Seneca Caverns

Finally, some pictures from my expedition into Seneca Caverns (aka The Earth Crack, the sign outside proudly proclaims!).

The first thing I noticed was the graveyard next door. This photo is from the parking lot, next to the picnic tables in the upper left of the cavern map from the previous post (reposted above for clarity).

 

the graveyard

Yup, the caverns are under a graveyard. I’m sure that’s fine.

i didn’t do a very good job of keeping track of what level each picture is from, and because I had to delete a few pictures for romm during the tour, they may be a little out of order. Here are some of the natural steps. (All the stairs on the cavern map are actually just natural steps in the fragmented rock; probably some were carved or cut into better steps but they were always very irregular and a few were kind of challenging — you need to use your hands and scamper up some narrow passes.)

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The lighting was mostly pretty subdued. I saw some moss growing near the lights but because this is a fracture cave rather than a solutional cave, it doesn’t matter as much. There very few stalagmites and stalactites, they were all in one area, and otherwise there was not much that you couldn’t touch. Although the whole system floods occasionally, there is very little sedimentary activity. At this point I should stop for a little speleological trivia, because before visiting Seneca Cavern I didn’t know what a fracture cave was. Almost every cavern you can visit as a tourist, in the US at least, is solutional: it was formed by acidic water (probably rainwater with carbon dioxide dissolved in it) flowing through, and slowly dissolving limestone. But Seneca Caverns formed more dramatically. Something like 10,000 to 250,000 years ago (my guide couldn’t pin it down) the layers of rock far below the rock that Seneca Cavern is in now was washed away to the point that many layers simply collapsed. All the “level” of Seneca Cavern are voids left between layers of various types of rock. In this case I think the lower strat were gypsum or contained gypsum, which dissolves in water. A more detailed and accurate explanation is here. The upshot is that we are left with a number of roughly rectangular chambers connected by shafts. You can see fracture lines all over, and the broken rocks covering the floors can be fitted back into the ceiling with a little imagination.

Now more pics.

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That’s a view from the “Cathedral” room on level 4. It’s called the cathedral because the cieling is highest here — perhaps eight feet in areas. I’m looking toward the “devil’s leap” which is off to one side, across from the tour path. It’s lit be a red lamp, and you can sort of tell it goes down. Our guide said that geologists found at least 13 levels going down, in  a very dry year, but could not explore further due to the water flooding the lowest levels. The water table always encroaches on Seneca Cavern, sometimes flooding all the way to level 1 but usually flooding level 8. It was a little higher when I got there, and level 7 was totally under water.

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Looking down one of the ‘stairways’, I think between levels 5 and 6.

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Another shot of the same.

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There were lots of crawls-spaces you couldn’t safely access.

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I think this is some fossilized coral. I missed the large fossilized Macropetalichthys sullivani. From what I read on the web site, it is an armored fish about 11 feet long. Maybe it is not readily viewed from the tour path.

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Above and below some good shots of the jagged nature of these chambers. there were spots I had crouch down and almost crawl through. I wouldn’t recommend this tour for someone who is claustrophobic.

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The fourth level also had a lot of graffiti. Apparently in the early days, tours were self-guided and people were fucking vandals. They call this are “inscription hall” and the graffiti is so old it is historical now. :)

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A view of the stairs between levels 3 and 4, I think.

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Below is a view of the best stairs in the cavern, which I think were between level 1 and 2. These were almost like real stairs.

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Another crawlspace:

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The entrance to “Tin pan alley,” named so because you have stoop like a panner. This was on Level 3.

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Level 3 had at least three distinct chambers, though all were pretty low.

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I think the above might be the “earthquake attic” on level three?

Below, another shot of the Cathedral room on level 4.

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Below, another photo that came out pretty badly, but the brightly lit stone has a very nice cursive inscription made by a tombstone engraver who visited early in the Cavern’s history — the C.D. Royer rock mentioned on the map. I should mention that this cavern was discovered in 1879 by some kids who fell in through a sinkhole. It wasn’t until much later that someone bought and excavated the glacier-clay choked caverns and turned it into a tourist attraction. A lawyer named Bell (his family still owns the cavern) had some clients dig out the clay in lieu of paying his fees. Before that the upper levels were totally choked with glacial clay and you had to crawl through on your belly. The first tourists went in with candles and rope tied around thier waists. When their candles burned out, they were to follow the rope (tied to a maple tree near the entrance) out.

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Because of the red light, I think the next photo is another view of the Devil’s Leap.

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If you look closely, you’ll see tiny, pencil-eraser sized stalactites. They are white because they are wet and reflect my flash:

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The stalactites are across from the Devil’s Leap and the only parts of the cavern you mustn’t touch. As you may know, the oils on your filthy fingers will stop the minerals in the water from sticking and being deposited, ending the slow growth of the stalactites which grow about 1 inch every 100 years. Because the cavern has only been cleared out for 70 years or so, the largest stalactite is less than an inch long!

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More ‘inscriptions’:

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I think the white specks below are chert deposits.

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Level 3 I think.

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More pictures of various areas I can’t really identify:

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The next photo looks down into the flooded stairway to level 7. There is a metal railing that was added some time ago, and you maybe can see the clear water below. That’s the “Old Mist’ry River” — not a river at all but the water table. It might seem to flow from level 7, but it is just the water table. A ‘message in a bottle’ was released in the “River” and took four years to emerge about 14 miles away in a water hole to the north. That water hole is also known to be an exposed bit of the water table.

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Down by level 6, I noticed this void between level 5 and 6 that is about 18 inches high and apparently reinforced or stabilized with re-bar.

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Well, that’s it. If you find yourself near Sandusky, Ohio, do check out this cavern. The tour was about an hour long and very fun. You’ll also be pretty close to attractions like Ghostly Manor and Cedar Point, and short ferry ride from Put-in-Bay which boasts another cave to visit and geode big enough to go inside and conveniently located below a winery, as well as a neat naval museum.

Published in: on August 25, 2015 at 10:49 pm  Comments (5)  
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Spelunking we shall go, and, A giveaway!

Well, visiting a tourist cavern, not hardcore spelunking into a cave.

This weekend we’re taking a little getaway and one of our stops will almost certainly be Seneca Caverns, a  little tourist stop near Lake Erie that I never even knew existed, despite my interest in caverns. It may not be huge or especially colorful, but I really dig the map of the caverns on their web site which makes it look like an eight-level dungeon.

https://i1.wp.com/www.senecacavernsohio.com/art/property-layout.jpg

Seneca Caverns map, used with permission.

My wife says that I will never make it to level 7, but thinks my daughter can get there (I assume level 8 is off limits). If you’d like to make your prediction about how deep I’ll get before becoming lodged, freaking out, or fleeing in panic, leave a comment. The correct answer (or a randomly selected correct answer if I get more than one) will win their choice* of fabulous prizes from my collection of stuff I’m trying to get rid of.

*Some restrictions apply: One prediction per comment. Excludes boxed games. Winner must live in North America or be willing to cover postage costs over $5 US.  Giveaway cancelled if I drown in Ole Mist’ry River, fall to my death, disappear in the Wild Cave Area, or am eaten by cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers.

Published in: on August 14, 2015 at 10:56 am  Comments (9)  
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EGG biography coming this fall

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This may be old news, as I don’t read the RPG forums any more, but I just heard about an upcoming book, Empire of the Imagination by Michael Witwer. As far as I can tell it is the author’s first book. I’ll keep an eye out for it. Judging by the subtitle it may be less of a biography and more yet-another-book-on-how-D&D-happened, but I’m holding out hope that it is a real biography.

Published in: on July 30, 2015 at 9:07 am  Comments (5)  

A petition

There are a lot of people I sort-of-know through blogging, and once in a while I have an opportunity to be of some help. Here’s one. Please consider following this link to http://www.change.org and signing the petition. He is asking his state’s supreme court to hear an appeal filed on behalf of his late nephew, who appears to be the victim of a horrible miscarriage of justice. Thanks!

Published in: on July 23, 2015 at 1:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

In the dust of this planet / Eugene Thacker

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This book has a gained a small measure of notoriety because its cover appeared in a few places in pop culture and because professional moron Glenn Beck singled it out as a destructive force in American culture. However I can’t imagine many people reading this — it is essentially a short work of philosophy that looks at how twentieth and twentieth-first century horror (in fiction, films, and music) might help us comprehend the unthinkable world we now face: the world that might be: the world after human extinction. (I am reminded of the ancient skeptical quip that just as we do not fear the nonexistence we enjoyed before we were conceived or born, we should not fear the nonexistence that follows our death, but Thacker would probably want to say: The individual’s nonexistence is one thing, the nonexistence of humanity, perhaps even of rationality, is another.)

Thacker’s basic idea is subtle and difficult to paraphrase. If I am understanding him (and as someone who studied philosophy pretty extensively, and in particular a lot of nihilism, as well as someone interested in or familiar with most of the writers he uses to illustrate or explore his ideas, I may be among the relative small minority of people who actually comprise his audience) — if I understand this book, the first premise is that we need to distinguish among three “worlds”: the world-for-us, the world-in-itself, and the world-without-us. (For my money this distinction alone was worth the price of reading this short but difficult book.)

Briefly, the world-for-us is the world understood instrumentally*, the world as something for our use as humans; the world in relation to humans. This concept of the world is most fiercely promoted in myth and religion, but it is also how we usually think of the world in our everyday interactions with it. Thacker uses the generic term “World” for this world.

The world-in-itself on the other hand is the world as it exists independently of human concerns and interests, the subject of scientific inquiry perhaps but potentially hostile. Paradoxically our scientific investigations generally convert the world-in-itself to the world-for-us because we normally undertake these investigations to solve some problem or gain some understanding of human problems, however it was the rational, scientific mindset that reveals the possibility of the word-in-itself. But philosophically, at least, we acknowledge that the world-in-itself is not just some human construct or a world made for- or by- us. The Kantian noumena (“thing-in-itself”) is obviously being invoked here, but Thacker is not strictly being Kantian here. For one thing he doesn’t necessarily agree with Kant that we know nothing about the world-in-itself; we in fact have a concept of the world apart from human concerns. Thacker calls the world-in-itself “the Earth”.

Lastly the world-without-us is the world that is, by definition, hidden from us and beyond our reckoning, and its reality is most plain when we think of the world after human extinction. This concept is of fairly recent vintage because it is only in fairly recent times that we’ve had any idea of a world with no humans. In the mythological/religious past, we could only think of the end humans as the end of the world itself. But climate change, the threat of nuclear annihilation, the threat of extinction-level pandemics, the notion of civilization-ending disasters generally: these possibilities evoke the world-without-us. Thacker calls the world-without-us “the Planet,” because when we imagine the world without us we are considering our world “objectively,” as one planet among many, and not merely in-addition to humanity but apart from and independent of humanity. The Planet is not even hostile to us; it is indifferent to us. This indifference is terrifying to us, because it negates the humanocentric world. I should hasten to add that the alienating thing about the world-without-us does not depend entirely on human extinction. The very idea of the multitude of worlds, the near-infinity of time and space, and the possibility of alien intelligences also invoke the world-without-us.

Thacker’s thesis is that modern horror (in film, fiction, and even music) provides a non-philosophical approach to grappling with the Planet, that is to say: the world-without-us. The bulk of the book tries to illustrate this thesis, drawing on everything from black metal music and Hammer films to H.P. Lovecraft and Georges Bataille. Theological and occult writings on magic and demonology are also analyzed as precursors to modern horror. Along the way Thacker uses a variety of philosophers, especially Schopenhauer and Aristotle (!) to explain how the world-without-us can be understood philosophically. Perhaps obviously, Lovecraft’s notion of “cosmic horror” very aptly describes the human response to the idea of the world-without-us. Towards the end of the book he suggests a mystical approach to comprehending the world-without-us, using certain “darkness” mystics (Bohme, John of the Cross) to analyze a strange, supposedly anonymous poem that is probably the work of the author himself.

I should finally comment on the utterly strange but effective structure of his book: we are treated to a series of medieval scholastic forms (quaestio, lectio, disputatio) each exploring specific questions or topics.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Thacker does not settle on a clear conclusion, but there are at least two more books in his “Horror of philosophy” series.

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*Thacker doesn’t specifically use Heidegger’s concept of “instrumental rationality” here, but Heidegger certainly applies: The world-for-us is the world for Dasein.

Published in: on July 22, 2015 at 8:57 am  Comments (1)  
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A 7th century D&D party

A cleric, a thief, and a fighter (or possibly an assassin) set out to slay a dragon (or a “Gargouille,” depending on your source).

From Ebenezer C. Brewer’s A dictionary of miracles (1910):

“What renders the name of St. Romanus [aka St. Romain] especially memorable in all France, is his victory at Rouen over a horrible dragon, of a shape and size hitherto unknown. It was a man-eater, and also devoured much cattle, causing sad desolation. Romanus resolved to attack this monster in his lair; but as no one would assist him in such a dangerous enterprise, he took with him, as assistants, a murderer condemned to death, and a thief. The thief, being panic-struck, ran away ; but the murderer proved true steel. Romanus went to the dragon’s den, and, making the sign of the cross, walked in, and threw a net over the beast’s neck. The murderer, then taking the net in his two hands, dragged the monster through the town into the market-place, where was a huge bonfire. Into this bonfire he led the beast, there was it burnt to death, and then thrown into the Seine. All the people thanked the saint for delivering them from this pest, the murderer was set at liberty, and Romanus appointed a day of public thanksgivings. — Propre de Rouen.”

No word on the dragon’s hoard, but the murderer was pardoned for his part in slaying the dragon, and after Romanus’ death there was annual procession of his relics ending with the pardon of a convicted criminal.

A surprising number of saints took an active role in slaying or banishing dragons. A pretty good list is here.

Published in: on July 8, 2015 at 8:47 am  Comments (5)  
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False advertising

DMGR1/2112. The Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide.

This is actually a pretty good reference book for DMs. There is general advice on designing dungeons and indoor environments, and lots of stuff about running a game — practical table-manners type stuff, managing players, DMing style, all that. World-building and mapping and even suggestions on the hows and whys of in-game dungeon construction. It’s co-written by Janelle Jaquay, an icon of early D&D. So it has to be good, right?

It’s a little unusual for a 2e splatbook, in that some of the art is pretty bloody (pages 9, 33, and to a lesser degree 89), and there seem to be a couple of half-orcs among the PCs in various illustrations (pages 11 & 96 — though the guy on page 96 could be full orc).

There are great sample maps of various structures and environments that you might run as “dungeons” (understood here in the most basic sense as an boundaried adventuring environment, limiting where you can go). A pyramid, caverns, a temple, that sort of thing. All done in Sutherland’s neat perspective mapping that he pioneered in the 1e “Survival Guides”.

But you what it hasn’t got? Catacombs. Nothing about them. Nada. The biggest word on the cover & title page, and as far as I can tell the word doesn’t even turn up in the text. Disappointing. That’s OK though; I have something in the works that will cover catacombs.

The other odd thing about this one is the annoying illustrations of a nerdy DM and his gaming group, which is so mocking as to be unsympathetic. It’s supposed to be comical but really comes off as pretty contemptuous.

I haven’t read any of the later editions’ Dungeon Master Guides so I can’t say how much of this was carried over to them — honestly I haven’t even read the 2e DMG in years so I don’t know if this redundant to stuff in there. It does give a very concise set of guidelines that you can use in any game, so it’s worth checking out for that and for the handful of maps in the back. For as much I hated most of the brown splatbooks of character options back in the day, this blue splatbook is surprisingly good.

 

 

 

Published in: on July 6, 2015 at 2:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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Spartacusploitation

So I’ve been watching some of the Starz series Spartacus: Blood and sand (actually each season seems to have a different subtitle…).  I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice that it kind of veers between frenetic splatter-action and soft-core porn. I’ve read they intentionally emulated Zack Snyder’s 300 film in the first episode or two, and it shows. The action sequences also owe something to Tarantino’s Kill Bill — geysers of blood, a bit like old samurai films, and crazy stunts, more like the Shaw Brothers’ work, only less of it. The special effects are not always convincing but they certainly out-splatter pretty much any other film in the “peplum” genre. The sex scenes — and there is clearly a quota that each episode must meet, with four or five topless scenes for the lead actresses and full frontal nudity for at least one actor or extra — are a little off-putting, juxtaposed as they are with ultraviolence. In fact about half of the sex scenes are intentionally repulsive, and this actually works in the show’s favor. The decadence of Rome is meant to be shown in a repulsive light. Moreover, despite the exploitation levels of sex and violence, the show is not that bad. Some of the acting is quite good — John Hannah and Lucy Lawless tend to steal the show in their scenes, but the whole cast is reasonably good. The plot is melodramatic and violent, and kept my interest. It also really works as an indictment of Imperial Rome. You can’t help but hate the Romans. They are portrayed as relentlessly decadent, greedy, venial, lustful, and basically evil in every way. A show about a bloody slave revolt probably has to dehumanize the Romans some in order to make the rebels into heroes. It’s too bad the show has to get so much history wrong.

Actually it gets a fair amount of the history right, in terms of the Roman world. Rome really was very dependent on slavery (a fact that Hollywood has usually been unwilling to depict). The show emphasizes the horrors of slavery pretty well, though I’m not sure if slaves were quite so callously killed on a whim as the show suggests. The sets are convincing. The costumes of civilians and nobles are generally accurate, and military kit looks right too (hell, the Romans’ shields are oval rather than the usual later imperial rectangle we see in every movie).  The gladiators’ equipment is mostly correct too, in so far as they depict mostly depict real gladiator styles. (The axe-men I’m very dubious about — the show keeps depicting guys with a huge battle-axe like something you’d see in a video game, and they also have several gladiators fight with a pair of double-bitted axes. Granted they look awesome, but like the guy with a medieval flail in the Russell Crowe Gladiator film, it is just Hollywood being Hollywood. The hoplomachi are depicted as fighting in melee with their spears rather than casting them — that seems possible but it’s not how I usually see them depicted.)

I like the very formalized manner of speaking the nobles usually use — I’m not sure if it would really be common in private conversations but it does class up the dialogue, even with the occasional gratuitous but hilarious cursing.

The main things I think the show gets wrong, unfortunately, are pretty central to the plot. First, the show depicts Romans as being pretty shameless about sex. Every party involves live sex shows. This helps establish the ruling class as decadent. But Caligula, Tiberius, and Nero actually shocked the Romans with their orgies; the show suggests everyone in Rome was pretty much on their way to a brothel or stumbling home drunk from a party out of the movie Caligula. Yes, the Romans had a pretty open attitude about sex and fewer hang-ups than we do in the U.S., but I don’t think they were all voyeurs and exhibitionists as the show suggests. Also, while slaves could be used for sex, it was considered somewhat shameful for a free citizen to do so, while the series suggests it was normal and acceptable.

Secondly, the show depicts most gladiatorial bouts as being to the death. Historians who have studied the actual records of the Roman games have concluded that very few bouts ended with the death of a gladiator. Certainly there were times when there was massive loss of life, but those would be the “re-enactments” of battles (staged by condemned criminals) and executions by beasts or gladiators (the latter of which do figure occasionally into the show). So we see death after death in the arena and almost no defeated gladiators being given the chance to submit. I suppose that helps elevate the drama too, but the arena was terrible enough without exaggerating the lethality for gladiators. In reality the gladiators more often “fought” animals or prisoners than other gladiators, and they rarely killed other gladiators.

Now I know that most “historical” shows and movies are terribly inaccurate and I’m not someone who can’t appreciate them as drama. In fact, Spartacus does a pretty good job of creating really compelling characters. The bad guys are interesting. The good guys are interesting. The situations they find themselves in, or create, are interesting. If you can accept that this is a drama which plays up the exploitative elements, you will find this show pretty enjoyable.

 

Published in: on June 10, 2015 at 8:00 am  Comments (2)  
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Behold the elephant harpy!

As I often mention here, my day job is as a librarian, and I get to see a fair amount of interesting stuff because my library is a large public research library (i.e. we get specialist academic stuff and popular stuff).  So recently The world’s best loved art treasures  (ISBN 9780867198089, have your friendly local book store order it for you) crossed my desk and let me say it is a hoot. The artist (Click Mort, link goes to his web site) basically does what modeling & miniatures enthusiasts would call “conversions,” but instead of working with scale models, he “recapitates” ceramic figurines.  These examples probably explain what is going better than I can.

Elephant harpy : http://clickmort.com/available/elephant.html Image (c) Click Mort, used with permission.

Centaur as Envisioned by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass : http://clickmort.com/available/rankin.html ; image (c) Click Mort, used with permission.

 

There are more at his site, and the book has even more. It kind of makes me want to stop in more junk stores hunting for cheap ceramic figurines to create my own chimeras.

Anyway you’ll obviously need to use these in your next D&D game.

Elephant Harpy

HD 5 ; AC as Mail ; Mv. walk 12″/fly 24″ ; Attacks: 3 or 1 ; Dmg. d4/d4/d6 + special or d12

The elephant harpy is every bit as filthy and harridine* as a regular harpy, but with their vast shared memories they also hold eternal grudges. In fact, anyone who harms an elephant harpy will henceforth be the target of vengeance from all other elephant harpies. They attack by dropping objects on their victims for d12 damage (rocks if you’re lucky) or in close combat will rake with their two claws and grapple with the trunk. Anyone grappled will be carried aloft and dropped from some height. Elephant harpies will not go near rodents, for fear that rodents will climb into their trunks.

Rankin-Bass Centaurs

HD 2 ; AC as leather ; Mv. 18″ ; Attacks 1 ; dmg. d6

Said to be the result of the unnatural coupling of deer and hill giants, Rankin-Bass centaurs are the size of deer, but have humanoid heads that would better fit on a giant’s shoulders. Despite their apparent awkwardness, they are quite fleet and agile, and can leap great distances like an ordinary deer as well as move with stealth similar to a deer (surprise on a 1-4). They avoid combat when possible but can kick for d6. They can speak the local human languages as well as several woodland tongues (centaur, brownie, and dryad). They naturally attract normal deer and often herd with them. Rankin-Bass centaurs crave nothing so much as acceptance from humans and humanoids, but their disturbing visages, and horrid stench, make most civilized folk shun them. Some Rankin-Bass centaurs are accomplished druids and can cast with 7th level proficiency; these can be distinguished by their caps. A Rankin-Bass centaur may offer to accompany a party of adventurers in woodland adventures, but usually wear out their welcome by making annoying efforts to solicit compliments and praise. A scorned Rankin-Bass centaur may follow and harass adventurers with their spells (if a druid) or by simply alerting other woodland creatures and monsters to the party’s presence.

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*Bonus neologism: harridine = being harridan-like.

Published in: on June 4, 2015 at 3:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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One Page Dungeon Contest 2015 is over: check out the entries!

Congratulations to the winners! There were a lot of great entries, and the damn your eyes, Simon Forster, for doing such a better drawing of a sunken tower than I did.

You can see them all here. There are too many for me to have even looked at them all, but I really liked “Dead dwarf dome,” “The shambling throne of the death cult king,” and “The teeny tiny dungeon.”

Published in: on May 30, 2015 at 12:43 am  Comments (1)  
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