Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Two Most Famous Rogues of Fantasy

Art by Keith Parkinson
I am, of course, speaking of Chert and Gord.  Oh, wait, no I'm not.

Since Dungeons & Dragons was inspired by the swords & sorcery literary genre, the natural next step was to model – in game terms – concepts and characters from that genre.   Also, since Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories form a veritable cornerstone of that genre, an adaptation of that duo was inevitable.

In the earlier days of Dragon magazine (or The Dragon as it was then known), Lawrence Schick and Tom Moldvay contributed a feature called 'Giants in the Earth' wherein notable heroes of fantasy were presented in D&D terms.  Of course:
These heroes are all in some fashion exceptional, and thus they deviate a bit in their qualities and capabilities from standard D & D. Also, most originated in other universes or worlds, and so were not bound by the same set of restrictions that apply to the average D & D character. Some are multi-classed, for example. This system has been used to describe the skills and abilities of the characters as they appear in the literature, even though some of these combinations and conditions are not normally possible. In addition, some minor changes have been made in order to bring them in line with the game and to enhance playability.
The rules were such that special accommodations were necessary to portray the characters.  Because they come from “other worlds or universes,” they are “not bound by...[D & D's] restrictions.”  This would seem to be explanation enough, but the apologia continues with reference to how the characters “appear in the literature” and the necessity of bringing them “in line with the game.”  Yet, just as the rules are open to interpretation, so are works of fiction and the characters within. Over the years, Lankhmar's finest rogues have been depicted as D&D characters in a variety of ways.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were given the 'Giants in the Earth' treatment in the twenty-seventh issue of The Dragon (July, 1979).  Here is Fafhrd's listing.

(The) Dragon #27 (July 1979)
Notice that, just as there is a percentage for 18 Strength, there are percentages associated with 18 Dexterity and 18 Constitution.  Here, Fafhrd is a 20th level fighter/8th level thief.  However, “Fafhrd's youth was spent as an apprentice skald” and he “retains some of his training as a skald, and in this respect he can be treated as a second level bard (without the druidic spells).”  Also, Graywand, Fafhrd's weapon, is treated as a +2 sword.

Deities & Demigods™ Cyclopedia
The following year, the Deities & Demigods Cyclopedia was published with a different version of Nehwon's favorite sons.  Here Fafhrd is a 15th level ranger/13th level thief/5th level bard.  His linguistic aptitude is described:  “he can read and write all of the major ones of Nehwon and there is an 80% chance he will understand any obscure one he is exposed to.”   Also, he “is able to climb walls and hide in shadows with a +20% over his usual thiefly base.”  His wisdom has dropped by one and his Armor Class is 3 instead of zero, but at least he has gained a hit point and his strength has increased from 18(94) to 18(00).  Additionally, Graywand is no longer a magic sword, but the name of any bastard sword he carries.

Lankhmar: City of Adventure
In 1985, the pair appeared in the Lankhmar: City of Adventure sourcebook.  Schick, in his Heroic Worlds, claimed this was “one of the best settings for AD&D.”  The characters are presented in three power levels, described as age groups.  Fafhrd is still a ranger/thief/bard, but he doesn't use any spell abilities.  Also, as a thief, his level has decreased substantially but “he climbs as a 15th level thief and is not subject to any modifiers for ice and snow when cling (sic).”  He also gets +3 on any saving throw against cold.  His strength has diminished to 18(75), his intelligence reduced to 15, and his wisdom has fallen to 10.  His dexterity became 17, his Armor Class 6, but his constitution increased to 19.  No mention is made of his affinity with languages.

Lankhmar: The New Adventures of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser
Finally, in 1996, TSR published Lankhmar: The New Adventures of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser.  Instead of a mere sourcebook, it was a distinct, boxed set role-playing game.  The system was a simplified form of – and eminently compatible with – 2nd Edition AD&D, but it is interesting that TSR created a 'starter set' using the Lankhmar setting.  It was then possible to represent the pair of heroes without 'altering' the rules.  The characters are still presented in terms of three power levels, but Fafhrd's only class is 'warrior'.  Also, his wisdom has descended to 9.  Because of his background, he has “a +3 bonus when attempting a climbing proficiency check” and “a +3 bonus to survival (arctic) proficiency checks.”

(The) Dragon #27 (July 1979)
The Gray Mouser was originally presented as an 18th level fighter/thief with 18(63) intelligence and 18(00) dexterity.  With this incarnation, the Mouser has a +3 cloak of protection.  Both of his weapons, Scalpel and Cat's Claw, are considered to be +3 weapons.  In addition, the Mouser is very adept with the sling, which he can fire very quickly and accurately (+3 to hit, 3 times per melee round).

Deities & Demigods™ Cyclopedia
In Deities & Demigods, The Gray Mouser has turned from Chaotic Neutral to True Neutral and is considered a 15th level thief/11th level fighter/3rd level magic-user.  The Mouser's wisdom has declined and his intelligence is 18 (no percentile), but all of his other attributes have increased.  Just as with Fafhrd, his 'magic items' are now considered to be conventional.

Lankhmar: City of Adventure
The Mouser's abilities have subsided somewhat in Lankhmar: City of Adventure, with a reduction in every score save dexterity and constitution.  His aptitude as a magic-user has a ceiling of 3rd level regardless of 'maturity'.  “He is extremely streetwise,” the description attests, “particularly in Lankhmar, receiving a +2 bonus on all rolls for finding information, bargaining and dealing with bureaucratic systems.”

Lankhmar: The New Adventures of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser
The only change of abilities in the Mouser's next version is a reduction of wisdom from 11 to 9.  Interestingly, just as his magic-user level is frozen at third, so has his thief level become static at seventh.  Wait...the listed class is not 'magic-user' but 'black wizard'.  The distinction is not cosmetic as it is with 'fighter' and 'warrior', the 'black wizard' class is a product of the Lankhmar setting.

According to the character class description:  “Those who study black magic have learned to manipulate – though not necessarily master – the essences of death, decay, and even evil itself.”  (As might be expected, this is in contrast to the 'good' magic of white wizards.  Since there is no cleric class in the Lankhmar setting, spells normally reserved for clerics have been appropriated by the white wizards.)  Because of their nefarious activities, black wizards suffer “afflictions.”  When a black wizard reaches fifth level – and at every level increase thereafter – a roll is made upon the affliction table.  Oh, you would like to see this table?  Your humble host obliges.  In the decades prior to Dungeon Crawl Classics, here is how 'corruption' was handled:

If, for any given level, an affliction is rolled that was applied to the black wizard at an earlier level, “the sorcerer has managed to avoid disfigurement for the time being and does not have to roll again until another level is earned.”

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Combat in DragonRaid

Art by Willy Pogány

In a prior post, I briefly summarized the procedure of combat in DragonRaid.  All player characters are LightRaiders.  When attacking an opponent, a LightRaider's 'Weapon Ability' value is added to the result of a roll of the StarLot (i.e., 1d10).  The 'Battle Ability' the opponent (who is presumably not a LightRaider) is added to the result of a roll of a ShadowStone (i.e., 1d8).  The totals are compared.  If the total of the LightRaider exceeds the total of the opponent, damage is subtracted from the 'Physical Vitality' of the opponent.  When an opponent attacks, the same procedure is followed except the LightRaider's 'Shield of Faith' value is added to the StarLot result.   If the opponent's total is higher, the LightRaider takes damage.

'Shield of Faith' and 'Weapon Abilities' are derived from 'Character Strengths' (briefly touched upon here). The 'Shield of Faith' is merely one article of the 'Armor of God':
  • Belt of Truth:  This represents the extent of what the LightRaider has learned from the 'Sacred Scrolls'.  The rating is equivalent to that of the Knowledge ability.
  • Breastplate of Righteousness:  This “represents the extent to which the OverLord's righteousness has been worked out in the LightRaider's life.”  I'm not sure what that means but it helps a LightRaider “resist invitations to impure acts.”  Anyway, the rating matches that of LightRaider's 'Goodness' Strength.
  • Shield of Faith:  This protects LightRaiders “from all conventional weaponry, such as swords, axes and arrows, and protects...from physical attacks from dark creatures.”  It also works against dragon fire.  The rating is the average of all nine Character Strengths.
  • Helmet of Salvation:  This “gives LightRaiders their hope of eternal life in the Everlasting Kingdom.”  I have no idea what this is supposed to accomplish in game terms.  The rating is the same as that for the Hope Ability.
  • Sword of the Spirit:  This represents “the Word of the Almighty” and establishes which WordRunes a given LightRaider may use.  The rating always starts at 1 and can only be improved by spending twenty 'Maturity Units' per increment.  (Maturity Units are like experience points.)
  • Boots of the Gospel of Peace:  This represents “the LightRaider's readiness to get involved in bringing peace, reconciliation or rescue.”  The rating is calculated by averaging the Love, Joy, Peace, Goodness, and Faithfulness Character Strengths.  It is possible for the Boots to “sustain...[a LightRaider] even when his courage has failed.”  As can be seen, 'courage' is not capitalized in this quote, so I cannot be certain that it refers to the 'Courage' Character Ability (see below).
In calculating a LightRaider's combat skills, there is a distinct formula for each weapon.  For instance, a LightRaider's skill with swords is determined by finding the sum of Courage, Endurance, Solo Battle, and Agility, then dividing by four.

Courage and Endurance are Character Abilities that are derived from Character Strengths.  'Courage' is the average of Love, Joy, Goodness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control.  To calculate 'Endurance', one must first add together Joy, Peace, Faithfulness, twice Patience, and twice Self-Control; then, divide the total by seven.  Incidentally, “Endurance (EN) is the ability to accept physical punishment in doing strenuous activities over a period of time, or to endure hardships such as lack of sleep, food and water.”

'Solo Battle' is an interesting ability:
This is not a weapon, but an ability that is used whenever a LightRaider must face an enemy without the company of other fighting members of the TwiceBorn.  Reflects the psychological impact of being alone in battle.
Solo Battle is determined by adding twice Courage to Peace and Endurance; then dividing by four.  So, in terms of percentages, a LightRaider's skill in wielding a sword consists of the following abilities:

Why should Peace account for more skill with a sword than Love?  Tying Christian values to weapon skills can be nothing but an arbitrary process.  Regardless, including Solo Battle in the formula for the sword (or any) weapon ability is peculiar.  Given its description, Solo Battle is intended to be a penalty imposed upon those who stray from the herd.  As a penalty, I would just have the player roll a Shadow Stone instead of a StarLot.  Formulas for some other weapon abilities are:
  • Hand-to-Hand:  The average of Solo Battle, Self Control, Courage, Endurance, Strength, and Agility.
  • Longbow:  The average of Hope, Vision, Strength, and Quiet Movement.
  • Flail:  The average of Hope, Courage, and Endurance.
  • Dagger:  The average of Courage, Self Control, Solo Battle, and Agility.
  • Quarterstaff:  The average of Hope, Courage, and Self Control.
Damage is subtracted from Physical Vitality, which is half the sum of all 'Character Strengths'.  There are “five degrees of injury.”  Even the slightest amount of damage means the character is wounded and must succeed at a Difficulty Level 3 Endurance check in order to travel.  Characters with only six to ten points of Physical Vitality remaining are 'seriously wounded' and the Endurance check to travel is at Difficulty Level 8.  With five or less points of Physical Vitality, the character is 'critically wounded' and cannot travel or fight.  Characters with only one to three points of Physical Vitality are unconscious and when Physical Vitality is reduced to zero, the character is dead.

Aside from 'normal' combat, DragonRaid offers two types of optional 'advanced' combat.  'Half-swing' combat is just like normal combat, but only half the usual amount of damage is inflicted.  In 'critical swing' combat, there is a ten percent chance of any successful strike being a critical hit.  If a strike is determined to be a critical hit, the Critical Hit Chart (reproduced below) is consulted.

Sunday, September 13, 2015


On the world of EdenAgain, there are five known continents; three of them are inhabitable.  The largest of these, Talania, is where the action of DragonRaid takes place.  Of the other continents, we know nothing.  According to the back cover of the LightRaider Handbook, Talania “lies in the northern hemisphere, between latitude 65°N and 27°N.”  In terms of scale, we are told that the range of the Western Peaks is over “1200 miles long.”

In the south-west of Talania, the 'Liberated Land' is situated.  As indicated in a previous post, the Liberated Land is the refuge of the TwiceBorn – the servants of the OverLord.  In fact, the OverLord adjusted Talania's geography for the purpose of protecting the Liberated Land from the perfidy of dragonkind.  Specifically, “the continent erupted with a a mighty roar into a mass of billowing, crumbling earth that rose higher and higher.”  Thus The Peaks of the New Beginning were generated, separating the Liberated Land from the Dragon Lands.  The peaks reach “altitudes of over 26,000 feet...”  On either end of the peaks, “On the west and east, the range is framed by cliffs that plunge to the sea in shear, breathtaking drops.”

From the sea, the Liberated Land is protected by the Mist Barrier:
This unusual bank of steam is about five miles wide.  It extends to the southwest through the Gulf of the Stars and into the Western Sea for a distance of some 1000 miles.  It also stretches southeast through the Misty Sea, Sea Hag Straights and Mandel Bay to end 1000 miles in that direction.  It is caused by the heat of a volcanic fissure on the sea bed, opened and constantly maintained by the OverLord.  The fierce heat of the lava turns the water into clouds of steam; violent “seaquakes” and occasional volcanic eruptions reach the surface of the water.  This, combined with the continual boiling of the sea, makes this barrier very hazardous for humans to cross.  Dragons cannot penetrate it at all – their fires would instantly be extinguished and they would die ingloriously.
LightRaiders infiltrate the Dragon Lands by means of the Passage Lakes.  A portion of the introductory adventure describes this in the OverLord's Own Words: will find a lake called Mt. Challenge. Once you are ankle deep in this Passage Lake, you come out of a Hollow-Tree in the northern part of Highland Forest.  As you know, this is the way I have decided to bring My LightRaiders into the dangerous Land of the Dragons.
LightRaiders have an incomplete knowledge of the Dragon Lands (even though the TwiceBorn originated there).  Included among the features of the Dragon Lands are:
  • Swamp Labyrinth:  “On the mouth of the Snake River, this large swamp is the result of a curious phenomenon:  Because the river flows north, its head waters thaw in springtime while the lower river is still frozen.  Thus the area experiences devastating floods every year.”
  • Ghost Moors:  “Fearful, gloomy moors, alternating between rocky outcroppings and treacherous bogs.  Mists often overhang the area.  It is aptly named, for ghastly apparitions inhabit the Moors.
  • Lawless Basin:  “A vast expanse of sun-baked desert.  Sand and rocks for grotesque shapes, and cactus is the predominant vegetation.”
  • Frost Islands:  “Bitter cold in the winter; the northernmost islands are rocky and bare, where toward the south are large evergreen forests.  A few dragon slaves live here.”
  • Black Forest:  “Named for a rare tree – the black spruce – which is found only here.  The humans are primarily woodcutters.  Some timber is taken on the difficult trip across the Stone Hills and down Troll River to be used in ship building, as it is highly valued for this purpose.”
In closing, any fantasy role-playing campaign worth talking about has a wacky numismatics system and DragonRaid does not disappoint.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Dietary Habits of Orcs

Art by Janny Wurts

There was once a time when Mayfair Games published role-playing game material.  In fact, in some of their advertisements, they used the slogan, “We're the other company!”  (Other than TSR, that is.)  Among their efforts was a series of sourcebooks called 'Role Aids'.  One of the earlier entries was Dark Folk (1983), including sections for gnolls, goblins, kobolds, orcs, and trolls.  Each section contained essays and information about the particular race as well as an adventure featuring said race.  Several writers contributed to the book, but the only cover credit was:


Asprin, as the creator of Thieves' World, was a major selling point at the time.  However, Asprin did not write the entire section about orcs, but only a patronizing article which came to about one full page.  Here are some of his speculations regarding orcs:

Orcish alliances prevented orcs from killing one another, which caused a population explosion and an attendant depletion of resources.  The orcs' “solution” to this state of affairs was cannibalism.

While not inclined to eat plants, orcs have a use for fungi – or at least a particular fungus.  According to another part of the orc section (i.e., a part not written by Asprin):
Their favorite drink is fermented from a fungus that grows underground in abundance.  Flavored with blood, this beverage, called Groog, is nauseating to all other races, and has been known to incapacitate a non-Orc imbiber for 1-4 days.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Dark Creatures of EdenAgain

The DragonRaid New Player Briefing defines dark creatures as “Non-spiritual beings that follow the dark strategies of the dragons.”  Additionally, “They were exiled to the world of EdenAgain by their societies on other planets.”  Many of the dark creatures are indistinguishable from standard fantasy 'opponent' races, except that they came from technologically advanced civilizations.  Still, on EdenAgain they live a medieval existence, doubtless due to the mechanizations of the insidious dragons.  Here are stories of some of the dark creatures.

A “greedo”
Greedo (a.k.a. Itchyfinger)

According to the LightRaider Handbook, “Greedoes were exiled recently from the planet Werj.”  On that planet, “bartering replaces buying and selling.”  On Werj: greedoes secretly invented a way to better their lot.  They called their new methods “bargaining” rather than “bartering,” and they began to stretch the truth when they negotiated.  Trusting that all was done in honesty, greedoes of other colors had no idea that they were being cheated.
The Overlord of Many Names did not like this because, “When He created the greedoes on the planet Werj, He intended them to be fair and to use their superior knowledge of business practices to watch out for those of lesser ability.”  Then perhaps 'greedo' wasn't the best name He could have given them.  Anyway, when the other greedoes caught on to the perfidy of their verdant brethren, they exiled the green greedoes to EdenAgain.  Specifically, they were sent away in “properly equipped spaceships...that were programmed to self-destruct one hour after landing on EdenAgain.”  We can assume that the other races of dark creatures were sent to EdenAgain in a similar fashion since that would explain the lack of spaceships and other advanced technology in the Dragon Lands.

Although, the greedoes' “hands and feet are equipped with razor-sharp claws,” the main threat they pose to player characters is the Unearned Wealth Enchantment.  Said enchantment “causes you to cheat others and thereby lose your Joy.”

Fluster Beast

Occasionally, the twelve intelligent races of the planet Kumoz send 'mutations' to EdenAgain; specifically, the results of “when unholy mating occurred between bear-like animals and ostrich-like birds.”  These dark creatures are called fluster beasts.  A fluster beast...
...has the body of a small bear, but has two ostrich-like heads.  The body is covered with feathers instead of hair.  This beast has the claws of a bear, which are its main method of attack and defense.  Also, fluster beasts can attack with their two heads by pecking, even at two different enemies simultaneously.
The two heads constantly disagree with one another.  The spell fluster beasts cast, “the Double-Minded Enchantment...can affect any Character Strength, depending on the particular confusion generated...”


On the planet Armech, selfoes – gray humanoids with pointed ears – serve the OverLord of Many Names.  However, some “degenerate selfoes began to do good things for people, but not for the glory of the OverLord.”  Apparently, performing good deeds is 'degenerate' behavior if done for any reason other than to promote the OverLord's glory.
Eventually, the citizenry became angry with the selfoe do-gooders, being jealous for the OverLord of Many Names.  They knew His power and goodness cured the sin contamination that was preventing [the degenerate] selfoes from having a pure heart.  So angered did they become that they exiled the self-focused selfoes to EdenAgain.
Get it?  'Selfoes' are 'self' focused.  On EdenAgain, selfoes are nomads “commissioned by the evil dragons to draw people's minds away from the OverLord of Many Names.”  Selfoes expound “that anyone may know the OverLord by living a life full of good deeds” and “that sin and dragon slavery are imaginary.”

Mound Orc

Apparently, these dark creatures are called 'mound' orcs because “LightRaiders who travel through their territory have reported great stacks of bones, a status symbol of how much sorrow and suffering they have caused to others.”  We are informed that mound orcs, natives of the planet Uory, “turned evil early in their history and were exiled to EdenAgain before most other dark creatures.”  This suggests that orcs were not originally evil and that most of the orcs on Uory are not evil (or else the evil orcs could not have been exiled).  Perhaps mound orcs possess the capacity for good?  Perhaps they are deserving of the Christian considerations of compassion and forgiveness?  Well, no.  The OverLord (a.k.a. Jesus) wants you to kill orcs.
The only good orc is a dead orc.  LightRaiders are to destroy these creatures whenever they come upon them.  Chivalry is of little value.  They can be killed...even when they are sleeping.  This is because they have most likely caused tremendous pain and suffering for others...and will cause more if you permit them to live.
Orcs have leather-like, gray-brown skin; also, “Large yellow, almond shaped eyes and big pointed ears.”  When you slit the throats of sleeping people who have “most likely” caused pain and suffering, I guess it's easier when they have different skin coloration and facial features.  Jesus must love murderhoboes.