Tag Archives: OSR

Page by Page: Gary Gygax’s DMG Part 4

Gary Gygax's Dungeon Master's Guide: A party of adventurers meet a maiden (elven?) next to a woodland pond. By Darlene PekulThis is the fourth installment of my continuing series on the 1979 Dungeon Master’s Guide, written by Gary Gygax. This post begins with the section “The Adventure” on page 47, and continues through Underwater Spell Use on page 57.

Adventures in the Outdoors Gygax recommends designing your game world around a 20-40 mile hexagon, and breakin30g it down into smaller hexagons for travel. As I’ve discussed at some significant length in the past, I prefer to design my game world around the 6 mile hexagon which seems to have become standard in the OSR. And having done so, I’m at a loss for how a 20-40 mile hexagon would even work. A hexagon six miles across can contain an immense amount of variety, which becomes especially obvious when you apply a scaled hexagon to a real world map. On my own maps, I’ve often found that a single hexagon has so much stuff in it, that it’s impossible to fit all of the necessary icons into each hex on the page. So I honestly have no idea how you would do it if the hexes were five times larger, or more.

I suppose it might be useful to create a very general map of an entire continent, but then the continent map would need to be broken down into the a smaller map for the areas the players were actually adventuring in.

Chance of Encounter Here charts are given to help the GM determine the chance of an encounter based on population density, and to know when an an encounter should be checked for. These are two factors I did not consider when working out my system for running encounters on a hex crawl. I like the idea that more densely populated areas have much lower odds of an encounter. I’ve always left the probability of an encounter up to GM discretion, but this is better. It’s good for a system to be consistent, because then players can learn the system, and make intelligent choices about how and where they will travel. When players notice that they encounter fewer monsters in areas subject to regular patrols, they may be more likely to stick to the roads.

There’s also a chart here which lists six times of the day: morning, noon, evening, night, midnight, and pre-dawn. Those times are cross-referenced with various terrain types (plains, forests, deserts, etc) and there is either an X, noting that an encounter should be checked for at that time while in that type of terrain, or a -, noting that an encounter should only be checked for if the party “numbers over 100 creatures.”

I would really like to know whose party numbered over 100 creatures.

In my games, I just roll for encounters once per hex, and once in the evening, assuming the party is traveling consistently. I do like the idea of encounter rates being affected by terrain type, however. It provides some additional depth to what each terrain type functionally means for the characters. Instead of a marsh just being a muddy and smelly place, it’s also a place where encounters can happen at any time of the day.

I would like to point out that I’m pretty sure Gygax is only writing about monster encounters, though. When I make an encounter table, I allow players to find any number of things, ranging from monsters, to buildings, to NPCs, to treasure, and even adventure hooks. So were I to use this system, I would want to modify it so that the reduced encounter chance only affected monsters.

Encounter Distance I’ve long known about this and thought it was a good idea, but I’ve never implemented it in any of the games I’ve run. Essentially, when a random encounter is rolled, if one group or the other is surprised, then AD&D GMs were supposed to roll a random distance between the party and their foes. I’ve always found it easier to arrange surprise battlefields myself, based off the party’s marching order. But I do like randomly generating stuff, since it helps me to avoid any biases.

Becoming Lost Getting lost in the wilderness is something I covered briefly in my aforelinked post on hex crawling. Gygax and I seem to have essentially the same idea, though I disagree that it should be impossible to accidentally move in the right direction. I don’t see why not.

I also like the idea of the players hiring a guide to avoid getting lost. I hadn’t thought of that.

Gary Gygax's Dungeon Master's Guide: A wizard's familiar is held hostage by Will McLean

Flying Mounts I don’t really have much to say about this. Gygax’s rules for flying mounts are solid. I like the point that flying creatures large enough to support a rider will require a large amount of gold every month in order to keep them fed (300-600gp). It’s a good method of preventing players from gaining access to this kind of boon too early in the game.

What really strikes me as I read this, though, is that I don’t recall ever reading about flying mounts in 3rd edition or Pathfinder. The fact that the players will eventually gain access to flying mounts is assumed, and covered in depth. I wonder when that changed? Flying is still a large part of the game, but it is mostly assumed to come from the Fly spell, it seems.

I also like the detailed discussion of aerial combat. Gary’s solutions are simple, but they look like they would work well.

Waterborne Adventures Like the section on flying, the rules seem to be solid, but they’re not exactly a revelation. Boats of X type move at Y speed, and have Z hit points. Brendan recently pointed me towards a post on Delta’s blog which has some strong criticisms for these rules which I would have missed.

On my list of things to work on and write about is “Making Sea Travel More Engaging.” I may return to the rules Gary presented here when I do that, but I think that more is needed if traveling on a ship is going to be engaging for the players.

Underwater Adventures How to handle underwater adventures is a topic I often see discussed on /tg/. The idea is intriguing, but it obviously requires some different mechanics than a standard game. How do the characters breathe? How does water affect their movement? How are three dimensions handled? The rules presented in this section of the DMG are functional and cover all the questions I can think of related to underwater adventuring.

On a lark, I pulled out my 3.5 DMG, and I found this comparison interesting:

“As all readers of fantasy know, the ocean floor is home to numerous ancient submarine civilizations and dark, green realms of creatures half-man and half-fish. Your players may have heard tales of the mountains of unken loot that have been collected there over the centuries, of such things as pearls the size of a man’s head, of beautiful mermaids with green eyes and blue skin…If they should find some way to investigate these stories, how will you handle it? This section deals with methods for conducting underwater scenarios.” -Gygax, DMG, Page 55

“Aquatic terrain doesn’t offer the variety that land terrain does. The ocean floor holds many marvels, including undersea analogues of any of the terrain elements described earlier in this section. But if your characters find themselves in the water because they were bull rushed off the deck of a pirate ship, the tall kelp beds hundreds of feet below them don’t matter.

Accordingly, these rules simply divide aquatic terrain into two categories: flowing water (such as streams and rivers) and non-flowing water (such as lakes and oceans).” -Monte Cook / Jonathan Tweet / Skip Williams, 3.5 DMG, Page 92.

Favorite Quotes from this Section

“If this [designing a continent] is not possible, obtain one of the commercially available milieux, and place the starting point of your campaign world somewhere within this already created world. At the risk of being accused of being self-serving; I will mention parenthetically that my own WORLD OF GREYHAWK, (published by TSR), was specifically designed to allow for the insertion of such beginning milieux, variety being great and history and organization left purposely sketchy to make interfacing a simple matter.” – Gygax, DMG, Page 47

The Most Visually Impressive Appendix Ever

Nick Whelan (linkskywalker) showing off his fancy new Posters, designed by Paul of Blog of HoldingToday (as of this writing), I received my Random Dungeon Generator and Wandering Monster posters from the Blog of Holding Kickstarter campaign. Paul started the project to fund production of the former, and generously required only a $22 donation to have the latter thrown in as well! I got them laminated, and they’re now hanging in a place of honor above my workspace.

If you are unfamiliar, the random dungeon generator (pictured right) was originally created by Gary Gygax, and included in the Dungeon Master’s Guide as appendix A. The generator takes up about 4 pages of the book, and is intended to help GMs create dungeons both in preparation for, and even during, a session of game play. The variety included in the tables is impressive. Numerous types of corridors, room sizes, trap types, treasure and even whether or not a monster is present can be generated with the tables. They can be somewhat difficult to follow, and require a lot of page flipping, but the creation of it is a feat of Gygaxian proportions.

As Paul tells the story, it first occurred to him that the tables could be re-drawn as a flow chart. It then struck him that a dungeon is basically a flow chart with monsters in it. So he set out to represent the random dungeon generator as a dungeon, and it turned out beautifully. It’s extremely simple to follow. I’ve already created a few dungeon levels using it, and aside from having a difficult time finding a table large enough for it, it has been a pleasure to use. The art is top-notch as well. I know many of my readers have a soft-spot for detailed black-and-white art, and I don’t think they’d be disappointed by what Paul has done here. There are little visual treats everywhere, with tiny characters making their way through the many dungeon obstacles present.

The Illustrated Wandering Monster Tables are of somewhat less use to me, since I have so much fun creating those tables myself. But the art is, once again, very nice. Plus I think it will be fun to use in conjunction with the random dungeon generator. If I can somehow fit them both behind my GM screen, I won’t even need to bother making any game preparations any more!

So far, the poster has only been made available to those who participated in the Kickstarter campaign, but Paul has said they will be made available somewhere online soon. When it does become available, you have my recommendation to purchase it.

Page By Page: Gary Gygax’s DMG part 3

Gygax's Dungeon Master's Guide, Magic User/Wizard Summoning a Genie from a cloud of mistThis is the third installment of my continuing series on the 1979 Dungeon Master’s Guide, written by Gary Gygax. This post begins with the section “Time” on page 37, and continues through Illusionist Spells on page 47.

Time What Gygax wrote here about time and how to keep track of it is fascinating and vital. So much so that I’ve already dedicated not one, but two posts to exploring it. I see no need to repeat myself here.

Day-to-Day Acquisition of Cleric Spells In D&D 3rd edition and Pathfinder, obtaining spells is a pretty straightforward procedure. Every morning the cleric prays for an hour, and all their spell slots are filled for the day. In 1st edition AD&D, as is often the case, there’s more to it than that. There is additional background, which seems to have been dropped from later editions because it complicates the game. And while there’s something to be said for cutting out unnecessary complications, I have been learning that many of Gygax’s original ‘fluff’ offers interesting adventure opportunities.

For a 1st edition cleric, only first and second level spells can be obtained through simple prayer. More advanced spells of third, fourth, and fifth level must be gained by beseeching one of your deity’s powerful servants each morning. To put it in terms I imagine many of my readers are familiar with, the cleric must communicate directly with an angel each morning in order to receive those spells. And for spells above fifth level, the cleric must communicate with their god directly. Not just once, but every morning.

The interesting thing about this is that if the cleric has acted against their god’s dictates within the last day, then they know they must face that god again the next morning when they ask for spells. And Gygax flat out says that for particularly serious transgressions, the cleric’s god may choose to simply obliterate the offending mortal.

Acquisition of Magic-User Spells Since I first learned that oldschool Magic Users learned their spells at random, I’ve been torn on the concept. On the one hand, I like selecting my spells carefully. It allows me to create effective strategies, and it meshes with my conception of wizards as magical scientists. On the other hand, I love randomization. Being given a random set of tools and needing to figure out a way to be effective with those tools is an intriguing challenge, and one I always enjoy. I look forward to playing some 1st edition once the WotC reprints come out, so I can make a more informed decision about which method of obtaining spells I prefer.

I have to say about this section, though, that Gygax seems a little overzealous about preventing players from obtaining spells too easily. I understand that easy access to spells can unbalance a game, by Gary literally says that if a player saves the life of an NPC who was already loyal to them (like a hirling) then that NPC will (at best) be willing to allow the PC to copy one spell from their spellbook in exchange for a spell and a minor magic item. The rules literally dictate that exchanges of spells should never be equitable for the player. This seems odd to me.

Spell Casting For those unaware, Dungeons & Dragons has always used something called Vancian Magic, named for Jack Vance, the author whose work the system was based upon. It’s also sometimes called “fire and forget,” because every morning a caster must memorize their spells, and once the spells are cast that memorization is wiped from their mind. In the editions of the game I’ve read, that’s about the extent of the information given. Here Gygax goes into greater detail. He explains that each spell is a combination of symbols and sounds which are charged with energy from one of the planes of existence. When combined into a certain formation, the energy of those planes is released in a limited fashion, causing a magical effect. Those symbols are then consumed by the magic which passes through them, not unlike a fire consumes fuel. Whether the symbols are on paper, or in the mind of a caster, they disappear.

Gygax writes nearly half a page on this topic, and recommends that for additional background, GMs read The Eyes of the Overworld, and The Dying Earth by Jack Vance. As well as The Face in the Frost by Bellair. Having not yet read these books myself, I cannot comment on them beyond Gygax’s recommendation.

Gygax also notes that while the words of a spell are typically used to bring the effect forth, and somatic (hand movement) components to the spell are used to “control and specify the direction, target, area, etc.” This brings to mind the interesting possibility of allowing casters to bring forth spells without somatic components–but in doing so they will have no control over how the effect manifests itself.

Spell Explanations Here begins a lengthy section where Gygax adds “DM’s Notes” for many of the spells present in AD&D. It doesn’t include spell descriptions, but most of the spells have self explanatory names, so I was able to follow along just fine. This section seems like a useful tool for the GM. It offers advice on how to adjudicate instances where players attempt to use spells in unusual ways which might end up being overpowered. For example, Gygax notes that casting the spell “light” upon one’s eyes does not grant a character “luminescent vision,” but rather blinds the character for the duration of the spell. Entries like this one make me wish GM notes for spells had been perpetuated through later editions of the game. It’s not only useful for determining how to handle a specific case, but it’s useful as a general guideline for how to handle players hoping to push the boundaries of what a spell can do.

On the other hand, I don’t see why “Blindness does not restore lost ocular organs” could not have been put in the spell description itself.

Aerial Servant I simply find this funny. Ever since I became interested in this hobby, I’ve heard from religious nutjobs that D&D teaches kids to cast “real spells,” and that players must learn incantations to the devil in order to succeed in the game. The notion is preposterous of course. Spell casting is normally handled simply by naming the spell and saying your character casts it. Players rarely have the spell’s description memorized, much less an incantation to go along with it.

None the less, the DMG says that players should be required to indicate which type of magic circle they’re using when they cast this spell. I laughed.

DMG Magic Circle, Pentagram, or Thaumaturgic Triangle

Favorite Quotes from this Section

“Once a cleric changes deities, he or she must thereafter be absolutely true to the new calling, or he or she will be snuffed out by some godlike means. It is 90% unlikely that the cleric’s first deity will accept him or her back into the fold after falling away, unless some special redemptive agency is involved. There is no salvation for a thrice-changed cleric; he or she is instantly killed.” -Gygax, DMG, page 39


Page By Page: Gary Gygax’s DMG part 2

First Edition Dungeon Masters Guide Beareded Man Examines Gem by Darlene PekulThe second in my continuing series on the 1979 Dungeon Master’s Guide, written by Gary Gygax. This post begins with the section “Money” on page 25, and continues through Loyalty of Henchmen and Allied Creatures on page 37. You can see the first post in this series here.

Player Character Expenses Gary recommends that players be forced to spend a certain amount of gold each month on general upkeep. This covers all the numerous costs which are too painstaking to track during the game itself: the cost of meals, lodging, ale, minor tools, etc. This is something which actually exists in Pathfinder. You can find it under “Cost of Living,” on page 405 of the Core Rulebook. In many ways, I think the Pathfinder system is more elegant than Gary’s, but I’ve never heard of anyone actually using it. I’ve even failed to implement it myself. That’s something I need to improve on.

Reputed Magical Properties of Gems Every edition the game has some type of list which itemizes the various values of gems, but I love that Gygax devoted half of a page to explaining the type of magic each gem is related to. First Edition Dungeon Masters Guide This Had Better work Adventurers In Mouse Costumes art by Will McLeanI can’t speak for the historical accuracy of the list, but gems and other precious stones have been said to have magical properties throughout history. Gygax specifically states that simply owning a stone does not grant any magical benefit. Rather, the purpose of the list is to give game masters a frame of reference they can draw from when creating magical items. If an NPC gives the party a magical stone to ward off a curse, then the GM can make the stone Topaz, whereas if a wizard wants to make a Ring of Guile, the GM can require them to hunt down some Serpentine.

Helmets A common argument in the tabletop community centers around helmets. Some think they should add to a player’s armor class, while others (including myself) argue that a helmet is part of whatever armor the player is already wearing. If anything, players should receive an AC penalty for not using a helmet! Gygax takes an interesting position on this issue: if no helmet is worn, then roll a d6 along with each attack roll. If a 1 is rolled (1-3 for intelligent creatures) then the head is attacked directly, and it only has AC 10.

First Edition Dungeon Masters Guide Bearded Sage Examines Tome art by Darlene PekulDexterity Armor Class Bonus I find it very interesting that the 1st edition AD&D rules say that a character wearing heavy armor does not lose their dexterity bonus to their Armor Class. The restrictions on players are generally more harsh in older editions than they are in newer ones. But perhaps I’m simply misunderstanding because I lack a proper background in how Armor Class worked during this era.

Hirelings There is a lot of emphasis placed on the search for hirelings, and bartering with them for their services. I find this idea intriguing. As a player, I imagine that once I’ve established a stronghold, I’ll try to recruit NPCs I meet during my adventures to come work for me. If I meet a city guard or blacksmith I like, I offer them a sum of money to come live in my stronghold, and spend their days guarding my treasure, or making my weapons. As a GM, I imagine each NPC added to the player’s stronghold as a possible adventure hook. Maybe the blacksmith has a gambling debt, and somebody will come to collect on it. Maybe the city guard is a deserter from a massive army which demands the players turn him over.

First Edition Dungeon Masters Guide Dave Get The Barbarian In The Corner Another Drink Quick Axe Throw Cartoon Art by Will McLeanSages I don’t recall when I first encountered the concept of sages–wise and elderly keepers of knowledge. But from the first time I heard about them, I was fascinated. There’s something romantic about the life of a scholar, and I’ve always enjoyed having my players encounter them. For a long time now, I’ve allowed players who fail a knowledge check by 10 or less to know of a sage who can answer their question. But I’ve always been interested to know more about the oldschool origins of these characters. And Gygax did not disappoint me. Very few topics have received three full pages worth of coverage in the DMG so far, so I’m quite happy! There’s a lot of information on how to randomly generate a sage’s fields of knowledge. And I particularly like the idea of hiring a sage, and having permanent access to their immense knowledge on a given topic.

How would you utilize a sage within your stronghold who knew everything there is to know about, let’s say, birds? It might seem useless, but I’ve found that “useless” resources can be a huge benefit, if you figure out how to use them properly. Perhaps this sage could advise you of a method to coax carrier birds to land in your citadel, and allow you to intercept messages from other kingdoms. Or maybe their knowledge could provide the fortress with a source of food during a long siege?

Henchmen I’ve never been at all satisfied with the way D&D 3.x/Pathfinder handle followers. The leadership feat has always struck me as clunky and difficult to use, so I’ve been surprised to learn how differently followers were handled in older editions of the game. Rather than being an obscure ability which only a few players will pursue, it seems as though Gygax expected every player to eventually acquire a few NPC hangers-on. The system for recruiting them is a great deal more advanced, detailed, and elegant than the one presented in Pathfinder. I particularly like the fact that a full page is devoted to calculating a creature’s loyalty. The extremely simple loyalty system described in the Leadership feat has never sat well with me.

The comparison between oldschool and modern methods of attracting followers is something I would like to go into in more detail, but it will require a full post to do so. I’ll hold off on that for now.

First Edition Dungeon Masters Guide Chainmail Adventurer Gives A Pair of Swords to Henchmen

Favorite Quotes from this Section

“Such short-term employment cannot last beyond one week’s time, and the sage will thereafter not be available for at least one game month — as there are more important and constructive things to be done than answering foolish questions, anyway!” -Gygax, DMG, Page 33

“Thus, suppose a sage is asked a question out of any of his or her fields of knowledge. If the question is of general nature, the sage will hedge and talk around the point, or just possibly sit and look wise for 4-6 rounds before answering that the question is beyond his or her learning…” -Gygax, DMG, Page 33

Merciless Monsters 4: Telecanter’s Three Spider Terrors

Spider Bro Cares About YouAs the title notes, full credit for the creative parts of this post has to go to Telecanter, of Telecanter’s Receding Rules. To be frank, I’ve contributed nothing of value. I’m just taking care of the legwork that any halfway competent Pathfinder GM could handle on their own. If you don’t read TRR, then you’ve made some fundamental mistakes in your choice of which blogs deserve your attention. But hey, I won’t complain about the traffic.

Recently, Telecanter put up a post entitled “Three Spider Terrors,” where he created three types of deadly spiders which were meant to evoke the kind of terror giant spiders once instilled in us, before we became completely desensitized to fantasy creatures. All three connected with me, and I decided I would really like to use them in Pathfinder. And that’s exactly what I’ve done below: taken Telecanter’s spiders, and given them Pathfinder stats. Telecanter’s original descriptions of the spiders are also reproduced below as blockquotes, and all of this is done under Telecanter’s Creative Common’s License. The Pathfinder stats are based off of the Giant Spider and Spider Swarm stats on page 258 of the Pathfinder Bestiary.

Pale Spider

Telecanter's Pale Spider depicted by a white Flower SpiderA skittering noise hovers around the edge of the torch’s flickering light.
Pale Spiders live in the dark, and they feed on those who don’t belong there. They are attracted to sources of light as a means of procuring food, but prefer to bide their time, waiting just outside the outside edge of the light source’s radius. A quick party might see, at most, a white leg just as it disappears back into the darkness. Pale spiders like to wait until one of their intended victims is rendered incapacitated before they venture into the light to feed on the creature’s soul using their Soul Drain attack.

Pale Spider; CR 1; [Vermin] [Underground / Dungeon] [Damp & Dark Climate] [Any Activity Cycle]

XP: 400
N Tiny Vermin (Cat sized)
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60ft, tremorsense 60 ft.,Perception +4


AC 15, touch 14, flat-footed 12 [10 + Dex(3) + Size(2)]
HP 5 (1d8 + 0)
Fort +2 Ref +4 Will +1;
Immunities mind-affecting effects


Speed 30 ft., Climb 30ft.
Melee bite +5 (1d6 – 2 plus Soul Drain)


Str 6 Dex 17 Con 12 Int Wis 10 Cha 2
Base Attack +2; CMB -2; CMD 11 (15 vs. trip)
Skills Climb (+16), Perception +4 (+8 in webs), Stealth +11 (+27 in webs)
Feats Weapon Finesse (Bite Attack)


Environment Any
Organization Hunting Party (6-12), or Swarm (13-24)
Activity Cycle Any
Treasure Incidental


Soul Drain(Ex) Bite–Injury; save Fort DC 14; frequency 1; effect 1d6 Charisma damage; Cha damage is maximized (6) on a character who is at -1 HP or lower. Any creature whose Charisma is reduced to 0 by this ability cannot be healed or resurrected.


These cat-sized spiders follow just at the edge of light, wait for a death, then swarm in.   Never fewer than six, they prod and clamber over a body in order to steal a soul.  They prove to be vicious fighters if an attempt is made to keep them from a body.  Corpses pale spiders have fed on can not be revived.

Grey Mugger

A brief glimpse of fleeing grey legs moves quickly out of sight.
A young Grey Mugger is most often just looking for a safe place to rest. Most end up under a rock, or in a fallen log. However, when travelers are not careful with their discarded boots or open bags, these can seem like a perfect place to rest for a Grey Mugger. And when the creature’s rest is interrupted, they strike with surprising lethality, and use their remarkable speed to escape.

Grey Mugger; CR 1; [Vermin] [Dry, Warm Places] [Temperate Climate] [Any Activity Cycle]

XP: 400
N Diminutive Vermin
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60ft, tremorsense 60 ft.,Perception +4


AC 17, touch 17, flat-footed 14 [10 + Dex(3) + Size(4)]
HP 2 (1d8 + 0)
Fort +2 Ref +4 Will +1;
Immunities mind-affecting effects


Speed 50 ft., Climb 50ft.
Melee Touch Attack bite +2 (1 damage, plus Life Link)


Str 6 Dex 17 Con 12 IntWis 10 Cha 2
Base Attack +2; CMB -4; CMD 9 (11 vs. trip)
Skills Climb (+16), Perception +4 (+8 in webs), Stealth +11 (+27 in webs)
Feats Weapon Finesse (Bite Attack)


Environment Any
Organization Solitary, pair, or colony (3-8)
Activity Cycle Any
Treasure Incidental


Life Link(Su) Bite–Injury; save Fort DC 22; effect the target of the life link receives no benefit from any form of healing, regardless of its source. Instead, all magical, divine, natural, and mundane healing goes to the Grey Mugger. Every 8 hit points gives the spider an additional HD, increasing its maximum HP. Every 3 HD gained, the Grey Mugger grows one size category, and with each size category the damage dealt by the creature’s bite attack increases (1d4, 1d6, 1d8, 1d10, 2d6, and so on). In order for the Life Link to be broken, the Grey Mugger must be hunted down and killed. Until then, the victim can receive no healing whatsoever. A single Grey Mugger may establish a Life Link with any number of victims. In some rare cases, Grey Muggers have been known to absorb enough energy to gain Intelligence, sending out “drone” Grey Muggers, and devouring them to gain their Life Links.


A tiny reclusive spider that often catches explorers unaware as they probe old bags and chests.  The bite of the grey mugger is but a sting (1 hit point) but thereafter the healing of the victim with serve to feed the spider (each hit point the victim heals, whether by magic, divine aid, or naturally, will go to the spider– every 8 hit points will grow the spider and give it an additional hit die making it more fierce).  The spider must be found and slain to sever the link.

Jerky Man

Telecanter's Jerky ManWhat appears to be a human man moves with jerky, sudden movements, as though he is controlled by an inexperienced puppeteer.
They were once human, or at least, their bodies once contained a human. Their internal organs have been replaced by a swarm of deadly spiders, and their nervous system and musculature has been replaced with an elaborate tangle of webs. The once-human creatures stagger about in a poor imitation of a human walk. They attempt to mime the desire for physical contact–and embrace or a kiss…

Jerky Man; CR 5; [Vermin] [Caves] [Temperate Climate] [Any Activity Cycle]

XP: 2,400
N Medium Vermin
Init -1; Senses darkvision 60ft.,Perception +0


AC 11, touch 10, flat-footed 11 [10 + Natural(1)]
HP 14 (3d8 + 0)
Fort +0 Ref +0 Will +3;
Immunities mind-affecting effects


Speed 20 ft.
Melee slam + 2 (1d6 plus infect)


Str 12 Dex 10 Con 10 Int Wis 10 Cha 2
Base Attack +1; CMB +2; CMD 12


Environment Near Caves
Organization Solitary
Activity Cycle Any
Treasure Incidental


Infect(Ex) Any touch from a Jerky Man requires a DC: 14 fortitude save. Failure indicates that the target has become infected by the spiders which control the Jerky man from within. The spiders immediately begin laying eggs and spreading themselves throughout the body of the host, dealing Con damage each day equal to the number of days which the host has been infected. (On the first day 1 Con damage is dealt, on the second day 2 Con damage is dealt, and so on) This ability damage cannot be healed unless the infection is cured. If the host reaches 0 Constitution, then the host dies, and their body becomes a new Jerky Man.
Cure It is exceedingly difficult to cure the Jerky Man Infection. Most who know its effects resort to self-amputation of the affected limb without hesitation. The clerical spell “Heal” can be used to cure the infection as well, if a cleric of sufficient level can be found.

Last Ditch Leap(Ex) Upon its destruction, the skin of a Jerky Man will rip open to reveal cobwebs roiling with spiders. The round following the creature’s destruction, the spiders will leap free from the ruined corpse in every direction, and quickly skitter towards the nearest viable host. Anyone standing within 5ft of the creature’s body must make a fortitude save as though they have been touched. Those with the evasion ability are entitled to a reflex save (DC: 16) to avoid the spiders altogether. The spiders will move about the battlefield as a Spider Swarm (Pathfinder Bestiary Pg. 258) for 3 rounds or until destroyed. After three rounds, spiders without a host die. Any who come in contact with the swarm during this juncture must make a fortitude save against infection.


They are said to come staggering out of caves or old mines and motion for passersby to come close.  An embrace and a kiss is all they wish.  But they are not men.  A kiss from a jerky man, or just a touch, will infect the victim and the flesh near the bite will begin turning to tiny spiders (an inch per day) unless something is done.

If a jerky man is killed in combat its thin skin will rip open to reveal cobwebs roiling with spiders.  The round after one dies, the person that killed them will be covered with spiders and begin taking one point of damage per round.  Upon death the victim will become a jerky man themselves.  (DMs can adjudicate how successful various means of removing the spiders are).

Of Forgotten Lore and Ancient Sourcebooks

Forgotten Tomes of Ancient LoreHuh…for some reason, I find it somewhat intimidating to actually sit down and type up a post on the new site. Which might have something to do with breaking 100 hits in a single day for the very first time, largely thanks to a link from Hack & Slash. Hello new readers! Hope you’re enjoying yourselves.

I’m Pathfinder player and a Paizo fan. I think that much has been made pretty clear on this site. I am also a firm believer in being open about criticism. Criticism drives improvement. If we don’t criticize the things we love, then any changes made to what we love will be based on the criticisms of someone else. Besides, no one who is genuinely interested in creating something they can be proud of ever shies away from good criticism. On the contrary, it’s a highly sought upon treasure. When I ask someone to critique my writing ninety-nine people out of every hundred will tell me it’s “great.”

I know it’s not great. I want it to be great. That’s why I asked you to tell me why it’s not great.

Last week, I criticized modern game developers for failing to include any time management in their games. A criticism which ended up going on so long that it spawned a follow up post that same week. In the past, I’ve also criticized modern game designers for the lack of information on hex mapping. These are just two amongst a sea of criticisms I have for Pathfinder and the various modern iterations of Dungeons and Dragons. The common thread which connects these two criticisms, though, is that both of them used to be part of the game, but were dropped for no cogent reason I can discern.

 Unfortunately, there are numerous game elements like this. Mechanisms which have, for whatever reason, fallen out of use. I’m sure it always sounded like a good idea at the time, and that’s okay! Elegance of design is important, so if a game’s developers thought they were streamlining gameplay by dropping superfluous systems, then good on them. But in many cases it seems to me as though they were wrong, and ought to start reversing their mistakes. I’ve already written on the topic of time management and hex maps, here are a few other gameplay mechanics which RPG designers used in the old days, and which modern RPG designers really ought to be talking about.

Combat Facing

Have I mentioned I like rogues? Because I like rogues. I play so many rogues, that the one time I didn’t play a rogue, I had to multiclass into rogue, because my GM was conditioned to fill his adventures with opportunities for sneaking and lockpicking. I’m trying to branch out into other classes, but rogues will always have a very special place in my heart.

Flanking and Sneak Attacks with Combat FacingPart of the reason I love rogues as much as I do is their reliance on a large variety of skills, most of which are not well suited to combat. At least not face-to-face, even-steven, Combat As Sport style combat. Rogues function best when you’re not quite sure what they’re doing. If they just ran behind a tree, you don’t know if they’re trying to lure you into a trap, retrieve a hidden weapon, disappear into the bushes, climb the tree so they can leap down on you from above, or something entirely different which you haven’t even considered. Any class can play this way, but it is a rogue’s specialty. And it’s a play style which is severely hampered by D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder’s “360 degree field of vision.”

Characters in these modern incarnations of tabletop RPGs are not considered to be “facing” in any particular direction. They are always looking all around them at all times. No matter where you’re standing relative to a character, you are in that character’s full view, unless there is something between you. The idea was to simplify combat, which seems rather silly, since D&D 3rd edition added a number of largely superfluous rules.

In fairness, combat facing has not been completely neglected, but an optional rule in a supplemental book is not good enough. This should be part of the core combat system, no question.

Wizards Learning Spells at Random

A couple months ago, I wrote a post about an alternative to the current methods by which Wizards learn spells in Pathfinder. I’ll freely admit it’s not one of my better posts, but give me a break. I was severely sleep deprived and wrote the whole damned thing in a rush before work. My hope was that by removing the Wizard’s ability to automatically learn two new spells upon leveling up (and placing a larger emphasis on other methods for learning spells) we could partially overcome the vast power gap between casters and non-casters which has plagued this generation of games. I still think it’s a solid idea, but shortly after posting it, -C of Hack and Slash informed me that balance was less of an issue in older editions because Wizards didn’t get to select which spells they would learn, but rather, learned new spells at random each level.

I hold to my initial reaction upon learning this: that it doesn’t make any sense, but it sounds incredibly awesome. On the one hand, it seems silly to me that a Wizard would ever not be aware of what he or she was studying. Wizards (or “Magic Users” in the more traditional terminology) are scholars, they learn magic through something akin to the scientific method: observe, hypothesize, experiment, theorize. So if a spell which a wizard has mastered is a “Magical Theory,” shouldn’t they figure out which spells they’re working on in the “observation” or “experimentation” stages?

That having been said, there’s an undeniable charm to the idea. Being thrown a completely random grab-bag of spells, and then being forced to figure out how to use them most efficiently, sounds fun to me. I doubt future incarnations of Pathfinder will revert back to randomly determining spells. Nor do I think they should. But it’s certainly something which we should be talking about. Maybe as a house rule, or perhaps something which we could use for the sorcerer, to further differentiate it from the Wizard.

Incidentally, there’s an entire post about this issue over on Hack & Slash.

Monster Activity Cycles & Diets

These are extremely minor, which makes it all the more strange that I even need to talk about them. In old editions of Dungeons and Dragons, each monster had both an “Activity Cycle,” and a “Diet” listed in their stat block. The purpose of these is pretty simple. The activity cycle let GMs know when a creature was active. If it was nocturnal, the GM knew not to have it attack during the day, if it had an activity cycle of “any,” then the GM knew it didn’t matter, and so on. In most fantasy books or films, night is a particularly dangerous time when particularly vile monsters are on the prowl, so it makes good sense for GMs to be aware of when monsters can be active.  The diet of a monster is, of course, what they eat. Also useful, since herbivores are unlikely to try and eat adventurers, yet may still pose dangers for other reasons.

I wouldn’t say that either of these rank high enough on the “usefulness” scale to qualify Pathfinder as severely flawed for lacking them. However, I can see no reason not to include them. If the choice is between knowing when my players are in danger from trolls, and knowing which feats a typical troll has, then I would much rather know the activity cycle.

Experience Points based on Gold Pieces

Now, personally, I’m a fan of my Simple XP system. It has improved my game by an immeasurable degree. But if we’re going to be using large experience point rewards, why not use the original system wherein 1 gold piece granted a character 1 experience point? I’ve never personally played with this system, nor have I researched it in great detail, but on the surface it seems simple and logical. If experience points are a measure of the useful experience your character has gained, then why do we only really receive it for defeating monsters? If the goal of adventuring is to find treasure, then we should reward equally all methods of acquiring that treasure. The group who cleverly sneaks around a monster, or convinces a less intelligent monster to give them the treasure freely, deserves just as much credit as the group who kicks down the door and stabs everything around them until there’s nothing left between them the shiny shiny gold.

More Supplements for Game Masters

Paizo Pathfinder Game Mastery GuideLooking over the various first edition Dungeons and Dragons stuff I’ve got, I notice that very little of it is aimed towards players, most of it is aimed towards GMs. Whereas when I look at my extensive collection of D&D 3rd edition and Pathfinder books, I notice that most of them are geared primarily towards players.

It makes good business sense, really. For every GM, there are what? An average of three players? Four? More? There are more potential customers for a player’s handbook than there are for a dungeon master’s guide. I’m sure the shift in priorities has made a lot of money for the developers of these games, and that’s cool with me. I would never ask a company to focus on a less-profitable demographic simply because it is my preference. Though I would question whether or not it is a more profitable demographic. In my experience, Players own the core rules, and mooch off the GM for everything else.

But even if it is more profitable to market to players, I’d like to see more books for Game Masters out there. Pathfinder has taken a step in the right direction with their excellent Game Mastery Guide, which is easily my favorite Pathfinder supplement thus far. I’d like to see them take it further with a Game Domination Guide, then perhaps a Game Supremacy Guide.

Remember this, Paizo: the collective of Game Masters are 100 times more effective than any marketing department. We’re the ones who find new players, and draw them in. The better we are at running games, the happier our players will be, and the more likely that they’ll purchase your products.

Are there any other oldschool game mechanics you’d like modern game developers to be learning from? Let me know in the comments! If nothing else, I can better educate myself.

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