Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Jersey Devil

Every summer my family and I make the trek to one of the New Jersey shore points for vacation. Growing up on the east coast it has been a tradition as long as I can remember. Salt water taffy, weird shops on the board walk, disco fries, the smell of salt water and the cackle of seagulls. And like many places in the country New Jersey has its own legendary monster which lives in the Pine Barrens.

For several hundred years now people have reported seeing this beastie steeped in heavy folklore. So much that the state even named its professional hockey team The New Jersey Devils. According to legend in the early 1700s a settler named Mother Leeds thirteenth child morphed into a terrible creature soon after birth. Complete with massive claws, wings and glowing eyes it dispatched its mother and all other witnesses in short order.

After the carnage the horrific creature flew away and made its lair somewhere in the prodigious Pine Barrens. During the 18th and 19th centuries the legend of the Jersey (or Leeds) Devil grew as residents of the surrounding areas became frightened. At one point schools were actually closed and people refused to leave their homes for fear of the creature attacking them. To this day as with Big Foot it remains common for residents or visitors to report finding strange foot prints or tufts of hair. Or perhaps they report seeing a strange flapping shadow or hear some unearthly howl during the night.

The Jersey devil seems like a perfect critter to add to an existing D&D campaign or to create a one shot adventure for. As with all folklore monsters sometimes the best inspiration comes from real life stories and legends. Krampus who has spiked in popularity recently is perhaps the best example of this. Depending on how serious you are about your monster research maybe a camping trip inside the New Jersey Pine Barrens is in order? After all it really is a rite of passage for anyone on the east coast who is a folklore buff. I would recommend bringing your lucky D20 though because saving throws versus fear are the worst!

For now I have created a version of the Jersey Devil for 5E Dungeons & Dragons:

Medium Cryptid (devil), Chaotic evil
Armor Class 19 (natural armor)
Hit Points 142 (15d10 + 60)
Speed 40 ft. , fly 40ft.
STR 18 (+4) DEX 16 (+3) CON 17 (+3) INT 13 (+1) WIS 18 (+4) CHA 16 (+3)

Damage Resistances cold; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from non-magical 
weapons that aren't silvered
Damage Immunities fire, poison
Condition Immunities poisoned
Senses darkvision 120 ft 

Languages Infernal
Challenge 15 (13,000 XP)
Devil's Sight. Magical darkness doesn't impede the Jersey Devil's darkvision.
Magic Resistance. The Jersey Devil has advantage on saving throws 

against spells and other magical effects.
Multiattack. The Jersey Devil makes three attacks: two with its claws and one with its sting.
Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
Hit: 8 (1d8 + 4) slashing damage.
Sting. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5ft., one target.
Hit: 13 (2d8 + 4) piercing damage
Bonechilling Wail. The Jersey Devil’s terrible cries can be heard for upwards to a mile away. Anyone within 100’ of this wail however must succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened until the end of the Jersey Devil’s next turn. If the target fails the saving throw by 5 or more, it is also becomes paralyzed for the same duration. A target that succeeds on the saving throw is immune to the Bonechilling Wail for the next 24 hours.

Legendary Actions
The Jersey Devil can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action option can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature's turn. The Jersey Devil regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.

Attack. The Jersey Devil makes one attack with its Claw, Sting or Bonechilling Wail.

Wing Attack (Costs 2 Actions). The Jersey Devil beats its wings. Each creature within 15 feet must succeed on a DC 16 Dexterity saving throw or take 13 (2d8 + 4) bludgeoning damage and be knocked prone. The Jersey Devil can then fly up to half its flying speed.

Blood Frenzy (Costs 3 Actions). The Jersey Devil makes a claw attack against a target at 0 HP and if successful instead of failing one death save automatically they fail two.    

For more information on the Jersey Devil visit the The New Jersey Historical Society.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Review: Crimson Dragon Slayer RPG

Venger of Kort'thalis publishing asked me to review his newest product Crimson Dragon Slayer. For the uninitiated CDS is an OSR style role playing game with a retro and very gonzo foundation. The premise of the game takes us back to the wonderful era of the 1980s. The players start out enjoying a game of Crimson Dragon Slayer on their Commodore 64 and are inexplicably pulled into the realm of Thule.

I must admit when I was a daydreaming ten year old in 1983 I often wished something like this would happen. Much like the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon my friends and I would spend hours musing over living through a similar situation. It is that feeling of both nostalgia and old school RPGs that Venger has wrapped into CDS.

The name of the game is tied to one of the adversaries the players have to contend with in the land of Thule. I actually like the name as it reminds me of a cheesy 80s metal band. That being said, I would love to see a future release with an alternate cover. As it stands if I saw the game on a shelf I would instantly think it was some sort of regular fantasy RPG. This unfortunately carries over into much of the interior art as well.

The book numbers 42 pages some of which are dedicated to an easy to follow d6 system. If I had any complaint it would be the small size of the book.
The ideas prepared within were so fun I just kept wanting more. For my review I admittedly glossed over the ruleset as with most games I simply don’t use them. Rather I look for inspiration and system neutral material to mash-up with whatever system I’m currently using. 

Instead I concentrated on content and flavor to see if Venger captured the vibe the game proclaims to have. The caveat being the d6 rule set is indeed part of that flavor. In the 1980s RPGs were not riddled with voluminous texts of mechanics so the d6 system captures some of that nostalgia. I will say that the material presented in CDS can be easily converted and used in other RPGs.

The first thing I liked was random tables to generate things like your job before you were transported to Thule. In a future release of the CDS I would like to see more random tables. A fun duo of tables  in the current version of the game gives the characters a new name. I rolled and ended up with Emerald Slime which immediately made me think of Slimer from the Ghostbusters. Or maybe my character is addicted to Hi-C Ecto-Cooler???

In terms of races a player can choose from all the standard fantasy types which are represented. In addition we have the Infernal Elf, Robots, Crystalline and my favorite the Pixie Fairy Princess. Their entry cracked me up and is as follows: pixie fairies flutter here and there, initiating tea parties, shopping for sparkly dresses, sharing secrets, and obsessively hording magic. Pixie fairies are female and for some inexplicable reason they are all princesses.

In terms of equipment Venger included a starter list of miscellaneous items available for purchase. A few standouts include the Mel Gibson interceptor, Commodore 128 or even an Air-Wolf chopper! Let’s face it the 1980s are loaded with items you could add to this list. I can already envision Trapper Keepers, Reebok Pumps, and the dreaded Cabbage Patch kids for sale. The former could even be giant monsters to encounter with their crazed minions being shoppers trying to obtain them.

One of the areas where Venger has included his style the most I believe is the spell section. Always one to push the limits spells like Cube of Coitus and Ice Cream Phantom Servant are included. I personally find these both amusing and fitting for a theme such as CDS. My friends and I would always butcher or poke fun at published spell names as teenagers in the 1980s. There are a few other gems in the spell section but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

The last thing I read through was the included adventure called the Cavern of Carnage. Right away I smiled looking at the wandering monster table which included Psychotic Candy-Colored Bears. Ironically I had a pack of Gummy Bears on my desk as I read CDS…and I think I saw one move. All jokes aside the adventure has many such fun encounters which incorporate well known and sometimes iconic persons, places or things from the 1980s.

There is clever material and genuine gonzo goodness in Crimson Dragon Slayer. If you always dreamed of fighting hordes of Laser Raptors, jumping on rocket propelled Pogo Balls or having an Excellent Adventure then look no further. Grab a couple friends, some dice and head back to the future with Crimson Dragon Slayer!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Ultracon 1

As every July my blog becomes a tad quiet as I spend time preparing for Ultracon. This is the fourth year of our friends and family event and it should be a memorable one. On the way into work this morning I was thinking back to the first Ultracon which started it all. I thought a short follow-up on the event would be perfect for throwback thursday material.

When creating the adventure for UC1 my goal was to design something that our teenage selves would have enjoyed. After all I was gaming with some players which had not gathered in years. And I decided to use Baba Yaga as the BBEG the center of the story. In Ultanya the deformed old crone is an arch mage of considerable power and influence.

She is very well-traveled across multiple planes of existence with wisdom of the multiverse. So much that brave adventurers, kings and queens often seek her counsel for a price. Baba Yaga is also a collector of strange arcana and curios which she keeps in her extra-dimensional abode the tesseract. But alas she had become bored and decided to trap some adventurers to test their mettle for her amusement!

Baba Yaga was watching remotely from the tesseract control room as exploration unfolded.  If the players made their way through her gauntlet all the way to the control room they would be faced with one last challenge: The Tesseract Arena!

When designing the tesseract encounters I made sure everything was gonzo and outlandish. From the time they entered what seemed to be a mundane hut the warning signs were there. A magic mouth named Gygax appeared and asked them to sign a contract. It was presented Willy Wonka style with all sorts of clauses. The smiles on some of the player’s faces were priceless when this handout was presented. They immediately knew they were in for a wild ride!

Some of the more fun dungeon rooms in no particular order:

Tesseract Sewers: All the waste generated by Baba Yaga’s bestiary is magically channeled here. Waiting for the players was highly intelligent rot grubs and of course mutated gelatinous cubes of gargantuan size. Unfortunately for the players the cubes absorbed a large cache of magic potions over the years and the miscibility table favored them completely!

The Spaceship: Not any ordinary spaceship but one filled with Daleks! The look on the Whovian faces when we placed the Dalek miniatures on the table was great. Plungers of doom and yes disintegration rays completed their arsenal. Eventually the players made it to the senior Dalek whose mechanical shell was damaged. It offered information on navigating the tesseract in return for the player’s help. Instead of using dice I purchased a copy of Dalek Operation to simulate removing the damaged parts.

Dredgehammer Brewery: The ruby ale of this lost brewery was coveted by dwarf and human alike. Surely this must be a good place to rest while exploring the tesseract…WRONG. The magic that once enabled some of the brewing process became unstable and wild. It seeped into the aged kegs and created BEER elementals! With special attacks named Hangover and Beer Brawl you can only imagine the chaos which ensued. This was a fun one and of course the loot was an actual cooler of ice cold beer that was hidden inside a closet at the convention hall.

Fremont the Troll: While scouring for outlandish ideas I happened upon something from our own world. This actual statue exists in the Fremont area of Seattle, Washington under the Aurora Bridge.  At 18’ tall and 13,000lbs of steel, rebar and concrete Baba Yaga just had to have him! Fremont was guarding a bridge inside the tesseract that the players had to cross. They needed to answer his riddles or be attacked by massive fists or a thrown VW bug!

Gate of Doom: This was a massive trapped door with many unique tumblers in its plethora of locks. Instead of using dice I decided yet again to use a tactile puzzle. We used a Jenga tower with each piece removed representing a lock. The player squared off against one of the DM’s while everyone watched. The tension generated as the Jenga tower wobbled resembled a rogue picking dangerous locks. If the tower fell on the player’s turn they would set off a nasty trap. Alternatively if it fell on the DM’s turn they disabled all the traps successfully.

At some point when I have the time I will clean up Baba Yaga’s Tesseract adventure and make it available for download. There are many more other fun encounters which occurred throughout the weekend. The take away here is that while high fantasy is indeed fun adding some gonzo to your game sessions makes things refreshing and new. Don’t be afraid to game outside the box and keep your players on their toes!

Never sign a contract in a dungeon!

You are the enemy of the Daleks!

Fremont the Troll

HOW many cubes?

Game outside the box!

50 bottles of Dredgehammer ready for Ultracon 4!