2019/10/18

OSR: Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom of Blackmoor

This post's quality has been brought to you by Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban.You've been warned. For actual D&D history, see Hidden in the Shadows.
I was thinking about the Life on Earth documentary earlier this week and how it completely changed the visual language of popular culture.

You know this frog?
You might not be able to place it, but this tree frog was everywhere for a while. Posters, books, ads; the influence of Life on Earth is subtle but pervasive.

And it came out in 1979, two years after the AD&D Monster Manual. What would D&D have been like if things were shifted by a year or two? Would the Monster Manual have a different tone?

The Origin of Species

Where do D&D monsters come from? This thread on Dragonsfoot is an excellent place to start, but it only covers "proper" monsters. Sea turtles, camels, etc. aren't covered because it's assumed everyone knows what a camel is.

But do they? When Gygax thought of a camel, did his mental image come from a specific book or film? The Bible? Lawrence of Arabia?

It's one of those questions nobody can answer. Where does your mental image of a camel come from anyway?

The Unknown Monster Manual: Life Magazine (April 23, 1951)

Rudolf Freund was a landscape and wildlife painter. This seems to be, as far as I can find, his only excursion into mythology. But what an excursion!
The game of telephone from the mythology to the article's unnamed author, from the article to the artist, from the artist to Gygax and from Gygax to the artist (David C. Sutherland III, I think?) leads to a very strange creature.

It also explains the mysterious poisonous bovid Gorgon of the Monster Manual. The article's author has somehow mixed up Claudius Aelianus's description of the Catoblepas with the Gorgon.
It's tragic that the terrifying long-necked Salvador Dali manticore didn't make it into D&D. Indeed, the Manticore is barely described in the Monster Manual. Gygax may have assumed all readers were already familiar with the creature.
Side Note: What did Rudolf Freund have against Dali? Perhaps the unveiling of Christ of Saint John of the Cross in 1951 and the ensuing controversy offended his sensibilities? Or did Freund, as a sensible "naturalist" wildlife and landscape painter, intend to mock Dali's distorted figures?

Or am I reading too much into a mustache?

Marine Monsters

In the AD&D Monster manual, Stephen (Steve) Marsh gets credit (in the preface everyone skips) for the aquatic monsters of Blackmoor.
Side Note: these days, Stephen Marsh is a hiking fiend. He's got a blog full of stories and excellent hiking advice. So in theory I could just ask him these questions... but where's the fun in that?
Anyway, Gary Gygax took the monsters in Blackmoor, codified them, added details, and put them in the Monster Manual. Much like the transition from mythology to Su-Monster, the process involved plenty of noise and distortion.

Reading the AD&D Monster Manual and Blackmoor side by side, I think Marsh had a very solid grasp on aquatic life. Gygax... less so. Sea Turtles don't appear in Blackmoor, so Gygax must have invented the Turtle, Sea, Giant for the MM. Clearly, he wasn't familiar with turtles (sea turtles cannot retract their flippers).

Selected Aquatic Monsters of Blackmoor

Humanoids

Merman
A "civilized" people. "Spells and special suits are usually used when out of the water (to retain their moisture)..." Special suits eh? Why don't we see more memmen in boiler suits in D&D?

Sahuagin (Devil-Men of the Deep)
Hints of H.P. Lovecraft's Deep Ones, but with some elements of The Creature from the Black Lagoon thrown in for good measure.


Morkoth (aka Morlock)
Seems like it was inspired by Lovecraft (the strange cone-like head, the winding hypnotic labyrinth), but it's a Steve Marsh original, adapted from an  Andre Norton Witch World story.

Locathah

Very, very lightly sketched in Blackmoor. They're underwater Nomads. 
This nomadic people ride eels and are found along the canyon floors roaming the depths in search of food (Use standard NOMAD Table for composition). For riding eels use a 24" standard movement with a 36" fast move every eight turns. They will be found in their lair only 15% of the time (generally a castle which they maintain as a base camp with its own guards etc.). They are neutral by disposition and otherwise fairly civilized.
But in the AD&D MM, they become another sort of fish-person, despite no hint of it in the original description.

Reskins

Aquatic Elf (as Elf)
Kopoacinth (as gargoyles)

Koalinth (as hobgoblins)
Lacedons (as ghouls)
Mottled Worm (as a Purple Worm)
Nymph (as a Dryad)
Sea Hag (as a reverse Dryad)

Ordinary Creatures

Dolphin
Its neat how each underwater race gets its own beasts. Aquatic Elves have dolphins, Sahuagin have sharks, Locathah have eels, and Mermen have seahorses... and crabs. He he he.

Giant Crab
Their entry in Blackmoor includes the line "Fortunately, they rarely go inland more than a mile, and usually frequent the same hatching grounds from year to year." showing that Marsh was familliar with crab migrations.

Giant Octopus

Marsh correctly identifies the octopus as a mollusc.
In Blackmoor, Marsh writes "Generally peaceful, they will not attack unless attacked first..."
In the A&D MM, Gygax writes "These creatures are malicious and have a cunning bent."
Hrm. Who writes based on fiction and who writes based on documentaries?


Giant Squid

In Blackmoor, interestingly, this entry has less to do with the actual giant squid or mythological kraken, and seems to be a regular squid scaled up.

Monsters

Pungi Ray
I thought that tracking down this "unusual reference" could lead me to a documentary, article, or book that might uncover the origins of some of these monsters. Managed a tremendous forehead slap after spending 30 minutes trying to find species notes in various databases. Punji traps. Derp derp derp. Probably based on the stonefish.

Strangle Weed
Weeds that trap limbs; a diver's nightmare.

Floating Eyes
A distorted cuttlefish? Probably not; the hypnotic patterns of a cuttlefish are a relatively new discovery. According to Marsh, the true explanation is even eerier. "
Floating eyes were originally an extension of an extraplaner creature. Just the eyes came through."

Ixitxachitl
Origin story here
.

Poisonous Coral

A distorted version of an anemone?

Masher

A quitisential D&D telephone creature. In Blackmoor, the whole description is "Coral eaters, harmless unless frightened, if so is just like 20 hit dice Purple worm, with treasure." The stats reflect the purple worm note.

In the AD&D MM, Mashers become explictly "worm-like" and gain poison dorsal spines. And from there, they grow stranger and stranger through the editions.

But was the original Masher a worm, or just something that's as tough and dangerous as a Purple Worm? A giant parrotfish? A blend of grouper, parrotfish, and lionfish? Who knows.

Visual Antecedents for The Aquatic Monsters of Blackmoor

Ditch the "canonical" references: Lovecraft and Leiber's "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser". Books are sensible. In 1975, nobody cites TV shows.

Based on wild guesswork, the series most likely to have inspired some of Marsh's monsters is Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, particularly, the Great Barrier Reef episodes of 1971 and the Isles of Enchantment episodes of 1973. Some episodes are available on youtube and are well worth watching.

Side Note: you need to say "Mutual of Omaha's" before "Wild Kingdom". It's just a rule.
The time periods and broadcast schedules line up. It was a show a high school kid in Idaho could watch without getting into trouble. While Gygax seems to have prefereed books to TV, it doesn't seem like the vivid aquatic ecosystem sketched in Blackmoor could come from fantasy books or old atlases.

2019/10/17

OSR: GOBLIN WAR ENGINE (!)

It's huge! It's impractical! It's wildly dangerous to both friend and foe!
PDF Link

The Goblin War Engine is a draft page from my current project: the Monster Overhaul. Patrons at the $5 tier get access to monsters like this hot off the ol' brain-press and replete with the highest quality spelling errors and lack of playtesting.

This one was just too good not to post.

Goblin Links
1d50 Goblin Warlords
Class: Goblin
Class: Many Goblins

Goblinpunch: 1d8 Shitty Goblin Weapons, WTF Are Those Goblins Doing, Goblins tag
Elfmaids and Octopi: Goblin Mine Zone (PDF), Goblins tag

2019/10/15

OSR: Review: Into the Wyrd and Wild

Produced, written, and mostly illustrated by the one-human team of Charles B.F. Avery, Into the Wyrd and Wild is Veins of the Earth, but for forested wilderness. Does it work? Sort of.

Note 1: Because I'm fussy, peevish, and peculiar, this review also has an enormous negative bias. You've been warned. I also haven't playtested any of the creatures or mechanics in the book.

Note 2: It seems like there are distribution and communication issues related to Kickstarter fulfillment.

Into the Wyrd and Wild

Comparisons to Veins of the Earth jump out immediately. Both books use the same visual language. It's hard to show off in one screenshot, but if you've read Veins, you'll immediately see what I mean. Sections are organized in the same way.

Given the similarities, it seems odd that Patrick Stuart, Scrap Princess, or Jez Gordon are not acknowledged anywhere in the book. Imitation is (according to some) the sincerest form of flattery, but this might be more than imitation. I don't know.

The Rules

The Law of Equivalent Exchange
In Veins, 1sgp = 1 hour of light = 1/300th of the amount of food a person needs every 3 days.
In Wyrd and Wild, 1gp = 1 supply (i.e. =1 day's worth of rations = 1 day's worth of water = 1 day's worth of lamp oil).

This... doesn't make sense to me. Firewood is scarce? In a forest? Are food and water are significantly limiting factors above ground?

Sure, the food rules in Veins are a bit messy but they're consistent. The point isn't to pay for food. It's to steal food, eat weird things, and make desperate deals. Scarcity is a crucial element. It's baked into every part of Veins. Light is scarce, food is scarce, food is light, light is money, and everything hates you.


Great books come from consistent choices in the same direction, and Veins is full of consistent choices. Wyrd and Wild is not.


Exhaustion
The real expedition-limiting mechanic doesn't seem to be Supplies. Instead it's Exhaustion. Exhaustion stacks. Reach 6 levels of Exhaustion and the PC dies. No save. It's not easy to remove Exhaustion in the Wilds.

PCs gain Exhaustion by, essentially, fucking up: not sleeping, not eating or drinking for a day, getting diseased, getting injured, or getting knocked out. Fuck up 4 times and you're likely to bail on the expedition. I'm not completely sure this will work in play. What if one PC has, through no fault of their own, 4 levels of exhaustion, while the rest of the group has 0? Does the party retreat and risk the one character only, or pull out and waste time and effort?

Surviving the Night

Wyrd and Wild has rules for making camp. Roll 1d6 for food, water, and shelter (3d6 total). Dice that show 4-6 are successes. Failures grant levels of Exhaustion. Failures can be cancelled by spending a Supply.

There's a strong 5E flavour in this book. Advantage and Disadvantage are reference throughout, and there are statements like "Proficiency in a relative skill like Hunting, Foraging, or Survival grants advantage on these rolls." Now if I buy a book on the Wylderness, I'm expecting something more than a skill name. Hunting, Foraging, and Survival are the things this book is about.

Surviving the Night is an interesting resource-tracking mechanic, and it presents the players with crucial choices, but the Supply mechanic is the weak link. If 1 Supply = 1 firewood and the PCs are in a forest... Or if 1 Supply = water, and they're camped near a stream...

The Hunt
Hunting rules are a great addition to this book. They're a bit fiddly but I've rarely seen mechanics for days-long hunts in RPGs, so it's a good attempt. Tables of setbacks and boons are always useful.

Cleaning A Body

These rules are also fiddly and... unnecessary? They're adding a layer of abstraction to something that should be a straightforward declaration. The tables are mediocre compared to others in the book.

Phases of the Moon
If you want GMs to track phases of the moon, providing a handy one-page time tracking sheet with moon phases on it seems like a good idea. The "Special Moons" are neat but a bit vague. "Magic spells are twice as powerful, but have a chance of backfiring horribly."

The Call of the Wyld
The equivalent of the Effects table from Veins.


Becoming Lost

Oh boy, more mechanics!

Madness
Ditto.

Right, here's bit of advice. You've given the poor reader (i.e. the GM) 15 pages of things they need to track, do, and remember without giving them any reason why they should bother. The book works hard to convince you not to use it.

Veins goes: 1) Intro, 2) Bestiary, 3) Factions 4) Rules, 5) Mapping
Wyrd and Wild goes: 1) Intro, 2) Rules, 3) Bestiary, 4) Factions 5) Mapping

Introducing a setting via its monsters is a very good method. Putting crucial rules first seems smart, but it also makes the book less immediately evocative. When it comes to RPG books, pudding first, then meat.

Throughout the rules, it seems that smart choices and sensible plans are very rarely rewarded. Randomization is king. Nature is capricious, but OSR games are all about avoiding risk via good plans. If there's no way for the players to dodge these risks by player skill, why bother having them?

Bestiary

Every paragraph has a bold, all-caps first line. See the screenshot above. Sometimes this line contains critical information, so the reader could quickly skim just the bolded lines and get a sense of the monster. Sometimes the line is just the first line of the paragraph. I don't like it. It breaks up the text. It feels like I'm lurching from paragraph to paragraph.

Most of the monsters in Veins are difficult to summarize. Even if the prose is ultraviolet-purple, words are rarely wasted. The description flows. Sometimes it flows in directions that aren't terribly useful at the table, but they're still interesting to read.

The monsters in Wyrd and Wild could have used an editor. Condense, cut, and focus. 

They are man-made monsters. Byproducts of a ritual that mortals accidentally uncovered, with no concept of what they meddled with. That being said, they are loyal monsters.

The first of these beings was brought into existence when an animal was buried alive under the foundation of a shrine in what was a coincidental ritual, done as some crude and cruel protection charm. What surprised everyone was that it actually worked.
The concepts are, on average, pretty good. Friendly slug-parasites. Skunk apes. Weird elves. I'm trying to focus on the text because the art is so damn good that it threatens to make even mediocre ideas seem excellent. More on that later.

There is no random encounter table in the PDF.

Some tables include "You encounter a group of ruffians or xenophobic sorts." or "Hostile Fauna: A wild animal seeks you out. Roll a random wilderness encounter."

Encounters occur "less and less closer to a new moon". There's a +25% chance of a wilderness encounter at a waning gibbous moon.


But there's no table of wilderness encounters anywhere I can find! I've gone through the PDF twice and searched for terms. As far as I can tell, it's not there. The closest thing is the Wilderness Dungeon table (see below), with "The Danger" and "Secret or Treasure", but the entries don't seem to correspond to anything in the bestiary and there are no page number references.

Spells & Items

I just skimmed these. They seem pretty decent.

The Dungeon of Tree and Stone

Rules for making a dungeon out of a wilderness area. Instead of corridors, paths through the grass. Instead of rooms, clearings, dens, sites, and loci.

I like the idea of making a standard 6-mile hex into a dungeon. The actual mechanics, as usual, seem a bit fiddly, but the core concept is neat. Slap some areas down. Draw some lines between them. Stock them.

Aside from a few changes to make it 2D, this is the cave mapping system from Veins of the Earth.

Dolmenwood does a better job of strange forest adventures, though getting into Dolemwood is currently rather expensive, just because there's so much material. Hopefully the upcoming campaign book puts the scattered pieces together. Gardens of Ynn has a great bestiary and "trackless wyrd-wilderness" exploration mechanic. But this system seems functional.

Wild Flora, Diseases, Hazards and Traps, I Search The Body,

Again, I just skimmed these.

Why aren't these by the Bestiary? Why separate the Dungeon section from Hazards and Traps?

Random Trails and Paths, A Wilderness Dungeon

Why put the Wilderness Dungeon name tables and variant tables down here, mixed in with other tables to make them difficult to find in a hurry?

There are tables of descriptive text for walking through the woods.

Incidentally, I don't like the table format. The grey is a few points too dark.

Look, I said I was fussy and peculiar.

A Hundred Wyrd Locations

Same as the 100 Caves from Veins of the Earth, but (because there's more to work with above ground) extremely varied. An excellent tool for stocking a hexcrawl or wilderness area.

Game Aids

No time tracking sheets, but condensed and very tidy rules for resting, hunting, etc.

Prose

There's a lot of prose in this book. Pages and pages of descriptive and explanatory text. No editor is listed. The text sometimes slips into informality.
Since that day, the gods have sicced every beast of fang and claw to bring Eí-Criomòran down.
A harsh round of edits could have cut some monsters from 2 pages to 1, or trimmed a few duplicate results from tables, or fixed a few ambiguous sections.

Veins of the Earth
is defined by its prose. Love it or mock it, there's a monster description that starts off "BUDDHA WAS WRONG". It speaks directly to the reader as a modern human trying to run an imaginary elfgame. Wyrd and Wild can't quite decide who the reader is, or what level of informality and 4th-wall-breaking is required.

Art

My god, the art.

It's a truly beautiful book. The art by people other than the author (Alex Coggon, Alex Shearer, Brieaunna) is also good... but it sticks out, just because the style and tone are often slightly different. According to KS comments, the physical copies are also astonishing. It's a pleasure to flip through the PDF pages and revel in the illustrations. Any weaknesses in descriptive prose are cancelled by the overwhelming volume and quality of the art.

Conclusions

  • The bestiary section is worth reading.
  • Despite being referenced by several rules, there is no random encounter table.
  • The rules sections have useful ideas, but rely on randomness and a weak scarcity mechanic.
  • The book's layout is state-of-the-art in places, but collapses into a miscellaneous jumble in the last third. There is no index.
  • The PDF is poorly optimized. Layers cannot be hidden. There are no bookmarks. The table of contents is not hyperlinked.
  • The art is gorgeous.
  • The general feel is cargo-cult Veins of the Earth. Sections and tools added without really knowing why, or checking to see if they're the best option for a wilderness adventure. 
Pretty to look at, nice to hold, but if you buy it, consider that it might sit on your shelf forever.

This book needed editing and playtesting. A one-human shop is great, but paying for editors and doing thorough and extensive tests in a variety of system is crucial. The result is a book that's beautiful but not as useful as it could be. A bit more testing, a few different choices, and this could have been an all-time classic.

2019/10/12

OSR: HD(NA) of the Monster Manual + MMII + Fiend Folio

I'm working on a new project: the Monster Overhaul. This post is part of the planning process.
UP IN THE AIR, JUNIOR BIRDMEN!

In Volume 1 of Original D&D, Gary wrote that “There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top.” I’ve noted that I played several Balrogs, and way back in the Introduction, I told the story of Sir Fang, the first Vampire player character.

Note, however, that Sir Fang was not the LAST Vampire player character.

One of the gang at the U of Minnesota wanted to play a vampire. This was LONG before vampires were sparkly, and, for that matter, long before they were Brad Pitt. A vampire was Christopher Lee or Bela Lugosi in tuxedo and opera cape, period.

In D&D, if you wanted to play anything, you ALWAYS started low level and worked your way up. D&D undead had a correlation between type and hit dice; a Skeleton was 1 HD, a Zombie 2, etc, up through Ghoul, Wight, Wraith, Mummy, Spectre, Vampire… so our would-be vampire started, of course, as a Skeleton. But at long last he became a vampire, and then, per the rules, proceeded to make a bunch of slaves by “putting the fangs to them.” Of course, those killed would rise with 1 HD also… as a Skeleton.

Eventually the vampire got a cohort of slave vampires and spectres following him. Hooray.

Well, one dark moonlit night our PC and his henchpires were out travelling somewhere and had a random encounter… another band of vampires. PC decides he’s going to eliminate the lead vampire of the other gang and take them all over; the NPC vampire had much the same idea. And the fight was on.

Vampire attacks Spectre. Vampire hits; Spectre is drained 2 levels; Spectre becomes a Wraith.

Wraith attacks a different enemy, a Spectre, because it’s easier to hit, and hits. But wraiths drain one level, not two, so the enemy Spectre is drained one level… and turns into a mummy.

Oh, by the way… both vampire gangs had been flying, and were fighting at an approximate altitude of 1000 feet above the ground. And mummies are notable for their aerodynamics – “notable” in the sense of, “They fly about as well as a dessicated human corpse that’s had its internal organs pulled out and then been wrapped in bandages.”

And the hapless mummy plummets earthward, flapping its arms madly.

I’m sure you can see where this is heading. The aerial duel continued in something rather like “Night of the Living Dead” meets “Blue Max,” and as the combatants were drained levels, they would eventually hit a non-flying form… zombie, ghoul, wight, or mummy… and go hurtling towards the ground in the grip of that puissant incantation, “9.8 meters per second squared”.

I picture the peasants below, huddling in their wretched huts and praying as hard as they can as various half-decomposed bodies fall out of the sky to land with meaty thumps. On the other hand, all that organic material would be great fertilizer.

I’ve never needed rules for “comic relief” in D&D. Wait patiently and the players will provide it in abundance.
-Mike "Old Geezer" Mornard

Back in the original post, I took the AD&D MM and created a sort of phylogenetic tree, with monsters sorted into categories by HD and best guesses at related monsters.

Well, I went back and combed through the MM II and Fiend Folio, pulled all the monsters out, and created an updated chart. Click through for full size.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ZKgZFVArRDZiiIPWJePo1XYzH4cWsXh1


Using This Chart

For those of you joining us from other editions, "HD" are actually Hit Dice, the total number of d8s rolled to calculate a creature's Hit Points. Numbers in brackets are either extra HP added on top of rolled HP (+[2]) or total number of hit points ([1-3]) or, in the MM II, fractions of HD for some reason [1/4]. Don't worry about it too much.

This chart includes all creatures, with the following exceptions:

  • Dinosaurs (too many HD, not too useful to list)
  • Demons and Devils (already sequenced by HD)
  • Angels and Divine Messengers (ditto)
Black is the AD&D MM, orange is the MM II, and purple is the Fiend Folio.

It's also a handy list of all the monsters everyone's forgotten... often for good reasons.

Leveling as Anything

Advance upwards each time you level. You can choose to move to a linked creature or stay as your current creature. If there are blank spaces above the creature, it indicates levels that must be gained without change in HD to reach the next creature listed. If an entry repeats, the creature gains an HD as it levels.
If 2 or more creatures share a HD band entry, any one of them can be chosen.

E.g. A 1 HD Vegepygmy levels up. It can choose to become a 2HD Vegepygmy, a 2 HD Barkburr, or a 2 HD Dryad.

E.g. A 3 HD Boar, Wild levels up. It can choose to advance one level towards becoming a Boar, Giant or become a 4HD Lycanthrope, Wereboar.

The blue lines in the 1 HD band connect to the Man entry.

Wait, What?

Yup.

A 0 HD Man can level to become a:

  • 1 HD Man (Caveman)
  • 1 HD Baboon
  • 1 HD Dakon
  • 1 HD Aarakocra
  • 1 HD Merman
  • 1 HD Skeleton
  • (after waiting a level) 2 HD Lycanthrope, Seawolf, Lesser.
  • (after waiting a level) 2 HD Ogrillion
  • (after waiting a level) 2 HD Gnoll
Not all monsters are connected (it's a bit of a stretch as-is). Wherever possible, descriptions in the Monster Manual like "a distant cousin of" or "related to" were used to place creatures on the tree.

Some of these monsters are utterly forgettable. I've already forgotten what a Terithran is or how it differs from a Denzelian. So many duplicated designs, minor variants, and forgettable monsters. How many pixie-type-things and evil trees can anyone use? So many wasted pages. Still, it was a fun exercise rereading the books and finding unexpected connections.
Lucas Roussel

Life Cycles / Aging

If you interpret HD gain as aging, the charts reveal some fairly strange life cycles. Ogres go through an aquatic stages (presumably as they migrate for spawning?). An ambitious rat can level into a Wereshark. Mature Elves become Marids; mature Gnomes become Night Hags.

Does any of this make sense? Not really. But neither does the story above and that's canon.

Possible 0-Level Characters:

  • Man
  • Rat
  • Jackal
  • Cat (Domestic)
  • Raven
  • Weasel
  • Skunk
  • Squirrel (Ordinary)
  • Kobold
  • Ear Seeker
  • Vilstrak
  • Bowler
  • Mold
  • Oblivax
  • Brownie
  • Bookia
  • Nixie
  • Sprite
  • Leprechaun
  • Atomie
  • Cerebral Parasite
  • Eye, Floating
  • Kilmoulis
  • Webbird
  • Tiger Fly Larva
  • Pernicon
  • Centipede, Huge
  • Galltrit
  • Goblin
  • Bat (Ordinary)
  • Phantom
  • Rot Grub
  • Throat Leech
  • Gas Spore
  • Gorbel
  • Muckdweller
Forget Wizard, Thief, and Fighter. Go with a Brownie, a Rat, and a Tiger Fly Larva trying to make their way in the world. Get rich or get squished trying.

2019/10/11

OSR: The Monster Overhaul - Planning

I'm thinking of writing a Monster Manual. This post is about sharpening the axe.

Multiple Ways To Organize Information

How does the AD&D Monster Manual organize entries?
  • Alphabetical table of contents at the front. No page #s or randomization methods, just a list of creatures.
  • Statblocks presented in alphabetical order, with subgroups (Demons, Dinosaurs, Dragons, Giants, etc.)
  • Index at the back of the book. Entries are listed alphabetically with subgroups, with page #s, in the order that they appear in the text.
How does the 5th Edition Monster Manual organize entries?
  • Alphabetical table of contents at the front of the book with page #s.
  • Statblocks presented in alphabetical order, with subgroups (Dragons, etc.)
  • Appendix at the end of the book of "Miscellaneous Creatures", which appear in a condensed format without art. They aren't listed individually in the table of contents at the front of the book.
  • Index at the back of the book. Entries are listed alphabetically with subgroups, with page #s. Entries from the main text are mixed in with entries from the "Miscellaneous Creatures" section.
So while the AD&D MM might not be the pinnacle of design, 5th Edition appears to have taken a step backwards! Information is repeated needlessly. An index is great, but if it's a copy of the table of contents then it's not an index.

How Are Readers Accessing Information?

This is a crucial question for book design. What are the entry points into a book? Why is someone using it?

For Monster Manuals, the main reasons are:

  • Looking up a monster by name (at the table). E.g. A module calls for stats for a skeleton.
  • Reading to generate ideas (not at the table). E.g. You're working on a module or encounter table of your own.
And that's pretty much it... because that's all current Monster Manuals are designed to do.

But what if there were more entry points?

It's handy to have all the monsters in alphabetical order if you need to look one up, but it's not necessary. By breaking from that design, we can introduce a whole host of new tools.

The Monster Overhaul Layout

Here's the draft plan. 20 sections with 20 entries. Each number in the image above will have 20 creatures. Some will be classic monsters, some will be entirely new entries. All will have variants and useful tools.

Splitting the monsters into 20 sections means GMs can pick and choose their monsters. Want to run a gothic horror game? Mix 1, 6, and 10. Want to run Gygaxian wilderness? Mix 1, 8, 9, 10, 13, etc. Etc, etc.

It also means I can focus on the 20 "best" monsters for each section and weed out mistakes or flawed designs.


Dodging Exoticism

I'm trying to make sections of the book as generic as possible, for use in as many settings and games as possible. Unfortunately, early drafts of 1. People with zero cultural markers ended up... very bland. Unusably bland, in fact. So I've had to give the core of the chart a medieval-ish feel and work from there. There's no reason you need to use it as the core though; a game where the PCs are monsters raiding civilization would probably use 15. Dungeon as the core.

And if I want to include "classic" monsters like the Couatl or the Djinn, where should I put them? Having separate Fantasy Arabia, Fantasy South America, etc. sections based on lumping and splitting folklore seemed like the worst possible idea. Instead, I'm using terrain types. 6. Hostile Forests includes Forest Spirits, pixies, etc. 7. Hot Plains covers elephants, rhinos, Djinn, etc. and 8. Mysterious Mountains covers (very broadly) Su-Monster, Yeti, Lammasu, Ice Titans, etc. 

Is this an ideal solution? No. I'll probably revise it. But it's a step in the right direction. It won't be as good as a setting-specific bestiary and encounter table, but a Monster Manual never is.

12. Strange Water
is a placeholder for microfauna made big.
13. Sci-Fi
includes malfunctioning robots, alien visitors, etc. The usual Barrier Peaks stuff.
16. Outsider
might be better renamed "A Wizard Did It".
Sections may change as work progresses.

Encounter Tables

The AD&D DMG and the Fiend Folio both have Monster Level tables. These are d100 encounter tables with probability curves. The monster's HD, number encountered, AC, movement, etc. are given in the table... but not a page reference back to the main statblock. "Monster Level" is also somewhat arbitrary.

Similarly, the A&D DMG and Fiend Folio have terrain encounter tables.

While these are handy and condensed, they're also... flat. You get a [rolls] Ice Troll. FIGHT. You see a giant ram. FIGHT.

OSR design moved away from a one-line number-name encounter tables a long time ago. Bryce (rightly) complains about it all the time


So the Monster Overhaul will include encounter tables. Really good encounter tables.

Magical Industrial Revolution uses 2 different formats: a d100 table with d20 subgroups and a "condensed" format based off City State of the Invincible Overlord. The main table has more info, while the condensed format allows for quick rolls and more unusual situations.


I'm also fan of the Omen + Encounter format used in my other products. Players get Omens if they move cautiously and pay attention.
I'm not a fan of linked tables. They were really big in the '90s. Roll on the Humanoid Type table. If you get a Dwarf, roll on the Dwarf subtable. If you get a Dwarf Warrior, roll on the Dwarf Warrior weapon subtable, etc. Just pages and pages of nested tables, often with obscure naming schemes, and with no real sense of flow or information hierarchy.

Central Casting - Dungeons. '93.

Goals

  • Every entry should be self-contained. If information is needed, it should be on the same page or close by. Minimal flipping back and forth or referencing tables.
  • Encounters should be evocative without requiring endless subtables.
  • Monsters should have variants. 
  • Tools should be provided. What's a minotaur without a labyrinth?
  • Generic stats.
  • Assume the reader can figure stuff out. If there's a skeleton variant that says "Centaur Skeleton: as fast as a horse", I don't need to provide stats. The GM can figure out if the Centaur Skeleton can climb a ladder or run down a fleeing PC.
  • Tools, not rules. 
  • Randomize everything. d20 sections with d20 entries. Pick 4 sections, roll 1d4 for section, then 1d20 for encounters.
  • Include other ways to use the book. The text will contain Monster Menu-All entries and a section on the HD(NA) of the Monster Manual. Will I include a page splitting monsters into Prokopetz's 12 categories or the ones from the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge? You bet I will.

Conclusions

You can read the first entry (Peasant) here. It'll be useful for all sorts of medieval-ish games.

If you want monster-by-monster updates and the ability to give immediate feedback, check out my Patreon. The first 4 entries (Peasant, Townsfolk, Pilgrim, and Knight) are already drafted. 1% done! The more support I have on Patreon, the more time I can devote to the book and the quicker it'll be finished.

2019/10/07

OSR: Class: Geometer Wizard

Some ideas from Oblidisideryptch's post. I wanted to write a geometry-mechanism-astrology wizard school devoted to ordering the world. This is the result.
Alexander Shatohin
Starting Equipment: spellbook, ink and quill, protractor, ruler, plumb line. You also have a magnetic compass and black robes marked with white starcharts. 


The procession of equinoxes, the rise and fall of constellations, the movement of fixed and wandering stars; all fascinate the Geometer. Some parts of the world seem to follow perfect mathematical laws.This is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence. Other parts are disordered, but perhaps within the disorder there are hidden patterns and symmetries waiting to be discovered. 


Kuldar Leement

Perk


If you are casting with sunlight on you, your MD return to your pool on 1-4 (instead of 1-3).


Drawback


You cannot carry iron items. You must cast spells with a magnetic compass in your hand. You can make a new compass with 8 hours of effort and some basic tools. 


Cantrips


1. Know the exact angle and distance to any point you can see.

2. Instantly count how many objects are in a pile.
3. Before your roll MD for a spell, declare “odds” or “evens”. If the [sum] rolled matches your prediction, heal 1 HP or increase the damage dealt by the spell by 1.


Geometer Wizard Spell List


1. Magic Missile

R: 200' T: creature D: 0

Target takes [sum] + [dice] damage, no Save. As a Geometer Wizard, your spell is a right-angle lightning bolt of light.


2. Reform

R: touch T: creature with mutations D: [sum] hours / permanent

You remove or cure [dice] randomly selected mutations or magical transformations affecting a creature. Unwilling targets may Save to negate. If 4 or more [dice] are invested, the duration is permanent.


3. The Astrologer's Helper

R: 10' T: self D: [sum] minutes

Outlines of the planets, major stars, sun, and moon appear around you. You can use them to determine the time of day, true north, and your approximate position on the globe. You can also spend 5 minutes to read the horoscope of [dice] sentient creatures per casting. Roll 1d10. 1-8. No effect aside from the usual platitudes. 9. Doom. Creature must reroll their next Save and take the worse result. 10. Triumph. Creature automatically passes their next Save.


4. Moon Lust

R: 50' T: creature D: varies

Target creature loves the moon. They want to stare at it, jump up and hold it, or write poems about it. If [sum] is equal to or greater than the target's HD, they are stunned for 1d6 rounds. If [sum] is greater than 12, the target is stunned for 2d6 rounds and becomes permanently obsessed with the moon.


5. Package Neatly

R: 20' T: objects D: concentration / permanent

Up to [dice]x500lbs of nonliving objects, as you designate, are packed neatly. You must name the objects or their general category when you cast the spell ("those coins", "the contents of that room") If no packing materials are provided, the objects will be stacked into compact cubes, with the largest and most stable objects at the bottom. If chests, paper and twine, sacks, carts, etc. are provided, the spell will use them as you direct. The packages created will take up the minimum space possible, and will be remarkably sturdy. The spell will continue to pack objects for as long as you maintain concentration. The objects must be able to move freely. You could not use this spells to pack clothes someone was wearing. The objects will not lift more than 10' off the ground during the packing process.



6. Control Iron

R: 50’ T: example of [element] D: concentration

Control a handful of iron. At one [die]: (a) steer a chain like a snake, (b) fling a sword through the air, (c) open an iron lock or (d) pull the nails out of a small and badly built piece of furniture. Each [dice] you invest increases the effects. At 4 [dice], collapse a room or knock over a small army of knights.


7. Light

R: touch T: object or creature D: [dice]x2 hours

Object illuminates as a torch, with a radius of 20’+[dice]x10’. Alternatively, you can make an Attack roll against a sighted creature. If you succeed, the creature is blinded for [sum] rounds. If [sum] is greater than 12, the creature is permanently blinded. You can chose the colour of the light. If you invest 4 [dice] or more this light has all the qualities of natural sunlight. Alternatively, if you invest 4 [dice] or more the light can be purest octarine, although it will only last for 1 round. Octarine light is extremely dangerous.


8. Magnetic Blast

R: 50’ T: line D: 0

Designate a straight line up to 50’ long. The line can pass through solid objects. Any living creatures along the line take 1d6 damage. Anything in metal armour takes [sum] damage instead. Creatures made of iron, or with metal implants or piercings or delicate components, take 2x[sum] damage instead.


9. Track Ley Lines

R: [dice]x5 mile radius T: area D: 10 minutes

You trace the shape of ley lines, invisible rivers of magic that flow through the world. They can reveal hidden sites of magic power, ancient standing stones, or current rituals. If [sum] is 12 or more, you also know the location of a ley line node. Any spellcaster resting there may Save to gain a temporary bonus MD each morning.


10. Sturdy Circle in the Air

R: 100' T: point D: [sum] minutes

You draw a circle [dice]x5' in radius in the air. The circle is made of force, as solid as iron. You can draw the circle at any orientation. 


11. True Teleport

R: Creation T: self and 1+[dice] people or objects D: 0

The caster, and any number of willing people or objects touching the caster, teleport to a designated location the caster has seen before or knows well enough to visualize. They are swapped with an equivalent mass of matter from the target location. There is a 1% chance something goes awry during the teleportation. Teleporting east-west is safe, but changes in attitude require a roll under Dexterity on arrival, with a -1 penalty for every 100 miles travelled. 


12. Resurrection

R: touch T: recently dead creature D: 0

Target creature that died within the last [sum] rounds returns to life. Time briefly rewinds. They are restored to exactly the state they were in before combat. Any inconvenient bookkeeping can be adjusted arbitrarily by the GM. The target’s base Save becomes 1 and cannot be raised. If they were 10th level or sufficiently important (a king, a dragon, etc.), a Paradox Angel may be dispatched to investigate.

Mechanical Notes on the Geometer Wizard Spell List

A few of these spells come from my 1d100 Orthodox Spells list. The rest are new. Both Resurrection and True Teleport are very powerful. I also like the Control Iron spell. The formatting matches the other Control spells.
Marton Adam Marton
Geometer Wizard  Mishaps
1. MD only return to your pool on a 1-2 for 24hrs.
2. Take 1d6 damage.
3. Random mutation for 1d6 rounds, then Save. Permanent if you fail.
4. Blind for 1d6 rounds.
5. Can only move limbs at right angles for 1d6 rounds. -8 to Attack and Defense. -4 to Dexterity and Movement.
6. Spell targets you (if harmful) or an enemy (if helpful) or fizzles (if neutral).

Geometer Wizard Dooms
1. Become two dimensional for 24 hours. Triple all damage received, but you can slide under doors. Beware of strong winds.
2. You become painfully magnetic for 1d6 days.
3. You are folded by the fundamental forces of nature. You vanish between time and space. In 1d6 hours, 1d6 Paradox Angels will arrive and scour the area for any trace of you.