Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: monsters

April Fool’s Monster: The Jester Ball

There comes a time when you’ve got to ask yourself, where are all these traps coming from?  Sure, the original builders of the dungeon set up some tricks around sensitive locations, and goblins and the like set traps around their lairs, and it’s not unknown for an adventurer to set a trap to ward off other adventurers from a “claim”… but that doesn’t explain them all.

Every once in a while, adventurers will find a trap that just doesn’t make any sense. One where the only possible explanation is a dedicated will to inflict harm and humiliation. A bucket full of green slime propped over a door with ten feet of undisturbed dust in all directions around it. A banana peel inexplicably left on a handhold halfway up a subterranean cliff. A complex, Rube Goldberg device that obviously took hours of work to prepare, set to defend an empty closet.

One explanation is the Jester Ball.

(Yeah, as far as I’m concerned, you can never have two many “floating sphere” monsters.)

* * *

The Elder Things that humans know as Jester Balls appear as tri-colored floating spheres, covered in fine fur, with three thick tentacles sprouting from their tops. The tentacles each have a knot of muscle towards their ends, containing an organ which constantly emits a high-pitched chiming. Sometimes, they also give voice to a screeching wail. Jester Balls have no apparent eyes, and are unhampered by darkness.

A Jester Ball seems to have no desires beyond inflicting practical jokes on others. They aren’t very intelligent, but they do possess a vile cleverness when it comes to setting traps, and they are very patient. A Jester Ball will conceal itself in an area and contemplate for some time before beginning construction of a trap. With a base skill of 10, +1 for their Higher Purpose, +3 for being Single-Minded, they have an effective skill of 14, and they will often take extra time to improve their roll from there (see GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns, pg 346).

An inexperienced Jester Ball will set up tricks and traps that don’t require much, if anything, in the way of equipment. They’ll do things like moving torches around so that someone walking down a flight of stairs will be dazzled and miss their step, or digging out and concealing pit traps. More experienced Jesters can pick up Scrounging, which expands their possibilities.

Jester Balls are practical jokers, not Tricksters or stand-up monsters:  they don’t mind a weaker victim, and they’ll flee a fight if they can. They don’t even really care if their jokes are lethal or not… though they often are. If it inflicts pain and leaves the victim looking like a fool, they’ll enjoy it.

We blew the whole special-effects budget on this shot, so enjoy it!

A jester ball menaces a fiery-eyed hellhound!

Elder Thing
ST 15 HP 15 Spd 6
DX 12 Will 8 Mv 8 (levitation)
IQ 8 Per 8
HT 12 FP 12 SM +0
Dodge 9 Parry 10 (unarmed) DR 0
  • Punch (14): 1d+1 cr at Reach C, 1-2
  • Grab (14): effective ST 17 due to Wrestling bonus; +2 to grapple or break free and +3 to pin or resist a pin when using all three arms
Traits 360° Vision; Dark Vision; Doesn’t Breath; Doesn’t Eat or Drink; Doesn’t Sleep; Extra Arms (3 total, all Extra-flexible and Long +3); Flight; Fragile (Unnatural); High Pain Threshold; Higher Purpose (Commit practical jokes); Immunity to Metabolic Hazards; Indomitable; Injury Tolerance (No eyes, no head, no neck, no vitals); No Legs (Aerial); Noisy 1; Odious Racial Habit (practical joker) 3; Single-Minded; Unfazeable
Skills Brawling (DX+2) 14; Traps (IQ+2) 10; Wrestling (DX+2) 14
Features Unwilling to negotiate. Truly evil.



Haunted By Ghosts

I figure there’s a 98.3% chance that Jed’s player is going to metaphorically tackle me, sometime over the next few weeks, and start asking lots of pointed questions about undead in general, and ghosts in specific, while shaking his Research skill in a menacing manner. So, I’m a-gonna head ‘im off at the pass.

It has been mention many times that there’s something about the New World that causes the dead to be… frisky. The people of Tembladera keep a continual watch over their cemetery, both to keep out those who would steal the bodies, and to keep in any bodies that try to steal themselves. During the trip when Alric picked up Dobby, and Dobby killed a bunch of his former comrades, the party left a bunch of goblin corpses behind; the next time they checked, they found a bunch of goblin zombies. Mongo went down the hole. Zomb-Mongo came back.

There are forces that can keep a corpse in its grave, including the divine powers of clerics and holy warriors. Short of those, though, you can’t be sure any thinking creature is going to stay dead, unless it’s burnt to ashes, or comes back and gets itself killed a second time.

Speaking of which:  that ghoul couldn’t have actually been Gort, since Gort was killed by TKotBO.  When TKotBO puts a critter down, that critter stays down. It’s one of the promises Saturn made him. Most likely, it was one of the other goblins who died in the same fight, turned ghoul, and it was just Jed’s guilty conscience that made him think it was Gort. (Guilty conscience, and those cheap goblin cigarettes without any tax stamps that he’s been getting.) Seriously, when you’re looking through a magically-transparent door into a dimly-lit room, one half-decayed goblin with his face pressed up against the door looks much like another. And, of course, after they opened the door, identification would be a question of dental records.

Sometimes, a corpse will lie quiet for a long time. That’s where you get wandering skeletons. Sometimes, they’ll re-animate earlier, and then you get random zombies and ghouls. But, every once in a rare while, the conditions are right to get other kinds of undead…

For instance, ghosts. When a thinking being dies in the throes of obsession, that being can come back as a ghost. Since they don’t need a body to re-animate, this can even happen if the corpse is entirely destroyed. According to the sages, ghosts are manifestations of pure willpower. The need to get the job done, whatever that job was, drives them to action. The lack of a physical body generally makes it impossible to finish the job. Madness follows in short order. But, in madness, the ghost’s will to perform its impossible task grows even stronger.

Thus, the usual progression is that a new ghost will start off very weak. They can only manifest themselves for short periods of time, and only in the most minor of ways. For the most part, they’re limited to frightening people. As time goes on, and their will sharpens, they gain other powers. Some can possess the bodies of the living. Older, more powerful ghosts can move physical objects with their minds. A ghost can be kept at bay through faith, but only an exorcism can put them to rest without fulfilling their obsession. Luckily, they are always quite attached to their place of death, and so they don’t usually chase those who flee from them.

An adventuring party without a cleric or holy warrior would be wise to avoid any ghosts they encounter. A young, weak ghost is little more than a nuisance, but an older and more subtle one can cause all manner of trouble. That said, even a party without a cleric can put a ghost to rest. There are documented cases where a ghost was put down by the fulfillment of their final mission.


Aboleth and Skum

I remember the first time I opened up the 1st Edition AD&D Monster Manual II and came face-to-face with the aboleth. Really, who can resist a psionic eel who lives in subterranean caves plotting revenge for ancient losses, but just can’t bring themselves to crawl out of their holes and leave their slave-driven comfort behind?

Of course, long before you meet the aboleth, you’ll meet hordes of skum.  They’re brutish fish-men with claws. The aboleth breed them and keep them as slaves. Their origins are murky and unpleasant, but it’s generally assumed that the aboleth created them from samples of other humanoid races.

Skum are textbook humanoid mooks, just with the ability to function in the water. Whenever possible, they’ll try to drag the battle into deep water. Since they’re rarely found away from the lairs of their masters, deep water is generally handy.



ST: 18

HP: 18

Speed: 5.75

DX: 12

Will: 10

Move: 5

IQ: 10

Per: 12

HT: 11

FP: 11

SM: +0

Dodge: 8


DR: 2

  • Claw (12) 1d+1 cut, reach C

  • Rake (10) 1d+2 cut, reach C, 1. When fighting in the water, they like to grapple with their arms and bite, and rake with their back legs.

  • Bite (12): 1d+1 cut, reach C


Amphibious; Appearance (Ugly); Bad Temper (12); Dark Vision; Doesn’t Breathe (Lungs and Gills); Sharp Claws; Sharp Teeth; Social Stigma (monster)


Observation 11, Stealth 11, Swimming 13

Once the delvers have fought their way through an endless supply of skum, they might meet their aboleth master. Probably not, though…



ST: 33

HP: 33

Speed: 6.25

DX: 11

Will: 18

Move: 6 water, 1 ground

IQ: 15

Per: 15

HT: 14

FP: 14

SM: +4 (6500 lbs)

Dodge: 9

Parry: 8 (unarmed)

DR: 6 (tough skin)

  • Tentacle Strike (11): 3d+1 cr, reach C,1-3, plus affliction

  • Aboleth Affliction (aura) If touched on bare skin (Contact Agent) by a tentacle, resist with HT-3 or skin becomes a moist, semi-transparent membrane; victim gains Fragile (Brittle), Unnatural Feature, and Weakness (drying out, 1d/5 min). The aboleth can turn this power on and off.

  • Bite (11) 3d-5 cr, reach C

  • Mind Control (IQ vs Will) Psionic version of the Mind Control advantage with the Puppet limitation. Those controlled gain Slave Mentality.

  • Hypnotic Pattern (18) Psionic power that projects a Persistent Sense-Based (vision) Malediction over a 4 yard radius. Those in the area who see the pattern must roll Will or become Stunned (roll Will to recover).

  • Veil of Illusion (18) Psionic power that projects a Malediction on the target (-1/yd range). Victim must roll Will-3 or be Afflicted with a Cosmetic Morph to appear as the aboleth wishes for 1 minute times the margin of failure.

  • Suffocating Mucus (aura) In water, the aboleth is always surrounded with a layer of mucus. Any who come into contact with this mucus with their bare skin must roll vs HT-3 or trade the ability to breathe air for the ability to breathe water for 30 minutes times the margin of failure.

  • Magical Mirage: Psionic power of Illusion over an 16yd radius with Independence. Used to create illusory walls or floors, or to change the appearance of an area.

  • Programmed Illusion: Psionic power of Illusion over a 4yd radius with Initiative, so it can be programmed to react to external stimuli.


Amphibious; Appearance (Horrific); Callous; Charisma 3; Clairsentience (Projection, can use spells, psi, and Maledictions on the physical world, Increased Range x20, Reduced Time x2, Visible, Psionic: 15 sec to activate, range 200yd); Dark Vision; Doesn’t Breathe (Lungs & Gills); Double-Jointed; Extra Arms 2; Fanaticism (Aboleth superiority); Hard to Kill 2; Laziness; No Legs (Semi-Aquatic); Psi Talent 4; Telecommunications (Telesend, Psionic); Racial Memory (Active); Resistant to Metabolic Hazards +3; Social Stigma (Monster); Weak Bite


Artist (Illusion) 15; Fast Talk 15; Hidden Lore (any one) 16; Intimidation 21; Observation 14; Wrestling 14


Aboleth; plus, any two at Native level


An aboleth is clearly a boss monster. They have the power and inclination to reshape their environment through illusions. These aren’t magical illusions, either. They’re psionic, meaning the average delving band isn’t going to be set up as well to handle them as they otherwise might be.

An established lair will be a maze of passages hidden behind false walls and holes concealed under illusory floors. They can use their powers to conceal traps set up by their mind-controlled slaves. The party that makes it past the skum might have trouble figuring out where to go from there, and will likely take a certain amount of damage just from walking around the lair.

When they finally find the aboleth, well… it’s probably just a programmed illusion, left with a script to taunt intruders. It doesn’t cost the aboleth much beyond thinking of the script to set up these illusions, so there’s likely to be more than one. To say the least.

Eventually, the party might be “lucky” enough to find an aboleth that isn’t an illusion. They’ll know, because this one will start throwing around psionic devastation. It’ll use mind control to turn members of the party against each other. It’ll cast illusions to change the appearance of the wearer-willed members to sow confusion among the attackers. It’ll set up zones of hypnotic illusions to disrupt their minds.

Still not the aboleth. They can project their minds to remote locations through advanced psionic powers. (See GURPS Powers, page 44, the “Projection” box.) They can use their natural psionic abilities through these projections, despite being immaterial. Individual aboleth who have studied the ways of magic can use their spells, as well. (Oh, yeah, some of them study magic, too. Obviously, right?) They’re only vulnerable to similar forces.

If a party manages to wade through all of these and corner the real, actual, physical aboleth… that’s when the trouble really starts. Aside from all the psionic powers displayed by their projections, they’re also huge eel-like creatures with four powerful tentacles. Their touch causes humanoids’ skin to change into a semi-transparent membrane that must be kept moist.

Like their skum minions, they’re comfortable into the water. Any adventurer unfortunate enough to come into bare-skinned contact with an aboleth in the water will be transformed by the mucus they secrete, losing the ability to breathe air, but gaining the power to breathe water. A favorite aboleth trick is to establish an air-filled lair at the end of a long water-filled tunnel. They can bring in air-breathing slaves, temporarily transformed by their mucus. Any slave attempting to leave without the company of an aboleth will be faced with a swim far beyond the capacity of their lungs.


Monsters From The 80’s

I woke up the other day thinking about the cartoon from the early 1980’s, Thundarr the Barbarian. If you don’t remember it from your own childhood, don’t bother looking it up. It hasn’t aged well.

The thing that stuck in my head was the title character’s two favorite curses/catchphrases, “Demon dogs!” and “Lords of light!”  Then I thought, well, I haven’t posted any monsters lately…

Demon Dog

Minor demonic beings in the shape of large, muscular, hairless canines. They are most comfortable on all fours, but can stand erect and handle tools if they must. They can speak, but their voices are marred by their mouthful of long fangs. Their heads are generally built like a dog’s, with a short muzzle, but more flattened, with a heavy brow.

Demon dogs are usually organized into packs under a strong leader. Some packs are led by exceptional members of their own species, with higher ST and IQ, but many are under the mastery of more impressive demons or evil men. While they travel in packs, they don’t have the instinct for it that mundane canines do. They happily work out a pecking order which has the strong bullying the weak all the way down the line, from the pack leader to the lowest runt. If not kept distracted by a steady source of prey, the pack members’ evil impulses will often lead to the death of the weakest member.

If slain, their bodies can yield demonic organs worth $13 per pound to alchemists, enchanters, and the like.

ST: 15 HP: 17 Speed: 7.0
DX: 14 Will: 12 Move: 8/12
IQ: 7 Per: 15
HT: 14 FP: 14 SM: +0 (180 lbs.)
Dodge: 11 Parry: 12 (unarmed) DR: 2
  • Bite (16) 2d imp, reach C
  • Punch (16) 1d+1 cr, reach C
Traits: Acute Hearing 1; Acute Taste & Smell 1; Combat Reflexes; Discriminatory Smell; High Pain Threshold; Infravision; Reduce Consumption 2 (Cast-Iron Stomach); Ultrahearing; Very Fit; Bestial; Bad Grip 2; Bully (12); Callous; Disturbing Voice; Gluttony (12); Hidebound; Sadism; Semi-Upright
Skills: Brawling 16; Hiking 14; Intimidation 14; Stealth 14; Swimming 14; Tracking 15; Wrestling 14


Lord of Light

A lord of light appears as a two-foot wide mass of cascading “soap bubbles” made of pure light. Even at rest, they shed enough light that they’re easily spotted. With an effort of will, they can increase their natural brightness to shed light equivalent to a torch. With a greater effort, they can release a small, passing explosion of light, sufficient to blind a single creature at close range. They are naturally insubstantial and can travel three-dimensionally. They can become momentarily solid, though it exhausts them to do so.

Strictly speaking, the lords of light aren’t elementals, though the distinction is mostly academic, and they share many of the same characteristics. Like elementals, they come in a wide variety of power levels. The example presented here is a weak form. More powerful lords of light may develop other light-based powers, or even Magery.

ST: 9 HP: 9 Speed: 4
DX: 9 Will: 9 Move: 4
IQ: 9 Per: 9
HT: 7 FP: 7 SM: -1
Dodge: 7 Parry: DR: 0
  • Dazzling Punch (9) Like a punch, but Sight-Based and Affects Substantial. Target must make HT-1 roll or suffer Blindness for 1 minute times the margin of failure. Reach C.
  • Punch (9) 1d-3 cr, reach C
Traits: Doesn’t Breathe; Doesn’t Eat or Drink; Doesn’t Sleep; Immunity to Metabolic Hazards; Insubstantiality (Usually On); Protected Sight; Illumination; Absent-Mindedness; “Bright” -2 (as Noisy, but vision-based); Dependency (Mana, constantly); No Fine Manipulators

Tin Hen

Yet another nuisance monster to pad out the wandering monster tables.  The tin hen is a chicken, made of metal, standing 18-24 inches tall, covered with razor-sharp metal feathers. The male of the species, the Tin Cock, adds the Penetrating Voice Perk.

Being at home underground, and liberal in what they will eat, the tin hen is cultivated by many intelligent dungeon dwellers. Despite their inorganic form, their eggs are perfectly edible. Particularly well-formed examples of their feathers may be used as cheap daggers in a pinch.

It is not unknown for blue-painted barbarian berserkers of smaller races to use tin hens as mounts.


Dire Animal
ST: 8 HP: 8 Speed: 5

DX: 10

Will: 12

Move: 5

IQ: 5

Per: 12

HT: 10

FP: 10

SM: -3

Dodge: 9

Parry: 9

DR: 9

  • Razor-Sharp Feathers (6): 1d-2 imp at Reach C.

  • Peck (14): 1d-1 cut at Reach C.

  • Scratch (12): 1d-1 cut at Reach C.


Body of Metal (Doesn’t Breath, Immunity to Metabolic Hazards, IT: Homogenous and No Blood, Sealed); Wild Animal (Bestial, Cannot Speak, Hidebound); Feathers; Bad Temper (9); Berserk (12)


Brawling-14; Survival (Dungeon)-13.

Coeurl, a Displaced Beast

The classic D&D monster, the displacer beast, was loosely based on Coeurl, the alien creature from A. E. van Vogt’s short story, “Black Destroyer“. In the story, it called both itself and its race “coeurl”. As described by one of the characters of the story: “It looks like nothing else than a big cat, if you forget those tentacles sticking out from its shoulders, and make allowances for those monster forelegs.” Among other things, it could manipulate electromagnetic radiation and electricity.

The displacer beast is a feline monster, six-legged, with tentacles like a squid’s growing from its shoulders. It had the power to appear to be shifted — “displaced” — a few feet away from its actual location, making it harder to hit. It lost a couple of legs in the illustration for AD&D 2nd Edition, leading to many lame jokes about it being displaced by “two feet”. 😉 It has regained the legs since then, but seems to be getting thinner and more raggedy-looking as time goes on. Sad, really.

In honor of the classic monster, here’s my own homage to the classic alien.

Coeurlian Cats

This template can be added to any wild or domesticated feline.

DX +2 [20]; IQ +5 [100]; Per -5 [-25]; Will -3 [-15]; Basic Move +2

Traits: Damage Resistance 1 [5]; Extra Arms (2, Extra-flexible, Long +1) [50]; Charm perk and any one spell at IQ+6 [total 29 points]; buy off Cannot Speak [15] and No Fine Manipulators [30]; Uncontrollable Appetite (resist on 12 or less) [-15]

A coeurlian cat is more intelligent and agile than the base cat species. Its flesh is more dense, as well.  It has squid-like tentacles on each shoulder. When you apply the attribute modifiers to the felines in Campaigns, p456, they end up with IQ 9, Per 12, Will 13.

Coeurlian cats can speak, but rarely learn any humanoid language. They have their own language, common to all coerulian cats, regardless of base stock. It is rarely taught to members of other species. Learning it requires a Perk, “Trained By An Cat With Tentacles”. Only cat-folk and similar feline races can learn to speak it beyond Accented level. There is no written version, though hunting groups will sometimes leave marks for one another by scratching tree trunks, aligning small stones, and similar tricks; these are all a function of Survival skill. Coeurlian cats that hunt in groups often put points into Gesture, as well.

Each species of coeurlian cat can innately cast one spell. For coeurlian panthers, the spell is Blur, producing the Tembladera equivalent of the classic D&D monster. The spells of other species are left as an exercise for the GM and a surprise for the players.

Coeurlian cats aren’t just meat-eaters. They are imbued with an unholy hunger for the flesh of sentient humanoids. While they can live on the meat of dumb animals, they don’t much care for it and will always prefer humanoid meat.

While the template doesn’t require any particular mental Disadvantages, individual coeurlian cats are prone to Overconfidence, Sadism, and other unpleasant issues. They are as likely to work alone as they are to gather in groups, without regard for the base species’ habits. Individual coeurlian cats will either prefer the habitat of their base species, or they will prefer to live underground, either in natural caverns or man-made dungeons.


The Most Profitable Writing Genre: Ransom Notes

Part of the real-world loot from the recent sale at Warehouse 23 was Pyramid 3-47, which includes David L. Pulver’s “Eidetic Memory” column on monster slavers. In the second paragraph, he tosses off an idea that got me to thinking: “Intelligent monsters like orcs often fight to the death because they see no hope of mercy…. unlike knights, monsters lack wealthy relatives to ransom them.”

In my experience, and from the stories of others, I would say that most PCs often do the same, and for the same reason. It never occurs to them that losing the fight might mean something other than summary execution.

I’ve heard a lot of people give the opinion that players also have a hearty dislike for having their characters taken captive, but I think that worry is often overblown. I’ve been a player in that situation, and more often, I’ve seen “we’re captured and enslaved” as an excuse to really break loose and let ’em have it.* Sure, sure, take their stuff and they’ll sit up and take notice, but most gamers are genre-savvy enough to know that once you strangle the dumbest of the guards with your chains and sneak past the first guard post, you’ll find all your gear, neatly stacked and packaged for shipping. 😉

I think a lot of players haven’t ever had a character in that situation. Even if they have, there’s nothing that says they’ll trust a new GM like they would trust the old.** I would like to think that my guys would trust me not to arbitrarily smear their characters… but on the other hand, I’d like to think that they would trust me to have the slobbering Lovecraftian beast ignore their white flag of truce and eat them all after blasting their sanity to tattered ribbons by its very existence.

But I digress.

We already know that Tembladera has a market for slaves. It’s a pseudo-medieval setting, and slavery is part of the medieval experience. It’s like peasants, the plague, and bad roads. All part of the colorful scenery.

It also provides another decision point for the PCs:  do we kill ’em, or capture ’em to sell? Mississippi Jed has already selected the quirk, “Opposes slavery”. It might even rise to the level of “Abolitionist”, I’m not sure.

But, as the quote from the article mentions, there’s another historical medieval tradition that adds both color and financial options: ransom!

My thinking is, this could cut both ways. Anyone with wealth and friends or family might be captured and ransomed back to those allies. If the orcs capture a knight, they could strip him of his gear and sell him back to his liege (or whatever substitute authorities might be willing to stand in). If the knight captures the orc tribe’s shaman, the tribe might be willing to pass the hat to get him back. Of course, this isn’t going to work with outright monsters (like the otyugh), the brainlessly aggressive (like zombies), or those who can’t scratch up the dough (like the goblin tribe of the late Ghorbash)… but it will work for most PCs.

Here’s how I’m thinking of working it. Let’s say somebody, either a dungeon delver or a dungeon resident, captures a foe. What can be done with them?

Starting with the quick, easy, and unprofitable, the first option is always execution. You might be able to eat ’em, or sell ’em for parts, but you’re not likely to get any large cash reward beyond their treasure. Still, it’s very little trouble, so it’s often the default option. (Dobby wasn’t much interested in feeding prisoners, you might recall.)

Second, if one has access to the proper markets, one might sell the captive into slavery. I’ll be using the pricing guidelines from the article, which means your average orc, in good health, will sell for over $7000 as an unskilled laborer. There are various complications for selling gladiators or skilled laborers, and for races with different Disadvantages, but there’s a reasonable baseline.

Finally, some captives can be ransomed back to their friends at a greater profit than selling them into slavery. The question is, will anybody pay anything, and if so, how much?

There are cases where the answer is obvious, like the otyugh. The captive can’t be too much of a loner, or else there’s nobody willing to pay a ransom. Even if they’ve got friends, they might not be willing to go to the trouble. In the absence of other indicators, I would consult the dice.

Over in DF3: The Next Level, on page 11, there’s a sidebar, “Almost Monster”. It mentions a chance for a character to be denied entry if that character attempts to go into a settlement, for those who have Social Stigma (Savage) or (Monster). If the captive in question has either Disadvantage, I would roll that chance. If it comes up “would be denied entry”, I would read it as “insufficiently civilized”, and have the negotiations fail for that reason. (My orcs tend toward the Klingon. “Proud warrior race” and all that cliche. They might tell you, if the guy got himself captured, it’s proof he’s not worth buying back.)

If I were feeling particularly random, I might roll a Reaction roll between the captive and the negotiating allies, to see how well they’re getting along. When they pass the hat to take up donations, the unpopular officer is going to come up short. However, truth be told, I would probably skip this in the interests of simplicity, unless there were some impressive modifiers in play.

More important, I would say, is the Wealth level of the captive. Nobody buys back peasants, even popular ones. I’m going to set the price similarly to the way the “Monster Slaver” article sets the price for pleasure slaves. I’m thinking a ransom of $1000 per point invested in Wealth is a good starting place. This means, if the captive doesn’t have at least Comfortable wealth, they can’t be effectively ransomed. It also means a high-ST character, or one who would make a good gladiator or pleasure slave, might be worth more on the auction block than ransomed!

In the end, the average orc is still fighting to the death. Even if the tribe is willing to pay, the price is too steep. But, if Sir Player-Character gets himself tackled and dragged off into the depths, it’s not an automatic death sentence, just a steep fine. Of course, in Dungeon Fantasy, even death isn’t a death sentence… if you can afford to pay for a Resurrection.

* “Ever seen a half-elf bite an orc’s ear off? The other way ’round, sure, but…”

** In the same campaign where the half-elf went berserk and dined on orc ear tartare, during the great escape from the slavers, there was another instance, later on, where the same half-elf got captured by different enemies. For some reason, the same DM who played out the great escape, quite successfully, decided it was a good idea to have that captivity-and-escape story play out off-camera. The story went off the rails when he decided to include the torture and crippling of the PC in question. Off-camera, by GM fiat. I recall that decision going over so well that it pretty much ended the campaign. First time was epic, second time was an epic failure.


Clockwork Lock-Beast

When the empire of the dwarves was at its height, they created many technological wonders. One of these is the Clockwork Lock-Beast.

A lock-beast is a construct shaped like a chunky dragonfly, about four inches tall. They have six legs, using the front pair as arms, and a delicate set of wings. They are made of a network of metal and semi-precious stones. While each one is unique, they all have a keyhole in their thorax. They are found clinging to a door or chest, where one might expect to find a lock.

Each lock-beast has an ornate key, obviously designed and decorated to match, that fits its keyhole. If presented with that key, they release their grip and allow passage. They’re not very bright, and don’t have great senses, so they can even be fooled by a skilled picker of locks, with a Regular contest of DX-based Lockpicking versus the beast’s Professional Skill (Lock). If the beast wins such a contest, if the object it protects is attacked, or if it is simply pulled loose from its perch, the lock-beast goes on the offense.

When agitated, the lock-beast’s mandibles open wide, revealing a small but vicious buzzsaw. The saw’s edges are sharpened and reinforced to cut through armor. Even worse, the saw is envenomed, from a magically-refilling internal reservoir. Anyone cut by the saw must roll HT-3 or take an addition 2 points of toxic damage.

While a lock-beast attacks aggressively, its goal is primarily to preserve the object it has been set to defend. It will pursue fleeing would-be thieves for a few seconds, but will break off pursuit and return to its base as soon as possible.

Being Reprogrammable, a lock-beast could be made to perform tasks beyond acting as a lock and guardian, but there are a couple of reasons this rarely happens. First, they aren’t terribly bright, don’t much care for change, and only really understand the life of a lock. (If left idle, a lock-beast will often choose some nearby object and lock it to the surface it rests on.) Second, being a remnant of ancient dwarvish technology, they’re mostly found guarding the treasures of long-dead dwarves. Even if their masters were available to transfer ownership, the method by which this can be accomplished is long lost.*

* Quest!


ST 4 HP 11 Basic Speed 6.5
DX 13 Will 4 Basic Move 3
IQ 4 Per 9  
HT 13 FP n/a SM -7 (4” tall, 8” wingspan)
Dodge 9 Parry 9 DR: 3 (Semi-Ablative)
  • Buzzsaw (13) 1d(2) cut, Reach C.
  • Poison (follow-up) +2 tox, resisted by HT-3.
Traits Clinging; Damage Resistance 3 (Semi-ablative); Doesn’t Breathe; Doesn’t Eat or Drink; Doesn’t Sleep; Electrical; Extra Legs (4 Legs); Fanaticism (defended item or door); Flight (Small wings); Fragile (Unnatural); Hidebound; High Pain Threshold; Immunity to Metabolic Hazards; Incurious (6 or less); Indomitable; Injury Tolerance (No Blood, Unliving); Night Vision 3; No Sense of Smell/Taste; Numb; Reprogrammable; Slave Mentality; Social Stigma (Valuable Property); Unfazeable; Unhealing (Total); Wealth (Dead Broke).
Skills Professional Skill (Lock)–15.


Know Your Monsters (Before They Know You!)

Poking around what’s new on the ol’ internet, I see this: It’s mostly about the expectations concerning level of detail in publish products and so forth, but there’s a bit in the middle that got me thinking.

“… For my purposes, I’ll be bold and take his statement the rest of the way:  because real-world monsters have survived as storytelling elements for thousands of years, players already know some things about them.  (30 years of D&D play might have something to do with it too)….
“I’ll generalize and say bloggers have a tendency to overvalue new and unique monsters – perhaps that’s a perception borne of selection bias since that’s what people post on their blogs.  For adventure gaming, those things have to be the exception, not the rule.  Otherwise you rob the players of too much agency, they lose an element of strategy and planning….”

In a way, this is why I’ve been converting classic D&D monsters. It’s certainly why I’ve been posting the results publicly, in a forum that my players can consult.

Let me give you some background. Now, keep in mind, this is just how I understand it, so I might get some details wrong; I haven’t done an actual survey or anything. But, here’s what I’ve gathered: In my group, I have at least one player who has absolutely no experience with any edition of D&D whatsoever. I’ve got at least two who have ran their own D&D games, under some edition or another. (I hear good things about this Pathfinder business.) I believe the earliest edition that any of them are familiar with is 2nd Edition.* I know I ran a fantasy game in HERO System, a long time back, for several of them, so we don’t have anybody who’s entirely new to the genre. Everybody has seen the Lord of the Rings movies, but I don’t know if I would bet on everybody having read the books – they’re aware of the genre but not a bunch of raving fantasy fanboys, is what I’m trying to say. Nobody speaks Elvish, but they all speak GURPS.

With this game, I’m looking to have the players create their own story. To do this, they have to take the reins. They have to make the decisions. They have to pick their targets. They can’t do that, if they don’t know what to expect from the monsters. The various Hidden Lore skills and so forth help out, here, but there’s really no substitute for the vague memories of having read the monster’s stats. 😉

Anyway, there’s a limit to how much info-dump can be tolerated at the table. I know my guys and the limits of their patience. (Remember, 60% took Impulsive!) The name of the game is “go into the dungeon, whack the monster, recover the treasure”, not “listen to a monologue on the ecology of the rust monster”. I like the results of in-game skill rolls to be more on the punchy side: “they’re vulnerable to marshmallows” or “they eat eyeballs”. The important stuff.

Back in my junior high days, everybody read the Monster Manual. We weren’t allowed to consult it at the table, necessarily, but everybody read the thing. And so, we knew what to do when we met a troll, we had an idea of how frightened to be of a dragon, and so forth. We had a shared vocabulary. I’m aiming to re-create that experience.

In game, I figure adventurers tell stories. Early on, there was passing mention of the idea of a school for adventurers, where they could learn the lore of the New World (in the form of Hidden Lore skills, of course) before coming over to make their fortunes. All the party members came over on the same boat. People talk. So, of course, they’re going to share stories of the nasty creatures they’ll all be facing.

I’m okay with the party having an idea of what they’re up against. This gives them an opportunity to reap rewards from good tactics. What’s the point of having the thief go ahead and scout, if all he sees is some unique creature with unknown habits and weaknesses? Much better if the thief can report back “three orcs” or “a couple of trolls” or “the tarrasque**, run!” and have everybody on the same page, able to plot and plan about how to deal with what’s before them.

But doesn’t that give them too much advantage? Absolutely not!

On the one hand, if I want to confuse and dismay them, I still can. Nothing says I can’t have the occasional one-off unique mutant. Much to the contrary; those mutants tend to be the bosses running their levels. Beyond that, there’s plenty of tricky magic, esoteric skills, and unusual complications to throw at ’em. I’m sure I can keep them on their toes without having every monster be a mystery. (I remember one time, as a player, early in my gaming career, being confronted with a gang of troll ninjas. Or possibly ninja trolls. Either way, it was a total rout until the magic-user pulled out a fireball. The old-school kind of fireball with lots of d6’s and a huge area of effect. Ah, the good ol’ days…)

On the other hand, just because they know what they need, doesn’t mean they’ve got it. Take the troll, the classic “monster with a key piece of information”. When the Delving Band With No Name encountered their trolls, they were lucky: they were carrying torches and hanging out with an elementalist who specialized in fire magic and rode a flaming samurai as a mount. Bad day for the trolls, even if the guys didn’t know the trolls’ problem with fire and acid. They might have gotten one good scare, but I bet “cremate the bodies entirely!” would come up, as a plan, shortly after the second time a troll got back up, if not before.

What if they ran into that same encounter today, knowing full well that they’ve got to burn the bodies? They might have difficulties, even with that knowledge. They’ve lost Tobey, the fire elementalist. Their new magic-using support is Mississippi Jed, a bard. While he’s remarkable adept at magic, for a bard, he’s still not any kind of slinger of fiery blasts. They aren’t even carrying lit torches, anymore, having switched to Continual Light. They’ve got the tools to light a fire, at least, but that’s hard enough in the woods with damp wood. Imagine how hard it is to ignite a wet, dead troll who keeps trying to get up, down in the damp dungeon, no firewood better than moist mushrooms, wandering monsters getting interested in the clacking of flint on steel…

This is where oil comes in handy. Not sure if they carry it.

Even if they know what they need, they might not have it. Silver for the werewolf. A cleric and wooden stakes for the vampire. Keg of oil for that dang troll! Skin full of wine for all the nasty gunk that you can only wash off with alcohol. Skin full of water for when the evil wizard lights you on fire. After a while, if nothing else, the encumbrance penalties start to rack up.

Really, I find the problem is coming up with ways to give information to the players. The more knowledge of the world they’ve got, they better prepared they are for taking it on, which makes watching them in action that much more fun for me. I’d get pretty bored watching PCs walk into a meat grinder through ignorance. It’s much more entertaining to see the trouble they get into after you give them plenty of rope…

* Yeah, I feel old. <shakes cane> In my day, if you were an elf, what was your class? ELF! And we liked it! Now get off my lawn!

** See, right there’s an example. If you know the source material, you know that the tarrasque is a one-of-a-kind, unkillable, walking natural disaster. If you don’t, what do you know?  “Huh. Guessing it’s French?”


Home-brew Monster: Bee Cat

Bee cat

ST 6 HP 6 Basic Speed 6
DX 14 Will 11 Basic Move 10 (15 sprint at cost of 1 Fatigue)
IQ 6 Per 12 (14 w/ vibration sense)  
HT 10 FP 10 SM -3
Dodge 10 Parry 11 DR: 0
  • Claw (16) 1d-4 cut plus follow-up venom, Reach C. Victim of venom rolls HT-1 or is Nauseated. If the HT roll is failed by 5 or more, or is a crit failure, the victim is also Retching. Both last for 1 minute times the margin of failure, minimum 1 minute.
  • Bite (16) 1d-4 cut, Reach C.
  • Tail Stinger (16) 1d-2 imp plus follow-up venom, Reach C. Venom is 1d-1 tox, Cyclic (4 cycles of 1 hour). Victim rolls HT-3 to resist each cycle, including the first; success ends the damage. If suffering over 1/3 HP from the venom, the victim is Nauseated until the damage heals.
Traits Appearance (Attractive); Bestial; Bloodlust (9 or less); Cannot Speak; Catfall; Chummy; Claws (Sharp Claws); Combat Reflexes; Enhanced Move (1/2; Ground; Costs Fatigue); Extra Legs (4 Legs); Fur; Hidebound; Horizontal; Night Vision 5; No Fine Manipulators; Teeth (Sharp Teeth); Vibration Sense.
Skills Brawling-16; Jumping-14; Stealth-14.

The bee cat is a hybrid of, unsurprisingly, a feral cat and a honeybee. Bee cats are the size of a large house cat, but are both stronger and more intelligent than their common cousins. They generally resemble a house cat, but have larger claws, insect-like antennae, and a wicked stinger on the end of their tails. They are quite agile and able to leap long distances for their size.

Unlike many other felines, bee cats live in groups. A swarm of bee cats could include dozens of individuals. If treated well, a bee cat might be willing to accept a group of humans as its swarm and become somewhat tamed. They do not breed in captivity, and so cannot be domesticated.

The venom of the bee cat is found primarily in its tail stinger, with a weaker version being delivered by its claws. While it is not unknown, a single sting is unlikely to kill a healthy, adult human. The problem is, it is rare to see a single sting. Once aroused to violence, a bee cat is a persistent and stubborn foe, refusing to stop fighting until they are sure their opponent is dead, and irritating one bee cat is likely to draw the ire of the rest of the swarm.

Bee cats reproduce by laying eggs, about the size and shape of a quail’s egg. These eggs are dimly bio-luminescent, shedding a light blue glow. Bee cats feed their kittens on honey, in a fashion similar to the way house cats feed their kittens on milk. Bee cat honey is prized as a delicacy by the humans of Tembladera, and is one of the many exotic trade goods shipped back to the Old World. It keeps indefinitely, so long as it is covered.

Bee cat, tame, adult: $400

Bee cat egg: $25

Bee cat honey, 1 meal: $25, 0.5 lbs


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