Thursday, October 22, 2015

Halloween Setting Spotlight -- Ravenloft's Wildlands

Who says animal fantasy can’t be dark and gloomy with the best of them?

Islands Of Terror, the old AD&D 2nd supplement for the Ravenloft campaign setting, contained a fascinating domain called the Wildlands, which was populated entirely by talking animals, and ruled by a crocodile darklord.

The main problem with the domain is that it provided few Gothic horror role-playing opportunities for standard longpaw characters, and seemed designed to serve mostly as a meat-grinder where every creature you meet is out to kill you.

But the Wildlands can make an excellent Gothic horror-fantasy setting for animal player characters, whether native to the domain, or drawn in by the Mists.

The darklord -- Death Bringer, King Crocodile -- is actually pretty good, as throw-away one-shot villains go.  His backstory is a classic tale of greed and power-lust:  the other animals of the wilderness realm from which the Wildlands was formed made a pact with the Crocodile.  He vowed to slay all the "hairless apes" in the land, if each of the animals there would give him some of their power.  This, they did eagerly... and of course, when the slaughter was done, Crocodile refused to return the borrowed powers. Instead, he began hunting the other beasts. He was now the greatest animal in the realm, but his hubris and ambition doomed him to be claimed by the Mists.  Though not before a python prophesied that Death Bringer would die either by the hand of a "hairless ape," or from something he felt was beneath his notice.

Death Bringer can be greatly fleshed-out using Great & Small's spandrels system.  I'd start him as a standard crocodile Warrior (I'll post game stats for crocs in the next couple of days), then advance him by granting him a signature Species Trait from each of the animal types listed in his back story.  Say, Nine Lives from the lions, an increased SZ from the elephants, Brachiation from the monkeys, Scent from the apes, and so forth.  This makes him a much more versatile villain, something more like the monster from The Relic in terms of his capabilities, rather than just being the "smarty pants giant croc" he was in the original supplement. 

The land itself is full of potential adventure seeds, too, including:
  • An elephant graveyard where elephant skeletons and ghosts walk at night, and the bones of the dead are rumored to turn into silver and gold
  • A war for supremacy between lions and tigers (who weren't originally part of the land, but were apparently brought in by Ravenloft's Dark Powers for... reasons) that is consuming the savannah
  • Colonies of gorillas who relish combat (especially with "hairless apes"), and try to enslave chimpanzees and monkeys
  • A whole society of young crocodiles scheming to replace Death Bringer, the King Crocodile who serves as darklord of the realm
  • The python's prophecy, and a total absence of snakes in the land (imagine the repercussions if a snake -- say, a snake player character -- arrived from beyond the Mists)
As a whole, the Wildlands exudes a "dark Africa" feel, a sort of Lion-King-gone-sideways ambiance where longpaws would come to dread an encounter with even the lowly monkeys.

But the Gothic horror elements -- especially the sense of foreboding, of isolation, of being trapped in a doomed realm, of looming curses and twisted fates -- can be ramped up even better with animal PCs.  Longpaws would be walking targets everywhere they went, and Death Bringer's agents would inform their master of the presence of any humans in the realm long before those humans became aware of their ultimate enemy's nature.

Animals, however, would have more freedom to roam, to interact with NPCs, to pursue side-quests unrelated to the Crocodile metaplot.  Their time in the Wildlands wouldn't (necessarily) turn into a gauntlet-running race against the clock, as it probably would with longpaws in the mix.

African animals would be most appropriate to the setting, of course, but any species -- especially prey species -- would find the place terrifying and alienating in all the classic Gothic horror ways that Ravenloft sought to evoke with longpaw characters. 

So, if you're in the mood for some old-school fantasy horror this Halloween, I challenge you to put away I6 for a while, and treat your players to a session or two of Great & Small set in the Wildlands.  You could adapt any of the short adventures from Ravenloft supplements like the Book of Crypts or Chilling Tales -- plot and all -- simply by replacing the human NPCs with animal ones.

In fact, I might try this myself...

Another Good Review For Great & Small

+R. Scott Kennan has a tons o'fun-reading blog called Worlds Workshop, and a few days ago, he posted a kind little summary/spotlight/review on Great & Small.
I'd really like to focus on, however, is the potential that this game offers to family game play. Young kids will probably love this game, with adult supervision to help with the rules.Even some older kids might like it. 
Plus, he used this nifty dino pic, which put me in mind to do an entire supplement:

Go read it here, and show your support of Mr. Kennan's excellent design work. Dem maps tho!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Goblin Punch Has Great Animal Goodies

+Arnold K.  at Goblin Punch blog has been doing some really interesting work on "mundane" animals in D&D.

I'm especially fond of his Really Good Dog class (some of whose powers resemble spandrels I've been thinking of posting here), and the gruesome-cute concept of catbooks.

I'm adding his blog to my "old-school blogs" roll to the left.  Go show his site some love (preferably with face licks) on my behalf.  If you're in need of adventure seeds for animal PCs, you can't go wrong tapping some of his wonderful ideas.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Ponyfinder/MLP-style Ponies for Great & Small

Given my penchant for animal fantasy tales, it is probably ironic that I've never seen an episode of any version of My Little Pony (MLP).  It has managed to cruise under my radar for the entire span of its existence; it's not that I'm averse to it, per se.  It's just that I wasn't the franchise's target demographic.  I always filed it under, "Get Around To It One Day."

There is, however, no irony in the fact that I've never been a big fan of Pathfinder.  Just not my cup of tea.  After the burn-out I had with 3.5, I just wasn't ready for a system that doubled-down on all the elements of which I'd grown weary.  Though they do put out some excellent supplements...

So, imagine the quandary in which I found myself when I stumbled upon the Ponyfinder game yesterday.

One the one hand, it's a complete campaign setting designed for animal player characters.  Well, sort of (I'll come back to that).  And it's gotten excellent reviews, especially from people who claim to have been skeptical of the project.

So, I sort of feel like I have an obligation to buy it, both for scholarly and collecting purposes, and for solidarity with other animal roleplaying fans.

On the other hand, it's a Pathfinder supplement, which makes me want to avoid it.  There is, apparently, a 5e conversion manual, and like many PF-compatible products, it's full of rules-neutral setting fluff... so I'll probably end up buying a copy in the near future.

Which means I'll probably get around to watching MLP.  

(To be clear, Ponyfinder doesn't reference any of MLP's intellectual property, just creates a set of rules for PCs who are similar enough to ponies to pass whatever the MLP version of the Turing test would be, and gives them a setting that "feels" like MLP at its best without actually using anything from the show. Or so I am told.)

Meanwhile, I figured, why not drum up some blog hits by statting out Ponyfinder ponies in Great & Small?  Following is a more-or-less straight conversion of the basic pony from Ponyfinder (which I am able to read as part of the product's free review pages).  If I buy the actual product, I might do more conversions later.

You knew this day was coming...

Fey Pony
"Ponies are a race whose time has come and left. According to their legend and lore, they once oversaw nature, guiding and protecting it much like contemporary druids: controlling the weather,overseeing animal migrations, and protecting the lands they called home. They have surrendered much of these tasks over time, but their spirit is not yet faded. Most ponykind live in isolated communities, far from civilization, but growing numbers have migrated to join multiracial cities, where they trade, craft, and make their livings."
-- Ponyfinder Campaign Setting, p. 8.

     AC: 7
     AT: Bite 1d3 [1d4], two hooves 1d5 [1d6] 
     Beginning HP: 7 [8]
     Habitat: Any
     MV: 8 (4 bipedal)
     SZ: Medium

Species Traits:
  • Feyborn:  Ponies and their kin are natives of the faerie realms.  As such, they are considered fey for the purpose of herbal, magical, or other effects that effect or can be used by fey beings.
  • Feyspeech:  Ponies automatically know and can speak the language of faeries.
  • Low-Light Vision 
  • +2 bonus on all Poison saves
  • +2 bonus on all saves vs. magic, regardless of save category
  • +1 bonus on all Runner lore checks
  • +1 bonus all lore checks to push, pull, drag, break, or otherwise use their raw muscle power on heavy objects.
  • Suitable Niches: Any

Friday, October 2, 2015

Featured Creature: Chameleon

A few weeks back, a reader inquired if I planned to stat out chameleons, geckos, and other lizards.  I thought I might create a stock "Lizard" entry with sub-headings for different species, the way I've done with apes, cats, and monkeys.  It's quite a challenge, though, because lizards are an amazingly diverse clade; aside from being squamate reptiles, there is little that all lizards have in common.  So, I've decided to go with individual species entries instead.  First up is chameleons.

Like many of their kin, chameleons are deliberative -- indeed, seemingly inactive -- taking their time to reach any decision.  But once decided on a course of action, they act swiftly.  This is especially true where acquiring food is concerned.

Though they are fully capable of terrestrial movement, chameleons prefer spending as much of their time as possible hidden among the flowers and leaves of their canopy home.  When long journeys are called for, they demand to be carried by larger, stronger, faster beings at every opportunity, and thus have a reputation for laziness.

     AC: 6
     AT: Bite (1d2)
     Beginning HP: 3 [4]
     Habitat: Tropical forest
     MV: 4
     SZ: Tiny

Species Traits:
  • Adaptive Camouflage
  • Independently Focusing Eyes: Chameleons have amazing eyesight.  Because they can focus each eye independently, they have 360 degree vision, and can only be surprised while asleep.  Further, they are immune to sneak attacks, unless both of their eyes are engaged in paying attention to the same target. In addition, chameleons get a +2 bonus on all lore checks that involve detecting things by sight.
  • Low-Light Vision
  • Prehensile Tail
  • +4 bonus on all lore checks involving climbing.
  • +2 bonus on all attack rolls against targets smaller than themselves.
  • -4 penalty on all lore checks involving feats of strength 
  • Suitable Niches: Any