Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Re-Imagining the Megadungeon (Monster Manual II Part 10)

One of the interesting things that happens when I go about any kind of thought experiment, is that it has a tendency of bleeding out into other facets of the game that I wasn’t necessarily interested in or intent on fiddling with. So, as my thoughts drifted towards what a B2 adventure module might look like if MMII dominated the monster section of a Moldvay Basic Edition of D&D, my brain took a stroll right past the traditional TSR adventure module and started thinking about a megadungeon.

Normally, the themes found in the MMII lend themselves quite nicely to the idea of a megadungeon, or least a multi-level dungeon. This set-up allows for each section of the dungeon to have its own feel, its own monsters and its own environment. Thus, play isn’t bogged down by a bunch of X by X rooms that all look the same and have monsters scattered about with no apparent rhyme or reason. On the contrary, it adds an element of discovery and excitement as players try to figure out what makes each section of the dungeon tick.

Unfortunately, my brain would not allow itself to be contained by a mere dungeon. Or a megadungeon, for that matter. Take a look at the three themes that can be gleaned from the monsters of the MMII that might show up in a Basic Edition: Fey, Lost World, Elemental.

  • The fey normally hang out in the forest, as in outside.
  • Creatures from a Lost World, like walking plants and dinosaurs, don’t do a lot of dungeon delving. They, too, mainly hang outside.
  • Elementals can be found in a dungeon, but have always struck me as something that is better suited to an environment where all the elements can excel, not just the earthy ones. That means, they kinda want to hang outside.

This got me thinking about one of my favorite ideas from a module I have never played nor ever really plan on playing: D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth. Contained therein is a hex map with various tunnels that a party can travel and explore. On that hex map are fixed encounter areas. Thus, while it is a dungeon crawl, it also feels kinda like an outdoor hex crawl. Given that the monsters I have available with an MMII monster section of a Basic Edition, why couldn’t I then have a hex crawl that felt like a dungeon crawl?

The end result was something I’m calling the Valley of Chaos:
The white circle in the southeast corner labeled ‘1’ is the party’s home base. All the white squares are encounter areas with a small structure/dungeon/tower/cave network with 5-25 rooms. There are three distinct areas in and around the valley. The floor of the valley itself is the stomping ground of the fey. The forested areas above the valley have a Lost World atmosphere. The desert, volcano and lake of fire all are home to elemental creatures. The further away from home base the party wanders, the more challenging the going gets.

Note that like any good dungeon, there are multiple access points for parties to enter into the “dungeon.” There are established paths and river ways for the party to follow. Each branch ultimately leads to an encounter area. There are also things to be found off the beaten track. There is even a river way that encourages Referees/GMs/DMs to expand on so that a party can go off on higher level adventures.

All-in-all there are four 6-mile hexes with 23 encounter areas with approximately 200-300 rooms to explore. All of this is dressed up in several distinct environments, each with its own character and set of wandering monsters. All that is needed now is a back story to explain why all the monsters live there and why the valley looks and behaves like it does.

For me, one of the most exciting aspects of this set-up is that it realistically allows for dungeon factions to play a huge role in the adventure. As much as I love the feel and the play of dungeon factions, I have to suspend my disbelief every time I employ them because if such factions were in such close proximity to each other, why isn’t the dungeon a complete war zone with everybody dead? There are ways around this, I am aware, but it does take that extra step to make it work. In this case, the factions have enough space between them that raiding parties actually make sense.

Thus, here I have what feels like a tent-pole megadungeon that looks like a hex crawl and I think could be the beginning of something magical.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 9

Ecology of MMII Demi-Humans

As I have noted before, the MMII has two different elves within its pages: wild elves that are neutral fighter/druids and valley elves that are chaotic fighter/magic-users. When deciding which demi-humans to use for PC classes, I chose to use the wild elves. This is due not only to their PC-friendly alignment but also because they offer an interesting departure from the standard D&D elf.

Then porphyre77 opened a can of worms inside my head by suggesting that the Swanmay could also be an interesting stand-in for the elf. They are rangers and (for the purposes of a three-tier alignment system) are lawful. My brain immediately started linking the swanmay ability to shape change into a swan with the long list of normal animals that can be found in the MMII. Each animal became the basis for a different clan or tribe. Thus, elves are primarily ranger-types that can, depending on what clan they belong to, transform into an animal form.

I also made the connection that dwarves, as represented by the duergar, also have transformation powers: they grow big. Transformation is also implied by the mongrelmen and their chaotic morphology. Thus, shapeshifting becomes the common denominator of what it means to be a demi-human in an MMII-inspired world.

Chaos, in the form of arcane magic, has twisted both elves and dwarves into humanoid versions of themselves: valley elves and derro. Given that the undead in the MMII are largely dependent upon the existence of necromancy to bring them to unlife, it follows that there ought to be a twisted version of the mongrelman that dabbles in such nasty magic. This could be the origin of the implied necromancer.

Finally, there is one more creature in the MMII that is a shapeshifter: the wolfwere. These nefarious hunters have very fey-like powers: music that casts the equivalent of a slow spell on its listeners and they can only be harmed by cold-iron or magic weapons. This suggests that there are tribes of elves that have gone “wild” — thus the moniker wild elf. These clans, to certain degrees, have lost themselves in their animal forms. Thus, they range in alignment from neutral to chaotic.

Given that the “example” of a lawful elf transforms into a swan and a “wild” elf transforms into a wolf, it follows that the mammalian clans are the ones most likely to have gone wild, with the carnivorous ones being the most likely to have fallen into a chaotic world-view. In turn, the avian clans are the ones that still hold onto their “elfishness.”

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 8

Magic Items

Something I never did when I hypothesized a Moldvay Basic D&D with a Fiend Folio monster section was to see how that would affect the magic items detailed in the Treasure section. This was largely due to the fact that the magic items were fairly portable and made sense. Ironically, an MMII-based treasure section needs to be addressed because there are several magic items that require some kind of re-imagining.

Specifically, there are three items in Moldvay that have no meaning in an MMII world:
  • Sword +1, +2 against lycanthropes
  • Scrolls of Protection from Lycanthropes
  • Gauntlets of Ogre Power
While there are lycanthropes in the MMII (foxwomen, seawolves and weresharks), they are either too powerful for a basic edition or would be better suited for an expert edition with its emphasis on wilderness exploration. Thus, there are no lycanthropes in the monster list that would appear in an MMII-based basic edition. Thus, any items specifically created to fight them are rendered irrelevant. In addition, the only ogres in the MMII are aquatic. Thus, like the MMII lycanthropes, they are far more appropriate for an expert edition. Therefore, this item needs to have a different reference point.

There are also a number of magic items that do not have the same import in an MMII world that they do in a normal D&D world:
  • Sword +1, +3 against undead
  • Sword +1, +3 against dragons
  • Scroll of Protection from Undead
  • Spell Scrolls
  • Potion of Growth
As I have mentioned before, undead are scarce in the MMII and almost all of them are walking corpses created by necromancers. They do not have the frightening abilities that normal D&D undead do: level-draining, paralysis and disease. Thus, there really isn’t the same kind of incentive to create a magic item specifically designed to defeat them.

Unlike the MMI and the FF, the MMII does do not offer up a traditional view of dragons. Cloud and mist dragons are neutral creatures that literally live in the sky, far away from the cares of the world. Faerie dragons are small creatures that pose more of a threat as a spell users than as a fire-breathing monster. Shadow dragons are one of the few creatures in the MMII that have any kind of level-draining powers and certainly do not go around burning down villages.

As a consequence, there really wouldn’t be the same kind of demand for swords specifically made to fight these creatures.

Spell scrolls in Moldvay are specifically arcane in nature and are therefore listed as “magic-user/elf.” While I probably would not change this item at all for an MMII-based basic edition, it is worth noting that the only PCs that could use these are magic-users.

Finally, it should also be noted that a Potion of Growth is basically a watered-down version of what an MMII-dwarf PC can already do. This raises a question as to how these potions are created (from dwarf blood?) and how dwarves would feel about their existence and use.

The biggest generalized threat in an MMII-world are arcane spell users: necromancers, fey, chaotic elves, chaotic dwarves, faerie dragons and elementals. Thus, there would be a demand for Scrolls of Protection and Swords that did well against spell users. The latter already exists in Moldvay, but is a +1/+2 weapon. In an MMII world, this should be a +1/+3 weapon.

In terms of disease, mind control and being transformed into a minion, the biggest threat in an MMII world are plants and fungi. Items designed to fight these creatures would replace those originally intended to fight the undead.

It should be mentioned that there is a substantial reptilian threat in an MMII world. Dinosaurs and Ophidians are nothing to sneeze at.

Finally, the only basic-edition friendly creatures in the MMII that could inspire the idea of strength in the same way an ogre does is the cyclopskin. Without any other cyclops available to be kin to, however, I am just going to call them cyclops.

Therefore, here is a list of magic items that would be found in an MMII basic edition and the items they replace:

  • Sword +1, +2 vs. reptiles replaces Sword +1, +2 vs. lycanthropes
  • Sword +1, +2 vs. dragons replaces Sword +1, +2 vs. spell users
  • Sword +1, +3 vs. plants replaces Sword +1, +3 vs. undead
  • Sword +1, +3 vs. spell users replaces Sword +1, +3 vs. dragons
  • Scroll of Protection from Plants replaces Scroll of Protection from Lycanthropes
  • Scroll of Protection from Spell Users replaces Scroll of Protection from Undead
  • Gauntlets of Cyclops Strength replaces Gauntlets of Ogre Power

Friday, November 18, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 7

Wandering Monster Table Level 3

Oozes and Slimes continue to be my bane when trying to come up with Wandering Monster Tables for an MMII version of Moldvay’s Basic D&D. Even when I finally have an ooze that is appropriately powered, Moldvay puts two in his 3rd level WMT. Thus, once again, I am forced to be creative. Cave morays are described as slug-like, which (like fungi on my earlier WMTs) will have to suffice. Please note: according to the MMII both cave morays and cave fishers have a 100% chance of being in their lairs. Normally, this would disqualify them for a WMT; however, the Basic D&D stat block has no such entry. Thus, whether or not these creatures can wander (and both are capable of movement) is entirely up to the Referee/GM/DM. Especially since I am running short on appropriate monsters to fill these roles, I am using that implied freedom to allow these creatures to roam:

  1. Banderlong (4 HD)
  2. Pedipalp (2+2)
  3. Derro (3*)
  4. Land Urchin (3+3)
  5. Cave Fisher (3)
  6. Scorpion (4+4*)
  7. Shadow Dragon (4*)
  8. Chrystal Ooze (4*)
  9. Fire Bat (2)
  10. Elfin Cat (3+6*)
  11. Taer (3+6*)
  12. Swordmaster (3rd level fighter)
  13. Myconid (4*)
  14. NPC Party (var.)
  15. Cave Moray (4+4)
  16. Ophidian (3*)
  17. Elemental (Harginn) (4+4**)
  18. Giant Bee (3+1*)
  19. Zombie, Juju (3+12*)
  20. Zombie, Monster (6)

Seriously, I am more and more interested in this implied world. It has a dark fantasy feel to it, with a constant sense of corruption and decay. In a weird sense, it reminds me of Ravenloft, only better. There is no need for special rules, the undead are all man-made Frankenstein’s monsters, and the vampires aren’t Transylvanian, they’re reptilian. Plus, it has dinosaurs. Yep, I’m going to have do something with this…

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 6

Wandering Monster Table Level 2

For this Wandering Monster Table (WMT), I again used the break-down of Moldvay’s WMT as a template. As happened with the Level 1 WMT, I ran into several problems filling out slots. Oozes and slimes once again proved to be overly powerful. Interestingly, though, the MMII has three different creatures that are all basically the same idea, but with slight variations in powers: olive slime, phycomid and zygom. They are all plants/fungus. All infect a host which is then mentally taken over in order to reproduce and find more hosts. Of these I like the olive slime the best from a descriptive point of view: it's telepathic, it's a slime and the creatures it produces are humanoid slime-things. Unfortunately, they cannot be harmed by normal weapons at all. The least powerful is the zygom, but it does have a fun factor: the attack that infects a host only works with skin contact, otherwise it acts like a super glue that will eventually harden and destroy whatever it is stuck to. Therefore, the zygom makes this list in place of an ooze or a slime.

Another difficulty was the undead entries. As I have stated before, there aren’t many undead in the MMII and those that are not Animal Skeletons are on the more powerful side. The MMII, however, does have a number of mobile plant-like creatures that don’t really fit into any of the categories I used to break down Moldvay’s tables. Therefore I put some of the walking plants (the kamfult and mandragora) in the place of the undead.

Finally, there aren’t any real low-level constructs in the MMII and that is an entry that shows up on the Level 3 WMT. The vilstrak, which is a kind of stone creature that can move through solid rock, kind of fits the bill, but is less than 1 HD. Therefore, I switched out one of the mammal entries in this WMT and put it in the Level 3 WMT. The slot was then replaced with the “construct” and the vilstrak:

  1. Scorpion (2+2* HD)
  2. Conjurer (3rd level MU)
  3. Vilstrak (1-1)
  4. Wild Elf (1+2)
  5. Kamfult (2)
  6. Azer (2+1*)
  7. Zygom (3*)
  8. Hybsil (1-1)
  9. Dinosaur (4+2)
  10. Myconid (2)
  11. Mudman (2)
  12. Warrior (2nd level fighter)
  13. Buckawn (1-1*)
  14. Giant Fly (3)
  15. Vapor Rat (2)
  16. Constrictor Snake (3+2)
  17. Solifugid (3+3*)
  18. Magman (2*)
  19. Robber (3rd Level thief)
  20. Mandragora (1+1)

This isn’t your father’s D&D. There are fantasy elements that will feel familiar, but there is no sense that the world described here has any kind of foothold in Tolkien or any of the worlds that his imagination inspired. This is stranger and more primordial. This is quickly becoming a world I want to play.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 5

Wandering Monster Table Level 1

I have been trying to work on some Wondering Monster Tables (WMT) for a Moldvay Basic Edition using only MMII monsters and it hasn’t been easy, especially compared to my efforts to do the same for the Field Folio. While my original break down of Molday’s WMTs is still relevant and useful, finding monsters to fit that break-down is not nearly as straight-forward as it was with the FF.

Both the MMI and the FF have a wide variety of monsters of all power levels: everything from the lowly 1/2HD humanoids to god-like unique monsters. Each is a manual that can serve a Referee/GM/DM well for a campaign that spans several PC levels. One of the main reasons I have never liked the MMII — its theme of Gygax’s underdark and planar cosmology — is also the reason why the MMII does not do a good job of serving up monsters of variable levels for a Referee/GM/DM to use over the course of a whole campaign.

The MMII is top-heavy. PCs that are going to explore the underdark and/or the other planes of Gygax’s cosmology are necessarily going to be higher level. Thus, virtually every monster in the MMII either comes from a mid-to-high level module or is designed to challenge higher level characters. There are a number of low hit die creatures that are very capable of taking out an entire 1st level party. Sure, a well-organized group of kobolds could do the same, but not as some random encounter.

For example, the Quickling has the following spell-like abilities: ventriloquism, forget, levitate, shatter, dig and fire charm. When motionless, they are invisible. They save as 19th level clerics. They cannot be surprised, have three attacks per round and have an AC of -3. Did I mention that are 1.5 HD creatures?

Thus, it took a lot longer to arrive at the following 1st Level WMT:

  1. Seer (2nd level MU)
  2. Veteran (1st level Fighter)
  3. Cave Cricket (1+3 HD)
  4. Mongrelmen (1 HD)
  5. Myconid (1 HD)
  6. Vulchling (1 HD)
  7. Ustilagor (3+3* HD)
  8. Dreurgar (1+2 HD)
  9. Pedipalp (1+1 HD)
  10. Tasloi (1 HD)
  11. Dinosaur (3+1 HD)
  12. Formian Worker (1+1 HD)
  13. Giant Squirrel (1+1 HD)
  14. Animal Skeleton (1-1* HD)
  15. Muckdweller (1/2 HD)
  16. Giant Termite (1+2 HD)
  17. Gripple (1+1 HD)
  18. Webbird (1/2* HD)
  19. Footpad (2nd level thief)
  20. Coshee (3+3 HD)

The MMII does not lack for jellies, slimes and oozes. The problem is that they are meant to be a nuisance to mid-to-high level characters and therefore are not really appropriate for a 1st level WMT. As such, I substituted the ustilagor, which is described as a fungi.

This list suggests a world that passingly resembles a fantasy world, with its fey touches and its hat tips to elves and dwarves; however, there is a strong suggestion that this world has been ravaged by the effects of pure chaos. When a creature does appear to be somewhat normal, it seems like it was ripped from another time. Otherwise, this is a nice, large helping of weird.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 4

Demi-Human Player Characters

Unlike my experience with the FF, which had no halflings, dwarves or playable elves in its monster list, the MMII has a more traditional D&D demi-human feel. There are, however, a couple of twists.


In the MMII there are two types of elves: wild and valley. While valley elves function as normal elves for the purposes of a character class, they are chaotic neutral which would place them firmly in the Chaotic alignment category in the three-alignment system of Basic D&D. This would make them monsters, not PCs.

Wild elves do not use arcane magic. Rather, multi-class wild elves are fighter-druids. Necessarily (according to 1ed rules) they have a true neutral alignment.

In other words, while elves are available as a PC class, they do not use arcane magic (unlike their Chaotic and monstrous brethren). Instead, they have a unique spell list that only elves are able to use.


There are several dwarf and dwarf-like entries in the MMII: the derro, duergar, and the spriggan. Derros are chaotic evil (thus monsters) but interestingly use arcane magic in a limited form. The same is true of spriggans, though they only are able to cast spells in their giant form.

Duergar function as psionic, lawful evil dwarves. For the purposes of this thought experiment (and my own understanding of the three-alignment system), lawful evil can translate as Lawful. Thus, the duergar can be a stand-in for the Dwarf class.

Since psionics do not exist in Moldvay’s Basic, it is easy to dismiss most of the psionic abilities; however, duergar do have some interesting psionic disciplines that have to be discussed: reduction, molecular attraction, invisibility and expansion.

Reduction, as a power, is actually quite limited. A user can only reduce their height by 1’ until middle levels and then only 50%. While it does become more useful at high levels, and it strikes me as something a creative player could find beneficial occasionally, it is not the type of ability that would see regular and consistent use. Therefore, I feel quite comfortable just ignoring it.

Molecular Attraction is a typo. There is no such power in the psionic section of the 1ed Player’s Handbook. While I could make an educated guess as to what was intended, I feel more comfortable ignoring it.

Invisibility as a psionic power is weaker than the spell. It only affects creatures of HD equal to or less than the user. Therefore, I would rather express this ability as an increased skill at hiding or surprise.

Expansion is a power that allows a user to grow in height and strength. This increases with experience levels to a maximum additional damage of +6 — the bonus for an 18/00 strength in 1ed. In addition, the user gets extra hp. Due to the fact the spriggans have a similar power, I feel it is important to give a duergar PC class this ability, because it seems to be a part of a MMII understanding of “dwarfishness.” To simplify the ability, I took the mechanics of the psionic power and compared it to what I have in Ye Auld Skool Spell Creator and came up with a 3rd level spell with a duration of 6 turns +1 per level. When grown, the duergar doubles their size and their strength bonus. In addition, they take half damage from all non-magical attacks. This can be used once per day.


There are no halflings in the MMII. Therefore, in order to round out the number of demi-human race-as-classes to three, it is necessary to look at other possibilities. The MMII present several:

  • Buckawn: Neutral, 2’ tall fey with a 1-1HD. Curiously, they are given various illusion magics at “6th level” but no information as to how they attain 6th level or what that otherwise looks like.
  • Hybsil: Lawful good 3’ tall antelope centaurs also with a 1-1HD. This would allow folks to play a centaur without many of the problems that a normal centaur would have while dungeon delving.
  • Mongrelmen: Lawful neutral creatures with 1HD and are a mixture of “humans, orcs, gnolls, ogres, dwarves, hobgoblins, bugbears, elves, bullywugs and others.” They can pickpocket as a thief and have two special abilities: camouflage, and mimicry.
  • Swanmay: A good-aligned and female-only creature that can transform into a swan and has ranger-like powers.

All of these are interesting and (with the possible exception of the hybsil) are something more than a fighter with some cosmetic extras. Therefore, despite the fact I am most drawn to the Buckawn and the Mongrelman, I am torn as to which of these should be the halfling stand-in.

Regardless, there is an interesting undertone suggested by this selection of race-as-class. Arcane magic is dangerous and is associated with Chaos. Elves and dwarves that use arcane magic are all Chaotic. Even if Buckawn make the cut as the last race-as-class, they don’t use arcane magic until higher levels, suggesting that the race actually discourages adventuring because it tempts buckawns to learn things they shouldn’t.

Speaking of which, this all plays into a fascinating blog post by Jeff Rients on the suffix -ard in the word “wizard” and the implication that they know too much.

Of all the halfling stand-ins, which would you most like to play?

Monday, November 7, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 3

Notes on the Undead

Interestingly, there are not many undead creatures in the MMII:

  • Animal Skeleton
  • Demi-Lich
  • Juju Zombie
  • Monster Zombie

This list does allow for a cleric’s Turn Undead to be relevant from the get-go.

The most interesting facet of this list, however, is that all of the entries are derivatives. Animal Skeletons imply the existence of human skeleton undead and monster skeleton undead. Demi-Lich implies the existence of Liches. Juju and Monster zombies imply the existence of “normal” zombies.

The undead picture of an MMII world, however, looks a lot more like a supernatural version of the current zombie fad (e.g. The Walking Dead) than the undead worlds suggested in literature, such as Bram Stroker’s vampire or J.R.R. Tolkien’s wights.

The hierarchy of undead might look something like this:

  • Animal Skeletons (the most basic undead creation).
  • Human Skeleton
  • Zombie
  • Monster Skeleton
  • Juju Zombie
  • Monster Zombie
  • Demi-Lich (when a necromancer fails to complete the transformation into a Lich)
  • Lich

Thus, the undead are exclusively the result of necromancy. Curses, diseases, the restless dead, etc. are not extant. This creates a very clear picture of what the undead are and where they come from. In other words, placing an undead into an adventure automatically leads to another: if there are skeletons around, there must also be a necromancer around. Without the necromancer, the skeletons would not exist.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 2

In Search of a Theme

Moving forward, I am going to have to depart from the methodology I used with the FF, because, while I whole-heartedly embraced the themes of the FF, I am not at all interested in the theme of the MMII (Gygax’s underdark and planar cosmology). Therefore, rather than beginning with the MMII, I am going to begin with Moldvay’s Basic D&D and his monster section.

Moldvay presents seventy monster types (where some types, like dragons and lycanthropes, have several entries). Of these types, 51 have entries that are below 4 HD. Of the nineteen that are 4HD and above, only 5 are 6HD and above. This gives me a tool with which to eliminate a large number of monsters in the MMII that might have appeared in a Basic Edition of D&D. This tool (not uncoincidently) eliminates a lot of extra-planar and underdark monsters. As a consequence, I can begin with a thematic clean slate with the monsters that remain.

One interesting feature of the MMII is the fact that there are a lot of entries for normal animals. Bat, cat, cheetah, eagle, falcon, goat, otter, owl, rat, skunk, snake, squirrel, swan, weasel, vulture and swordfish are examples that fall below 4HD. There are more, like the narwhale, that are 4HD+. Rather than using a bunch of types on various animals, I will simply use one entry: animals. This will allow me a greater variety of monster entries and help me find a few new themes. Unfortunately, finding 51 entries outside of animals in the MMII of monsters with less than 4HD is difficult. There will be a higher number of monsters with higher HD, but the overall HD average should be similar to Molvay because of the number of low HD animals under the animal monster type.

Looking over what is left, I can justify three main themes in the MMII with a pair of sub-themes:

  • Fey with a sub-theme of the Undead
  • Lost World with a sub-theme of Plants and Fungi
  • Elemental

One interesting feature of the fey is that, with the exception of Swanmays and Hybsils, the overall-all alignments tend toward neutral and evil. This includes both versions of elves: wild elves (neutral) and valley elves (chaotic neutral). Given that I see no functional difference between chaotic neutral and chaotic evil, this makes the only arcane casting elves in the game Chaotic, and therefore monsters, not a PC class.

I use the term Lost World because there are a lot of monsters that hail from some fantasy version of prehistory. Dinosaurs and weird giant insects abound. In addition, there are several entries for humanoid-like creatures that appear to have evolved from a non-mammalian source: aspis, formian, myconid, ophidian, vegypygmy and vulchling. I also include here a number of monstrous plants like the mandragora, tri-flower frond and kampfult.

Due to the abundance of planar monsters, it is difficult to avoid an elemental theme with entries like the azer, firebat, magman, mudman and sandling.

The end result actually feels a lot like Moldvay’s monster section, which also had both  Lost World and mythological elements within it. The major difference is that the MMII ventures outside the expected and will hold a lot of unpleasant surprises for players.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 1

A few years ago, I did a series of posts based around the idea of seeing what would happen to Moldvay’s Basic D&D if the Fiend Folio had been the source of all the monsters instead of the more traditional ones found in the Monster Manual and the monster section of my favorite version of D&D.

As happens when I start thinking about gaming and actually gaming, my brain jumps from one idea to another in what can only be described as Gamer Attention Deficit Disorder. I was recently thumbing through the Monster Manual II in search of inspiration for some 5e monsters, when my brain began to think on the possibility of repeating the aforementioned exercise with the MMII instead of the FF.

What makes this possibility interesting to me is that the MMII has always been my least favorite of all the monster manuals. This is in part because I did not buy it upon release in hopes that I could be surprised as a player when new monsters came crawling out of the woodwork. Unfortunately, so much of the work in the MMII is derivative that I only found myself disappointed rather than surprised.

When I finally got my hands on one, I found that the collection was as boring and disappointing as I’d feared. Like its predecessors, the MMII has an overarching theme. The MMI is chuck full of mythological and literary monsters. The FF has a definite sci-fi vibe to it. The MMII is an expansion of Gygax’s underdark and planar cosmology. Whereas I am a huge fan of mythology and the literature of science fiction and fantasy, I have no love for either Gygax’s version of the underdark or the various D&D planes. Indeed, when I am world building, these are two concepts that are left on the cutting room floor almost every time.

As a result, I don’t find any really iconic monsters in the MMII that demand entire campaigns or even adventures to be structured around. I am constantly fighting the the preconceptions that come with the theme: the underdark and the planes. If experience has taught me anything when it comes to D&D, however, it is that there are many hidden gems within even the most familiar of texts.

Therefore, I am actually looking forward to this series of posts. I can’t wait to find those gems that I have passed by all these years because of my own disdain for the MMII.