Monday, April 20, 2009

Trollsmyth Fails the Old School Purity Test

49. Have you ever walked in on people using encounter powers to fight lizard folk?

50. Have you ever joined in?

When I first chose Labyrinth Lord for my new campaign, I was tempted by the idea of staying true to that rules set and using only material created for it. I would leave all my other books on their shelves and just use the handful I had for Moldvay/Cook and BECMI. When I started getting players who had never played those old rules (and who hadn't even been born yet when they came out), it seemed even more important to try to create as “pure” an old school experience as possible.

Yeah, right, who was I kidding?

The truth is, back in the day, we were pulling ideas from all sorts of crazy places. We all wanted the over-and-under crossbow from “Ladyhawke”, giant jackalope mounts like we saw in the postcards at the tourist shops, and tricked out helicopters modeled on “Airwolf”. In one of my first campaigns, I gave my brother's elf character a magical sword called the Triangle. The name was swiped from the first Ultima game. I had no idea what it did in the computer game, but in our pen-and-paper adventures it shot out forcefield cages and blasting bolts of power and was pretty much the ultimate magical sword in that campaign. I think I stole most of its powers from the “Blackstar” cartoon.

Beyond such wackiness, which old D&D openly invites, the entire range of what is generally accepted as “old school” is pretty compatible. And this last Sunday night, I really pushed that.

The original guardian for the magical laboratories beneath the villa of the Poyma was a single brain collector. Yeah, that's a nasty monster, but I was only giving it 3 hit points per hit die and no spells. So not insurmountable, but if the PCs were victorious, they'd know they'd been in a fight.

But then Dave Arneson passed away, and Oddysey mentioned she had a thing for frogs. So I went back to the monster lists and hunted for an appropriate froggy critter to replace the brain collector with. I really didn't find what I wanted in my usual Moldvay/Cook/BECMI/LL sources. Besides, I knew what I really wanted: slaadi.

I know a lot of folks are not fans of the slaadi. The technicolor frogs don't seem to be the proper poster-children for primordial chaos. Me, I like the whole amphibious thing, and see it as a good metaphor for mutability. Plus there's the life-cycle of frogs, being born as fish and slowly transforming into land-walkers (or, if you prefer the medieval explanation, being born out of mud, the ultimate terrestrial representation for chaos). So I'll take slaadi over constantly morphing shoggoths.

The easy thing to do was to port in a red slaad from the original 1e Fiend Folio. The red slaad was actually a lot more manageable than the brain collector, having an AC of 6 (rather than 2) and 7 hit dice, so I could give it the full 3.5 hit points per die. Mechanically, I didn't need to change a thing.

I still wanted to turn it up to 11, though, so I went even further into the future and took a few pages from 2e. I have a copy of a Planescape appendix for the Monstrous Manual where I think we get the first publication of the bizarre reproductive habits of slaadi. The short version is, red slaadi make blue slaadi by injecting eggs under the skin of sentient victims through their claws. Which is freaky and kinda neat, but since we're talking giant frogs, I thought they needed to do something with their tongues. So instead of injecting the eggs with their claws, in my worlds red slaadi plant them with their tongues, kinda like Samael from the first Hellboy movie. The other thing I took from 2e was turning the red slaadi's power word: stun into a stunning croak. These are mostly just cosmetic issues, but that sort of thing is what makes the game sing.

So in one fell swoop, I took my campaign from “pure” Labyrinth Lord to including material from the first two editions of AD&D. And it's actually worse than that, as I'm also working to convert 3e's yak folk. Why? Because converting stuff from my favorite movies, TV shows, and books is just as much fun now as it was when I was twelve. ;)

Photo credits: Free-er, Vandelizer, and Deadrobot.


Natalie said...

There are people who don't like slaadi? Man, what's wrong with people? I agree that frogs have a lot of great chaos symbolism going on, and they're so very D&D. I have a lot of reasons I like slaadi, actually. They're a crazy D&D monster, they're frogs, they come several related but distinct types, and they have that wacky and disturbing ecology. Pretty much hits all my D&D monster buttons. (I can't believe I didn't remember to stick them on my top ten monster list. I mean, ochre jelly, but not slaadi?)

And now they're even better, because I have a horrible, horrible story to go along with them. Good times.

taichara said...

If it helps at all, the yak men (or yikaria) are originally from 2e. More specifically, from the Al-Qadim setting.

Ye gods, how I love Al-Qadim --


Chris said...

Slaadi, Yak-men and Jackalopes?
It can only be another day in the OSR. :-)

Odyssey and Tai' beat me to everything of substance I wanted to say. :(

Jeff Rients said...

Slaad rule. They are both frogs and demons. What's not to love?

Hamlet said...

The YakMen can be gotten from one of the Annual Monstrous Compendiums. Not sure which any more since the books are at home packed in a closet.

And as far as I can tell, nothing at all "unoldschool" about Slaadi. They have just the right amount of body horror to really make players squirm so delightfully.

trollsmyth said...

My only Al-Qadim book has no monsters in it. :/ A few weeks ago, I could have fixed that, but not now. Darn you, WotC!

I might go scouring through my old 2e stuff, but I'm pretty sure I never saw yak men in any of them. Best to make sure; I don't have time to spend reinventing the wheel when I don't need to.

Donny_the_DM said...

I can just hear jim carrey's "yaaaaak" line already.

eard they have a decent flaming filet though.

D&D is all about improv, how else did the treestump grow a #$%$## bunny for a hat?

AndreasDavour said...

Dave Hargrave would have been proud of you. :)

Slaadi are awesome. That's just how it is.

Talysman said...

We didn't *all* want to have the over-and-under crossbow from Ladyhawke. Some of us wanted the earlier, rapid-fire crossbow from Hawk, the Slayer.

And I know I'm not alone, because someone gave them to the Dero in 1e's Monster Manual II.

Kevin Mac said...

Slaadi were only cool back in the day because we kept pronouncing them "Salad."

Anonymous said...

I love slaadi! I especially love Xanxost. :3

Remember, it's the red slaadi who lay eggs, and those eggs hatch inside a person and eat them coming out -- but they hatch into blue slaadi. The blue slaadi infect people -- kind alike lycanthropy -- and that turns them into red slaadi.

Which is much worse, but on the other hand, can you imagine shaking that one off? Your party use a wish or something to turn you back?

trollsmyth said...

Yep, one poor dwarf in my game has an egg inside her right now. I imagine they'll get that taken care of this week, unless they forget about it, or something unfortunate happens.

I'm not sure I know Xanxost? Is that a particular slaad?

Natalie said...

I imagine they'll get that taken care of this week, unless they forget about it, or something unfortunate happens.Ack!

trollsmyth said...

It's a bit more than a day-and-a-half's march back to civilization. That's 2 checks for wandering monsters. ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I know Xanxost? Is that a particular slaad?Yep! He/it is something of a journalist. He's got his own subsection on the wikipedia entry for slaad. *crosses fingers and hopes that link works* I think his section in the Inner Planes book is really fun to read, because he's just a very friendly dude who's easily distracted and might like to eat you.