Monday, June 29, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Orc

We have reached entry #137: The Orc, the final one before I begin the process of compiling all these together under a unified layout and do a little proof-reading/editing. During this time, I’ll also be finishing up the multi-page entries for Dragons (since it’s 7 Monsters masquerading under one Entry, and I’ve decided to treat them a little differently and I want to make sure I can accommodate them appropriately in cohesive spreads).

This is another Monster entry I started on a while back, but just as I was putting the finishing touches on it, some interesting discussions developed in my periphery that had me second guessing myself on how best to handle the Entry for Orc. But hey, I did the distasteful Dervish, so we trundle onward.

Like the humble Halfling, I typically do not employ Orcs very often in my games these days. They’re simply just not as mythologically rich as most of the other Humanoid Monsters, and most of the attempts to make them more interesting still leave me a little cold. Mostly these days, it’s just a remixable stat block for me whenever I need a 1 HD, Humanoid Creature.

Others, much more clever than me, have agitated more and better electrons on the subject, but in the interest of transparency, I’ve included my own complicated history with the Orc below the table.

Here we have the final d100 Encounter Activity table, based on a reading of the Monster description for the broadest possible utility. You may also find a few of the following useful, depending on how you use Orcs in your games: Veterans, Mediums, Acolytes, Bandits, Normal Humans, Pirates, Buccaneers, Nomads, Merchants, Dervishes, Traders, Nobles, Brigands, and Berserkers.

Decades ago, when I started running D&D games for my friends, I was still in the target demographic for Saturday Morning Cartoons and Sugary Cereals with prizes inside. I had read a bit of The Hobbit, but not yet tackled the Lord of The Rings trilogy. I had extraordinarily little information on what Orcs were outside of the occasionally tantalizing Pig-Faced illustration. They were tougher than Goblins and Kobolds, but there still wasn’t much to go on touchstone-wise, so at the kitchen tables we began to weave our own mythologies for them, informed by our exposure to various pop culture tropes at the time.

From the media we collectively consumed as children, in order to be adequately “heroic,” heroes needed a lot of nameless Evil fodder to mow through: Stormtroopers in Star Wars, COBRA Vipers, etc. In these callow times, Orcs served this role relatively well. They became my go-to for generic and numerous, monolithically Chaotic Monsters that my players could eradicate without compunctions or consequences.

But this started to gradually change. After running B2 a few times through, it started to chafe a bit with my burgeoning sensibilities. I’m sure most veterans are familiar with the inhabitants of those awkward “COMMON ROOM” encounters. I might imagine that the “9 young (who do not fight)” were intentionally placed by a grinning Gygax in a fit of unrestrained, slightly sadistic naturalism, but their presence had the side effect of introducing considerable complications to our tales. What do we, the “Heroes” of these stories we are telling, do with a bunch of sobbing Orc young after slaughtering their parents?

With the many sorties to the Caves of Chaos I ran, I had all sorts of players end up doing all sorts of things when confronted with this clumsy morality test, running the gamut from utterly awful to unexpected adoption, but none of them really sat right with me. So I eventually ruled that Orcs didn’t reproduce. They were just there, a pervasive, possibly parthenogenic incarnation of Chaos, and I quietly scrubbed those kinds of complicating references whenever I came across them. The Cauldron-Born from Lloyd Alexander were probably a close analog I employed at the time, and I think at some point I went something similar to the Warhammer “Fungus” concept.

This worked well and good for a few years, until we grew a little older, and the mythologies we were making started to subtly shift once more. I started to have players that wanted to make Half-Orc Characters, throwing my lazy “fix” out the window. We wanted to tell more stories about “anti-heroes,” and were drawn to all the associated grey-areas and edge. We’d “matured” to the stage of Graphic Novels, Horror Movies, the associated More Mature Themes, and a grittier, uglier pop-culture. Orcs needed to have much more dimension to find their place in these new stories. There needed to be room for tragically sympathetic figures, and brooding/misunderstood individuals. They progressively stopped being monolithic and started becoming a People.

But this created it’s own problems. I’m pretty sure that almost any DM from these days is guilty of the same kind of kludge. Being original is often hard. Imagining things whole cloth out of nothing and convincingly conveying them is challenging, if not impossible at times. So, in times like these we relied on similar shorthands to front-load a ton of “believable” information instantaneously.

We stole from our underdeveloped and incomplete knowledges of reality/history, maybe filing off a few of the rougher edges, but the results were largely the same: These are Aztec Orcs. These are Mongol Orcs. These Orcs are basically Vikings. These Orcs are embodiments of our jejune and highly problematic interpretations of the “Noble Savage” ideal. Decades ago, at the tables of my teenage years, there was never any intentional malice driving any of this, just sheer laziness and that desire to furnish Orcs with a culture and more dimension as we attempted to try and tell richer, more meaningful stories.

It would seem that this creative laziness has still managed to become somewhat entwined with some of the current Orc stylings I come across. Resisting the urge to regress to the old habits of careless appropriation is still something I struggle with. I admit, I am sometimes sorely tempted to return, full-circle, to the Monolithically Opposed to Order, vat-spawned Orcs bereft of culture and depth. But this too, is lazy. It never hurts to challenge oneself and one’s old habits.

Other than my admonishments against lazy appropriation, I don’t have a fix or solution to offer. You will need to find your Orc on your own, and it should be one that works for your table and the stories you are working together to tell.

Friday, June 26, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Invisible Stalker

I freely admit that this was a pretty tricky one. I’ve been steadily plinking away at the table for a few weeks now, even starting from scratch more than once. It’s surprisingly challenging to create a table of entries to depict “what a Monster is doing” when this is something the Player Characters can’t conventionally perceive through standard observation.

So, there’s a little bit of compromise here. It was difficult, but I managed to resist the temptation to succumb to some of my more humorous impulses. I decided against a few of my original ideas (the blank table cop-out, selectively changing the text color to match backgrounds and frustrate, etc.) in favor of something at least somewhat useful.😊

The first 30 Entries on this table can be rolled on separately to provide DM’s with a quicker, potentially more actionable “dead giveaway,” but there are still one hundred entries total to play with, and I hope that at least a few of them come in handy for this Monster, as it is one of the knottier ones to depict and describe.

With that, I humbly present the Invisible Stalker:

Thursday, June 25, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Hawk

I can barely believe it: ONLY THREE MORE MONSTERS TO GO!!!!

Here's the Encounter Activity Tables (3d30) for the Hawk:

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Salamander

Perhaps a signal of what was to come later, Salamanders are some of the few Elemental creatures in this version of the game. I find it strange that they don’t have a listed language and they are at least semi-intelligent in later editions where Intelligence scores are listed. Their damaging d8 auras almost necessitate some sort of resistance magic, and their Mundane damage Immunity makes them quite challenging.

I always picture Flame Salamanders as the more intelligent and industrious of the two (nearly always conflating them with or relating them to Fire Newts), while Frost Salamanders were more feral, and served as a good foil in frozen lands…I usually used them in a role similar to a popular culture Wendigo.

I could not decide if I wanted to do 3d30 or some other variation for the two Entries under this listing (Flame and Frost), so I just went ahead and populated two d100 tables, one for each 😊:

Four more to go! Three more before I begin the arduous process of compiling/laying all these out in a single document!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Veteran

Only FIVE more Monsters left!

I’ve always been fond of the Level Titles that were present in the older editions of the game, and with this entry, we’re finished with the standard Classes that show up on the Monster List/Encounter Tables (along with Acolytes and Mediums, oddly no Apprentice for first level Thieves though, but I guess Bandits could work).

Veteran is one of my favorites of the lot though, because it seems to carry the most weight in terms of implied setting right out of the gate. These are people who have already seen and participated in battle before the game even begins! This is ripe for exploitation in world-building (and what world doesn’t have a recent or ongoing conflict to associate or shoehorn onto this). The Monster description even nods to this with “often on their way to or from war.” That’s a good start, but I couldn’t just leave it at that could I? 😊.

So here are a hundred entries for what these Veterans (be they green or grizzled) might be up to when they show up in an Encounter or if you need a little inspiration while you stock:

Friday, June 19, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Shark

Sharks!

As a child, I would often spend Summer’s near beaches with my Father. At one particular tourist trap, there was a tacky t-shirt that was emblazoned with the words “SHARK ATTACK!!!” in an obnoxiously bright typeface typical of the times, featuring said voracious Shark prominently on the front. The side of the shirt was strategically sliced several times and spattered with red “blood” to make it seem like the wearer had somehow survived this harrowing experience.

I absolutely loved that shirt.

Here are three d30 Tables for the different types of Sharks to sprinkle on your Wave Crawls! Main Title (Theme From 'Jaws') is completely optional, but almost always encouraged:

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Merchant

Here are a hundred Encounter Activities for the Merchant entry. Other tables that may be useful include the Trader table, and potentially the Mannerisms & Peculiarities table included with Normal Human.

We’re down to single digits with only NINE (9) more Monster Entries to go!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Mule

Memorable Mules are sprinkled throughout my many campaigns and sessions. There are many great tales of these pack animals surviving against unfavorable odds, dying tragically, or even occasionally saving the Party from certain doom somehow.

My somewhat mythical Mule embodies all the typical traits, ornery and stubborn, but I also tend to make them unusually clever in my games. From experience I know them to be considerably smarter than most of the Horses I’ve encountered. I always endeavor to portray their nature as incredibly charismatic creatures, and I always insist that they receive a Name as soon as their acquired by the characters (often being outright disobedient without one).

Monday, June 15, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Water Termite

I’m not sure I’ve ever used Water Termites to be perfectly honest. They seem more like a Classic “gotcha” Monster for intrepid explorers that wish to take to the Water. I was surprised at their ability to Stun, and their Inky defense and I’m still not sure if they breathe air or not with those marvelous little bubbles that some aquatic insects use.

Given the paltry (d3) Hull Point damage they inflict I imagine the idea here is to have them gradually damage a ship over time as they don’t really seem to show up in incredible numbers.

Here are three Tables for the listed types of Water Termite species whose statistics vary slightly with Terrain which is nice:

Friday, June 12, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Weasel, Giant

Giant Weasels!

I hope there is not too much overlap between these rather large tubular Vampires and Giant Ferrets, as I try not to read the prior entries before embarking on a new one. These are far nastier beasties with their automatic damage and “no detachment until the weasel or victim dies,” and they are even out of the HD range for putting to Sleep.

As an admittedly minor consolation, I tend to make their fur fetch quite a hefty price, so there’s that at least 😊.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Octopus, Giant

Monster #125 is the Giant Octopus. Arm yourself with a hundred Encounter Activities for your next Wave Crawl!

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Hippogriff

Hippogriffs are pretty strange beasts. I’m not sure whether to code them as mammalian or avian, so I mix it up in this table. They are inveterately omnivorous, and to differentiate them from Griffons I tend to associate them more with poultry in terms of their bird behavior: flocking together, more easily domesticated provided they don’t come across a Pegasus. It is a fairly rare enmity to have to cope with, far less frequent than the Griffon’s tendency to attack normal Horses on sight. Buying saddle and tack for something mostly Horse-shaped is probably easier too. In fact, the Rules Cyclopedia handily lists their Barding Multiplier as x 1. 😊

I was never really fond of the idea of them being a result of Crossbreeding between Griffons and Horses, preferring them as their own species that breeds true. Here are a Hundred Encounter Activities for the Hippogriff:

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Rhagodessa

“Always count the legs,” groans the Fighter, after showing off a scar the size of a Short Sword down his back.

I freely admit that I didn’t know what to make of the Rhagodessa when I first came across them in the Monster list all those years ago. They seemed like just another made up Monster to me, and as a very seldom seen word, I felt it must’ve just been something invented just for D&D. I couldn’t find any entry for it in the old Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia we had, so it wasn’t until years later that I realized it was a type of Solifuge.

Apparently, we have those in these parts (and every continent save Antarctica and Australia even), but I’ve never actually seen one in the chitin. They go by other neat and less tongue-twisting names like Wind Scorpions and Camel Spiders. Even though it's nearly as awkward to say: I'm pretty partial to Jerrymunglum. I’m sure I’d be just as fascinated by them as any bug that crossed my path. So, this is one Monster that went full circle from D&D mythos to reality for me.

They are bigger and more formidable than most of the Giant Spiders, so they can serve as a good stand in for those when you want something evocative, but a little larger. If you’re feeling especially devious, you could always call for a Saving Throw on bite, even though these critters aren’t venomous. The automatic damage on Grab mechanic is dangerous enough though.

Monday, June 8, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Spectre

Since there is no Lich in B/X – OSE, I suppose we’ll have to make do with Spectres to somewhat fill this formidable niche. Draining two-levels per touch is pretty awful, and while not as formidable as Vampires on the surface, they lack a lot of the more traditional “short cuts” to defeat. Better have access to Magical Weapons/Magic before confronting these. A Cleric needs to be at least 5th level to have even the slightest chance of Turning them.

They’re incorporeality is notable as well and this might make them more tactically interesting: I’m imagining hit and run caresses from inside the walls of claustrophobic corridors, or simply running their ghostly fingers down the length of a footfall from below the floor. Depending on how devious you decide to make them, they can be incredibly dangerous for a party to confront due to this advantageous use of terrain. As always, I try to telegraph the danger, at least a little to the Players. It’s far more satisfying watching them wade into a mess they’re well aware of then simply springing this sort of “unexpected Spectre” on them.

To combat the “Ceaseless Spawning Cascade” that can occur with the Undead that are capable of reproducing like this, I tend to tie them to a place as guardians or bound by ancient Curses/Vows/Duties (much like I discuss with Wights and Wraiths) and am inordinately fond of having even the most benevolent Ghosts capable of sudden, dramatic transformations into Spectres if crossed or foolishly challenged. Undead should be scary after all once Skeletons/Zombies/Ghouls cease to be a challenge.

Friday, June 5, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Whale

Here are 3d30 Encounter Activity Tables for the trio of entries under Whale. Might be useful for Wave-Crawls, and I have a soft-spot for placing Cetaceans as set-dressing on ocean adventures.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Minotaur

The Minotaur!

Remember: These Monsters are some of the few that get their own Language, and therefore probably benefit greatly by having a culture (they also make an appearance on one of the Reincarnation Subtables!). Their penchant for Mazes/Labyrinths, while present in the description, is left largely vague in reason, but I tend to like to make them architects.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Wyvern

Wyverns are great Monsters. I know they see a lot of use as “training-wheel Dragons” but I always found them intriguing in their own right. Another common caper is to have the locals confuse them with a bona-fide Dragon, and have the Adventurers march off, avaricious eyes positively sparkling with expectations of Treasure Type H, only to have to make do with Treasure Type E. I’ve been guilty of doing this before, and I’ve also used Giant Tuataras for the same purpose.

As to how they relate to the hexapodal Wyrms, I tend to leave this a little bit vague, but I am certain it pertains to the former Saurian Empires that also spawned Troglodytes and Lizard Men. I keep them feral, mostly unintelligent but with a bit of cunning, borrowing a bit of personality from Vultures and Great Cats mostly.

As always I like to dress up the effects of their venom a little beyond the dreadfully “boring” Save or Die (yet another contender for my d100 Terrible Toxins & Vile Venoms Project). I also enjoy giving them suitably descriptive common names: Nightscale Divers, Crested Four-step Impalers (post-sting, four steps and you’re dead), Verdigris Screamers, etc. World War II Fighter Plane names work out alright as well in a pinch, as I almost see them fulfilling this role in a way.

Just in case you are curious, their Barding Multiplier is x 3, and load is 3,500 coins at full speed. They make wonderful Mounts for suitably heroic campaigns if domesticated properly by those who know how to do such things.

Monday, June 1, 2020

OSE Encounter Activities - Horse

I grew up across the street from a huge Ranch that predominantly grazed Horses. They would occasionally play Polo. Several times, my childhood life up to that point flashed before my eyes as I was mowing our lawn for chore money and hit one of those huge, hard Plastic Polo balls with a lawnmower blade. Absolutely terrifying.

One summer, to earn some extra spending money, I was drafted along with some neighbor kids and paid to help around the Ranch. Mostly mucking stables. I don’t recommend it, but I’m pretty sure I spent some of that money on D&D books, come to think of it 😊.

Here are a Hundred entries for Horses, split across a few tables due to this being a multi-monster entry:

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