The Living Curse

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Erik Tenkar mentioned something in passing that really struck me. It may not be new to you, but the idea that a creature that appears undead is merely cursed is brilliant.

One example I can find in the various Swords & Wizardry books is the Omgoth. They eat like ghouls, look like ghouls, and hang around other ghouls. Yet, they are not undead. It even says in the creature description that Omgoths cannot be turned.

I’ve used a similar idea for years for lesser undead. Skeletons and zombies are not undead, but merely animated corpses. The abilities and immunities of an animated object are remarkably similar to undead. It may not be effective at higher levels, but to a low-level party, it is really freaky when the Cleric’s Big Magic Trick has no effect.

What do you mean I don’t roll to turn them, they’re skeletons!

I already do not consider shadows and ghosts as undead, so anyone that has played in a game I run will know that. However, the thing that never occurred to me was to have a cursed creature that looks and acts like a vampire, but is not a vampire. They can even take damage from daylight as part of the curse. How about a cursed lich? A powerful magic-user cursed to endlessly research the same spell in the vain hope of reversing the curse. Then there’s new creatures like the phasma from the Pathfinder SRD. In many ways, it is a cursed Cleric. Considering that the Cleric’s god did not save him/her from the curse, I almost think that releasing the curse is worse.

There used to be a blog at Monstrous Television that mentioned abdead as creature similar to undead, but not affected by Cleric in the same way. I wish that archive.org could bring back this post. Essentially, abdead skeletons are intelligent and not able to be turned. I can’t remember the rest of the idea except to say that it was great.

Still, there’s more to reskinning undead that removing the Cleric’s Big Magic Trick. I moved traditional incoporeal undead into a new category of creature. In my games, these ghosts (including specters and shadows) can be battled by psionic characters. Whereas the Cleric takes out the undead and horrible amalgams of bone, sinew, and rot, the Psionicist battles the vengeful spirits of mortals that cannot leave this plane with unfinished business.

That’s my two cents on reskinning undead. Have you ever reskinned undead creatures?

 

More Fun, In Space

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My son and I went to Nuke-Con this past Saturday. I am hoping that next year we will get more time to game. He could only attend from about 3pm – 8pm due to an overnight camping trip Friday and a library event on Sunday. Still, he comes up with a few gems no matter where we are.

Tonight I reminded him about the Howerter post. I mentioned it because I shared that I was proud of him for being imaginative. Before I could say much more, he looks at me and says,

What if the dolphins could make their own bubbles and float into the sky? Why not into outer space?

See, I’ve been sitting around trying to figure out the ecology of some kind of huge creature that floats in the atmosphere due to a huge air bladder filled with hydrogen. I figured that it goes into low-orbit to escape predators, thus humans take advantage of these creatures to fly into outer space.

While I am pondering the questions of how and why, my son asks the most important question in any game: Why not?

I posted about a race of dolphins that adventured on land because I like ideas that are so far removed from anything I could invent. The more I thought about it, though, I wondering why they would go through all the trouble to create the equipment necessary to adventure on land. On land, they can use swords, but they can’t take them home. Even if they did, they serve no purpose. Potions don’t work underwater either. Many spells do not function or cannot be controlled underwater. Again, why would they bother?

To see what’s there.

I had to admit to myself that OSR games that I play are similar. Why does a group of sentient folks adventure in the Elemental Plane of Fire Seriously, the plane of Fire. In my 1e days, we went to the Plane of Magma. Why did TSR actually make a book about adventuring in Hell?

Why not? My high school group went to Tiamat’s lair just to knock on the door. They went off the map in Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth just to see what was North and West. Spell research turned out to be mostly useless in game play, but it was great to have spells like Itchy Teeth, Boomerang Sword, and Explosive Diarrhea. I think one of the guys actually tried to make evil Ioun Stones and launch them in a sling against various monsters. (Critical fail and the stone circled his head draining hit points until the Cleric stopped laughing and cast Remove Curse.)

So, I look forward to sailing the spaces between the stars in a small crystalline sphere. With a dolphin. Maybe the bubble can somehow interface with another’s ship navigation system. The dolphin are mildly psionic, so why not?

For what it is worth, Explosive Diarrhea did get one use in play. The mage cast it on Iuz the Evil and he failed the save. Mind you, it didn’t save the party, but at least one researched spell actually worked.

A New Race, For Fun

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Some time ago, I mentioned on G+ that my son wants to play n intelligent dolphin in a game. This dolphin is not part of an undersea adventure, but travels on land and interacts with “hobbits”, “scientists”, and “regular people”.

Since he was three, he has associated the word “howert” with dolphins. It has been the sound they make when attempting English, it has represented various superpowers, and finally has come to mean the name that they call themselves in their language.

So, here is my write-up for Swords & Wizardry:

The Howerters

Limited Telekinesis: Howerters have no arms or legs, but can manipulate objects as if they had arms and legs. Regardless of STRENGTH score, they do not gain bonuses to hit or damage using melee weapons.

Yes, they can use rings.

Levitation and Limited Flight: Howerters do not make contact with the ground unless they choose (or die). They levitate at a height to have eye level at 5 feet, but can levitate as high as 8 feet for CONSTITUTION/2 rounds a day. In any situation that requires a roll for aerial piloting or maneuvering, they gain a +4 bonus or improve the maneuverability by one class.

Avoid Traps: Howerters will not set off any trap that depends on weight or pressure plates. They will also be immune to tripwires. This is due to the fact that they hover as movement. As they have limited movement through three-dimensional space, they gain bonuses to avoiding other traps as determined by the referee.

Magic Sleeve: Howerters wear an article of clothing they call a sleeve. It prevents them from drying out through their adventures on land and negates the need to be underwater. Howerters cannot wear any armor other than their magic sleeve.

The sleeve provides a +/- 3 bonus to armor (between chain mail and leather), but no other special protections. It is not airtight and does not prevent touch-based attacks.

Swimmers: Howerters can remove the sleeve in water and swim as normal dolphins.

Classes: Player-Character howerters may be Magic-Users, Thieves, or Magic-User/Thieves. In the Thief class, a Howerter may advance with no maximum level limit. A Howerter that is solely a Thief takes no advantage of any XP bonus due to a high Dexterity. Howerters advancing in more than one class are limited to 9th level Magic-User (10th with an Intelligence of 18).

In campaign worlds with psionics, a Howerter has no maximum level limit in any psionic class. In worlds with Illusionists, they may reach a maximum of 12th level.

Non-player howerters can be clerics. If the referee decides to allow them as PCs, they may advance to 10th level. (11th level with a Wisdom of 18).

Personality: Howerters, like their cousins the dolphins, are very intelligent and curious. They are fearless explorers that are excited about discovering new creatures, locations, magic items, or anything else new. They can get bored quickly, but will rarely make rash decisions.

They are aware of their startling appearance and usually handle it with self-deprecating humor. Unless Chaotic in alignment, they get along with any species they come in contact with. They tend to be outgoing and gregarious. They are slow to make deep friendships, but once made, they are loyal to the point of death.