Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Rust Monster

I had rather wear out than rust out - Richard Cumberland (d. 1718)

For this week’s throwback we take a look at one major anathema of adventurers, the rust monster! I have always loved this beastie because it remains one of those constants in the universe. Old rusty creates wide eyes and guarded play regardless of character level. 

My favorite aspect however of the rust monster remains in its origins. I actually remember having the very toy the rust monster was created from as a child. Gary Gygax recalled the history of our ferrous eating friend and was quoted in Dragon Magazine #346:

There isn't much to relate regarding the rust monster, truth be told. When I picked up a bag of plastic monsters made in Hong Kong at the local dime store to add to the Sand table array-we were playing Chainmail Fantasy Supplement miniatures at a 1:1 scale, there was the figurine
that looked rather like lobster with a propeller on its tail.

As we assigned names and stats to these critters, bulette and owl bear for instance; nothing very fearsome came to mind regarding the one with the projecting feelers. Then inspiration struck me. It was a "rust monster," a thing whose touch turned ferrous metals to ferrous oxide, even magical steel armor or enchanted iron or steel weapons.

The players soon learned to hit one with spells and arrows so as to slay it at a distance. When one appeared in the D&D game, usually in a dungeon setting, there was great haste to remove from its vicinity if there was no sure and quick means of destroying it at hand.

It really is fun to think that such a classic monster of the Dungeons & Dragons game was inspired by a bag of cheap plastic monsters. It just goes to show what you can do with some imagination and a trip to the local dollar store.

Recently there as an interesting article floating around the web about a plant in the Philippines which eats metal. As soon as I read about the Rinorea niccolifera I just knew I had to somehow turn it into a monster. After all something as innocuous as a plant is usually the unexpected adversary which catches players off guard. So below I present you with a new perennial plant to hide among the red and orange autumn leaves.

Rustent (5E example stats)
Large Plant
Armor Class: 14
Hit Points: 40 (4d10 + 16); see Traits below
Speed: 30 ft.
Senses tremorsense 100 ft.

Str 18 (+4)            Dex 16 (+3)         Con 18 (+4)
Int 12 (+1)             Wis 10                 Cha 9 (-1)
Alignment: unaligned
Languages: nil


Hide in Plain Sight: The rustent can hold itself so still that it appears to be a tree. A DC 18 Wisdom (Perception) check reveals that the tree is, in fact, a rustent

Damage Resistance: The rustent is resistant to bludgeoning damage.

Vulnerability: The rustent is vulnerable to fire.

Rust: Each time the rustent hits a suit of armor or metal weapon with its hyperacccumulator tongue, the armor or weapon is rusted. If the armor or weapon is magical, its wearer or wielder can make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw. Successful Save: The armor or weapon is not rusted.

A rusted item takes a cumulative and permanent –2 penalty. In the case of armor, the penalty applies to its AC, and if penalties from rust reduce the target’s AC (ignoring Dexterity) to 10 or less, the armor is destroyed. In the case of a weapon, the penalty applies to damage rolls made with the weapon, and if the penalties from rust reduce the weapon’s damage result to 0 or less, the weapon is destroyed.


Melee Attack—Slam: +4 to hit (reach 10 ft.; one creature).
Hit: 16 (3d6 + 4) bludgeoning damage.

Ranged Attack—Tongue: +3 to hit (20 ft./40 ft.) one creature wearing metal armor or carrying a metal weapon). Hit: The target’s armor (01–75 on a d100) or weapon (76–00 on a d100) is rusted (see the Rust trait).

Level 5

Monday, June 23, 2014

Free RPG Day


For the first time since its inception I did not venture out on Free RPG Day. The last few years I have seen the decline of the event at most FLGS in my area. I was under the impression that the original foundation of Free RPG Day was to help the FLGS. Most establishments complain they must pay for the material and that people just grab and go. What I find laughable however is those same FLGS do absolutely nothing in terms of hyping the event.

In fact last year I stopped by one store in particular and everything was just thrown haphazardly on a table. The clerk working the checkout had his nose buried in a book and did not even say a word to me. At another store the local clique was given first dibs on all the best loot. The worst part was the store owner was happy with his decision to do the latter.

For me the PDF’s made available by the Indie RPG community are what Free RPG Day is now. But alas, this is also why 99% of my buying is online versus brick and mortar. Between stores boycotting the event, and very poorly managed stores, Free RPG Day is becoming endangered in my area. Hopefully it turns around, and some entrepreneur able to think outside the box makes a fun event out of Free RPG Day.

Some of the loot available this year

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Vorpal Sword

For this week’s throwback I thought we would take a quick look at a quintessential favorite the vorpal sword. The term vorpal however does not find its roots in role playing games. It was author Lewis Carroll who first coined the term in his 1871 publication Through the Looking-Glass. This was the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865). The term appears twice in a poem called Jabberwocky which Alice reads:

He took his vorpal sword in hand
And later,
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

The vorpal sword as we know it in fantasy role playing first appeared in D&D Supplement 1: Greyhawk (1975). It was basically a sword of sharpness on steroids that would decapitate you! Since then there has been numerous iterations of vorpal swords across many editions of Dungeons & Dragons.

Greyhawk Page 47, 1975

In the current Playtest material of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons the weapon is still deadly:

Property [Attuned]: The weapon’s bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls increases to +3. Attacks you make using this weapon ignore resistance to slashing damage.

When the number you roll on the d20 for your attack roll using this weapon is 20, make another attack roll against the same target. If you hit again, the target takes an additional 6d8 damage. If the second attack roll is also an unmodified 20 and the target has 150 hit points or fewer, you lop off its head, killing it instantly. If the creature doesn’t have a head, you instead chop the creature in half, with the same lethal result.

I think the former is a fair modern interpretation but I probably will not be using it in my home brew campaign. To me the vorpal sword is one of those boogieman weapons that should be truer to its 1975 form. Instead my home brew version will read as follows:

Whenever you roll an unmodified 20 and the target has 150 hit points or fewer, you lop off its head, killing it instantly. If the creature doesn’t have a head, you instead chop the creature in half, with the same lethal result. If the target has more than 150 hit points it takes an additional 6d8 damage instead.

I never actually have given a non-epic level character a vorpal sword in my campaigns over the past thirty years. Swords of sharpness made the rounds in AD&D a few times and were very prized items. Many DM’s stay away from vorpal weapons for fear the BBEG will die in one lucky roll of the d20. I personally feel that if a player finds a vorpal weapon it should be of artifact quality and yes every BBEG should be scared of it! Likewise every player should still worry about that wayward and very hungry rust monster…

So what is your take on vorpal weapons and the snicker-snack of a natural 20?

Vorpal Swords are no big deal!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

D&D Adventurers League

Reading about the Adventurer’s League has me very interested in organized play for perhaps the first time. But I think the foundation for my excitement may be different from others. From my standpoint it should be used to draw old players back into the hobby and more importantly add new players. The biggest challenge I think to the former however is the friendly local game store (FLGS). While it is apparent there will be plenty of support provided them it may go mostly unnoticed.

Many remaining brick and mortar stores are only frequented by regular customers. Worse many of these stores are not a true demographic of the modern gaming community. I have been playing games for three decades and I find myself rarely staying long at a FLGS. Unfortunately they are usually filled with stereotypes which popular culture so loves to poke fun at. Most young people or even professionals who once played RPGs would never frequent these establishments.

For example my town has a large beginning of summer event where the entire main drag is filled with music, food, games and vendors – it’s like a carnival of fun and activities. There was potentially thousands of people walking up and down the street. The FLGS is right on the main drag in the heart of the action. Curious, I poked my head in to see what was going on. There was a smattering of CCG players who cast a questionable glance at me and not a single patron to be found.

Image is everything and the stereotypes of gamers are something I have battled against for a long time. I believe the average FLGS will continue to have a very limited new audience. The caveat being those stores which are not filled with grognards who treat newcomers with suspicion. They are rare but they do exist and flourish amazingly well as both a social place and retail environment. Therefore it is my belief that in-person and online play that does not happen in a game store will have lots of appeal. I hope to potentially make this happen in my area because nothing is cooler than seeing someone roll a D20 for the first time!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Deathtrap Dungeon

Down in the dark twisting labyrinth of Fang, unknown horrors await you. Devised by the devilish mind of Baron Sukumvit, the labyrinth is riddled with fiendish traps and bloodthirsty monsters, which will test your skills almost beyond the limit of endurance.

Countless adventurers before you have taken up the challenge of the Trial of Champions and walked through the carved mouth of the labyrinth, never to be seen again. Should you come out of the labyrinth alive, you will be wealthy beyond your dreams. Do YOU dare enter?
All three book covers
First published in 1984, Deathtrap Dungeon by Ian Livingstone was a huge influence on me as a young DM. It was part of the Fighting Fantasy series of single-player RPG books. I fondly recall playing through the book dozens of times over the summer when I was 10 years old. Eventually after countless delves I actually completed the dungeon one time successfully. I learned just how fickle fate could be when rolling dice to determine an outcome. Deathtrap Dungeon was a best-selling children's book in 1984 and just recently celebrated its 30 year anniversary. 

In 1988, a conceptual video game version of the famous book was released. It was developed by Asylum Studios and published by Eidos Interactive for the PlayStation and Microsoft Windows. The game was a 3rd person dungeon crawler which became a best seller in the UK. The two characters available were the Amazon Red Lotus or the Barbarian Chaindog. Red Lotus while popular looked more like a dominatrix with a great sword. I think she was perhaps in the wrong dungeon environment...

The game was loaded with nasty tricks and traps that would even give Lara Croft (Red Lotus twin sister?) and Indiana Jones a run for their money. Incidentally today is also the 33 year anniversary of the premiere of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Did Ian Livingstone’s vision help to craft some of your early table top dungeons?

The start of Ian Livingstone's original map

Iain McCaig's original Bloodbeast sketch

Kelly Brook promoting the video game in Red Lotus Cosplay