Morlocks and more

I already use some classic wight minis and some plastic “beastmen” from Descent as morlocks, but when I was in the Columbus convention center for something work-related, I noticed a small games & comics shop nestled among the shops near the food court.  Inside I found a box of clearanced HeroClix figures, and I couldn’t rest getting a few.  A couple (Ulik, and The Abomination) I’m leaving as they were, but the rest looked like they could be pressed in D&D duty. The first batch are small horde of morlocks made from the Marvel Comics “Morlock” and “Moloids“.  The moloids were a little more suited to conversion, so I added weapons to them in place of the stalagmites they were holding. Then I repainted them all. These guys all have very good detail for plastics, and washes and drybrushing really bring them out.

Morlocks (which could equally serve as ghouls, wights, or morlocks)

Morlocks (which could equally serve as ghouls, wights, or morlocks). I don’t think he represented a particular Marvel character, just a generic trooper for the “Morlocks” — underground-dwelling mutants occasionally featured in the X-Men comics back in the 80s.

 

Morlocks-1-molemen

Moloids repurposed as small morlocks. The bugged eyes are a little goofy (the minis have goggles or visors) but what the hell.

A molid would also stand in pretty well for Gollum.

Morlocks-comp

Side-by-side, the moloids are about goblin-sized and the morlocks slightly taller than the typical 28mm human.

One other item I painted about the same time is this Reaper Bones gravestone with a swarm of bats:

Reaper Nones bats

Reaper Bones bats

I was tempted to take them off the gravestone and just put them on a more generic base, suspended on a piece of wire. Still might.

Published in: on December 14, 2014 at 7:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bookjacking is a real thing, a real sh;tty thing

So I’ve never been terribly fond of Amazon.com for many reasons (they are a giant welfare queen, they put b&m bookstores out of business, the Kindle is disposable rather than repairable, … feel free to add your own grievances to the list).

But today I learned of yet another atrocity. In this case it is not really Amazon’s fault, though it is something they tolerate and apparently make no effort to stop. I am talking about “bookjacking” — the practice of using software to find books listed on one but not another book seller site (Amazon, Abebooks, Half.com, etc.) and automatically relisting said item on the other sites, at a markup. And by “markup” I mean a potentially huge markup. Though you could say “caveat emptor” and yeah you should probably shop around, the fact is that they are exploiting and hurting consumers, plain and simple. By automating this process, these phony sellers are able generate sales, and feedback, so that they look legit, even though they just act as middlemen and do nothing but run algorithms through the sites. A more detailed explanation of the process is here at Zubal Books’ site.  Do not patronize the bookjackers identified there.

If you are like me, you occasionally purchase out of print titles. These bookjackers drive up prices  and use deceptive advertisements (see Zubal Books above — the bookjackers use weasel words and ambiguous, generic descriptions because they are not examining the merchandise, they never see it). If you want to see what bookjacking looks like for RPG titles, see this listing (it will no doubt change over time but as of this writing there are listings for the Judges Guild “Dark Tower” module with prices all ranging from $115 to over $325, and all the conditions are blank or generic BS like this: “Item may show signs of shelf wear. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting. Includes supplemental or companion materials if applicable. Access codes may or may not work. Connecting readers since 1972. Customer service is our top priority.” (emphasis added)

 

Published in: on December 5, 2014 at 11:27 pm  Comments (14)  
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“I heard you can do anything. I’m going to decapitate you.”

So this Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to introduce D&D to four nieces and nephews, as well as my own kid. We’d messed around with a sort of rules-light variation on D&D before, and they’d all set up my minis and terrain and played with my D&D stuff, but this time we doing it for real: rolling up actual characters and playing according to actual rules — in this case, my trust B/X set. I just ignored the chance of success/failure on Thief and racial skills, gave maximum HP, used 4d6 (I think some just took them in order, and some arranged them after rolling) and threw them into it. At the tavern, where all their ne’er-do-well PCs had spent their last coin, they heard about two wizard towers that were worth checking out — the ruins of the tower of Elandin, and the abandoned tower of the Stargazer. (BTW thanks to everyone who commented last time with suggestions for a first adventure. Tower of the Stargazer really fit the bill on most counts, but the other suggestions were all solid too. In the end I went with Tower of the Stargazer, as I’d read it before, and thinking they’d blow through it really quickly I also brought the Endless Tunnels of Elandin, which is a free module at Dragonsfoot by the multi-talented S. Poag. I particularly like some of the tricks & traps in this one.)

They decided that a standing tower sounded better than a ruin and set out. Meet the party:

Commander, aka Commander Poop, aka Warrior, the fighter

CommanderPoop

Angry Horse (formerly Lord Dexterity), the thief

AngryHorse

Spike, the Elf

Spike

Belladonna, halfling

Belladonna

Captain Candles, another elf

CaptainCandles

the two grownups playing were Killian, dwarf

Killian

and Raydor the Mysterious, magic-user

RaydorTheMysterious

There were some road-bumps, mostly because Commander’s player was obsessed with killing and robbing everyone he met, including the other PCs. This eventually rubbed off onto Belladonna and Captain Candles, who had to be restrained by the dwarf and sleep spells. The title of this post is one of his pre-game taunts … he had been telling another player he was going to kill his character when we played, and one of his older sibs told him he couldn’t do that. :)

Even so, they managed to overcome some bandits on the way to the tower, and to get inside the Tower of the Stargazer.  They explored the first floor, and found the trap door to the basement.  The undead creatures in the prison cells did in the dwarf, so I decided that, given that there was no healing magic in the party, I’d give them a few gimmes — the wine from the sitting room had healing properties, and this also saved Commander Poop, as well as Spike. The biggest challenge for the party was the mirrors in the alcove. Because the first PC benefited from the first mirror, they tried out every one. Several PCs lost points of from their attributes, and the character sheets above reflect the vicissitudes of the mirrors. Commander Poop ended up trapped inside a mirror, but fortunately he had a henchman (his cousin, Major Lord) along so he has a replacement. We stopped after about 2 or 2 1/2 hours of play time, but everyone wants to resume the game the next time we’re all together, so mission accomplished!

CaptainCandles-back

Published in: on November 29, 2014 at 9:36 pm  Comments (7)  
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Help me, OSR Kenobi, you’re my only hope again, or, Once more unto the well…

The good news is that nieces and nephews and my child (ranging from 4th grade to high school) are totally into playing D&D tomorrow after Thanksgiving dinner at Nana’s house, and everyone is staying the night so we could potentially play more than an hour or two if we want. But as usual I’ve dropped the ball on planning anything. I’d like their first game of real D&D to be fun, and a good taste of what the game is about, not least because at least the oldest could probably start a campaign on her own for her friends and I want to set a good example.

I’m kind of thinking there should be:

  • an introductory fight to learn the ropes
  • some exploring
  • at least one trick or trap to overcome
  • at least one more fight they can avoid
  • at least one NPC to talk to
  • a final fight with a boss type

Is there a free starter adventure like that you know of? Maybe a One Page Dungeon, or something like that, not too tied to any system (I am thinking B/X aka “1981 Basic D&D” is the way to go with this). Even a suggestion regarding a trick/trap or NPC would be helpful, since the other stuff is pretty easy to improvise. Thanks in advance!

Published in: on November 26, 2014 at 11:35 am  Comments (10)  
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About reviews

I post book reviews here once in a while, and reviews of gaming materials. My book reviews more regularly appear on Goodreads.com, which is a pretty neat web site if you haven’t heard of it. This link goes to my reviews there. Earlier this year I learned about Goodread’s “First reads” program which is basically a system where authors and publishers offer free books to be given away to users, in hopes of getting reviews and/or ratings, and to appear in people’s ‘to-read’ or ‘currently reading’ feeds —  i.e. publicity. The only downside is that I feel a bit obligated to read the books right away and post a review, so I’m probably going to stop entering the giveaways, or cut back, as it has put other things I want to read on the back burner.  I usually manage to finish one or two books a week, though with the holidays I have less time for reading.

Anyway the interesting thing about this, and the impetus for this post, is that Goodreads is pretty conscientious about pointing out that reviewers need to indicate whether they are getting any kind of remuneration, including free review copies, wherever they post their reviews. I think it is common sense to do so, but I see a lot of reviews on blogs and some people might need this reminder. The FTC guidelines on this, if you’re curious, are here. (Presumably, a review of something that is free for anyone & everyone who asks, like free pdfs on someone’s site, would not need a disclaimer — I’m not a lawyer, though, so don’t take that as legal advice.)

So, have you ever posted a review for something you were given for free, with or without the expectation of a review? Do you think it influences your review? I have read that people are more likely to give positive reviews to things they had to pay for (because consciously or not, who wants to admit they made a bad choice when they bought it?*), but on the other hand, a free copy of a thing is a kind of remuneration, and you might feel like you “owe” the giver something. The funny thing is that the reviews in “regular media outlets” are almost always made from free review copies (or reviews of events made with free admission, etc.) and no-one needs to be told the reviewer didn’t have to pay for the item or the ticket to the event — presumably because everyone knows that that’s how it works.

====
*BTW one of the best RPG review sites, Ten Foot Pole, does not accept free review copies, as far as I can tell, but gives very thorough and useful reviews, calling a turd a turd and finding good stuff buried in dross.

Published in: on November 25, 2014 at 6:25 am  Comments (2)  
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The woman who would be king

19500064

Hatshepsut was a pharaoh in Ancient Egypt. The most interesting thing about this pharaoh is that he was a woman, and despite her nephew and successor’s efforts to eradicate inscriptions and monuments relating to her rule, we know enough about her for her to be the subject of this book. Actually this book is largely composed of speculation and inference, as all of our understandings of the pharaohs must be, since the Egyptians mainly recorded accomplishments and praise, rather than any minutia about everyday life, motivation, or really the human side of the these god-kings.
The author, an archaeologist and Egyptologist, is clearly very knowledgeable about Egyptian daily life and religion, and her speculation is careful and convincing, perhaps most of all because she admits to many lacunae and areas of uncertainty. This book is a fascinating account of daily life in the royal household of ancient Egypt, and if anything goes into more detail than the casual reader can possibly digest. I eventually found myself skimming the details about ritual practice and some of the architectural projects. The author goes into a lot of disturbing detail about royal incest and the extremely sexual nature of some of the temple duties of priestesses and queens, but the intent is not to shock or titillate so much as provide a more complete picture of Hatshepsut’s world. (Still, it does make me wonder if the people who keep trying to appropriate Egypt’s legacy — Freemasons, Afrocentrists, etc. — understand what they are actually in for!) Cooney’s asides about Victorian museum curators hiding away certain ithyphallic reliefs and statues of Amon and Min due to their rudeness injected some humor. There is also a bit of gruesome detail about the prevalence of disease and parasites in ancient times, and a matter-of-fact but gory description of the embalming process, neither of which you’ll want to read while eating.

I read an uncorrected proof (through the Goodreads “first reads” giveaway), which had a few plans but lacked any illustrations. I assume the finished book must have a number of plates or details from the statues, inscriptions, and monuments to which the author constantly refers.

The author makes some great observations about the tendency for people — historians and regular folk alike — to ascribe bad motives when a woman expresses the desire to rule, but unfortunately is unable to really connect these observations to Hatshepsut specifically. From what we can tell, her rule was extremely effective, bringing wealth and prestige back to a tottering empire, and innovative in terms of reorganizing the political hierarchy to ensure loyalty to the pharaoh. She also has the distinction of seizing a throne without spilling a drop of blood, and in fairness to her and her nephew, I should point out that Thutmose III did not try to eradicate her memory entirely, but only conceal the fact that she rules not merely as regent during his toddlerhood but as full pharaoh for her entire lifetime, once she took the throne. This was not so much to destroy her legacy as to reaffirm his own legitimacy, and took place many years after her death, which Cooney interprets, quite plausibly, to mean that Hatshepsut’s rule was popular.

================

I usually append some thoughts about how one might find some grist for D&D in my book reviews, but I did not find myself taking any notes while reading this book.  I would absolutely recommend this book if you intend to run a game set in a Egyptian style ancient kingdom, or if you were going to run the “Valley of the Pharaohs” game. It might also be source of ideas for a campaign involving courtly intrigue, and the intersection of religious and political power, since Hatshepsut had to work so hard to hold together her unique and unprecedented place.

 

Published in: on October 23, 2014 at 9:56 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Fiend Folio as implied setting

Some time ago, Jeff Rients posted something about running D&D with only the Fiend Folio as the monster manual.  I don’t remember exactly how detailed he got with that, and haven’t been able to find the exact post (this?  or this?) , but since I was looking over the Fiend Folio the other day, I started thinking about what the implied setting of the Fiend Folio might look like.

One thing that might stand out is that there are some knock-offs of standard monsters. Hoar foxes fill the niche of Winter wolves (though they are smaller, fewer HD, and not as evil), for example.

Another thing is that there are many references to standard races and monsters, so really you need to decide whether, say, Flinds require the reintroduction of Gnolls, Nilbogs require the presence of Goblins, the Norker entry allows in Hobgoblins, and so on. You could just ignore those references, or you could grandfather in the things that the FF listings assume. Either choice seems legitimate to me.

The first thought I had was how the options for PC races would look. There are no dwarves, no halflings, no elves other than the Drow, and no gnomes other than Svirfneblin. Drow elves do not seem appropriate for PCs due to their evil nature. Both dark elves and deep gnomes have so many inherent powers that you’d need to (ok: I’d want to…) introduce some kind of extra rules to ration them out as they gain levels, and that isn’t appealing to me either.  Lastly, those races are supposed to be enigmatic, barely-known races of the underdark, and having them as PCs would undermine (hah!) any attempt to keep the underworld mysterious, IMO. Githzerai and Githyanki may have become available as player races in 2e/Spelljammer, but they too seem so alien and mysterious they’d be better left as monsters.

If you wanted to allow some of the FF monsters to be player races, there are not a lot of good-aligned humanoids. I think alignment might matter because in AD&D as it stands, the allowed player races were all good-aligned in the Monster Manual — with the exception of half-orcs, who are not given a separate entry in the MM. Come to think of it, though, most of the human listings are neutral, so probably neutrals are ok too.

That leaves us with a few oddball humanoids, like the Aarakocra, which were ported in as player races in the 2e book of humanoids, and are also good-aligned, though their power of flight seems like a potential headache. The Quaggoth could be a neat mock-Mok, for a Thundar inspired campaign. The Qullan, which seem to be a source for the Talislantian Thralls (or at least share a common ancestor), would be ok as a colorful (hah hah!) option, perhaps replacing Half-orcs, and maybe Sulks could replace Halflings.

I’d be tempted to consider Grimlocks as a possible player race too, because although they are evil, there were several attempts to stat them up for players — both a semi-official Dragon article (#265) and a much older zine I no longer have (it was a small fanzine, I gave it away and don’t even recall the title). The idea of blind berserker is just too fun to leave out of your campaign.

One last thing on the player side of world-building is deities and religion. If you stick to the deities presented in the Fiend Folio, you get a very dark fantasy indeed! Lolth, the Elemental Princes of Evil, and two Slaad demigods. Oh, you also get the Aleax, which the gods send to punish you for varying from your stated alignment.  The Death dog, being descended from Cerberus, sort of implies that there could be Greco-Roman gods in the setting (and the Aleax, which also looks fairly Classical era, would be typical of the Greek gods’ screwing over mortals). Because Retrievers were designed by Demogorgon, I guess we have him too. The Sons of Kyuss mention an unnamed evil deity. The Eyes of Fear and Flame were created either by chaotic evil gods to destroy the lawful, or by neutral/lawful gods to test the lawful. The upshot, then, is that you better not look to the gods for hope or help in the Fiend Folio world.  If they notice you at all, it will probably mean they send an Aleax after you, who will fight you and either take half your XP and all your stuff, or if you are lucky, take you out of the campaign for a year and a day. Fortunately, most of the things that look like undead in the book are either not turnable or not really undead, so you won’t miss having a cleric (unless you encounter 4-40 Nilbogs, which can only be hurt by healing spells!).

So I’m getting the sense that this Fiend Folio world is really dark.

Anyway let’s look at the monsters that look like they might be undead.

Crypt thing

Obviously NOT undead

Turnable undead: Apparition, Coffer corpse, Huecuva, Penanggalan (flying head form), Poltergeist, Sheet ghoul, Sheet phantom, Son of Kyuss

Non-turnable undead: Death knight, Penanggalan (human form), Revenant, Skeleton warrior

Not actually undead & non-turnable: Adherer, Crypt thing, Eye of fear and flame, Gambado, Githyanki*, Necropidius, Vision, Yellow musk zombie

*Like the Meazel, the Githyanki are obviously based on the Iron Maiden mascot “Eddy”.

githyanki

Iron Maiden alum art from “Somewhere in a dungeon”

githyanki

Githyanki

Only a minority are turnable, and most are turned as wights, wraiths, or specters, so your cleric has little chance.

All those non-turnable undead and psuedo-undead also remind me that the FF is sometimes criticized as consisting of a lot of screw-the-player gimmick monsters.  While there are a good number of gimmicks, you have to admit the Monster Manual has plenty of those too (Ear seekers, Shriekers, Gas spores, Rot grubs, Rust monsters, Yellow mold, Brown mold, and so on and on!).

I guess we should also look at the giants and dragons, as those are staples of fantasy, and I admit they are a little underwhelming. The giants are not bad — at 12 and 14 HD, they are as tough as anything in the Monster Manual, and the Mountain giant certainly looks like a classic storybook giant.  The Fog giant, with his surprise ability, looks deadly, though they should probably have the ability to generate fog too. The dragons, on the other hand, are maybe the weakest thing about the Fiend Folio world.  Instead of being the benevolent spiritual beings of Chinese folklore, or the destructive forces of nature of Western folklore, they seem to be inscrutable spirits of nature — not necessarily hostile, but capricious and dangerous.  Some demand tribute, some accept bribes, but none have much in the way of clear or useful motivation.  They are all shades of neutral, and that makes them seem more like animals than dragons, despite their generally high intelligence. The trolls of the Fiend Folio are all pretty good though — in fact I like them more than standard D&D trolls.  They are certainly more like Norse trolls, and the Ice trolls and Spirit trolls suggest they are more supernatural than standard D&D trolls.

So if I were to describe the world of the Fiend Folio, I think it suggests that monsters tend to be otherworldly — ethereal, elemental, or undead, or else they are beings from the underworld of dungeons and caverns. The animal-type monsters are mostly botched magical experiments like Gorrila-bears, or gigantic vermin like Giant Bats and Giant Hornets, or else super-predators like Babblers.

Babbler

Babbler

The humanoids are often alien (Kuo-toa, Firenewts) though some resemble the primitive or militaristic subhumans we find in the Monster Manual. So, it is certainly recognizable as D&D. It is just a little darker, a little wackier, and maybe a little more dangerous, since there are almost no “standard” low-level monsters that you can just fight (exceptions being things like Xvarts and Norkers, though the Norker’s high armor class makes them a real danger to first level PCs). For example, Quaggoths (HD 1+2) go berserk and fight to negative hp; Qullans (HD 2) have super-sharp swords that score bonuses to hit and damage (but of course the blades quickly lose this property when looted!)

Looking at the dungeon monster tables in the back of the book, all the “weak” monsters are thieves or ambushers like the Jermalaine, Mite, and Snyad. Humanoids like Bullywugs can make three attacks, or have boosted AC like the Norkers.  And that is just the level I monsters.  As you go to higher level charts, it seems that the FF monsters tend to have boosted AC, HD, or other powers, compared to their Monster Manual peers.  However, I have to say that dungeons stocked according to the FF charts would be a lot less predictable than the standard DMG tables.

So — and this looks like my second or third attempt to wrap up, I always sucked at conclusions — so anyway, the Fiend Folio world looks like something it could be pretty fun to run. It would slightly crank up the weird and the deadly, and downplay clerics and demi-humans. The only thing I’d really miss are the original dragons and some of the staple, dare I say iconic monsters like orcs, beholders, and rust monsters.  Instead, we’d have norkers, slaad, and disenchanters. Which is to say, the kid gloves would be off and the difficulty cranked up to Ultraviolence. Sounds like a plan!

C’mon in! The ichor is fine!

Published in: on October 1, 2014 at 8:00 am  Comments (11)  
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Miscellaneous dungeon dressing

At some point I really will finish painting up all the furniture and whatnot that I have for D&D. Most recently I did a weapons rack from the Heroquest boardgame and a small nautilus shell (or ram’s horn?) on a stand, which I am not sure the origins of — I think I got it from someone discarding their collection of lead? It is probably something that came in a Grenadier boxed set.  They often threw in interesting accessories like that.

weaponsrack-1

Nest to the Heroquest elf for scale — those are BIG weapons!

weaponsrack-2

A close-up of the horn or nautilus shell.  The stand is decorated with frog feet on the “legs” and clam shells holding the horn/shell in place.

magic-horn

Again for scale, here it is next to a Heritage knight.

magic-horn-2

Lastly here’s a bigger piece of scenery from a Warhammer Fantasy Battles boxed set.  It had a ton of goblins and dwarves, and some other nice scenery, so although I haven’t played WFB in years and years, it seemed like a good buy.  This is apparently some kind of fence or boundary marker made by dwarves.

 

dwarf-fence-1

One of the nice little touches is that someone left their stuff leaning against it, probably a sentry.  There is a pipe & pouch, stein, and an axe and shield — the last suggesting the sentry either left in haste or was killed unawares.

 

dwarf-fence-2

 

The same set came with a troll who is throwing a section of this boundary.  I should paint him some time too.

Published in: on September 29, 2014 at 8:00 am  Comments (2)  
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Flail snails again

Some time ago I made the flail snail on the right; more recently I made a second, more naturalistic flail snail.

flailsnails

Click to embiggen … at your peril!

 

The new one, on the left, has a real seashell for its shell (lightly washed with dark brown), and the body is made of polymer clay.  The flails were also polymer clay, formed around some florist wire so they’d be less likely to break, and to give them an easy way to attach.  The older one, on the right, has a shell from a cheap plastic animal, a body of epoxy putty, and the flails are wire with mace-heads from cheap plastic knight toys.

flailsnails-2

While I have no doubt that others have made their own flail snail minis (this lovely one came up early in a GIS), I do find it odd that no miniatures company ever made them.  They hardly require much skill, though I guess as one of the infamously “dumbest monsters of D&D” lists, and an example of what’s so terrible about the Fiend Folio,  the poor flail snail is subject to too much ridicule to get a fair break.

Published in: on September 27, 2014 at 8:00 am  Comments (6)  
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R.O.U.S.

So this is a Grenadier model, from the period when John Dennett was doing a lot of horrific stuff and Grenadier’s monsters took a really frightening turn.  It is a “Giant Bog Rat” from the Dragon Lords “Horrors of the marsh” set.

 

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

He doesn’t have the buck teeth you might expect on a rat, but I like the lipless snout with all the teeth showing, and the boils or tumors all over its back are suitably gross. It occurs to me that it would be kind of creepy if those boils hatch rats, like those freaky toads that hatch babies on their backs.

Giant Bog Rat. Mv: 12″ AC: 6 (14) HD: 6 Att: 1 bite (d10 + venom) SV: F6 Ml: 7. Special: surprise, d6 pups hatch from back every round, for six rounds, after the GBR first takes damage; treat the pups as Giant Rats.

Giant Bog Rats (GBR) are a subspecies of the common Rodent of Unusual Size (ROUS), and like them has the ability to hide, despite their large size, surprising prey on a 1-4 on a d6.  GBRs are usually encountered alone, but during mating season they may be encountered in groups of 2-6. GBRs are true hermaphrodites, and can reproduce without a mate, but more typically mate with multiple partners who place fertilized zygotes on each others backs.  The zygotes bond with the GBR’s bald back and develop into amniotic sacks which look like large boils.  When agitated, the sacks may burst, exuding fully formed GBR pups who, unlike many rodents, are born with fur and open eyes.  They emerge ravenously hungry and attack any nearby creature on sight. Adult GBRs are more cautious and will attempt to use surprise to catch prey. They prefer to feed on humans and demihumans above all else, but will eat anything. Its relatively weak but copious venom causes those hit by the bite to save versus poison at +2 or die in 2d6 rounds.

****

I just looked at the insert that came with the Horrors of the Marsh set, and the GBR was statted out as having armor equivalent to “reinforced leather,” speed comparable to a leopard, 20-60 hp, and two attacks: bite for d12 and claw for d6; its special attacks are a 10% chance of inflicting disease with a bite, and on a critical hit, it drags the foe down and crushes it beneath its bulk (400-900 pounds!) for 2d8 damage; no. appearing 1 or a “large pack”.

Published in: on September 25, 2014 at 8:00 am  Comments (1)  
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