Merciless Monsters 6: Octorok For Pathfinder

Link throwing a boomerang at an Octorok. Official art from the 1987 Legend of Zelda manual. Page 24
Octorok art from the 1987 Legend of Zelda manual.

Lately it seems as though all I post about is the Legend of Zelda Adventure System that I’ve been working on. Which isn’t really surprising, I’m inspired to work on it and I don’t have anything else related to tabletop games drawing my attention right now. I enjoy the OD&D game I participate in on Monday but don’t have a lot to say about it beyond that, and it’s been awhile since my Pathfinder group has found time to get together. So when I work on tabletop stuff, it’s focused on the Legend of Zelda.

But I thought that instead of posting another monster constructed with a half-finished monster system, I’d adapt one of the most classic Zelda enemies to Pathfinder: The octorock. It’s a land-based octopus that shoots rocks out of its mouth. Literally, that’s how it was originally conceived. See?

Original NES Octorok Concept Art
Octorok concept art.

As with all of my recent Zelda work, however, I’m using the Link to the Past as my source. That game’s conception of the creature was a little less silly looking I think. Unfortunately, there is no art for the creature that I am aware of, but I did find this nice image of the game’s sprite:

A Link to the Past Octorok
ALttP Octorok Sprite

I’d also like to note that starting with this post, and from now on, I will not be using the ‘proper’ methods for creating monsters in Pathfinder. It takes far too long, and the results are not worth the effort it involves. My monsters will have no skills, nor will they have any feats, nor will they be constructed with painstaking care to ensure that the CR is “accurate.” Personally, I don’t even use the CR anymore, preferring that my players learn the fine art of running away if they encounter something beyond their ability. I’ll still include the most accurate CR I can, but it will be estimated, not calculated.

Pathfinder Octorok

The Octorok is an aberration which makes its home in plains. It is often incorrectly assumed that the octorok prefers plains of dirt, but this is only an illusion. Octoroks often migrate to grassy plains rich in plant and insect life, but they quickly overgraze the land, reducing it to an expanse of dirt where the creatures must forage for worms, beetles, and nutrient-rich soil.

Part of this confusion rises from the assumption that the nozzle on an Octorok’s face is a ‘mouth.’ For lack of a better word, it is in fact a kind of sphincter which the octorok uses to expel waste products. The octorok’s actual ‘mouth’ is an unusual scooping apparatus located on the bottom of its body. Octoroks feed by moving across the ground at high speeds, picking up soil, insects, and plant life as they do so. The octorok’s digestive tract quickly siphons part of this collection into the octorok’s stomach, where it is digested and used to produce energy. Meanwhile, any unneeded food, or inedible substances such as stones, are shunted to the octorok’s colon, where they are coated in an unusual kind of adhesive juice which is actually quite valuable if it can be harvested. This organ shapes the ‘leftovers’ into a solid ball, which the octorok can hurl with some force from its forward nozzle. The ball formed by this process is quite hard, making this hurling ability an effective defense mechanism for the octorok.

While similar in appearance to the aquatic Octopus, Octoroks differ in a number of important ways to help them survive and thrive on land. On close inspection, their eight ‘legs’ more closely resemble the bodies of snakes than they do the suckered tentacles of a cephalopod. While these legs might not seem practical, they actually allow this aberration to move much faster than many larger creatures. Most of the Octorok’s body is also covered by a soft ‘shell’ which protects the creature from most attacks. While this shell is not calcified as a turtle’s shell is, meaning it can be pierced or cut, it is actually much more resistant to cracking, and distributes the force of an impact more effectively. This is a useful ability when traveling in a herd of creatures which are constantly hurling heavy objects around.

Octorok

A dull red creature darts past you on a mass of wriggling legs. A strange nozzle protrudes from its face.


Octorok; CR 2; [Aberration] [Plains] [Temperate/Warm Climate] [Diurnal Cycle]


XP: 600
N Tiny Aberration
Init +9; Senses Darkvision 60ft, Perception +0


DEFENSE


AC 17, touch 17, flat-footed 12 [10 + Dex(5) +Size(2)]
HP 3
DR 3/Slashing, Piercing
Fort +9 Ref +4 Will +5;


OFFENSE


Speed 45 ft.
Melee +2 Slam (1d4)(Bludgeoning)
Ranged +7 Rok Hurl (1d6)(15ft)(Bludgeoning)


STATISTICS


Str 10 Dex 20 Con 10 Int 2 Wis 14 Cha 10
BAB +2; CMB -2; CMD 13
Languages None
SQ Quick Initiative


ECOLOGY


Environment Plains. They prefer grassy plains, but quickly reduce these to large expanses of dirt.
Organization A ‘Tangle’ of Octoroks is usually between 6 and 20. They are rarely seen in smaller groups.
Activity Cycle Octoroks are diurnal, so they function during the day and sleep at night.
Diet Plants, Insects, Earthworms, Nutrient-Rich Soil; Natural Enemies Hawks, Leevers, Most Medium-Large Aberrations
Treasure Typically None

What I Need to Improve on as a Game Master

Captain N The Game Master DVD Cover - worst GM ever, amirite?
DVD cover for the Captain N: The Game Master collection.

I work hard to be the best game master that I can, and if I do say so myself, I’m not too bad at it. My groups always seem to have a lot of fun, or at least enough fun that they’re willing to return to my table. Plus there’s the few hundred people who seem to think I’m interesting enough to warrant reading this site, so I figure I can’t be failing completely. Unless a lot of you are just google bots and image wranglers.

…damnit, that’s exactly what you are, isn’t it?

Regardless, I believe that a person should always look for ways to improve, and I need to improve as a GM in more ways than I’m comfortable admitting. I rarely come away from a game session without feeling as though there’s something I could have done much better. I am honestly embarrassed to admit to some of these flaws, and I questioned whether or not I even wanted to share this post. But I also believe that the best kind of writer is one who is brutally honest. Especially regarding themselves. So here we go;

I wet the bed into my teen years.

There. Everything after that should be easy, right?

Consistency is a big personal battle for me, and my failure to be consistent has often affected my GMing in numerous ways. The extent of my preparations, for example, varies wildly. Occasionally I’ll come to a game with ten or twenty pages worth of notes, but more often I’ve got maybe a page of sloppily assembled chicken-scratches. I have a terrible habit of letting other concerns get in the way of my game mastering responsibilities.

Fortunately, or not, my greatest strength as a GM is improvisation. I can pull a varied and interesting game out of thin air without too much effort. But I think this ability can become more of a crutch than a boon. Even the best improvisations are rarely consistent with games I’ve run in the past. Players start to notice little oddities: “If half of the villagers have disappeared, shouldn’t there be empty houses we can stay in? Why do we need to stay in the mayor’s spare room?”

Perhaps my worst inconsistency is in my scheduling of games. I often put off arranging the next game session, because I find social situations so draining. It’s strange that someone like myself, who always feels exhausted after spending an extended amount of time with people, would be so attracted to a game that is inherently social. I’m a walking contradiction, apparently.

Overland Travel has been a weakness of mine for years. The way I handle it did vastly improve when I began mapping my overworlds with hexes. But drastically improved does not mean good enough. I still truggle with basic elements of presentation. I currently have my players indicate how they’d like to travel on a hex grid, and I fill in the blanks as they do so. Not only is it a waste of time to have me filling in hexes, but I hate that my current method has players interacting with a grid, rather than using their imaginations to create the environment for themselves.

I’ve been reading a series of posts written by The Alexandrian on this subject, which address many of the issues I’ve had with running hex crawls. Hopefully after tinkering with it, and trying to run a hex map according to his guidelines, I’ll have a firmer grasp of how a game like that should function. I would like overland travel to be one of the highlights of my games, where adventure hooks lurk behind every hex, and players can spend an entire session being entertained by a lengthy journey. I’ve been able to capture some element of that in my games so far, but I want more.

Economies in my games never make much sense. Going back to the problem with consistency, there’s rarely a set buying power for a gold piece, or any real gauge on how common it is. When my players approach their wizard friend and ask for a completely reasonable magic device that they should be able to acquire (but for which there is no precedent),  I come up with a price that ‘seems right.’ Only later do I realize that I’ve significantly over or underestimated the item’s value. I also have a bad habit of being a great deal more generous with treasure than I ought to be, because I’m worried about keeping my players engaged in the adventure if they don’t feel suitably rewarded.

Yes, I know that’s ridiculous.

Focus isn’t something I even realized I was failing at until recently. I started making audio recordings of my games, and realized that my group and I spend a lot of time chit-chatting during game sessions. Worse: more often than not those tangents originate with me. Time for a big surprise: I like the sound of my own voice. You could make the argument that so long as everyone is having fun, it’s not really a problem. But, having played in Brendan’s OD&D game, I’ve seen how much better the game is when everyone keeps their attention on the game. Brendan does a great job of gently guiding everyone’s focus back to the game when it strays. In that way he’s provided a model for me to learn from.

Traps are my weakness when it comes to dungeon crawls. Otherwise, I think I do a pretty decent job of making dungeons work in my games. But when it comes to traps, I’ve never been able to pull them off satisfactorily. Either they’re so non-threatening as to be boring, or they’re so deadly as to be cheap. In part, I blame the game systems I’ve GMed for this one: D&D 3.X and Pathfinder. Skill checks are not a very fun way for a player to search for traps, nor are disable device checks a fun way to get rid of them. I covered this a bit in my skills analyses of both perception and disable device. However, having now played in Brendan’s OD&D game where traps are handled properly, I feel as though I have a better understanding of what makes them fun, and why I’ve only had limited success with them in the past. I guess here, again, Brendan has provided a model to help me improve my own GMing. Thanks!

Low Magic eludes me. I dislike fantasy settings where magic serves as technology. It can be fun now and again, but the world is much more interesting when magic is rare. Yet I always seem to end up in high-magic games. I’m not quite sure how it happens. One minute there’s only one wizard in the area, and he’s a crusty old curmudgeon. The next moment I’ve offhandedly mentioned to my players that there’s a wizard’s college in the capitol city. Fuck! Butter luck next campaign.

There you have it. My biggest failings as a GM. Hopefully I can get them sorted out soon and move on to more minor issues with my style.

Legend of Zelda Adventure System: Notes on Combat

Concept art for the original Legend of Zelda, by Katsuya Terada. Link fights a warrior swinging a heavy flail.
Concept art for the original Legend of Zelda, by Katsuya Terada.

I would like for the LOZAS system to be a paradigm example of simplicity in motion. Combat in gameplay should move  quickly, because combat in the source material moves quickly. Hacking and slashing your way through a room full of enemies is part of a Zelda-style adventure, but it rarely takes center stage. When it does take center stage, it can be an intense experience, but rarely a long one. My goal, then, is to build a simple and easy to run combat system which can still model complex tactics. Combat should be fast, but that doesn’t mean it should be easy.

In approaching this aspect of the game’s design, my thinking is to start simple. First, figure out how the bare bones of combat will be handled, then add in the core mechanics I want to use for the game. Once those two elements are in place, I’ll call it done until playtesting shows me that something more is needed. And if that happens, my first question for myself will be “Was the GM able to handle it?” If so, are additional rules really needed?

A basic attack roll will be handled by rolling 1d20 against a target number. Since I’m trying to create a numerically simple game without too many bonuses or penalties for players to keep track of, the maximum armor class will be pretty low. Likely somewhere between 18 and 24. If the player rolls a 20 on their attack roll, it is an automatic hit. If a 20 would have hit anyway, then it is a critical hit as well. Upon a critical hit, the player doubles the number of dice they roll for damage. GMs are also encouraged to make critical hits–both for and against the players–memorable. Not through painful attempts at florid prose, but by having the hit affect the battle in a more significant way than simply causing extra damage. A broken weapon or bone, a scar, losing a finger; any of these would be appropriate.

Called shots will be a central mechanic in the game. I discussed this in detail not too long ago so I won’t re-tread that ground here. Essentially speaking, the players are encouraged to declare that they are attacking a specific part of the creature, such as an arm, or an eye. The GM makes a ruling on the spot regarding the difficutly of this maneuver, and tells the player that it will be Easy, Moderate, Difficult, or Nearly Impossible. Only after hearing how difficult the attack will be does the player decide whether or not they’d like to attempt the attack. If they do, standard critical hit rules apply. Some creatures may be particularly strong or weak on different parts of their bodies.

Concept art for the original Legend of Zelda, by Katsuya Terada. Link fights a knight in full plate. Armos?
Concept art for the original Legend of Zelda, by Katsuya Terada.

Battle Maneuvers cover a large range of different things. If a player would like to trip their foe, or attempt to break their opponent’s weapon, or try to blind their opponent by throwing dust in their eyes, then both the attacker and the target make opposed battle maneuver checks. This is a 1d20 roll, with the individual’s battle maneuver score added to it.

The battle maneuver score is calculated by taking both a character’s body and agility score. For each score, 11 counts as 0, while any number higher than 11 adds +1, and any number lower than 11 adds -1. So a body score of 14 would grant a +3, while a body score of 9 would confer a -2. Once both body and agility have been calculated in this manner, add the two numbers together, and this is the character’s battle maneuver score.

Anything a player wants to do within combat is either an action, or a non-action. Things such as talking, dropping an item or drawing weapons are non-actions. They do not require a significant amount of time or attention, and so they do not use up a player’s turn. Whereas things such as moving, swinging a weapon, throwing an item, using a special ability, attempting a battle maneuver or casting a spell, all count as actions. Each player is allowed to make 2 actions during their turn. So on a single turn, a soldier could move their full speed twice, or they could move their speed once and attack, or they could attack twice.

Regarding movement, I see no reason to handle it differently than the way Pathfinder did. Hylians (the game’s only playable race) move at a default speed of 30ft per action, and each square on a battle grid will represent 5ft. I like the system and it works well enough. However, it’s important that the game can be run without a battle mat as well. Grids are useful for tactical battles, but for games played over the internet (which are increasingly popular) they can be more of an inconvenience than they are worth. Running a game without the mat is usually just as simple as choosing not to use a mat, but I would like to create a subset of rules which allow players to benefit from their character’s speed even when a mat is unavailable.

On that note, I’ve always felt as though Pathfinder was missing an opportunity by keeping movement speed largely static. The ability to move an extra 5 ft represents an interesting tactical advantage in combat, and the reverse is an interesting disadvantage. Different movement speeds will play a more pronounced role in this game than I’ve personally seen in other games.

Concept art for the original Legend of Zelda, by Katsuya Terada. Link stands ready to fight a red-skinned horse man.
Concept art for the original Legend of Zelda, by Katsuya Terada.

Initiative will be handled in an OD&D style, because as I’ve mentioned, I quite like it. A ‘designated initiative roller’ will roll 1d6 for the party, while the GM will roll 1d6 for the monsters involved in the combat. Whoever wins the roll will go first as a group, followed by the group who failed the roll, after which initiative will be re-determined. GMs are encouraged to offer minor initiative bonuses or penalties to groups who put themselves in a particularly good bad position at the end of the round.

GM rulings and on-the-fly modifiers are very important to the LOZAS combat system. Game masters are encouraged to allow characters to make extra actions, give penalties or bonuses to any type of roll, or otherwise modify the rules during play. This is not a subversion of the game’s rules, or a type of haphazard house-ruling, it is an essential part of making the system work correctly. The mechanics above provide combat with structure. The die rolls inject the simulated battle with chaos. The rulings of the GM provide the final piece, by rewarding or punishing the player’s tactics.

For example, there are no attacks of opportunity written into these rules. None the less, there may be times when a player or an NPC will leave themselves vulnerable to an attack. If a player is engaged in a duel and chooses to turn tail and run in the opposite direction, their foe should be given an opportunity to attack them as they flee. No rule covers this eventuality, but GMs are encouraged to take advantage if they feel it is appropriate.

Page by Page: Gary Gygax’s DMG Part 7

Gary Gygax's DMG - Curved Sword by David C. Sutherland III
Illustration from the DMG by David C. Sutherland III

Wow, it’s been almost two months since I updated the Page by Page series! I’d like to apologize to those who have been following this one. I really let it get away from me without noticing. This is the seventh installment of my continuing series on the 1979 Dungeon Master’s Guide, written by Gary Gygax. This post begins with the section “Special Types of Attacks” on page 70, and continues to the end of page 79.

To recap:  This is not a review of the DMG. I am not attempting to evaluate its quality, nor the quality of the AD&D system. I am merely going through the book as a modern gamer, learning about the roots of RPGs, and making note when I see something surprising or interesting, or something which could be adapted for modern games.

Attacks With Two Weapons: I found this a little odd. “Characters normally using a single weapon may choose to use one in each hand (possibly discarding the option of using a shield).” The way I read that, it sounds as though characters who choose to dual wield might need to give up using their shield, but might not. Would they somehow wield two swords and a shield at the same time?

I’m not entirely sure what Gygax meant by this, but I find the imagery amusing. Perhaps he was making allowances for forearm mounted bucklers which don’t cover the wielder’s hands? Those existed, right?

Breaking Off From Melee: Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? Attacks of opportunity? In my first edition? Apparently it’s more likely than I thought! I realize this isn’t exactly as comprehensive as the AoO in 3.x/Pathfinder, but it functions in much the same way. For so long I’ve heard old-school players complain that attacks of opportunity are part of the needless complication of the modern game’s battle system. And yet here I find pretty much exactly that. How curious!

Monk’s Open Hand Melee: I like this idea a great deal: a monk’s unarmed damage is only really functional against human sized, human-weight opponents. It recognizes the limitations of the human body, thus preventing monks from becoming wholly supernatural beings as they are in Pathfinder. Unfortunately, the way this limitation is notated is awful. Listing a max height and weight in the first place is too much work for the GM. I much prefer the kind of size categories seen in Pathfinder. And then, on top of that, to have the max height and weight increase incrementally at each level, two inches by two inches, is just obscene in my humble opinion. What is the difference between a 6’6″ humanoid and a 6’8″ humanoid?

I do quite like that undead who cause negative effects by touching their foes will inflict that effect on a monk who punches them. Gary seems to have envisioned the monk as a very interesting, but still grounded class. Using your fists as weapons has advantages, but there’s no attempt to make a monk’s fists as effective as a sword could be in the name of balance.

Actions During Combat And Similar Time-Important Situations: There’s a lot that I dislike about this section. I can understand and enjoy a game where the GM curtails excessive strategist by having events move forward around the players. Brendan frequently does this in our weekly OD&D game, and it keeps us from getting off track. It also adds a sense that the game is happening in real time, which is fun. Here, though, Gygax seems to recommend penalizing even slight hesitations on the player’s part. As a player, I try not to waste anyone’s time. But sometimes I need a moment to decide what I want to do on my turn, and I’d prefer not to be pressured into acting immediately.

But really, that’s just a nitpick compared to this passage:

In a similar vein, some players will state that they are going to do several actions, which, if allowed, would be likely to occupy their time for many rounds. For example: “I’ll hurl oil at the monster, ignite it, drink my potion of invisibility, sneak up behind it, and then stab it in the back!” How ambitious indeed. Where is the oil? In a pouch, of course, so that will take at least 1, possibly 2 segments to locate and hurl. If the potion is in the character’s back pack, 3 or 4 segments will be taken up just finding it, and another 1 segment will be required to consume its contents. (See Drinking Potions.) Now comes the tricky part, sneaking up. Assuming that the potion has taken effect, and that our dauntless character has managed to transfer his or her weapon back to his or her hand (for certainly all the other activity required the character to at least put the weapon in the off hand), he or she is now ready to creep around the fringe of the combat and steal up behind the foe to smite it in the back. If the space is not too crowded (remember, his or her friends can’t see the invisible character either) and the monster not too far away, the time should only amount to about a round or so. Therefore, the character’s actions will fill something over two complete rounds.

As DM, simply note these actions, and begin them accordingly. Then, when the player starts to give instructions about additional activity, simply remind him or her that he or she is already engaged in the former course, and that you will tell him or her when that is finished and new instructions are in order.”

No. I’m sorry, Gary. I love you, but that’s dickish GMing. To simplify the advice being given here: sometimes players will not understand the limitations of an action. If that happens, act as though they can do what they said they want to do, then pull the rug out from under them on their next turn.

Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what is being prescribed here. Maybe all Gary is saying is that the GM should be prepared to enact a player’s plans over the course of multiple rounds. If that’s the case, it’s a little bit odd, but whatever. Perhaps I don’t have a sufficient understanding of how combat works in AD&D. But this just doesn’t come off as good advice to me.

Example of Melee: For some reason, this is way more interesting to follow than any of the play examples I’ve read in modern books. Go figure.

Non-Lethal and Weaponless Combat Procedures: I like the idea that attacking players and defending players each get to roll a secret die, and then choose whether they’d like to apply it as a bonus/penalty to the “to hit” roll, or if they’d like to apply it as a bonus/penalty to the “damage” roll. That makes good sense to me as part of brawling combat. When somebody is kicking you in the balls, you can either bring your leg up to block it, or you can cup your hands over your balls and hope for the best.

Though, may I just say, this is more complicated as the grappling system in D&D 3rd edition. That system got a lot of grief, and rightfully so, for being obtuse and difficult to remember. But There are nearly two full pages about grappling here. None of this looks any easier or more enlightened than the mess which was 3rd edition grappling.

Thank goodness for Pathfinder’s combat maneuvers!

Combat Tables: Tables, tables, tables, tables, tables, tables, tables. On and on, from page seventy four through page seventy nine, filled with matrices to determine how difficult something is to hit.

I don’t like excessive matrices. They just strike me as poor design.

Colorful Characters 20: Melina Ayvon, The Apothocary

"Circe," by John William Waterhouse. A bored young woman examinging a spellbook at a table in a red dress.
“Circe” by John William Waterhouse.

Melina Ayvon’s goal in life was to coast by as easily as she could. That’s why she applied to the wizard’s academy in the first place. She thought  if she could control the fabric of the universe, everything else would be child’s play. She never anticipated quite how many long hours and sleepless nights were required to master even the most basic cantrips. To Melina’s credit, she wasn’t stupid. She managed to avoid much of the work expected of her for a time, skirting along at the bottom of her class. That couldn’t last forever, though, and before she’d finished her second year at the academy, she was expelled. She cursed the wizard’s college for spurning her, accusing the ruling council of elitism and bias against their slower-learning students.

One of the wizards of the college, an archmage named Edilon, felt sympathy for her. He’d seen her potential, and had felt for some time that the academy’s headmasters were becoming too elitist–though he could not know then that her claim was a selfish one born of humiliation, rather than a reasoned critique. Edilon took his leave of the academy, and went to the young wizard. He offered to tutor her in the mystic arts, and without any better options before her, Melina readily agreed. Over the years they spent together, Edilon showed remarkable patience, and for her part Melina put forth a greater effort than she had in the past. Though she never accepted any responsibility for her expulsion from the wizard’s college, she none the less realized that Edilon was her last chance to learn the mystic arts.

But Melina never tried to change her own nature. She was an immature girl who could not recognize her own flaws, and found no great joy in the study of magic. Though she applied herself, her resolve in this matter was finite. Over time, Edilon came to understand that his pupil’s talent would never be able to compensate for her lack of drive. Still, he pushed her, hoping he could draw a passion for study out of her. His patience only came to an end when he discovered Melina attempting to deceive him. For months the two had worked, trying to teach her a somewhat complicated spellcasting technique. She became frustrated with the time spent on the subject, and attempted to fool her teacher by hiding a wand up her sleeve so she could cast the spell more easily. Furious, and disappointed, Edilon rescinded his offer of tutelage, and cast her out of his tower. As she indignantly stormed away, Melina convinced herself that the old man had wanted her to fail, and so put a problem before her which was too difficult for her to solve.

With nowhere to go, she traveled south from the city to settle in one of the smaller villagers. There the moderate magic she possessed would be prized and feared.

Melina tried to settle in several communities, and they were always happy to have her for a short while. As she had predicted, the villagers were eager to make use of even her limited magical abilities. But it never took long before she found herself unwelcome. Her brash demeanor and privileged attitudes did not engender friendship among the townspeople, and her increasingly exorbitant demands eventually always led to the town asking her to leave. And in the next town, she’d tell stories of the how the last village she’d visited did not appreciate her, and how it was filled with rubes too frightened of a little magic to realize what a benefit she could have been.

It only took a few years for Melina to run out of towns to live in. On the furthest reaches of civilization, she was surrounded by woodspeople and hunters. Gruff folk uninterested in her petty conceits about her own importance, but willing to let her live among them so long as she didn’t bother anyone. The once proud mage set herself up as an apothecary, dispensing herbs and elixirs to the townsfolk, and adventurers who passed through the area.

More than once, Melina tried to join those adventuring parties. Each time she’d board up her shop and brag about the riches she would find, but she’d always be back soon enough. She’d say the party had tried to rob her, or that they’d been incompetent, or didn’t know how to stand away from the spell she was casting. Occasionally she wouldn’t say anything about why she’d left, which was fine, because nobody really cared anyway. She soon gave up on adventuring as well, resigning herself to a life peddling cures for rashes and bald spots. It’s not the easy life she wanted, but it’s the one she got. Sometimes she waxes poetical about how the world has wronged her and how her potential isn’t being realized, but the words are beginning to sound hollow even to her.

Melina Ayvon (CR 1)
XP: 400
Female Human Wizard 2
CN humanoid
Init +2; Senses Perception -1


Defenses


AC 13, Flat Footed 10, Touch 13 [10 + Dex(2) ]
hp 10 (2d6 +4)
Fort +2 Ref +2 Will +2


Offense


Speed 30ft
Wizard Spells Prepared (CL 2nd; Concentration + 5)(+1 Conjuration DCs)
1st– Mount, Summon Monster I, Unseen Servant
0 (at will)– Light, Touch of Fatigue, Mage Hand, Mending
Wizard Spellbook Melina’s spellbook doesn’t contain anything more than what is shown here. Learning more spells than she could prepare would be a waste of her time.
School Conjuration
Opposition Schools Enchantment, Abjuration
Conjurer Abilities
Summoner’s Charm (Su)— Whenever you cast a summoning spell, increase the duration by a number of rounds equal to half of your wizard class level.
Acid Dart(Sp):— 6/day, As a standard action you can unleash an acid dart targeting any foe within 30ft as a ranged touch attack. The dart deals 1d6 + 1 damage. Ignores Spell Resistance.
Arcane Bond: A pair of wings crafted from gold with a sapphire between them, mounted on a golden chain and worn about the neck.


Stats


Str 12 (+1) Dex 14 (+2) Con 15 (+2) Int 16 (+3) Wis 08 (-1) Cha 07 (-2)
Base Atk +1; CMB +2; CMD 14
Feats Scribe Scroll, Heighten Spell, Spell Focus(Conjuration)
Skills Bluff (+0), Craft(Alchecmy)(+8), Knowledge(Nobility)(+8), Knowledge(Nature)(+8), Spellcraft (+8)
Languages Common
Gear Fancy Red Robes, 4 ornate golden rings, 230 gold.

Apendix N: The Divine Comedy

Dante's Inferno Canto 3: The Doomed Souls embarking to cross the Acheron
Dante’s Inferno Canto 3: The Doomed Souls embarking to cross the Acheron by Gustave Doré

It is ridiculous of me to sit here and pretend I can seriously write a piece about Dante’s divine comedy. I’m a second-rate blogger who writes about tabletop games; The Divine Comedy is one of the greatest classics of medieval European literature. It stands beside such epic poems as the Aeneid, or the Odessey and is no less remarkable than those masterworks. Even Dante’s own arrogance in proclaiming that his work stands next to Virgil and Homer’s does not diminish his achievement. It’s not pompous if you can back it up.

But I was recently asked not once, but three times by three different people, to write about the books which inspire me as a GM. As Brendan put it, my personal “Appendix N.” I’ve written extensively about the video games I am inspired by, such as the old Zelda, Dragon Warrior, and Final Fantasy games. If I’m being honest, this is probably because video games have had a more profound impact on my life than books have. I tend to read slowly, and I’m not as widely read as I feel I ought to be. I can fit in with the lit nerds when I want to. They accept me as one of them, but I have to say “Ya know, I haven’t actually read that one yet!” a lot.

Dante's Inferno Canto 4: Homer, the Classic Poets
Dante’s Inferno Canto 4: Homer, the Classic Poets by Gustave Doré

But the Divine Comedy, and Inferno specifically? I’ve read the shit out of that. It has been a never ending font of inspiration to me since I first picked it up for a medieval literature class back in 2008*†. Dante’s description of Hell represents the most vicious and memorably fantasy I’ve ever experienced. And one which is remarkably simple to read for a piece written 695 years ago. Though, if you’re not an expert on 14th century Florentine politics, it helps to have a version with copious footnotes.

As most everyone knows, the story gave us our now-commonplace vision of a hell. It shows us a land of descending circles where punishments are ironically tailored to progressively more grievous  sins. Dante himself is the story’s protagonist, who becomes lost while on a stroll, and finds himself on a road which can only lead through hell itself. He is accompanied on his journey by his literary forebear Virgil. There’s a hilariously self-indulgent scene where Virgil introduces Dante to the other great poets of history, and they accept him as one of them. Seriously. The bulk of the story is a collection of interviews as Dante meets hell’s sufferers, and speaks with them about their punishments. Some are figures from Greco-Roman mythology, while others are Dante’s personal enemies, or those of his family. A few are even friends Dante, and there are numerous popes found in hell’s lowest reaches, including one who was still alive at the time.

Dante's Inferno Canto 13: Harpies in the Forest of the Suicides
Dante’s Inferno Canto 13: Harpies in the Forest of the Suicides by Gustave Doré

I don’t really care for the book’s morality, but that’s hardly surprising. I’m an atheist who grew up in a catholic household and made a conscious decisions to reject that system of beliefs. I think it’s pretty disgusting to assert that suicides, sodomites, and simonists need to be punished for all eternity. But I also believe that history ought to be judged within context. And just because I’m an atheist, doesn’t mean I feel the need to cut myself off from thousands of years of human art and culture, simply because it was inspired by philosophies I believe to be flawed. The forest of the suicides is one of the most beautifully haunting places I’ve ever seen in fiction. So much so that it featured predominantly in a game where my players chose to travel to the Abyss. (Though I did edit the purpose for the tree’s existence).

I think part of what makes the poem such a perfect source for inspiration is its breakneck pace. The plot is just a vehicle for describing the various environments and torments of hell. First Dante encounters “the Neutrals,” who were too cowardly to choose between good or evil in their lives. He describes them almost like zombies, “the woeful people who have lost the good of the intellect.” But Dante has barely finished speaking of them when Virgil ushers him forward.

He replied: ‘I will tell thee in a few words. They have no hope of death, and so abject is their blind life that they are envious of every other lot. The world suffers no report of them to live. Pity and justice despise them. Let us not talk of them; but look thou and pass.’

And I looked and saw a whirling banner which ran so fast that it seemed as if it could never make a stand, and behind it came so long a train of people that I should never have believed death had undone so many. After I recognized some of them I knew the shade of him who from cowardice made the great refusal, and at once and with certainty I percieved that this was the worthless crew that is hateful to God and to His enemies. Those wretches, who were never alive, were naked and sorely stung by hornets and wasps that were there; these made their faces stream with blood, which mingled with their tears and was gathered at their feet by loathsome worms.

And then, directing my sight farther on…”

Dante's Inferno Canto 10: Farinata degli Uberti addresses DanteThat’s it. Dante glances over to see an impossibly huge group of people running along the shore chasing a banner (which, as I understand, represents self interest) and being tormented by hornets, wasps, and worms. Then he glances back to the path ahead of him, and moves on to the next terrifying sight. (Which, in this case, is actually just some people waiting by the shore, but you get the point).

I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone looking for hellish inspiration. The density of information makes this relatively short epic more useful than many of the sourcebooks I’ve read. Plus, having read it allows you to pretend you’re significantly more educated than you actually are. If you are interested, I suggest you get the translation by John D Sinclair. Not only does it have those copious footnotes which are helpful for understanding the politics in the book, but each Canto is followed by an insightful analysis which helps in understanding the nearly 700 year old writing style.

Oh, and by the way, Gustave Doré made some absolutely beautiful fantasy art based on the Divine Comedy. That’s what I’ve been posting here, but there’s tons and tons more. Check it out if you like fantasy art!


* On that note, every class I took with Professor Nicholas Margaritis is a source of inspiration for me. I’ve had the privilege of studying under some remarkable individuals, but none of them affected me the way that man did. I felt as though I personally failed him when I didn’t finish a reading assignment on time, and the single A- he ever gave me remains one of the most profound compliments I’ve received in my entire life.

 † That’s also the year which Dante’s exile from Florence was finally rescinded by the Florentine City Council. So, ya know, you’re welcome, Dante. 

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