters really needs to be rehabilitated.  With the addition of knowledge checks to the game in 3e, these go from gotcha to cool.  Construct made out of snake bones that can hypnotize you by swaying back and forth?  Awesome.  Killer plant that controls you by planting a seed in your head?  Even more awesome.  I’m willing to admit when my idea falls apart.
  • Pseudo-Undead (from Monster Manual II): The worst culprits of the lot, pseudo-undead are humanoids that look like undead, but have none of their special abilities.  Like a Scooby-Doo villain, they spend their pathetic lives hoping others will be too scared to attack them.  Here’s a tidbit: “Pseudowraiths and pseudospectres cannot fly but walk so lightly as to leave no trace, and are often thought (unless closely observed) to be floating above the surface, although this is an illusion.”  Like the gambado, this is going to take a bit of a stretch.  First I’d call the creature something different, like a necroclone.  Then, taking a bit of inspiration from the myrmarachne melanotarsa, the monster becomes a shapeshifter with a taste for rotting, undead flesh.  It can mimic corporeal undead so fully (and is resistant to disease and necrotic damage) that it lives among colonies of ghouls, and packs of zombies.  These are not only the necroclone’s preferred food source, but they also provide the monster with protection, since few other monsters would target a large group of dangerous undead.

That covers 1e’s core monster books, but I’m sure later supplements, as well as Dragon and White Dwarf, hold more examples.  Maybe someday I’ll even get around to statting these beasts up.

Random Encounters: The Splugorth in Gamma Rifts

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

While Techno-Wizardry may be the quintessential theme of Rifts, the Splugorth are the setting’s quintessential villains.  Atlantis, as presented in World Book Two: Atlantis, took all the new age influences on the game (ley lines, crystal magic, pyramid power), and brought them together in the most unexpectedly sinister of places – the lost continent.  Atlantis is the dark and frightening Mordor (or underdark) of Rifts Earth.  It’s a place where the bad guys won and heroes soil their power armour just thinking about (since, as presented in the book, it was pretty much instant death if you actually went there).   This is what made the book great, not that it was really useful as a supplement for adventuring in Atlantis (it really only provided the briefest of sketches of the key locations – about ten pages), but it made Atlantis scary enough that should the PCs encounter the minions of the Splugorth (who are detailed in the rest of the page count), it gave them the kind of gravitas GMs strive to imbue their villains with.  Plus tattoo magic was badass.
The Splugorth specialized in Bio-Wizardry and Rune Magic, which would either warp the bodies and minds of their slaves into useful tools or bind their souls to power impressive magical weapons.  Boy were the items impressive.  They also had price tags that prohibited players from getting their hands on them.  Back in the nineties, we would dream about the kind of mayhem we could wreak, if only we managed to somehow find a sword of Atlantis.  Rather than question the wisdom of the sheer volume of these kinds of weapons in World Book Two, I had a great time stealing them for this last instalment of 10 Omega Tech cards in my ongoing series on using Gamma World in Rifts (just click on the picture at the end of the post for the PDF – I’ve combined whole set of 30 cards for ease of printing).   I’ve mentioned before about the beauty of Omega Tech cards as treasure, and I have to say it felt liberating throwing these iconic items into the deck – items I had always thought were cool but had never seen in actual play because they were too crazy (well, we did see zombitrons and magic talismans get used, but never any of the rune weapons).
I followed the pattern set in the Magic and Techno-Wizard cards and included two salvageable items.  This time a one-handed ranged weapon and a two-handed melee weapon (I was thinking of making the magic talisman salvageable, but the weapons from Atlantis are so much more interesting than the defensive items).
One of the charms of the Bio-Wizard symbiotes and parasites from Rifts is that they are often as harmful as they are helpful.  It added to the whole intimidation factor of the Splugorth, and I wanted to preserve that feel when it came to their Omega Tech cards.  Luckily, a quick flip through the Omega Tech that came with my Gamma World boxed set revealed the blueprint I was looking for: many of the cards had some negative effect (usually another attack targeting the user or her allies) on a miss.  This mechanic lets the cards be attractive enough to use, but dangerous enough not to be taken lightly.  Just the kind of thing Lord Splynncryth would find amusing.

A final word (rant), about the Splugorth.  I never really liked the portrayal of Splynncryth in the Rifts books beyond World Book Two.  I felt they played up the ‘used car salesman’ aspect of its personality, making Splynncryth seem more human in its motivations and less like an otherworldly, alien monstrosity.  Sure there’s a bit of that there in World Book Two, but Siembieda never lets you forget that this thing is the spawn of the Lovecraftian Great Old Ones, extracting decadent and weird pleasures from the torture, humiliation and annihilation of entire worlds.  That’s the kind of villain the PCs can dedicate their lives trying to fight.

Random Encounters: Techno-Wizardry in Gamma Rifts

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Techno-Wizardry is the hallmark of the Rifts game, epitomizing the setting’s mixture of high-tech and high fantasy like nothing else.  There were other ‘kitchen sink’ settings that combined elements of science fiction and fantasy (as early as 1977 Dave Hargrave introduced the Techno class in the Arduin Grimoire), but Rifts was the first game that I ever played where they were so thoroughly blended.
When my friends and I played Rifts in high school, we were fascinated with the concept of Techno-Wizardry, especially the rules for modifying and creating your own items (unfortunately, all we ever added to our vehicles were spoilers and bitchin’ flames on the side – we failed most of our rolls to add anything useful – go figure).  Later, when I had grown dissatisfied with the system and 3e D&D came along, the clean item creation rules were something I appreciated.  The Gamma World rules don’t support creating your own items (I think having to fix a vehicle or pilot a giant robot would make an awesome skill challenge), but the Omega cards are the next best thing (and some are salvageable – which simulates item creation).
Continuing from my previous post on Omega Tech cards for a ‘Gamma Rifts’ game, I present the next 10 cards in the set of 30: the Techno-Wizard origin (just click on the picture at the bottom of the post for the full PDF).  To make it easier to print out with the last 10 cards (the Magic origin), I’ve just added these to a single PDF.
I followed the same pattern as with the Magic origin cards, including 2 salvageable items, but I made sure that they occupied different item slots so there wasn’t overlap (so now we have a neck, weapon, hands, and armor item in total).
Like the last set, many of the Techno-Wizard items had a suite of powers, so I tried to distill them down to their bare essence.  I also had a hard time finding consumable TW items other than psi-cola, so I created the teleport grenades out of whole cloth (grenades seem popular in the Omega cards).
One final word on Techno-Wizardry.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Dr. Doom from Marvel comics (he is the namesake of my handle and one of the greatest villains of all time), the original Techno-Wizard.  From his first appearance in Fantastic Four #5 (1962), he has always been depicted as using black magic and super science hand in hand.  Given the popularity of the comic, and that it predates OD&D by nearly a decade, I’ve always wondered if the character was one of the influences on the proliferation of genre crossover in early D&D products (especially in early 3rd party books).  Kevin Siembieda did work on those early Judges Guild products… who knows what the connection is (maybe Rifts was just tapping into that vibe he saw in the early RPG field)?  My love of Doctor Doom tempted me to include one or two of his signature items in the set, as a tribute to the grandfather of Techno-Wizardry, but I figured I’d save it.  Maybe after I finish this set of Rifts Omega cards I’ll make a small set of Marvel inspired ones (given that I’ve already mentioned my previous Rifts game included Captain America’s shield, there’s a pretty good chance of this happening).
Soon to come: the final installment of Gamma Rifts Omega Tech, Splugorth items!

Random Encounters: More Gamma Rifts

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

As I mentioned in my previous post, the final ingredient needed to capture the feel of Rifts earth in the Gamma World game are some magically oriented Omega Tech cards.  I figured a set of 30 cards would complement the set of 40 that come with the Gamma World box and duplicate the same mix of magic and technology the ‘average’ party of adventurers in Rifts were equipped with (the mechanics of the cards have the added benefit of giving every character ‘class’ the opportunity to play with everyone else’s toys without breaking the game – meaning a robot can use a TK-machine gun and a dragon can get a cybernetic implant).
I divided the cards into 3 origins (mirroring Gamma World’s), magic, techno-wizard, and splugorth, with 10 cards each.  The original cards have a salvageable card about every fifth card, so I gave each origin 2.
Presented here are the first 10 cards of the set, the magic origin (click on the picture for the full file): Bag of Holding, Boots of Speed, Counterfeit Mjolnir, Potion of Heroism, Daern’s Instant Fortress, Cube of Force, Vorpal Sword, Portable Hole, Cloak of Elvenkind, and Staff of the Magi.  As you can see, these items aren’t actually from the Palladium world, but from D&D instead.  I wanted to have one of the origins be made of ‘pure’ magic items, and so I went to the Palladium Fantasy game as a source first (since this is the source of these kinds of magic items in Rifts), but honestly I found most of the items were knock-offs of D&D treasures anyway.  So I decided to use some of the classic magic items from the history of D&D, tempered by what I thought was cool (mjolnir) and what I needed to round out the cards (potion of heroism) – with a little help from the list in Paizo’s Classic Treasures Revisited

The great thing about the impermanency of the Omega Tech cards is that you don’t have to worry about slowly building the party up before you can give them something cool and sexy like a Daern’s instant fortress or a vorpal sword.  There’s no need for an endless stream of meat and potatoes magic items (like +1 swords) – you can head right for dessert without fear of a stomach ache (I also think this approach fits very nicely with the world of Rifts, where nothing is meat and potatoes and everything is a soul-drinking greater rune weapon).
Keep in mind that I didn’t do direct translations of these magic items, the format of the Omega Tech cards wouldn’t allow it (some of the originals of these items had suites of powers – while Omega Tech cards generally only do one thing).  Instead, I focused on the general concept of each item, and in some cases gave it a Gamma World-esque twist.  For example, with the bag of holding, carrying around tons of treasure isn’t an issue in the game, so I instead focused on the quirky dimensional rift aspect of the item.  With the staff of the magi I thought it would be funny to make it a disposable item (with the conceit that the characters can’t figure out how to use its laundry list of powers), so I focused on the aspect that first comes to mind when you think about the iconic staff: the retributive strike.
Soon to come: the techno-wizard and splugorth items!