Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cauldron of the Witch

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

- Macbeth

The witch’s cauldron is synonymous with Halloween so much it remains a regular decoration item this time of year. The idea that some group of foul old crones could be using one to conjure forth dark magic is perfect for Dungeons & Dragons. That being said, witches would not take the theft or unauthorized use of their magic cauldrons lightly. Although it would take a brave adventurer indeed to infiltrate the lair of a witch their cauldrons remain enchanted with evil hexes.

Those schooled in the arcane arts will be able to decipher the true power of a witch’s cauldron with some study. Each cauldron is normally found in a chamber which is filled with a plethora of unsavory spell components. If a handful is stirred into the cauldron and it's power invoked any common magical potion can be easily crafted. The caveat being those who dare to use the cauldron have a 50% chance to become hexed for 24 hours. A Remove Curse spell will only reduce the duration of the hex from 24 to 12 hours maximum.

Consult the table below each time the cauldron is used to create a magical potion:

Hex Table (1d8)

1. Horrific Countenance: The victim grows unsightly warts and seeping boils all over their face. Their charisma is effectively halved when dealing with any NPC.

2. Malignant Hindrance: Large fleshy growths and cankers form on the appendages of the victim. Their dexterity is effectively halved for any attribute checks required.

3. Fetid Secretion: A reeking odor emanates from the victim which can be detected up to 50’ away. Those within range will be revolted by the smell and avoid the victim. Any stealth type check should be made with a huge penalty (disadvantage in 5E or a large minus in other editions).

4. Wild Anathema: The victim now communicates in guttural growls and animalistic sounds. They are unable to use normal language for anything including the somatic casting of spells.

5. Benumbed Bones: An unearthly chill emanates from the victim who is unable to get warm no matter how hard they try. The victim has their movement halved for the duration of the hex.

6. Repugnant Euthanasia: Wherever the victim goes small insects, animals and plant life withers and dies within a 30’ radius.

7. Eye of Malevolence: One of the victim’s eyes becomes enlarged, blood shot and foul looking. Anyone with 30’ of the victim suffers misfortune (disadvantage in 5E or a large minus to rolls in other editions). Covering the eye has no effect as it is always visible for some reason.

8. Polymorphic Malediction: The victim immediately is polymorphed into a warty toad. Their possessions are not part of the transformation and all fall to the ground.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ravenloft: Strahd's fifth motivation

 I am the ancient. My beginnings are lost in the darkness of the past. I am not dead. Nor am I alive. I am undead, forever.
Count Strahd von Zarovich

The Ravenloft module (I6) written by Tracy and Laura Hickman in 1983 is my favorite published D&D adventure. Every Halloween I try to run it at least once for those brave souls able to attend. The module has excellent replay value because the villain Strahd von Zarovich has multiple potential motivations. Additionally the castle is massive so it’s quite possible to only explore a small percentage every Halloween. Strahd is a vampire and quite possibly the most iconic villain ever published in a TSR adventure.

Before the adventure begins there are four possible motivations of Strahd for the DM to choose from. Without spoiling them for any players who may be reading this I thought what if there was a fifth motivation? And what if it had foundation in Bram Stoker’s Dracula? In chapter III of the story we get a unique glimpse into Dracula’s motivation when he proclaims, "We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship.” With that theme in mind it is very apparent that Dracula craves the days of yore when battles and the associated glory were still commonplace.

Strahd, as master of his domain in Barovia has little in terms of challengers. Long gone are his mortal days as a warrior and leader of good armies. Perhaps as a fifth motivation Strahd wants nothing more than a taste of those old times and to be exhilarated again. Decades of wallowing in his tragic self-pity over the murder of his brother and subsequent suicide of Tatyana has boiled into a calculated rage. Strahd uses the mists to bring what he believes may be great warriors to Barovia for no other reason than to unleash his anger and challenge his abilities.

This motivation will be good to use if you are running Ravenloft and have a shortened time frame. Additionally if you have players that are itching to test their mettle against the legendary vampire then this motivation is for you. That being said, there is plenty of room for creative role playing also with this fifth motivation scenario. Clever players may be able to parlay with Strahd if the DM leaves enough clues warning of why they have been summoned.

Conceivably the players learn some of the tragic story of Tatyana and Strahd’s curse and are able to use it to their advantage. In chapter II of Dracula at one point he proclaims, “I long . . . to be in the midst of the whirl and rush of humanity, to share its life, its change, its death, and all that makes it what it is. But alas!” Although it would be extremely difficult some excellent role playing may be able to understand Strahd’s desire to feel alive again even though it may be misplaced with combat and glory. Maybe the silver tongue of some adventurer and a steely nerve is able to win the day so the party can escape the castle and Strahd’s wrath.

Regardless of Strahd’s motivation the dark gothic story of Ravenloft is always such a memorable experience. If you decide to run Ravenloft this Halloween I wish those gallant enough to help tell the tale the best of fortune. Just warn them that garlic, wooden stakes, holy water and prayers are not included and that black carriage mileage may vary!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Princess Ariel

For Throwback Thursday I thought it would be fun to remember Princess Ariel (voiced by Nellie Bellflower) from Thundaar the Barbarian. If you came here looking for a red headed mermaid I’m sorry to disappoint you. For those who don’t recall the cartoon it was way ahead of its time in terms of gonzo sci-fi mixed with fantasy.

The beginning narration is as follows:

The year, 1994. From out of space, comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the moon, unleashing cosmic destruction. Man's civilization is cast in ruin. Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn. A strange new world rises from the old. A world of savagery, super-science, and sorcery. But one man bursts his bonds to fight for justice. With his companions, Ookla the Mok and Princess Ariel, he pits his strength, his courage, and his fabulous Sunsword, against the forces of evil. He is Thundarr, the Barbarian! 

I picked Ariel for the throwback because I think she really was the unsung heroine time and time again. She first appeared in the episode Secret of the Black Pearl which aired October 4th, 1980. Ariel…black pearl notice all these references which pre-date Disney™? Being a sorcerous Ariel was incredibly valuable as an adventuring companion in the post-apocalyptic world of 3994.

Ariel’s powerful innate magic almost always utilized the somatic component of hand gestures. She was able to shape force magic specifically in the form of offensive bolts and protective shields. Many times Ariel was seen manipulating matter in ways similar to prestidigitation or even thaumaturgy. Perhaps coolest of all, was Ariel’s ability to counter the magic of enemy casters. It would save her companions time and time again.

While Thundaar and Ookla were great warriors, they were also not the brightest bulbs. Ariel seemed to be a wellspring of knowledge pertaining to science and early human history. Apparently her father, Sabien, was responsible for her advanced education in both mundane and magical subjects. That being said, he was a vile and cruel man who kept slaves with one of them being Thundaar. Princess Ariel was responsible for freeing Thundaar and Ookla and thus became their companion in exile.

Ariel was depicted as a fit woman with dark skin, hair and eyes. She wore a form fitting blue tunic with golden belt, bracers and boots. A teardrop tiara completed her outfit which was barely visible under her raven colored hair. It was alluded to in the show that she had deep feelings and respect for Thundaar but he was too thick headed to realize it. Stupid barbarians...

Toynami 2003

Monday, October 13, 2014

8 Old School Weapons Your Campaign Needs

The 1980s were a great era for not only role playing games but also fantasy cinema. I recall very fondly how those movies influenced many table top adventures and also characters. One thing that really stands out about many of those movies was the unique weapons used by many of the protagonists. Just think of the first time you saw a light saber as a kid and the associated wow factor. Below I have listed eight such weapons that I believe any old school enthusiast should mold into their world. Perhaps you already once did back in the 1980s and it’s time for some modern day nostalgia!

Repeating Crossbow, Hawk the Slayer, 1980

This is a movie that I still love to this day because of the assembled party of adventurers. One such
hero was a grizzled fighter named Ranulf (Morgan Sheppard) who used a cartridge fed crossbow. The first time I saw this weapon in action I immediately had to put it into my campaign. A semi-automatic bolt spewing crossbow? Sign me up and Darryl from the Walking Dead keep on drooling!

Tri-Bladed Sword, Sword and the Sorcerer, 1982

Conceptually it’s hard to imagine wielding a triple bladed melee weapon. Ok, set logic aside and remember this is the stuff of fantasy and magic! In the movie Prince Talon (Lee Horsley) is able to fire the blades with incredible force at his opponents. So an anime style melee weapon that doubles as a blade shooting cannon? This HAS to be found and wielded by some lucky player character!

Caber, The Beastmaster, 1982

Dar (Marc Singer) is a barbarian with a really cool boomerang that has four axe blades. With the axe blade theme I can completely envision this being a dwarven exotic weapon. Especially when used in the narrow halls of the under realm and thrown across chasms. No dwarf would throw a perfectly good axe unless it returned to their hand! A weapon like the caber really allows a character to have that trusty ranged attack available when needed.

Glaive, Krull, 1983

When Prince Colwyn (Kenneth Marshall) pulled the glaive from the lava pool it was a cinema moment I will never forget.  An ancient magical throwing weapon with retractable blades that returns to your hand! To a ten year old fascinated with shurikens this was like one on steroids. The glaive defiantly has an artifact aura about it and could serve well as one in any campaign.

Weirding Module, Dune, 1984

Being a big fan of gonzo and magitech in my own games I had to include this after a friend’s suggestion. The Weirding Module translates specific sounds into sonic attacks of varying potency. Imagine a well versed bard character finding one of these Purple Haze inducing devices? I love the idea of a magic item that amplifies and modifies one effect into another. Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) shatters a stone obelisk with his during a training exercise in the movie!

Double Crossbow, Ladyhawke, 1985

Navarre’s (Rutger Hauer) double crossbow is a great example of something so cool and yet not very outlandish. The over and under design with a double shot mechanism would not be hard to make in a fantasy world. I would imagine it would command a great price but most adventurers should be able to save for one. This was another weapon that immediately found its way into countless D&D campaigns back in the 80s. I highly recommend you consider it now and breathe some life back into crossbows!

Bone Club, Red Sonja, 1985

There is nothing more basic than a huge bone club and Falkon (Paul Smith) wielded his with great prowess. I really think this club deserves mentioning because it reminds us that the coolest weapons don’t have to be traditional. Maybe it’s the leg bone of some ancient mythical beast, virtually unbreakable and oddly heavy. I could see a party of adventures being on the receiving end something similar and then one of them using it afterward for many levels.

Serrated Sword, Willow, 1988

I will be honest in 1988 I only noticed the fiery Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) first and her wicked sword later. That being said, the serrated sword is such a nasty looking weapon. It hurts going in and like an arrow I could only imagine the damage this does on the way out. It also could double as a pseudo saw for an adventurer on some nasty dungeon delve. This is a great example of a normal weapon with a unique twist beyond just a simple (and often boring) +1.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Haunted Sword Table

With Halloween quickly approaching my mind always shifts to haunted houses. But what about something we do not hear about as frequently such as the haunted object? If you are planning on running some Halloween themed games this October I have created a Haunted Sword Table below. The idea is to add just enough scare to really spice up that +1 sword the adventurers just found. The possibilities are really endless in terms of how far the DM could take any of these themes.

Just imagine that a restless, malicious or even sadistic spirit is somehow permanently bound to the blade. Maybe an entire quest could be embarked on just to unravel the mystery of the haunting. Make the players wary of the weapon or maybe even intimidated by it. Perhaps despite their best efforts it keeps turning up time and time again. The sword mocks them, goads them, and continuously finds ways to cause unease among the party.

Maybe after a good haunting some old school caution will be injected back into even the most stalwart of treasure seekers!

Haunted Sword Table (d10)

1.    The wielder feels another hand grasp the handle of the sword and a control it for a fleeting second.

2.    Odd laughter emanates from the blade while it remains sheathed. The laughing stops when the blade is drawn forth and examined.

3.    The wielder hears the sound of the blade being dragged across a whetstone repeatedly late at night.

4.    The wielder begins suffering from a recurring nightmare of accidently cutting themselves. Eventually the wielder awakens to find unexplained cuts on their appendages.

5.    The wielder starts seeing shadow figures darting around in their peripheral vision which reach for the sword.

6.    The sword makes the wielder’s hand feel tired, numb and cold. When it gets almost unbearable a faint and undecipherable whisper is breathed into one of their ears.

7.    The sword is never where the owner left after the sun rises. When found there will be unintelligible scribbling obviously created by the blade on the wall or ground.

8.    At complete random times the blood curdling death screams of someone will echo forth from the area where the sword is.

9.    People will unknowingly and subconsciously avoid the owner of the sword. They will be seen glancing at the weapon and then quickly averting their eyes.

10.    The wielder’s skin takes on a sickening pallor and their eyes a solid black color whenever they use the sword in combat. Afterward it slowly fades and they feel cold and melancholy for a short time.