Narrow Survival of J’Rhazha

“When J’Rhazha came to this city, he was told that there was much treasure below its streets; indeed, we have found fascinating culture in Anguinon, and it is said that culture is the most valuable of treasures… unfortunately, the orc lady at the Dragonfoot inn does not accept culture as payment for a roof over J’Rhazha’s head.” – J’Rhazha applies for a part-time teaching job at the mage guild.

The megadungeon in the AD&D game I’m in is a death-trap, and there were times on Saturday that I thought for sure I would have to crumple up J’Rhazha and roll up a new character. Our party was short on Saturday, yet for some reason we managed to survive some pretty heavy combat, taking out probably a dozen elves. Some of those kills were made when it was just the elf-fighter (he has high HP, but low armor so isn’t really a tank), the half-orc druid and my Rakasta illusionist.

J’Rhazha’s crowning momement of awesome came when we found one of those so-obvious-it-hurts traps; stairs that clearly turn into a ramp with a treasure chest at the bottom. Since a catman illusionist was the closest we had to a thief at the moment, it was decided that I’d go down to investigate. They tied a rope to J’Rhazha and he very slowly made his way down. He unscrewed the hinges of the chest, and it was clear that opening it would set off the trap. In retrospect, I probably should’ve just left well enough alone and said it wasn’t worth it (because it wasn’t), but I got behind the chest and opened it from behind.

Glub! A Gelatinous Cube drops from the ceiling and starts sliding down towards me. I’m given one action before it slams into me. There’s just enough room between it and the ceiling for me to jump over it. I make the ridiculously hard strength check, rolling below my 7 on two combined d20s.

Looking back now and looking up the GC’s stats, I realize that I might have survived if my companions pulled me through it on the rope, but to escape from that unscathed was quite a feat.

Anyway, J’Rhazha has survived to level 3 and luckily maxed out his puny hit dice every time.  He and his 12 hit points and 3 spells will be ready for anything!

(everybody laughed when J’Rhazha bought a 6 pound bag of borax from the apothecary; nobody laughed when he one-shotted a giant scorpion with it)

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Illusionists: Thieves who can cast Summon

So, I’ve decided to play my illusionist as a conjurer or summoner. Any interesting individual that J’Rhazha comes across is committed to memory and effectively added as a “summon”, currently via Phantasmal Force (though eventually through some more powerful illusions). As of yet, he’s not particularly useful, but in a pinch, he can do some pretty awesome stuff.

I’ve gone ahead, in a bid to make him slightly less useless in combat, and given him more than one dagger. And all of them got eaten by a rust monster, but better daggers than people, right?

Our party (which was inconveniently down one paladin and one magic user) found a kobold village on the far south end of level 1. I’m not sure how things didn’t end in a TPK, but not only did we get into the village, we managed a pretty daring prison break that shouldn’t have worked.

The goblins on the watch-towers outside the kobold village heckled us and tried to warn us off with sling bullets. While the half-orc druid tried to convince them to open the gate, the thief-priest scaled the wall of one of the towers.

Now, earlier, we’d been at a weapon shop ran by an orc whose noble grandfather was a great warrior; luckily for J’Rhazha, this orc had a very nice portrait of his grandfather armed to the teeth and ready for a fight. So imagine the goblins’ surprise when a giant orc warlord appears behind them and starts swinging an ax around and their buddies are being backstabbed by a thief. While the rest of the party scrambled up the rope ladder the thief tossed down, honorable orc-father leaps 50 feet from one tower to the next, axes swinging, causing the other guard to die of fright.

From one of the towers, we could see the whole village, teeming with kobolds. The tower we were in overlooked a prison area with staggered patrols. Luckily, we’d been quick and quiet in taking the towers, as we weren’t instantly overrun. While the rest of the party pulled some Metal Gear Solid on the kobold patrols, J’Rhazha kept an eye out from the tower to make sure no one was headed for that corner of the village. Unfortunately, by the time trouble showed up, the others were fighting a giant weasel inside the prison and couldn’t hear my signal whistle, so I had to buy time when a kobold caravan arrived.

“We are closed, go away!”
“We’ve brought trade goods.”
“We don’t need any right now!”
“Do we need to tell(big bad greenskin lord or maybe dragon whose name I forget) about this?”
“Yes, you should probably go tell him!”

Luckily, there was a teleporter shrine in the prison’s court yard, and luckily two of the other three players had used them before so could take the rest of us to one of the other shrines in Level 1, getting out just before the villagers figured out what was going on.

So far, I’ve found that Illusionists make for great thieves, just minus the boring thief skills table. With his high Dex, J’Rhazha has a fondness for playing dice with rubes, slow-playing, swapping in his loaded dice, hypnotizing his mark into going all in, then giving back part of the winnings to show that there are no hard feelings. I have the feeling that I’ll soon draw the ire of the thieves guild master on me. To make matters worse, he worships the Rat God (as a Rakasta, J’Rhazha cannot bring himself to pay tribute to a rat, so will never be welcome in the guild). Still, it’s been the only way J’Rhazha has been able to afford a roof over his head, since we haven’t found any treasure since I’ve started.

J’Rhazha’s managed to cower his way through two fairly combat heavy sessions without taking a single hit (though he did hurt his paw trying to punch the rust monster) and he’s managed to be useful enough and quick talking enough in non-combat situations that the party doesn’t mind keeping him around.

One more session and he’s level 3. Sweet sweet level 2 spells will soon be mine.

J’Rhazha is a Useless Coward (and Incredibly Fun to Play)

So, once I finally got my Rakasta rolled up, my previous speculations about his cowardice found their justification.

Str 7 (-1 damage and +1 to Thac0; this is important)
Dex 17
Int 16
Wis 15
Con 11
Cha 7 (He is not the most likable fellow)

Though he lucked out maxing his HP, he’s beyond useless in combat, but he’s okay with that! Fighting means he might die, and that’s no good for him!

Sometimes, when it’s clear the day is won, he might charge in with his gladius (which he can’t actually attack with) waving about wildly. He managed to do 2 points of damage the whole session; one was knicking an elf a thrown dagger (thank goodness for minimum 1 damage rule!) and one was punching a skeleton who was on its last HP (“J’Rhazha has defeated the bone man!).

The coolest thing he managed was to use a Phantasmal Force to create a likeness of the statue of an elf queen we’d seen earlier; we played the whole ‘we’re with her’ card while exploring an illusory* elven village, but it ended up all being for nothing since we had to fight our way back out once we got the key from the skeletons*.

He cowered and hid, occassionally firing off a nearly useless cantrip or two, during the climactic fight of the session, though, as one of the last men standing, he was able to help patch up the wounded. Victorious, without taking a single hit!

The DM is using a rule that I’ve not seen about 3 dart attacks per round, which makes darts suck a lot less than I imagined, so the gnomish magic user is a lot better in combat than my cat-man. If I wanted to power-game, I guess I could ask if I could switch my weapon proficiency from dagger to dart, but really I’m pretty okay with sucking and being useless in combat and I don’t want to knick the gnome’s dart bit. I’ll only change if it becomes a problem with the other party members.

Meanwhile, I’m coming up with various ways to find my way into the mage’s guild. The first test to join is to find the entrance. I’ve chosen to interpret this as ANY entrance. I think first I’ll try changing my shape to the apprentice who told me about the test and throwing rocks at the windows. If I get caught, I’ve got my answer planned out “J’Rhazha was merely taking a test, involving powerful wizard magic and mystic forces. Perhaps he answered the first question wrong. Perhaps he did not. Now go away, while I work to serve the guild.” ::continues throwing rocks at window::

Also, I know what the elf queen and elf king look like now, so I can work them into illusions in the future. Yay!

*:The megadungeon under the city is, I’ve gathered, the work of a mad mage who modelled portions of it based on set pieces from his memories of the past. The village was, therefore, a rather complex illusion representing the final days before it was destroyed by war. On one side of a tower, we’d see elven generals discussing battle plans during the day; on the other side of the tower, it was night and the place was littered with skeletons and charred grass. As an experiment, J’Rhazha left the tower to see if he could see his companions fighting skeletons; nope, on that side of the tower, the generals were still discussing battle plans.

Why J’Rhazha Will Carry a Short-Sword (Even Though the Rules Say He Isn’t Allowed to Use It)

“Like many things about J’Rhazha, his sword is an illusion. Perception is sometimes more important than function.”

I’ve never been a fan of the idea that wizards not only are bad at using swords, they cannot use them at all. It’s even stranger to me that they’re allowed to be proficient with daggers and staffs, which strike me as much harder weapons to master. You can give someone a shield and a sword who doesn’t have much fighting experience and they’ll be able to bang away with the sword and block a few blows with a bare level of competence. I’m not saying that they won’t be killed by someone who knows what they’re doing, but actual proficiency with a staff as a combat weapon (beyond just trying to hit someone with a long stick) or knife-fighting or knife THROWING is a completely different animal. It strikes me as easier for a wizard to awkwardly flail at a foe with a medium length piece of relatively light-weight and purpose-balanced metal than knowing how to lithely move in for a killing blow with a dagger.

The other point I bring up in my argument in favor of wizards using swords is the number of magical swords showing up places. I can see a wizard making a magical weapon for their own use and protection. I can’t see wizards making a surfeit of powerful magic items that are of no practical use to them. Sure, you can argue that maybe they wanted their lieutenants to have magical weapons, but I’d think wizards would want to keep their edge and not make stuff that could be turned against them, especially not in the bulk you see in typical fantasy settings.

I would also point out that the difference between a Fighter’s combat ability with weapons and a mage’s ability is reflected mainly in THACO: the level 6 Magic user flails his weapon about with the same competence (THAC0 19) as a level 2 Fighter. Surely this should be enough to fairly represent the differences in ability without having to say that all wizards would either turn their nose up at wielding a sword or, holding one in their hand, would stand there and say “I just can’t use this. I mean, if I had to get significantly close to my opponent to attack with a short blade, maybe, but I – Oh, god, you’ve stabbed me while I was holding this sword and not using it!”

But this is AD&D and I’m not going to press the DM on the issue. Instead, I’m going to adapt it to the character.

As a Rakasta, J’Rhazha comes from a warrior background; it would not be unexpected to see a Rakasta wielding a blade, and a Rakasta wielding a blade is not someone with whom you would want to fuck. But this Rakasta is an illusionist and trickster (maybe even a coward), not a fighter. But he likes to maintain the illusion that he is.

J’Rhazha – Defining a Trickster Through His Attitudes Regarding Magic

So, the character I’m wanting to play is a Rakasta Illusionist. I’m trying to get a feel for the sort of character he’ll be by thinking of how he sees his craft.

In this setting, Rakastas are generally non-magical, though have a tradition of mysticism. The character, therefore, may see himself as an aspect of the Trickster, whatever it is for his culture (probably a kitten).

Though he gained his powers (or thinks he did) by protecting his people (he killed and drank the blood of a wizard who attacked his tribe), he is an outcast from his people for what he has become.

Anyway, i wanted to get a feel for the character by trying to come up with what he thinks about his powers and how he uses them. This will likely change as he becomes more powerful and taps into the realm of shadows, but for now, he’ll be content being a mischievous mage-blood drinking cat.

Audible Glamour – “Always with the tinkling. It bothers J’Rhazha, maybe it will bother them?”
Change Self – “Everyone should be capable of change.”
Color Spray – “Look at the bright lights! See how distracting they are?”
Darkness – “J’Rhazha thinks sometimes it is better not to see than to be seen.”
Detect Illusion – “J’Rhazha thinks this is not what Jo’Rhazha thinks this is.”
Detect Invisibility – “J’Rhazha can see you!”
Gaze Reflection – “J’Rhazha hears that when one stares into darkness, sometimes darkness stares back. But when darkness stares back, darkness does not see J’Rhazha!”
Hypnotism – “You will do what J’Rhazha wants you to do.”
Light – “Sometimes seeing is better than not being seen.”
Phantasmal Force -“J’Rhazha has many ways to bother and confuse you.”
Wall of Fog – “Where has J’Rhazha gone? Where has anything gone?”

Yeah, I know, he’s just a Khajiit knockoff (though Khajitt are knockoffs of Rakastas are knockoffs of other earlier sci-fi/fantasy cat-men), but I think he’ll be fun to play.

Alternatives to Spell Books

I’m trying to think of some more ‘primitive’ alternatives to spell books for a character in a game I may be joining. Most of those that I can imagine have certain disadvantages, though one can imagine that dragging your spellbook through the dungeon can’t be very convenient either.

I figure that either you’re dealing with a massive arcane tome like from Holmes or you’ve got what is basically a moleskine with your spells scribbled down in it. Because of how AD&D treats spell scrolls (which in Basic are the bread and butter of mages, since they can be used for memorizing), your spellbook is your ONLY means of refreshing your daily spells with. You can’t always just go home every time you run out of spells, especially at lower levels. I’m not really sure, but there may be some indication that the amount of script and therefore physical space which a spell requires may be significantly less than in Basic, which offers a bit more lee-way.

So, here are a few ideas I’ve come up with:

Ivory Spell Fetish – Worn around the neck, each tooth of a beast which the spell caster has slain is carved with the symbols of magic. More complex and powerful spells would, naturally, need to be carved on larger teeth of more more dangerous beasts to accommodate the additional characters. Big-cats, especially saber-toothed varieties, are a popular choice. A powerful wizard with countless teeth worn about his neck would be a frightening sight, indeed!

Spell Staff – Combining spell book and weapon, and possibly continuing with the bone theme, depending on your tastes, the mage carries a staff with each of his spells meticulously carved in the wood or bone spiraling downward. On the plus side, you have convenience of portability. On the down side, your ‘spellbook’ is somewhat fragile (though how much more fragile it is than a book is debatable, especially given the hell that most PCs go through). More worrying is what sort of powers all of that magic might imbue whatever was etched onto it.

Tattoo – This is kind of a favorite idea of mine, having the various spells tattooed with special ink over the mage’s body. This would certainly be one of the most painful and time consuming methods of entering new spells in one’s spell book, but just imagine the frightful sight of a half naked wild mage covered head to toe in runes. I wonder what sort of effects it would have on the body? Maybe certain ‘buff’ spells would have a degree of permanency, like Mage Armor. Another idea I had, which would be more in line with Basic, is that in a pinch, the mage could use any tattoos that were currently visible as scrolls, though the ink would fade and the tattoos would need to be reapplied (yeowch!)

Given that I’m wanting to play a Rakasta, I’m thinking that the tattoo thing wouldn’t be an option, but as for the other two, I’ll see what the DM says.

Vampires vs. Liches Part 1: Test Prep and B/X Liches

After doing a little homework, I’ve realized that the comparison between Liches and Vampires may be apples to oranges, at least if we’re looking at B/X.  I’ve only recently begun looking back at the D&D/OD&D rulesets.  Liches from one edition to another are VASTLY different (OH MY!).  This may throw a bit of a wrench in my plans to play out some B/X scenarios

See, I’m mostly familiar with Liches from 2nd edition AD&D.  Based on the Lich entry in the Monstrous Manual, a magic user of around 16th level or so could turn oneself into a Lich.  It took some digging, but I finally found where Liches stood in B/X (the Master set, to be exact), and it’s pretty damn near the top, suggesting a character level of between 27 and 36.  Sweet Jesus!  Fortunately, B/X Liches’ hit dice are restricted to their class, because they’re treated almost like a prestige class(!) rather than a monster.  That figures out to somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-50 HP (with a generous average of 2.5 per hd roll) for magic users and 50-60(avg. 3.5 per hd role) for clerics.  Despite being level 27-36, they’re about 10-12 Hit Dice monsters, at least in terms of HP, since Characters top out on actual dice around level 9 (I’d overlooked this initially; without using Character HD caps, they’d have around 70-100HP, putting them on par with AD&D Liches).  They do, however, have an additional 20 levels of wealth, legendary items and epic level spells.  Plus, B/X Liches can snap their fingers and have 2d4 Vampires show up. Don’t forget that even random Vampires take some storylining (kill & destroy at LEAST one coffin) to actually kill off.

It is interesting to see the difference in power between the B/X lich and his AD&D counterparts, or his 8HD (roughly 36 HP) OD&D counterpart.  Also, I think it’s important to point out that in B/X an Elf cannot be a Lich.  This means that the Vampire route is still probably the best for an Elven mage wishing to increase his powers further.  And some of the B/X Lich’s immense power might simply be from the desire to hold back some iconic monsters for the higher level sets.  But who really plays at those levels?  Even Tomb of Horrors, which features D&D’s second most famous Lich, is recommended for levels 10-14.  Yes, it’s AD&D and Acererak is a Demi-Lich, but I think the point still stands: high end of Expert set levels ought to be appropriate for Lich hunting.

It’s not atypical for parties to be fighting monsters a few hit dice above their level.  There are a number of experiments that could be set up to see how 8th-10th level B/X parties fared against a B/X Lich and a converted AD&D Lich.

I still intend to go forward playing out some scenarios, but I know now that I should probably include both an OD&D Lich AND a B/X Lich.  While a standard B/X Vampire could probably take an OD&D Lich, I seriously doubt he could hold his own against a B/X or AD&D Lich.

So, here are some experiments to run through:

1. A level 8-10 party against an OD&D Lich

2. A level 8-10 party against a B/X Lich

3. A level 8-10 party against a B/X Vampire

4. A level 8-10 party against an Elven B/X Vampire

5. A B/X Vampire vs an OD&D Lich

6. An Elven B/X Vampire vs an OD&D Lich

7. A B/X Vampire vs a B/X Lich (I have the feeling this will be short and brutal)

8. An Elven B/X Vampire vs a B/X Lich (This may last a bit longer, but I still feel it will be very one sided)

In doing these experiments, there are some assumptions I need to make about the mechanics of Vampires.  How many of a Vampire’s hit dice are determined by their pre-Vampire life?  Any persons killed by the Vampire may be raised as Vampires, so do we assume that even a low level character would return as at least a 7HD Vampire.  There’s nothing to indicate any relationship between a Vampire’s Hit Dice and the Hit Dice of whoever the Vampire was beforehand, other than that we’re given a range of 7-9 Hit Dice for Vampires.  Because I don’t want to turn B/X into some d20 point-buy twink BS, I’m only going to extrapolate high level Elven or magic user Vampires based on other undead who retain spellcasting abilities (such as mage wraiths).  At most, I’ll throw in an extra Hit Die.  Vampires’ abilities already put them +2 Dungeon Levels/XP tiers over normal monsters.  A normal fighter-build Vampire (7-9HD) would be Dungeon Level 9-11.  Therefore, a 10 HD Elven Vampire would be Dungeon level 13, adding an extra level for the spellcasting ability.  I think this is more than reasonable to throw against an 8th-10th level party.

I still can’t get over the stats of the OD&D Lich.  Both the OD&D Vampire and Lich are 8 HD monsters.  The Vampire has remained more or less the same (the B/X Vampire mostly just moves a bit faster), while the Lich has more than doubled in power.