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Posts Tagged ‘Dungeons & Dragons’

31 Monsters #17: Tiamat

October 17th, 2009 No comments

In the early days of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, there were two basic types of dragons. Good dragons had metallic scales: gold, silver, copper, brass and bronze*. Evil dragons had a color theme: red, blue, green, white and black.

Bahamut the Platinum Dragon led the metallic contingent, but his opposite number was even more fearsome: Tiamat the Chromatic Dragon. Whereas Bahamut had to make do with a single head, Tiamat was graced with five, one for each of her colorful kin.

Tiamat was one of the chief antagonists in the ’80s Saturday morning cartoon adaptation of the game. There she was the rival of the show’s archvillain, the demonic Venger. She made a significant appearance in my favorite episode, “The Dragon’s Graveyard.”

The series’ premise was that a sextet of modern-day kids were transported into a mystical realm and armed with magic weapons which transformed them into rough analogues of typical D&D character types. Venger wanted their weapons to beef up his own powers, and so spent much of the first two seasons plotting against the children. But in “The Dragon’s Graveyard” he took things too far and gravely injured their pet unicorn. (Don’t ask.)

The kids, having had it up to here with Venger, decided to finish the fight once and for all. But to do so, they needed the help of Tiamat. Fortunately, their magic items could open a portal to her home, the Dragon’s Graveyard.

They confronted Tiamat, only to discover that their weapons were substantially more powerful in the graveyard, not coincidentally the place from which they originated. While the Dragon Queen refused to do the chidren’s dirty work, she offered to teleport Venger to the Dragon’s Graveyard, where their enhanced abilities would win the day.

And sure enough, they kicked Venger’s deviled ass all over Dragontown, a scene I found very satisfying back in the day. Their leader Hank prepared to make the killing shot against their helpless opponent…then released him instead. The demon asked the Ranger why he didn’t finish him off, to which Hank replied, “If I did, we’d be no better than you are. We’ve beaten you, and you know it. Do you understand, Venger? I didn’t do it for you, I did it for us!” In hindsight, I suppose that “we’d be no better than the villain” thing wasn’t as much of a philosophical breakthrough as it seemed at the time, but just the same I thought it was a good message for the young audience.

Tiamat is still very much a major player in the Dungeons & Dragons pantheon, proving that five heads are better than two.

*The latest edition of the game replaced the two “alloy” dragons, brass and bronze, with iron and and the fictional metal adamantine. This was in part because it was felt that alloys didn’t fit the scheme, but mostly because gamers could never remember which were brass dragons and which were bronze.


August 15th, 2009 No comments

Yesterday marked the high water mark of my geek year: my annual road trip to Gen Con Indianapolis. This gamer gathering has come a long way since I attended my first one at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside back in 1978. These days it’s one-quarter trade show, one-quarter bazaar, one-quarter costume show and one-quarter your mother’s basement.

While costumes aren’t as much of a focus there as they are at such geek gathering as the San Diego Comic Con, there were certainly enough on display. Though in some cases I wasn’t entirely sure they were costumes; a lot of folks came as “Woman Wearing Plaid Skirt Over Leggings with Skanky Top and Tattoos Covering the Rest.” I think that’s an anime character. To be sure, there were also a bunch of recognizable anime characters, as well as a smattering of superheroes, video game personalities, generic fantasy get-ups (think cloaks and/or pointy ears) and, for some reason, a guy wearing a business suit and ski mask.

I only took one costume photo, of a woman dressed as DC Comics’ mistress of magic, Zatanna. I’ll let you guess why.

Stenhsif raeppa!

I also saw far too many corsets. One example of extreme corsetting had her breasts pushed out so far that they resembled fleshy platters. Seriously, I think she had a spread of cheese and crackers up there. It looked neither comfortable nor in any way sexy.

The costumes were not my reason for being there, though. Neither were the game sessions. I can play games at home. No, I go to Gen Con for the shopping!

My first stop was the Fantasy Flight Games booth, with the express purpose of purchasing a pre-release copy of the “Pegasus” expansion for the Battlestar Galactica boardgame. They must’ve been able to see it in my eyes, as they handed me a copy without my even asking. I also snagged their Bag of Cthulhus, because, hey, bag of Cthulhus!

Really, Fantasy Flight seems to be the centerpiece of the Gen Con dealers’ room these days. Their space was huge, packed high with stacks of colorful, expensive boardgames, and buzzing with demonstration tables. Meanwhile, Wizards of the Coast, makers of Dungeons & Dragons, might as well have put up a sign saying “We don’t really care anymore.” While they weren’t stuck in a corner as they were last year, they had only a few, sparsely-attended demo tables. Furthermore, even though there are several new D&D products coming to stores any moment now, they only brought a small supply that sold out right away. It’s strange to think that D&D used to be the wheel around which all of Gen Con revolved.

In the background you can see monsters from the new Empire of the Apes and Ubercorp factions.With my one “gotta” purchase out of the way, I started making the rounds. Privateer Press didn’t have any new Monsterpocalypse promotional figures this year, but I bought the strategy guide and map pack for the latest expansion of their giant monsters wargame. They did have a nifty diorama of MonPoc figures, including some of the new factions that will debut this fall. I’m especially looking forward to the Tritons (subs and sea monsters) and the Empire of the Apes (gorillas with jet packs!).

I always buy at least one game without a prior demonstration, and this year it was The Isle of Doctor Necreaux from Alderac. I’m not really a fan of “cooperative” games (ones in which the players team up to defeat the game’s mechanics), but I am a fan of pulp sci-fi.

Alderac also had a really slick-looking Raiders of the Lost Ark pastiche called The Adventurers, with a group of pulp heroes invading a trap-infested labyrinth. I didn’t watch the demo long enough to get a sense of the gameplay, but it’s definitely on my radar when it hits retail.

Another game that piqued my interest, if not my wallet, was Shootin’ Ladders: Frag Fest, which is a videogame-inspired battle royale played out on a Chutes and Ladders board. The same company, Smirk and Dagger, previously released a similarly-ultraviolent version of Candy Land called Run For Your Life, Candyman! It was the end of the day and I was down to just the last of my food money, so I left it for another day.

The only other complete game I purchased was Vapor’s Gambit, a “hoverboard racing” challenge. I gather that it’s not very good, as Troll & Toad was clearing out a huge stack of them for a buck apiece. But, as my wife has pointed out, I would take a piece of shit* if they were giving it away for free. For a buck, it was worth it for the pieces.

Mostly I go to Gen Con for the individual miniatures, random bargains and odd gamer paraphenalia. I didn’t buy as many dice as usual, but I did get a “carved,” Cthulhu-themed 20-sided die, as well as a giant, inflatable 20-sider. Then there was the plush baby Adipose from Doctor Who. (The Adipose are aliens composed entirely of fat collected from unsuspecting human donors, but they sure are cute!)

I ran into several gamers I know, including my good friend (and former Urbana-ite) Chris Dinkins. We met over a bin of D&D miniatures, and he helped me dig through the heap to find several _______ figures (name withheld because my gamer group will have to fight them one day soon). Chris and I had a nice, long chat.

All in all, it was a good trip. People didn’t seem too cranky, and I found the aisles easy enough to navigate once I ditched the ridiculously-large Fantasy Flight Games sack. (Still, people, leave your babies at home!) I only got into one potential scuffle, with an overzealous convention volunteer who kept insisting that I go all the way around the auction area to the official exit when I was standing five feet from my checked backpack. It was the only game I actually played yesterday, but I am pleased to say that I won that round.

*Correction: Vic tells me that what she actually says is that I would take a hot turd if it was free.

Monster Manual Class Photo

August 4th, 2009 No comments

Class photo day was the one day that the Roper forgot to comb his tentacles.

Top row: Otyugh, Purple Worm, Gelatinous Cube

Middle row: Hook Horror, Ochre Jelly, Bulette, Rust Monster, Owlbear, Carrion Crawler

Bottom row: Intellect Devourer, Shambling Mound, Kuo-Toa, Beholder, Mind Flayer, Roper, Xorn

And Still More Spore

February 12th, 2009 No comments

I’m having entirely too much fun recreating the classic Dungeons & Dragons canon in Spore. Unfortunately, it looks as if a gelatinous cube may be out of the question for now. But here’s a carrion crawler doing a little dance!

More Spore

February 10th, 2009 No comments

Here are two more iconic Dungeons & Dragons critters recreated in Spore. In both cases, I went back to the original Chinese plastic toys that Gary Gygax appropriated for the game.

The bulette was a burrowing beast that probably owed a great deal to Chevy Chase as the “Land Shark,” as well as to the classic Outer Limits episode “The Invisible Enemy,” in which Mars was infested by fin-headed monsters that swam beneath its sandy surface.

The dreaded rust monster, whose sole purpose in the game was to screw over players that had acquired too much loot. Its tendrils caused metal (e.g. magic swords, magic armor) to rust instantly.

Gaming The System

February 9th, 2009 No comments

One of the first things I did after getting my new laptop up and running was to load onto it pretty much every piece of computer game software I’ve bought in the past five years. Some were ones I’d just never finished, others were ones that I’d had to uninstall because of lack of hard drive space on my old desktop, and still others were ones that required a much more powerful processor than I had available. So it was that for the last week of January I played through the remainder of Doom 3…approximately five years after it came out.

I’ve also bought several new(ish) games, a couple of which came courtesy the closeout of the rapidly-dissolving Circuit City chain. Right now I’m messing with Spore. After a lot of hassle with its ridiculous digital rights management scheme, I was finally able to access the enormous online library of user-created content. But of course the real fun is rolling your own creations. Here’s a Dungeons & Dragons Beholder that I whipped up, thick in the throes of first love.

As many of the reviews have suggested, Spore the game isn’t half as interesting as Spore the thing maker.  It’s neat to put your creature through the evolutionary process, but the early stages of the game are rather uninvolving, and the Tribal stage in particular isn’t something I think I’d ever seek out a second time. My little guys are just entering the Civilization stage, and then it’s on to outer space, where I’m told the gameplay becomes a lot more fun. Still, the title has charm galore, and the content creators are amazing. I was lucky enough to snag a copy for twenty bucks, and I’ve gotten my money’s worth just fiddling with the editors.

One of the games that I picked up during the death rattle of Circuit City was Soulstorm, the most recent installment of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War series, and I’m psyched about the addition of my beloved Sisters of Battle to the franchise. The other was Fallout 3. I know that certain fans of the older entries in that post-apocalyptic series are annoyed with the switch from pure role-playing game to first-person shooter, but having no exposure to Fallout outside of the Playstation 2 game, I don’t have much invested in it. The reviews have been very encouraging, and I’m looking forward to giving the disc a spin.

That Bites

October 12th, 2008 No comments

Last Friday’s session in my ongoing Dungeons & Dragons campaign began with the players breaking a cardinal rule of RPGs: “Don’t split the party.” Separating into two groups is bad for the DM, who then has to keep both subgroups engaged even though one isn’t “there” at the moment. It’s also bad for the players, who are much more likely to find their characters outgunned by whatever opposition their DM had balanced with a larger group in mind. Note to my playgroup: telling me that you’re splitting the party in a manner which suggests that you know better does not actually help.

So it was that the paladin, wizard and ranger went to check out the new shipment of goods at Marali’s Fine Imports, while the warlord and rogue investigated a report of a “beastman attack” outside the Punt & Pole Tavern near the waterfront. The previous day, a bestial humanoid had slashed the throat of a patron leaving the establishment and fled into the night.

Arriving at the tavern, they soon encountered Meepo, an enthusiastic, relatively innocuous kobold (a small, lizard-like humanoid) who had recently been kicked out of his usual pub after an altercation. Meepo fancies himself a brave adventurer, and that–plus his race’s worship of dragons–caused him to quickly latch onto the dragonbord warlord Kesek.

Meanwhile, Marali–a comely half-elven proprietor–asked the other group to talk to a shady character who had been lurking outside her shop the past couple of nights. The stranger was rude and gave them a bad feeling. He eventually ambled away but soon returned in the company of a sinister, hooded figure with eyes that glittered in the half-light.

The players asked about Marali’s recent shipment from the north, and learned that there was one item which wasn’t listed on the manifest. It was a bowling ball-sized, black sphere which had a mysterious sigil etched upon it: the mark of the long-dead “Night Wizard,” Tor Shok. They offered to borrow the sphere and take it to the Arcane Assembly for identification, but Marali was hesitant to let such a potentially valuable item out of her hands.

By this time, the two groups had reunited at Marali’s, but they soon split up again, with the ranger and rogue tracking the hooded figure through the dark alleys, while the others stayed behind to guard the store. This proved to be an error in judgment, as did Green Leaf the ranger’s attempt to “distract” their quarry by tossing down a magical bauble which flashed into a bright light.

Well aware that he was being followed, he led the pursuers into an ambush, as four human-appearing creatures came at them from two sides, their faces morphing into bestial features as they attacked. One of them slashed at Cynfael the rogue’s throat with its fangs and began to lap his blood. Things were looking grim, as the twosome were cornered.

Fortunately, Green Leaf’s frantic whistle carried to Marali’s shop, and the rest of the party was able to catch up surprisingly fast. (Brave, little Meepo was left behind to hold down the fort.) While Cynfael was temporarily brought down, the creatures were soon routed, each exploding into dust as they died. Green Leaf fired an arrow at long range and pierced the heart of the last, fleeing vampyr.

As the hooded figure had dallied to watch the fight, the heroes were able to follow him as he fled into an abandoned temple to Corellon. They burst through the doors to find him reunited with his fellow vampyr from outside the shop, and backed up by several skeletons and zombies which he summoned from the ruined crypt below.

During the battle, Tuk’-Ja the wizard proved a danger to his own friends through his overenthusiastic use of area effect spells, but eventually the minions were dusted and Daggas, the vampyr Death Master was cornered and beheaded.

As the heroes licked their wounds, an arrow infused with electricity struck the floor nearby with a crash of thunder. Another vampyr hung upside down from a bell rope, firing his magic longbow.

Cynfael scurried up a ladder and jumped for the hanging rope, while the other characters discovered a hidden stair. They confronted the powerful vampyr on the ledge outside the bell tower.

This unnamed foe was especially tricky, enshrouding himself in a cloud of darkness. However, outnumbered and outmatched by the assembled characters, he volunteered to throw himself from the ledge, smashing to the ground below…then inexplicably vanishing!

As our heroes reach “second level” at last, they still don’t know the purpose of the strange sphere, nor the extent of the vampyrs’ influence in Boswin.

But that’s an adventure for another day…

The Horns Of A Familiar Dilemma

October 12th, 2008 No comments

Two things about today’s Foxtrot:

1) This is pretty much the feeling I had when I was digging through my miniatures for Friday night’s D&D session and realized that I only had one vampire.

2) I would bet cash money that this is the first time the Sunday funnies have namechecked a Warhammer Khorne Bloodletter.

A Whole Lot Of Poo

September 28th, 2008 No comments

Last Friday evening, our gaming group completed their first adventure in my Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

It all began innocently enough, with the adventurers gathering for a meal at “Gutworthy’s,” a pub specializing in greasy, filling food. Their revels were interrupted by a screaming woman in the nearby market square: “My baby! It’s taken my baby!”

The “it” in question was a giant rat, which had grabbed her infant son in its teeth and scrambled down a nearby sewer opening. There was, of course, little choice for the heroes but to follow.

Wandering the maze of twisty passages without a map, they soon entered a long, straight tunnel in which the ceiling and walls seemed to be crumbling. Taking little heed of the surroundings, they were ambushed by several large centipedes!

Meanwhile, while scouting up ahead, Cynfael the rogue found himself unexpectedly attacked by a dreaded gelatinous cube, a large, transparent scavenger that had crept quietly up behind him. The creature engulfed and attempted to digest him! (DM’s note: I have a well-documented fondness for the gelatinous cube.)

Cynfael managed to extricate himself from the jelly-like mass, and eventually the party overcame the menaces. Tuk’-Ja the eladrin wizard found himself a magic orb within the body of the slain cube.

Traveling further, they reached an intersection. There the phrase “GO BACK STOMPERS” was written out in some manner of unwholesome “paint.” A crazed voice cackled from somewhere within the walls: “Who dares invade my kingdom? My subjects will gnaw your bones!”

Several dire rats tumbled out of the pipes and challenged the heroes. Seconds later, with a clanking sound, a strange device rose up from the floor at the end of the passage and a mechanical arm began tossing exploding firepots at random combatants.

The trap nearly proved to be too much for the group, taking down their healer, Hariah the half-elf paladin, with a lucky hit. (DM’s note: I used a trap straight out of the Dungeon Master’s Guide that was allegedly appropriate for characters of their level, but found its high accuracy and damage rate both to be a bit much.) For reasons known only to them, they chose to battle on within its arc of fire rather than getting behind the machine. They did, however, rescue Hariah and finally shut down the device.

After a short rest they pressed on, only to find the lead members of the party sliding helplessly down a slick slope into a large chamber with a stinking pile of muck at its center. To no one’s true surprise, a bulk emerged from beneath the offal surface. A slavering, tentacled otyugh attempted to pull Hariah into its maw, while more centipedes, attracted by the battle, scuttled into the room.

The other characters voluntarily slid down the slope to join the fray. Protected by the difficult terrain of the muck pile, the otyugh nearly overcame the group. (DM’s note: The otyugh is a 7th-level monster which I scaled down to 5th for the purpose of this encounter. Its high Armor Class and Fortitude values, coupled with the combat minus for fighting within its stench aura, made it very difficult to hit. The party was severely lacking in powers which could attack its relatively low Reflex defense.)

Poor Hariah had quite a time before finally breaking free of the otyugh’s grip. In the end, the foul beast went down.

Shortly thereafter, the party had another run-in with tentacled sewer dwellers, smallish beasts which dropped from the ceiling and attempted to wrap their tendrils around their victims’ necks. (DM’s note: These were actually “chokers” from the Monster Manual, “re-skinned” to resemble the darkmantles of 3rd edition D&D. Their favorite trick was to grab a victim and use it as a shield against other attacks.)

The sewer tunnel dead-ended in the foundation of a building which had fallen into disuse. The large, underground vault was festooned with broken furniture, and dominated by a “throne” made of discarded crates and various animal and human teeth.

This was the “palace” of Loomis, the self-styled “Rat King.” This human lunatic had been sending his rat minions to the surface to kidnap male children in hopes of identifying one to serve as his “heir.” In fact, three babies were present, and Loomis intended to test their worthiness by dropping them into a water-filled cistern. His assumption was that a Rat Prince would be a good swimmer. (DM’s note: Loomis was an unused villain from my friend Dave Lartigue’s defunct 3rd edition D&D game. I was so taken by the concept–and the Lego minifigure that Dave L. had designed for him–that I asked to borrow both for my own game.)

Sergeant Kesek the dragonborn warlord ordered Loomis to surrender the children, but the Rat King set his pets against them. (DM’s note: This was another chance to use one of my favorite D&D miniatures, the “rat swarm.”)

The battle didn’t go well for Loomis: most of his minions were cut down before he could effectively rally them. He began suspiciously backing toward the far end of the room and its oh-so-convenient trap door, pausing only to fire a few rounds from his “ratapult.” (DM’s note: Loomis’ ranged attack involved plucking one of the smallish rats constantly crawling on his person and firing it with a sling.)

As Kesek gathered the would-be rat princes and the heroes closed in, Loomis threw a blackout bomb at the ground and fled through the aforementioned trap door, vowing vengeance.

The party searched the Rat King’s “nest” and discovered a nifty lightning-powered longsword which was claimed by the paladin. Returning the children to their parents, the heroes enjoyed a small, but gratefully-given reward, as well as the opportunity to clean off all that poo.

Fun With Cartography

August 25th, 2008 No comments

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been working on a (still forthcoming) Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Over in the left hand menu bar on this page, there’s a button labeled “Verdant Vale” that takes you to the campaign’s wiki page.

Anyhow, last night I finished the map of the town of Boswin, which will be home base for my group of adventurers. I did it in Paint Shop Pro, drawing a variety of different buildings freehand, then copying/pasting/resizing over and over to create a thriving community. I thought that it turned out pretty well!

Now, I have to get around to giving proper names to some of the locations on the map. “Temple” just ain’t gonna cut it.

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