Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!

No column this week due to the holidays. I'll be back in the New Year with more of my eclectic ramblings.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2015 in Review

One tradition that I try to keep each year at this time is a letter to friends and extended family summarizing some of the most important and interesting experiences that my family has had in the past year. That letter always includes a paragraph or two about our RPG activities; a draft of this year's follows in italics:

[My wife] Erika and I continue to pursue role-playing games as one of our chief hobbies. This past year, we have been playing a mix of Big Eyes Small Mouth, Pathfinder, and D&D 5th Edition. We've been doing more gaming with the kids, though at ages 11 and 10, they're still most comfortable with shorter sessions tailored to them. 

Just over a year ago, Tim started rebuilding and adding to his RPG fan errata site and started a blog titled "Studded Plate" about RPGs, LEGO, and his other geeky hobbies. These projects provide another creative outlet, as well as a more substantial writing portfolio to share with potential employers.

I try to keep that section pretty short, since not all of our family and friends are gamers. However, this blog gives me an opportunity to expand on this subject for those of you who are.  

I last wrote about what I've been playing back in March. Since then, Erika has converted Dungeon Crawl Classics: Dungeon Interludes to Pathfinder and run the first installment of that series for our group. I continue to run "The Kynthiad," a solo BESM game, for her.

In my Pathfinder Freeport: The City of Adventure campaign, we have started the final grand adventure for this crew of miscreants (though we're currently on a holiday-induced hiatus). Once "Gorilla Island" wraps up, we'll be bidding farewell to Freeport for a while so that I can finally start a new Pathfinder campaign, "Time of the Tarrasque." 

But before we get to that, I intend to run a couple of one-shots. The first, "Winter Holiday," is a Christmas-themed adventure from Polyhedron Newszine that I ran many years ago using AD&D 2nd Edition. I'm converting it to Pathfinder to run it for my current group around or just after New Year's. I also plan to run the sample adventure from the Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook for my children (and a few adults) sometime soon so that we can all try out that system. (Expect blog posts about those adventures once I've run them.)

A little over a year ago, I had to migrate my gaming websites to new homes at Google Sites. These wikis include: Tim's Errata Archive, my unofficial fan errata site; player background for my ongoing and upcoming campaigns (The Kynthiad, Winds of Freeport, and Time of the Tarrasque); and Thastygliax's Vault, which houses all my other gaming pages. I continue to add new material to those sites, and occasionally write about those updates here.

That's all for now. The best way to keep updated on my gaming activities--short of being part of them yourself--is to keep watching this blog. I wish a very merry holiday season to you and yours, and good gaming!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dreamlands Pathfinder Bestiary: Inhabitant of L'gy'hx

Some monsters in Call of Cthulhu supplements are weird in a horrific way, as any Lovecraft fan would expect, while others are just plain peculiar. Here is a prime example of the latter, converted from Ye Booke of Monstres. The illustration below is from that book, and resembles a D&D modron more than anything else.

Inhabitant of L'gy'hx

This creature is about three feet tall, with a body that looks like a metal cube. From each face of the cube sprout two short, thin legs ending in three-toed feet or hands. It walks on its bottom-most legs, and carries metal tools in the others. 

XP 800
CN Medium aberration
Init +0; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +7
AC 20, touch 10, flat-footed 20 (+10 natural)
hp 34 (4d8+16)
Fort +4, Ref +1, Will +4
DR 10/adamantine; Immune electricity
Speed 20 ft.
Melee adamantine spiked chain +9 (2d4+5 plus chain grapple) or adamantine dagger +9 (1d4+5/19-20)
Space 5 ft; Reach 5 ft. (10 ft. with spiked chain)
Special Attacks chain grapple
Str 21, Dex 10, Con 16, Int 17, Wis 10, Cha 11
Base Atk +; CMB +8 (+12 chain grapple); CMD 18
Feats Combat Expertise, Toughness
Skills Appraise +7, Craft (blacksmithing, weaponsmithing) +7, Knowledge (dungeoneering) +7, Knowledge (engineering) +10, Perception +7, Profession (miner) +4
Languages Aklo, L'gy'hx
Environment any land or underground (Uranus)
Organization solitary, work gang (2-4), or colony (12-20 plus 3rd-5th level fighter)
Treasure NPC gear (adamantine dagger or adamantine spiked chain, other gear; metal only)
Special Abilities
Chain Grapple (Ex) An inhabitant of L'gy'hx who successfully hits with a spiked chain may immediately make a grapple attempt as a free action, as per the grab ability. Every round that the hold is maintained, the creature can inflict spiked chain damage.

The inhabitants of L'gy'hx (Uranus) are not a hostile race, and are rather curious about other intelligent beings and any samples of worked metals they might possess. This metallic race is skilled in working adamantine, which is plentiful on their world--in fact, it makes up much of their own bodies.

The shans visited L'gy'hx after Shaggai's destruction. The natives eventually drove them off-planet due to the shans' obscene worship of Azathoth. Some of the inhabitants of L'hy'hx unwillingly accompanied the shans to Earth as slaves. Some of these aliens might visit Earths to free their kin from the shans. (See Call of Cthulhu d20 about the Insects of Shaggai, also called shans.)

Inhabitants of L'gy'hx almost always carry adamantine weapons and tools. They are proficient with simple weapons and spiked chains, but no armor or shields.

L'gy'hx Characters

Most L'gy'hx leaders are fighters, who typically learn Improved Trip as soon as possible in order to more quickly neutralize foes with their spiked chains. Those with sufficient wealth wield enchanted weapons, and are fond of shock and shocking burst weapons, which can be devastating when employing a chain grapple.  Some champions are dedicated to destroying the shans and freeing enslaved kin; these usually have ghost touch weapons in order to more easily damage the incorporeal shans.

The inhabitants of L'gy'hx worship the two-headed bat deity Lrogg, an avatar of Nyarlathotep (chaotic evil). Clerics of Lrogg may choose two of the following domains: Chaos, Destruction, Magic, Trickery.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Dreamlands Pathfinder Bestiary: Shade

This creature is converted from The Complete Dreamlands (for Call of Cthulhu).


This shadowy blob has no definite form. It extrudes a menacing black tendril  as it moves closer.

XP 800
N Medium outsider (extraplanar)
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +9
AC 14, touch 12, flat-footed 12 (+2 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 18 (4d8)
Fort +1, Ref +6, Will +6
Defensive Abilities shadow blend; DR 10/magic; Resist cold 10
Weaknesses light blindness, light vulnerability
Speed 30 ft., climb 30 ft.; spider climb, water walk
Melee tendril +6 (1d6)
Str 10, Dex 14, Con 10, Int 7, Wis 14, Cha 14
Base Atk +4; CMB +4; CMD 16
Feats Blind-Fight, Weapon Finesse
Skills Climb +15, Intimidation +9, Perception +9, Stealth +9 (+13 in shadowy light, +5 in bright light); Racial Modifiers +4 Stealth in shadowy light, -4 Stealth in bright light
Languages Aklo (cannot speak)
Environment any (Plane of Shadow)
Organization solitary, gang (2-5), or swarm (6-12)
Treasure none
Special Abilities
Light Vulnerability (Ex) A shade is not harmed by simple exposure to light, but suffers from light blindness. In addition, deliberate melee attacks with light sources do damage as follows: candle 1d3, lamp 1d4, torch 1d6, lantern 1d8. Spells with the light descriptor do 1d6 damage per spell level (1d3 for 0-level spells). Those that normally inflict damage treat shades as creatures vulnerable to sunlight. A shade grows visible smaller when damaged by light (though always remaining Medium size), and evaporate entirely if reduced to 0 hp through light-based atacks.
Shadow Blend (Su) In any conditions other then full daylight, a shade can disappear into the shadows, giving it total concealment. Artificial illumination, even a light or continual flame spell, does not negate this ability. A daylight spell, however, will.
Spider Climb (Ex) A shade can climb sheer surfaces as though with a spider climb spell.
Water Walk (Ex) A shade can cross liquids as if they were solid ground, as if under the effects of a water walk spell.

Shades appear to be globes of darkness with no definite form, even if viewed by true seeing or the like. They are native to the Dark Dimension (as the Plane of Shadows is known in the Dreamlands). They are the servants and companions of Zo-Kalar, god of life and death, and can be summoned by mortals using summon monster IV, lesser planar ally, or lesser planar binding. They are often confused with incorporeal undead, but are living creatures of semi-tangible shadowstuff.

Exceptionally durable or lucky shades may survive long enough to gain class levels. Most advance as rogues or shadow bloodline sorcerers (Advanced Player's Guide 140). Those who become clerics of Zo-Kalar (neutral) may choose from the following domains: Darkness, Healing, Repose, Travel, and Trickery. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Some thoughts about using Fantasy AGE

I recently picked up the Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook by Green Ronin Publishing. This new game takes the Adventure Game Engine (AGE) that was first developed for the Dragon Age RPG, and adapts it into a more generic fantasy rules set. This is the system that was used for Wil Wheaton's Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana web series, which I heartily recommend to anyone who wants to see what a RPG campaign is actually like in play. (Chapter 0 provides a good, if very brief, overview of the basic mechanics.) And if you want to play those adventures for yourself, or create your own set in the same world, the Titansgrave sourcebook is now available in game stores.

I'm not a videogamer, and I only rarely play SF games, so I'm less interested in Dragon Age or Titansgrave than I am in the AGE system itself. Green Ronin recently concluded a Kickstarter to produce a new edition of Blue Rose for AGE, and one of the promised rewards for their Freeport: The City of Adventure Kickstarter is a Fantasy AGE Freeport Companion. I bought the Basic Rulebook in order to learn more about the system while I wait for those two books to be produced.

The AGE system seems like just the right level of complexity to try out with my kids, who have been clamoring for more RPG time. They're 11 and 10 now, and been playing occasional games with us for a few years now. So far, we've tried D&D v.3.5, Earthdawn, and Pathfinder, because those are the systems that my wife and I know best. They've enjoyed all these games, and beg for more, but a simpler system would be a better match for their attention spans. Also, my kids haven't quite reached the point in their RPG careers of wanting to read the rulebook for themselves, but when they do, the Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook will be a more attractive choice. At a mere 80 pages for the Player's Guide chapters, it will be far less intimidating than, say, the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook.

The Blue Rose Kickstarter provided much of the impetus for me considering AGE as a new system to explore with the kids. I loved the original True20 edition, but the system and setting never caught on in my gaming group. However, the tropes of the setting--shining knights, magical animals, justice for the oppressed, etc.--line up very well with my children's tastes in literature and film. (To give just one example, they are huge fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which could easily be reinterpreted as an all-rhydan Blue Rose setting.) I was considering the possibility of running a Blue Rose campaign for them even before this Kickstarter was announced, and now it seems almost a certainty that I will do so once the new book is available. Meanwhile, we can learn the basic Fantasy AGE system together. Preparing adventures should require less time with this system--which will be a big help with juggling my regular "adult" campaign with game time for the kids.

The Freeport Companion for AGE won't come out until after I conclude my current Freeport Pathfinder campaign. My next planned game will be a long-term campaign set in a completely different world, so I probably won't be running Freeport again for some time. When I do, it will probably be a one-shot using a different system--just for a change of pace--rather than a full-fledged campaign. I own the Fate Freeport Companion, so that system is one possibility. But if the Fantasy AGE Freeport Companion lives up to the high standards I expect of Green Ronin, then that system will be my first choice for the experiment.

For now, though, I've helped my kids create their first Fantasy AGE characters, and I will be running the Basic Rulebook's sample adventure for them (and a couple of my regular adult players) sometime soon. I will almost certainly post afterwards about how that went.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Turkey Day Feast!

Next week is Thanksgiving, so I've decided to cook up some holiday fun to share with you. First, I'll present Pathfinder stats for turkeys, then I'll mutate the hell out of one (literally).

A turkey can easily be represented by adding the giant simple template (Bestiary 294) to a chicken (Familiar Folio 24):

XP 135
N Small animal
Init +3; Senses low-light vision; Perception +5
AC 13, touch 10, flat-footed 13 (-1 Dex, +3 natural, +1 size)
hp 7 (1d8+2)
Fort +5, Ref +1, Will +1
Speed 30 ft., fly 20 ft. (clumsy); drift
Melee bite -1 (1d4-2)
Str 7, Dex 9, Con 16, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 13
Base Atk +0; CMB -2; CMD 6
Feats Improved Initiative
Skills Fly -7, Perception +5
Special Abilities
Drift (Ex) A turkey flies in short bursts, and can't use its fly speed to hover. When it flies, a turkey must end its action by landing or perching on a solid surface.

Wild turkeys are more agile fliers than their plump, well-fed, domesticated kin: improve maneuverability to poor and Fly skill to -3, and remove the drift special quality. 

Turkeys are hardly threatening, even to low-level characters. But Green Ronin's Advanced Bestiary contains numerous templates that can change this feeble poultry into a truly nightmarish beast. The Great Gobbler of Shibaxet is an abomination unleashed upon the mortal world by the cult of Pazuzu, the demon prince of evil avians (Bestiary 4 50). Its sole purpose in life is to devour all creatures smaller than itself.

XP 19,200
Vrock-possessed gargantean turkey (Advanced Bestiary 69, 160)
CE Gargantuan animal (chaotic, evil)
Init +1; Senses low-light vision; Perception +14
AC 17, touch 3, flat-footed 17 (-3 Dex, +12 natural, -4 size)
hp 232 (15d8+165)
Fort +20, Ref +6, Will +6; +4 vs. poison
DR 10/cold iron or good; Resist electricity 20
Weaknesses spell vulnerability
Speed 120 ft., fly 80 ft (clumsy); drift
Melee bite +20 (3d6+19)
Space 20 ft.; Reach 15 ft.
Special Attacks stunning screech, trample (2d6+19, DC 28)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 15th; concentration +16)
3/day--heroism, mirror image
1/day--summon (level 3, vrock 16%)
Str 37, Dex 5, Con 32, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 13
Base Atk +11; CMB +28; CMD 35
Feats Awesome Blow, Cleave, Great Cleave, Great Fortitude, Improved Initiative, Improved Overrun, Power Attack, Vital Strike
Skills Fly -3, Perception +14
SQ possessed
Special Abilities
Possessed (Su) The Great Gobbler is possessed by a vrock (Bestiary 69). See Advanced Bestiary 70.
Spell Vulnerability (Ex) Dispel chaos, dispel evil, banishment, antimagic field, and certain other spells and effects can suppress or remove the benefits of the demon-possessed template. See Advanced Bestiary 69.
Stunning Screech (Su) Once per day, the Great Gobbler can emit a shrill screech. All creatures except demons and demon-possessed creatures within a 30-foot radius spread must succeed on a DC 28 Fortitude save or be stunned for 1 round. The save DC is Constitution-based.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Freeport Iconics for Fantasy AGE

Whenever I learn a new RPG, I like to create several practice characters in order to see how the various options for character creation work together. I also have a few favorite player characters from old campaigns who I eventually try to rebuild in the new system. And in recent years, I've made a habit of converting the original pregenerated party of adventurers from Death in Freeport into each new fantasy RPG that I learn. I've done this with Pathfinder and D&D 5th Edition in previous columns, and now it's time to try it with Fantasy AGE.  

Note: For Health Points, Magic Points, and starting cash, I've assumed average results for all die rolls (3.5, rounded up to 4 for 1d6, rounded down to 10 for 3d6). 


Thorgrim was the most challenging of the four party members to convert to Fantasy AGE, because d20 clerics can cast spells in armor without penalty, but AGE mages cannot. Here, I've compromised by giving him the lightest possible armor (which will cost him 1 strain on any spell he casts, but not impose any other penalties) plus a light shield (which gives the maximum +1 bonus allowed without Weapon and Shield Style). His magic focuses on bolstering and healing his allies, and his Chirurgeon talent lets him remain a useful healer even when low on Magic Points. As a dwarven war-priest, he has the Initiate background (Middle Class), and he chooses his stunts carefully to give his side a tactical advantage.

THORGRIM (1st-level Dwarf Mage)

Abilities (Focuses)
1 Accuracy
0 Communication
3 Constitution
1 Dexterity
2 Fighting
2 Intelligence (Evaluation, Religious Lore)
1 Perception
2 Strength
2 Willpower

Speed 9
Health 27
Defense 11 (12 with shield)
Armor Rating 3

Weapon / Attack Roll / Damage
Battle-axe / +2 / 2D6+2
Arcana Blast / +1 / 1D6+2

Special Qualities
Favored Stunts: Skirmish, Defensive Stance, Skillful Casting
Dark SightSee up to 20 yards in darkness without a light source.
Talents: Chirurgeon (Novice), Healing Arcana (Novice), Heroic Arcana (Novice)
Weapon Groups: Axes, Brawling, Staves

Magic Points: 16
Spells: healing touch, hero's inspiration, hero's might, revival
Equipment: Light Leather, Light Shield, Battle-Axe, Arcane Device (holy symbol), backpack, bedroll, belt pouch, 3 torches, traveler's garb, waterkin, whetstone, 15 sp


Rollo is a small warrior who packs a surprisingly hard punch. Note that in the rules as written, small races such as gnomes and halflings have no size-based limitations on equipment use, so I chose to give him a two-handed maul as his signature weapon. This replaces the exotic gnomish hooked hammer he wielded in d20. The Soldier background (Lower Class) was the most obvious choice.

ROLLO (1st-level Gnome Warrior)

Abilities (Focuses)
1 Accuracy (Brawling)
0 Communication
2 Constitution
2 Dexterity (Legerdemain)
3 Fighting
1 Intelligence
1 Perception (Hearing)
3 Strength
1 Willpower

Speed 9
Health 36
Defense 12
Armor Rating 4

Weapon / Attack Roll / Damage
Two-Handed Maul / +3 / 2D6+6
Short Bow / +1 / 1D6+2
Gauntlet / +1 / 1D3+4
Throwing Axe / +3 / 1D6+5

Special Qualities
Favored Stunts: Knock Prone, Mighty Blow, Threaten
Dark SightSee up to 20 yards in darkness without a light source.
Talents: Archery Style (Novice), Armor Training (Novice), Two-Hander Style (Novice)
Weapon Groups: Axes, Bludgeons, Bows, Brawling
Equipment: Heavy Leather, Two-Handed Maul, Short Bow, quiver and 20 arrows, Throwing Axe, backpack, bedroll, belt pouch, crowbar, flint and steel, 3 torches, traveler's garb, 18 sp


Converting Malevir from a d20 sorcerer to a Fantasy AGE mage required putting his best ability in  Intelligence, which leaves him feeling more of a wizard than before. To preserve some of his former charisma, I left him with a good Communication ability and a focus that will insure he'll be the party's "face man." As the one Upper Class party member (he's an Apprentice), he has quite a bit of cash left over to spend as the player desires. (Sharing some of his good fortune with his companions would, of course, be an easy way to cement their loyalty!)

MALEVIR (1st-level Half-Elf Mage)

Abilities (Focuses)
2 Accuracy
2 Communication (Persuasion)
1 Constitution
3 Dexterity
0 Fighting
3 Intelligence (Arcane Lore)
1 Perception (Seeing)
0 Strength
2 Willpower

Speed 15
Health 25
Defense 13
Armor Rating 0 (3 with stone cloak)

Weapon / Attack Roll / Damage
Morningstar / +2 / 1D6+3
Arcane Blast / +2 / 1D6+2

Special Qualities
Favored Stunts: Skillful Casting, Lasting Spell, Magic Shield
Dark Sight: See up to 20 yards in darkness without a light source.
Talents: Earth Arcana (Novice), Lore (Novice), Power Arcana (Novice)
Magic Points: 16
Spells: arcane awareness, rock blast, spell ward, stone cloak
Weapon Groups: Brawling, Staves
Equipment: Morningstar, arcane device (amulet), backpack, bedroll, belt pouch, ink (black, 1 vial), paper (10 pages), quill, sealing ring (custom), sealing wax, traveler's garb, waterskin, 34 sp, 2 cp


As a 1st-level character, Alaina will not be able to use the original character's two-weapon fighting style immediately. (However, Dual Weapon Style would be an excellent choice for her new talent at 3rd level, and she already has the Strength necessary to wield two short swords.) Apart from that, she is the easiest of the four heroes to convert to Fantasy AGE, as she was always built as a stereotypical sneak-thief.  Her Criminal background (Outcast) leaves her with very little spare cash at the start of play, giving her all the more motive to seek out more loot!

ALAINA (1st-level Human Rogue)

Abilities (Focuses)
3 Accuracy
1 Communication (Deception)
1 Constitution (Swimming)
3 Dexterity (Lock-Picking)
1 Fighting
2 Intelligence
1 Perception
1 Strength
1 Willpower

Speed 13
Health 30
Defense 13
Armor Rating 3

Weapon / Attack Roll / Damage
Short Sword / +3 / 1D6+3
Crossbow / +3 / 2D6+2

Special Qualities
Favored Stunts: Rapid Reload, Pierce Armor, Taunt, Lightning Attack
Pinpoint Attack: Once per round, add 1d6 to the damage of a successful hit if your Dexterity is greater than your opponents.
Rogue's Armor: Ignore the Armor Penalty of leather armor.
Talents: Thievery (Novice)
Weapon Groups: Bows, Brawling, Light Blades
Equipment: Light Leather, Short Sword, Crossbow, quiver with 20 bolts, backpack, flint and steel, lockpicks, rope (20 yards), traveler's garb, waterskin, 10 sp

Thursday, November 5, 2015

My recent comics reading

As a kid, my spending money was extremely limited, and usually went towards novels or LEGO or some other hobby rather than comics. However, I did read enough comics (and enough about comics) and see enough cartoons and movies, to become familiar with quite a bit of the DC and Marvel universes. Especially for someone who never collected more than a few issues in a row of any given titles. In fact, I gravitated towards series like What If...? and Elseworlds, where I could enjoy a self-contained story without needing to know the characters' complete histories. (With that first taste of alternate historical fiction, it's little wonder that I got turned on to Harry Turtledove, LXG, and Kenneth Hite years later!)

When I had more spending money as an adult, I bought more comics, but my purchases still tended to be limited to discreet story arcs, like The Infinity Gauntlet, The Death (and Return) of Superman, etc. I also started collecting comics in graphic novel or omnibus format. This was how I was introduced to less mainstream comics like Watchmen, The Sandman, and Hellboy, which still heavily inform my eclectic tastes in comics today.

Here are a few of the comics I've read and enjoyed most in the past year or so:

Locke & Key: After their father's murder, the Locke children have to put their lives back together--and unravel the mysteries behind the weird magical keys that they keep finding in their family's old house. That brief summary completely fails to do justice to the complex story being told here, which alternates between horror survival story, high fantasy adventure, and black humor--and frequently mixes them all. (A fellow Sandman fan turned on to this title. If you like one, you'll probably enjoy the other.)

B.P.R.D.: This series continues the adventures of misfit heroes Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman, and others after Hellboy's departure from the Bureau. The stakes are higher than ever: During the Plague of Frogs storyline, Abe finds more clues about his origin, and the outside world becomes more aware of the supernatural. By the start of Hell on Earth, horrific disasters and eldritch monsters are appearing worldwide, and humanity is fighting for survival. 

The Sandman: Overture: I've read the entire Sandman series multiple times, so was very eager to read this sequel/prequel. I hesitate to say much about it out of fear of spoilers, but it was a very enjoyable read. (I borrowed the 6 issues from a co-worker, and plan to buy my own copy once the collected edition is available.)

Wonder Woman: So far, WW is the only New 52 series that I've read past the first volume, and I just finished Volume 6 this month. WW has always been one of my favorite DC heroes, ever since watching the TV series when I was a kid. (Jill Lepore's recent book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, did a lot to rekindle my interest.) This new series is excellent, showcasing what defines the character, while cleverly reinventing her identity within the context of her Greek mythology origins.

Ms. Marvel: I've only just started reading this title, after seeing friends post about it online the past few months. The new Ms. Marvel is a Muslim teenager--and nerdy superhero fangirl--who defies many of the conventional stereotypes about costumed heroes. Kamala is an refreshing and much-needed example of female empowerment in comics. WW was a trailblazer in that respect, but Ms. Marvel is probably more accessible to young girls today. Plus, it's just plain fun to read! This is a comic that I will be making an effort to introduce to my daughter--and my son, too.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How to Cheat (at Building) a Dragon

Sometimes the easiest way to build the LEGO model you need for your game is to find someone who's already built it and copy theirs. Here are a few examples of dragons that I've built for my own fantasy games, based on models from official sets that I never owned.

My daughter and son are huge Minecraft fans, so as soon as the LEGO Group started offering sets based on the game, they both started lusting after them in their precious little ABS hearts. My daughter's first acquisition was LEGO Minecraft The End (set 21107) as a gift last year. This set includes a micro-scale Ender Dragon, which measures about 3" long. This is the perfect size for a Large-sized d20 miniature, so I built a couple copies out of my own bricks:

If you look at the pictures of the original (see that set link above), you'll see that I omitted the printed eyes plate (which I lack) and changed the orientation of the mini-slopes to fit my own aesthetic preference. This is a simple, elegant little model that makes excellent use of the dragon wing elements at a more realistic scale.

More recently, when I was perusing the new holiday 2015 catalog, I noticed that several of the new Ninjago sets from the Airjutsu storyline include brick-built dragons. Two of these dragons are the focus of large sets with numerous pieces that I would have trouble copying. In addition, those dragons would be grossly oversized as RPG miniatures for all but the largest Colossal wyrms. (Most brick-built dragons from older Castle, Ninjago, and Hobbit sets have this same issue.) However, some of the other new Ninjago sets include much smaller dragons that would be suitable for d20 scale. The smallest of these creatures comes with the Blaster Bike (set 70733), and is not much bigger than the micro-scale Ender Dragon. I downloaded the building instructions from, and built my own version:

When copying this model, the rarest pieces needed are those A-shaped elements that form the wings, which have only recently been produced for the first time. However, I own Flinx's Ultimate Phoenix (set 70221, from the Legends of Chima line), which uses multiples of these pieces in its wings. Other than color, my only deviation from the instructions was the head crest; I only own the two-toothed plate in white, so decided to replace it with horns that better fit the new color scheme. This spiky model recently saw use in my Pathfinder campaign as a spire drake (Pathfinder Bestiary 4).

I also downloaded the building instructions for the next smallest Ninjago dragon, from Ronin R.E.X. (set 70735). The Ultimate Phoenix also supplied several parts for this model, most notably the flame-shaped wings and tail. My version has a couple of minor substitutions (part of a tail segment and the head crest):

This model provides a nice Far-Eastern alternate to the classic Castle dragon, and is approximately the same scale, suitable for a Huge or Gargantuan creature. You could also replace the head with a more avian one for use as a smaller phoenix than Flinx's full-sized model. (A Pathfinder phoenix is Gargantuan, while the firebird spell from the Freeport setting summons a Large creature.)

To find free PDF downloads of the building instructions for a LEGO set, go to the Customer Service section of the website, and click on Building Instructions. This page will let you search by set number, keyword, year, or theme. When I searched for "dragon," I discovered the following additional sets with small models suitable for RPG miniature scale:
  • Dragon Pod (set 4337) contains instructions for a small green dragon and a few other models. (This is the oldest set mentioned in this column, and also the only one of them that I own myself. It was a pleasant surprise to be reminded of it!)
  • The Lava Dragon LEGO Game (set 3838) includes a small dragon built with only 13 pieces--three less than the Ender Dragon!
  • Dragon Fight (set 30083, for Ninjago) was a polybag store exclusive containing a brick-built dragon and one ninja.
  • Set 40098 is a dragon from the monthly mini model build events held in LEGO Stores.
  • And finally, The Cowler Dragon (set 30294) is a yet-to-be-released 2015 polybag set for Ninjago.

Do you have a favorite model (dragon or otherwise) from an official LEGO set that you've used as-is, or in slightly modified form, as a miniature in your role-playing games? If so, please let me know in the comments! I'm always on the lookout for new ideas to expand my own repertoire.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Creatures of Freeport: Deadfall Beetle

The deadfall beetle was inspired by a family trip to a state forest on the edge of the Arizona desert. Fallen trees scattered throughout the woods suggested bizarre, crouching monsters lying in wait for prey. I made a quick sketch then, and finished statting it up as soon as we returned home and I could consult my Bestiary.

I was finally able to use this creature in the most recent session of my Freeport game, which means that I can now share it here. Two beetles did not pose a serious danger to the party as a whole (who are now 8th level), but their bite was brutal enough to nearly take out the party ranger, who was unlucky enough to suffer a critical hit (which fell one point short of forcing my campaign's first save vs. massive damage!). I was quite pleased with my new beastie, who my players won't forget anytime soon.

What you first mistook for a fallen tree now stirs, revealing itself to be a gigantic insect with legs and mandibles resembling twisted, dead tree limbs or roots. It rushes forward to attack.

XP 2,400
N Huge vermin
Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +0
AC 21, touch 9, flat-footed 20 (+1 Dex, +12 natural, -2 size)
hp 60 (8d8+24)
Fort +9, Ref +3, Will +2
Immune mind-affecting effects
Speed 40 ft., fly 20 ft. (clumsy)
Melee bite +12 (2d8+12 plus grab)
Space 15 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks trample (1d8+12, DC 21)
Str 26, Dex 12, Con 16, Int --, Wis 10, Cha 4
Base Atk +6; CMB +16 (+20 grapple); CMD 27 (32 vs. trip)
Skills Fly -6, Stealth +2 (+10 in forest or jungle); Racial Modifiers +8 Stealth (+16 in forest or jungle)
Environment warm or temperate forests
Organization solitary or pair
Treasure none

A deadfall beetle is an ambush predator who waits near game trails or water sources for prey to come within its reach. When motionless in forested areas, its excellent camouflage makes it appear to be harmless fallen tree with several large branches remaining more or less intact. This insect is also a scavenger, and will attack other creatures in order to claim a large carcass for itself. In general, it will attack most Large or Medium creatures that it encounters while hungry. Smaller creatures are usually ignored unless they attack the beetle first or bar its way to larger prey.

Deadfall beetles are territorial, and will drive off other monstrous vermin except during the brief mating season. If a displaced beetle has to travel a long distance to find a new hunting ground, its offspring (if any) adapt to match the new location's tree species within a generation or two.

Some sages claim that the deadfall beetle is actually a monstrous version of the walking stick insect, and not a beetle at all. Few adventurers concern themselves with this distinction when faced by what appears to be an full-sized tree rather than a mere twig or branch. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Dreamlands Pathfinder Bestiary: Cat Swarm

The following creature is my own original creation. It was inspired by the highly organized feline army that Randolph Carter enlists as his allies in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, but lacks those cats' supernatural intelligence and their ability to jump through space to the Moon. (I may present rules for playing such a cat in a future column.)

In the Dreamlands, cats often band together for war against zoogs (Bestiary 3), alien cat monsters, and other hated enemies. The stat block below can be used to simplify combat against these cat armies.

Cat Swarm

A hissing, snarling mass of fur and shining eyes moves towards you. As it comes closer, you can discern that it is composed of hundreds of cats, with their claws and teeth bared and already bloody.

XP 600
N Tiny animal (swarm)
Init +6; Senses low-light vision, scent; Perception +12
AC 14, touch 14, flat-footed 12 (+2 Dex, +2 size)
hp 17 (5d8-5)
Fort +3, Ref +6, Will +2
Defensive Abilities half damage from slashing and piercing, swarm traits
Speed 30 ft.
Melee swarm (1d6)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 0 ft.
Special Attacks distraction (DC 11)
Str 3, Dex 15, Con 8, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 7
Base Atk +3; CMB --; CMD --
Feats Improved Initiative, Skill Focus (Perception), Weapon Finesse
Skills Climb +6, Perception +12, Stealth +14; Racial Modifiers +4 Climb, +4 Stealth
Environment temperate and hot plains and urban
Organization solitary, army (2-4 swarms), or legion (7-12 swarms)
Treasure none

A cat swarm seeks to surround and attack any warm-blooded prey that it encounters.

Cats are naturally solitary hunters, and rarely swarm except under supernatural influences. These feline armies sometimes form in response to an infestation of vermin, or to mete out vengeance against those who have offended druids or cat-worshipers. A cat swarm is composed of about 300 cats.

Spellcasters who revere cats or cat-gods may (with the GM's permission) learn a variant of summon swarm that summons a cat swarm instead of bats, rats, or spiders.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Dreamlands Pathfinder Bestiary: Blupe

Just a quick monster entry this time, as I've been busy and/or ill most of the past week.

This creature has been converted from The Complete Dreamlands (Fourth Edition, Revised & Expanded), for the Call of Cthulhu RPG.


This small creature looks like a levitating amoeba made out of water. It numerous pseudopods wriggle as it swims through the air.

BLUPE (CR 1/2)
XP 200
Small outsider (elemental, water)
Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +4
AC 12, touch 12, flat-footed 11 (+1 Dex, +1 size)
hp 11 (2d10)
Fort +3, Ref +4, Will -1
Immune elemental traits; Resist fire 5
Speed fly 30 ft. (good), swim 30 ft.
Melee tentacle +4 (1d3-2)
Special Attacks extinguish fires
Str 6, Dex 12, Con 10, Int 6, Wis 8, Cha 6
Base Atk +2; CMB -1; CMD 12
Feats Weapon Finesse
Skills Fly +12, Perception +4, Stealth +10, Swim +11
Languages Aquan (can't speak)
Environment any aquatic (Plane of Shadow or Plane of Water)
Organization solitary or school (2-5)
Treasure none
Special Abilities
Extinquish Fires (Ex) A blupe can extinguish normal fires with a touch, automatically quenching any nonmagical fire of Medium size or smaller. On a successful melee touch attack against a creature with the fire subtype, a blupe inflicts 1d6 damage to the target. If the target is also an elemental, this damage is doubled.

Blupes are minor water elementals native to the Dark Dimension, as the Plane of Shadow is known within the Dreamlands. On the Material Plane, blupes are most commonly encountered when summoned by wizards and priests to combat fire-based menaces. (They have few effective attacks against other foes.) Spellcasters familiar with blupes may call one using summon monster I or summon nature's ally I

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Dreamlands Pathfinder Bestiary: Urhag

The following creature has been converted to Pathfinder from The Complete Dreamlands (Fourth Edition, Expanded & Revised), a supplement for the Call of Cthulhu RPG.

The urhag nightspawn is a new variant, created using the eldritch template from the Advanced Bestiary (Pathfinder RPG Edition), by Green Ronin Publishing.


This hideous monster's torso is vaguely humanoid, but with bat-like wings instead of arms, and below the waist it has a mass of writhing tentacles instead of legs. Its mouth is located on top of its head, splitting it from side to side. Two independently moving eyes are located just below the corners of the mouth. Its oily skin is black over its entire body.

XP 600
N Medium aberration
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +12
AC 14, touch 12, flat-footed 12 (+2 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 19 (3d8+6)
Fort +1, Ref +3, Will +4
Defensive Abilities all-around vision; Resist cold 10
Speed 15 ft., fly 50 ft. (poor)
Melee tentacles +3 (1d4+1 plus grab), bite +3 (1d6+1)
Str 12, Dex 14, Con 14, Int 4, Wis 12, Cha 7
Base Atk +2; CMB +3 (+7 grab); CMD 14
Feats Blind-Fight, Skill Focus (Perception)
Skills Fly +2, Perception +12, Stealth +6; Racial Modifiers +4 Perception
Environment cold mountains (Leng and the Cold Waste)
Organization solitary or gang (2-4)
Treasure none

Urhags inhabit the far northern reaches of the world, where they live in dark fissures and caves in the mountains north of Inquanok. The texture of their skin leads some to believe they are related to nightgaunts (Bestiary 4 203), but shantaks (Bestiary 2 244) do not fear urhags in the same way.

In combat, an urhag attempts to grab prey in its tentacles, then bite the held victim.

XP 800
Eldritch urhag (Advanced Bestiary 133)
N Medium aberration
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +12
AC 17, touch 12, flat-footed 15 (+2 Dex, +5 natural)
hp 19 (3d8+6)
Fort +1, Ref +3, Will +4
Defensive Abilities all-around vision; Resist cold 10
Weaknesses light blindness, vulnerable to sunlight
Speed 15 ft., fly 50 ft. (average)
Melee tentacles +3 (1d4+1 plus grab), bite +3 (1d6+1)
Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft. (10 ft. with tentacles)
Special Attacks constrict (1d4+1)
Str 12, Dex 14, Con 14, Int 4, Wis 12, Cha 7
Base Atk +2; CMB +3 (+7 grab); CMD 14
Feats Blind-Fight, Skill Focus (Perception)
Skills Fly +6, Perception +12, Stealth +6; Racial Modifiers +4 Perception
Environment cold mountains and underground (Leng and the Cold Waste)
Organization solitary or gang (2-4)
Treasure none
Special Abilities
Vulnerable to Sunlight (Ex) An urhag nightspawn takes 1 point of Con damage each round it is exposed to sunlight.

An urhag nightspawn is a stronger flyer and fighter than others of its kind, but bright light is anathema to it, forcing it to hunt only at night. This subspecies has adapted well to life in the eternal night of the underground caverns that riddle the roots of the northern mountains.

A nightspawn has the following abilities purchased with Eldritch Points (EP): abnormal reach (-1 EP), armor class (natural) (-1 EP), constrict (-1 EP). light blindness (+1 EP), maneuverability adjustment (-1 EP), vulnerable to sunlight (+2 EP), for a net 1 EP.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

LEGO Minifigures Series 14: Monsters!

The new Monsters set of collectible Minifigures (Series 14) is on sale now, and it provides a lovely selection of new creatures to help diversify any GM's collection. The sixteen characters are imminently suitable for RPG miniatures as is, but they also provide useful pieces for creating new models. Some of course, are more interesting--and original--than others.

Werewolf: At first glance, this werewolf is very similar to previously produced wolfmen, but this one has a new touch: a bushy tail that attaches between the torso and legs. For GMs of D&D and Pathfinder games, werewolves (along with Wolf Tribe characters from the Legends of Chima theme) also make excellent gnolls.

Zombie Pirate: It's easy enough to make a zombie pirate out of other minifigures, and the old Pirates of the Caribbean sets included a number of undead sailors. But this one is an excellent blend of the more cartoony aesthetics of the Pirates and Monster Hunters lines. It's one of my personal must-haves in this series, because I run a campaign set in Freeport: The City of Adventure, which has plenty of ghost ships.

Crazy Scientist: One of the previous Minifigures series included a mad scientist, but this one has obviously been experimenting upon himself: his cranium has expanded to fit his enlarged brain. This makes him excellent for use as a comic-book mutant supervillian. Unlike older beaker props, his is the first with opaque contents, and has a fly printed on the side--he's clearly the creator of the Fly Monster, below.

Wacky Witch: The Minifigures line has offered a witch before, too, but this one is goofier looking, with a ragged, bright purple dress and striped stockings. I vastly prefer the earlier, scarier hag (which was modeled after the Wicked Witch of the West). The pouty-looking black cat is the best part of the new one.

Plant Monster: The plant monster is still consuming its last victim, whose frightened face peeks out of its mouth. If you want to make it a little less silly-looking, replace the minifigure head with one of a solid color--preferably black or red--or with a 1x1 cylinder brick. This makes the mouth look more maw-like. (The mostly-teeth head from an Atlantis Hammerhead minifigure works even better.)

Fly Monster: This character is easily the most freakish member of Series 14: a winged humanoid with a large insect's head, and one hand mutated into a pincer-like claw. It also has a very different look from previous bug-like LEGO minifigures such as the aliens from Galaxy Squad and the scorpion and spider tribes from Legends of Chima. It's perfect for the retro B-movie horror look of this series.

Specter: This character and the Banshee, below, use the same ectoplasmic lower-body piece that was first used for some of the ghostly villains in the latest Ninjago storyline, but in new colors. The Specter is a lovely ghost figure, except that his derpy face doesn't inspire much fear. That can easily be fixed by replacing the head with a different face, such a skeleton's, or a blank black head for a hollow look. (Even turning the white head around to the blank side would make him more menacing.)

Zombie Cheerleader: This character is cute, and delightfully cheerful for a rotting corpse. Apart from the head, though, she isn't much use as a RPG miniature except for modern-day games,

Tiger Woman: This figure has tiger stripes painted on her legs, arms, front, and back, as well as on the hard-rubber tail that attaches at the waist. She's perfect for a weretiger, rakasta, or catfolk, or an anime catgirl. The smirk and the whip give her a ton of attitude, too.

Gargoyle: This gargoyle has the classic horns, fangs, and bat-wings associated with his type, allowing him to be used as a D&D-style gargoyle, imp, or other devil. Substitute normal-sized gray legs to give him a more imposing stature, or remove the wings and headpiece to make an animated stone statue or golem. The wings are perfect for a tiefling or succubus, or can be used to turn a Lizard Guy, Ninjago serpent, or Chima Crocodile Tribe character into a man-sized winged dragon. These many alternate uses for his elements make the gargoyle the most versatile entry in this series.

Skeleton Guy: It seems to be a tradition that every Minifigure series includes one character in a Halloween costume, and this set is no exception: this is a normal guy wearing a skeleton costume. The paint job faithfully copies a LEGO skeleton over all four sides of the body, This figure could be repurposed as a skeletal ghost, or a body that hasn't completed lost all of its flesh. However, it would probably serve best for a cultist of a death god, who is trying to look more like one of the undead he reveres.

Monster Rocker: This figure is my least favorite in the series. He's simply a Frankenstein's monster--the third or fourth version of such that LEGO has produced--with a guitar and a lot of denim.

Zombie Businessman: Like the cheerleader, this character is of limited use as a miniature outside of modern-day games. (He'll probably end up haunting my cube at work instead.) His mussed hair is the easiest element to reuse.

Banshee: This character was easily the one that I (and my two children) wanted most, The Banshee is a beautiful ghost figure, with a translucent hair piece (a first!) that complements her transparent lower body quite nicely.

Square Foot: This version of Bigfoot is identical to the earlier Yeti minifigure, but with a new color scheme and a change of props. He would serve well as a sasquatch, ape, or bugbear.

Spider Lady: This woman is clearly a vampire, but with a spider fetish instead of the classical bat theme. She comes with a clear plastic, two-piece cape and a beehive hairdo, giving her an Elvira: Mistress of the Dark vibe. Her outfit, with its web patterns and spiders, just begs to be used as the base of a drow noble or priestess character.

Overall, Series 14 is extremely satisfying. Every series will have a few characters I don't care for, but this set has very few (two or three at most) that I'm indifferent to. My personal favorites are the Plant Monster, Tiger Woman, Gargoyle, Banshee, and Spider Lady.

[Edited 1/9/2018 to add photo.]

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Finding Female Minifigures

One of my biggest challenges in using LEGO minifigures for RPG miniatures is the scarcity of female figures compared to males. Almost every game I run (or play in) includes multiple women players. They rarely cross-play, but I occasionally do, and I prefer a good gender mix among my NPCs, so I'm constantly on the search for new parts to diversify my collection of female minifigures.

Just this week, I saw a post on the Mary Sue that pointed out that in the new Scooby Doo LEGO theme, Velma and Daphne are only available in the most expensive sets. This reminded me of my own disappointment when the first Marvel Avengers sets were released: Black Widow only appeared in the largest one (the Quinjet). Among LEGO's licensed themes, female characters have always been in short supply. In some cases, such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the property itself has a shortage of interesting women characters. In other themes, such as the DC and Marvel Superheroes lines, the LEGO Group's focus has historically been on male heroes or mostly male hero teams: Wonder Woman first appeared as an extra in a Superman set, while Storm and Black Widow only appeared in large sets that included several other team members.

In contrast, Harry Potter and Star Wars each had one major female character (Hermione and Leia) who was usually available in a set of middling size. The longevity of the Star Wars theme (the first movie property that the LEGO Group ever licensed) has made it a good source of female minifigures, though most are still limited to larger sets. One advantage of this line's popularity is the large number of characters that have been made available as key chains over the years.

LEGO key chains are a great way to acquire characters that are normally only available in expensive sets. They only cost $4.99 each, and can sometimes be found on sale for much less when a store wants to clear out older inventory. The chain can easily be removed with pliers, leaving only a tiny loop showing at the end of the screw imbedded into the figure. On the other hand, that screw means that you won't be able to disassemble the minifigure, and keychain characters never come with any handheld accessories. (I may post later about my method for removing the top of the screw, which allows the head to be removed, but renders the toy unsafe for children.)

I should briefly mention the Friends theme, which I've already blogged about recently. While almost all the characters are girls, the minidolls aren't fully compatible with standard minifigures, making it difficult to integrate the two--especially if your game isn't a modern teen drama. The new LEGO Elves theme does provide some fantasy-oriented minidolls and creatures, but the selection is still very limited.

If you have a LEGO Store in your area, then the Build-A-Mini kiosk is a useful option for acquiring female pieces. For $9.99, you can build three minifigures, with accessories, out of bins of loose parts. The selection of parts changes over time, so it pays to check the kiosk periodically for new arrivals--and in my experience, the more unusual the part, the faster it sells out, especially if female.

However, the best source that I've found for female pieces is the collectible Minifigures line. This theme debuted in 2010, and Series 14 was just released this month. (I'll be posting a review of that just as soon as I can finish collecting the last few I still lack!) There have also been a series for The LEGO Movie and two for The Simpsons, which are not counted in that number. Each of these series includes 16 different characters found in no other sets. The earliest series only included 2 or 3 women minifigures each, but that soon increased so that now most sets have 5 or 6 female characters out of the 16. Some of these women are female versions of earlier characters (such as the cave girl and Viking, and the bizarre lady robot and lady cyclops) while others are entirely original (the bee and unicorn costumes, and the fortune teller). Series 10 offered two of my all-time favorite female characters: Medusa and the warrior woman (a fierce Amazon with spear and shield). In fact, the latter impressed me so much that I immediately bought more copies of her than I have of any other collectible Minifigure to date.

(Thanks to Donald Eric Kesler of the LEGO Dungeons & Dragons Facebook group for the Mary Sue link.)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Dreamlands Pathfinder Bestiary: Hyperborean

One recurring theme in Cthulhu Mythos stories is the existence of numerous lost civilizations, many of them pre-human. One of the first true human civilizations, Hyperborea, accomplished great feats of engineering and magic, but only fragments of their knowledge survive today, preserved in esoteric scrolls.

The following statistics are converted from Ye Booke of Monstres, a supplement for the Call of Cthulhu RPG. Additional information was taken from The Keeper's Compendium.


This person looks like a slender human, barely five feet tall. He has very pale skin, light blond hair, gray eyes, a long straight nose, and unusually long earlobes.

XP 200
Hyperborean conjurer 1
Usually N Medium humanoid (human)
Init +2; Senses Perception +1
AC 16, touch 12, flat-footed 14 (+2 Dex, +4 mage armor)
hp 7 (1d6+1)
Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +5
Speed 30 ft.
Melee dagger -1 (1d4-1/19-20)
Ranged dagger +2 (1d4-1/19-20)
Conjurer Spell-Like Abilities (CL 1st; concentration +5 [+9 casting defensively])
7/day--acid dart (ranged touch +2, range 30 ft., 1d6 acid)
Wizard Spells Prepared (CL 1st; concentration +5 [+9 casting defensively])
1st--mage armor (already cast), sleep (DC 15), summon monster I
0--detect magic, prestidigitation, ray of frost (ranged touch +2)
Prohibited illusion, necromancy
Str 8, Dex 14, Con 13, Int 19, Wis 12, Cha 6
Base Atk +0; CMB -1CMD 11
Feats Combat Casting, Iron Will, Scribe Scroll
Skills Appraise +8, Craft (any one) +8, Knowledge (arcana, any two others) +8, Linguistics +8, Spellcraft +8
Languages Abyssal, Aklo, Celestial, Common, Draconic, Hyperborean, Ignan
SQ arcane bond (ring), summoner's charm
Gear dagger, masterwork ring (bonded object)
Environment any cold land (Hyperborea and Dreamlands)
Organization solitary, cabal (2-7 plus 3rd-level wizard), or school (12-20 plus three 3rd-level wizards and one 5th-8th wizard)
Treasure NPC gear (dagger, other treasure)

Hyperboreans prefer to avoid combat, relying on their spells to hunt foes. This human subrace's superior intelligence makes them excellent wizards, and most adventurers belong to that class.

Most scholars believe that Hyperboreans are an extinct civilization, but a few tiny groups survive in cold, glacial areas in the far north of the Dreamlands. Many have degenerated into primitive tribes, reduced to stone weapons and tools, but some still seek to preserve the decadent arts and magic of their glory days. This race is largely responsible for the near-extinction of the voormis (ancestors of the sasquatch race), through expansion into their territory and their callous hunting of the savages for sport.

This race originally worshiped a pantheon of gods (including Youndeh, the reindeer god) who are now all but forgotten. Hyperborean culture was heavily influenced (and some say, eroded) by the rise of cults worshiping the Great Old Ones, such as Tsathoggua (god of the voormis) and Cthulhu.

Hyperborean (Race Builder)

Humanoid (human): 0 RP
Medium: 0 RP
Base Speed
Normal: 0 RP
Ability Score Modifiers
Greater Paragon (+4 Int, -2 Str, -2 Cha): 2 RP
Standard: 0 RP
Racial Traits
Feat and Skill Racial Traits
Flexible Bonus Feat: 4 RP
Skilled: 4 RP
Total: 10 RP

Languages: Hyperboreans begin play speaking Common and Hyperborean. Hyperboreans with high Intelligence can choose from the following: Abyssal, Aklo, Celestial, Draconic, Dwarven, Elven, and Sasquatch.

Degenerate Hyperboreans: Hyperboreans who have regressed to a primitive state replace the greater paragon racial trait with standard human ability score modifiers.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Dreamlands Pathfinder Bestiary: Witch Tree

When I ran my first-ever D&D Third Edition campaign, I used H.P. Lovecraft's Dreamlands as the setting for the world outside Freeport. Like the City of Adventure, the Dreamlands combines "sword & sorcery" heroism with elements of eldritch horror. I had previously used the setting in a GURPS campaign whose protagonists traveled between it and the modern-day "waking world," but found balancing events in the two dimensions to be a challenge. This time, I just used the highly magical dream realm by itself, as the Prime Material.

My primary reference for the setting was The Complete Dreamlands (Fourth Edition, Expanded & Revised), a supplement for Call of Cthulhu. During the course of running that Freeport campaign--and its sequel--I converted a number of monsters from that book (and other CoC sources) to d20. My campaign ultimately focused far more on Freeport than on the Dreamlands, so very few of those conversions ever saw play.

Now that my gaming group is playing Pathfinder, I've been pleased to note that a large selection of Cthulhu Mythos creatures have appeared in that game's sourcebooks. Bestiary 4 was particularly rich in Mythos fare, and has inspired me to revisit those old Dreamlands notes in order to convert some of these more obscure creatures to a new system.

Witch Tree

This crooked, spindly tree's branches sway slowly, despite the lack of wind.

XP 600
N Large plant
Init -2; Senses low-light vision; Perception -2
AC 15, touch 7, flat-footed 13 (-2 Dex, +8 natural, -1 size)
hp 37 (5d8+15)
Fort +7, Ref -1, Will -1
Immune plant traits
Speed 0 ft.
Melee slam +7 (1d6+7)
Ranged thrown rock +0 (1d4+5)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Str 21, Dex 7, Con 17, Int --, Wis 7, Cha 7
Base Atk +3; CMB +9; CMD 17 (can't be tripped)
Environment any forest or jungle
Organization solitary
Treasure none

This stat block represents any of a variety of unintelligent but animate trees found in the Dreamlands. All have mobile boughs and branches. Nearly all are firmly fixed in the ground, but approximately 5% can uproot themselves and move about slowly (speed 10 ft., cannot run or charge).

Druids sometimes cast awaken on witch trees to complete their abortive ascent to sentience. All such trees gain a move speed if they did not have one before.

Like mundane trees, witch trees need only light, water, air, and soil to survive. They use their animate branches to scare off predators and defend themselves if attacked. If a threat is detected beyond the tree's reach, it may hurl small objects such as sticks or stones. If a nuisance is small enough (size Small at most), the tree may simply try to pick it up and throw it away.

Converted from The Complete Dreamlands (Fourth Edition, Expanded & Revised), by Chris Williams, Sandy Petersen, et al., for Call of Cthulhu. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

#RPGaDay2015: Days 28-31

28th) Favorite game you no longer play
Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I loved the TV series, I loved the RPG, I loved the alt-Buffyverse campaign I played in, and I loved my two main characters in that game. In spite of all the headaches they caused me and my GMs over the years, Baz Olmstead and Trick Tillinghast remain two of my favorites among all the RPG characters I've ever played. (I've blogged in the past about some of the ways that Trick has permanently become a part of my psychic landscape.)

29th) Favorite RPG website/blog
The Piazza. This UK-based forum is dedicated to "old D&D campaign worlds," but has plenty of traffic about new games and sourcebooks, as well as a whole subforum for discussing members' homebrew worlds. I've dipped into larger communities in the past (mainly Steve Jackson Games and EN World) but The Piazza and Ronin Army (Green Ronin's online community) are the only two forums I spend much time at these days. They're a much more comfortable size for me and the amount of time I have free to surf gaming sites, and they're the ones I've made a home and name for myself at.

30th) Favorite RPG playing celebrity
Wil Wheaton. His Tabletop web series is brilliant, and he chose a game by one of my favorite publishers for that show's first foray into RPGs (Dragon Age, by Green Ronin). I've started watching his new show Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana, which is designed to show what playing a RPG campaign looks and feels like. From what I've seen so far, Wil has brought together a good mix of system, story, and players to do just that. This project looks like it will be the perfect thing to show non-gamers (read: potential new gamers) who want to know what this gaming thing is all about.

31st) Favorite non-RPG thing to come out of RPGing
"If you would read a mans disposition see him game, you will then learn more of him in one hour, than in seven years conversation, and little wagers will try him as soon as great stakes, for then he is off his Guard.
--“A Letter of Advice to a Young Gentleman Leaveing the University Concerning His Behaviour and Conversation in the World” by Richard Lingard (1670)

The quote properly refers to gambling, but is also quite appropriate for RPGs as well. I have made a large number of friends who I first met through gaming, or whose mutual interest in gaming helped us become better acquainted.

My wife falls into the latter group--we met through the SCA, but around that same time, her college friends were just starting to introduce her to gaming (tabletop RPGs and LARPs). It didn't take long before we were playing in the same games as often as possible. We celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary this past week, and gaming remains one of our greatest shared passions to this day.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

#RPGaDay2015: Days 25-27

25th) Favorite Revolutionary Game Mechanic
The Earthdawn RPG might not have been the first system to include a mechanic for "karma," "fate points," "hero points," or "drama points," but it was definitely the first one that I ever played any significant amount. These points give the players more control over the fate of their characters, which encourages taking bigger risks and thus creating more exciting games. In my experience, the idea works better when the mechanic is a central element of the game, as it is in Earthdawn, as well as Cinematic Unisystem and Cortex-based games.

In contrast, I own sourcebooks with optional rules for action points for D&D v.3.5 and hero points for Pathfinder. I find those rules clunky and awkward to use because they were designed after the fact, rather than as a part of the core game.

26th) Favorite inspiration for your game
For The Kynthiad, I draw inspiration from a wide variety of sources: museum artifacts, collections of Greek myths, historical texts, and "sword & sandals" movies. The last of these is probably the most useful for working out the look I want for a monster or character, because of the wealth of movie stills available online. As I've mentioned in an earlier column, I cast characters using real actors, so finding a good photo of an actor in costume can often suggest an entire character to me. And sometimes I find something that makes me curious enough to track down a new movie or series to watch--and if I'm lucky, enjoy.

27th) Favorite idea for merging two games into one
In one of Kenneth Hite's Suppressed Tranmission columns, he suggested that GMs who needed a quick idea for a new campaign could just pick two random GURPS sourcebooks and mash them together. Many of his columns do exactly that, but "Uncle Ken" has a knack for making such random-seeming hybrids sound far more exciting than you might think. One of my favorites combined supers with the Cthulhu Mythos: contact with eldritch entities and energies provides the origin stories for superhuman heroes. In this world, the line between the heroes and the monsters they fight is far blurrier than in conventional four-color comics.