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Shanthic Shrine of the Red Harbinger

October 18, 2014

A few months ago I wrote about using a lightly-modified version of the X-plorers RPG to run a “post-apocalyptic” campaign set on the planet Jorune in the immediate aftermath of the Human-Shanthic War. I also wrote the first part of a session report, and fully intended to write the rest. However, I didn’t keep proper notes during the game and, although I recall the general outline of what happened, the details are lost to me now.

Here, though, is the adventure. All you need to know is that a couple of months have passed since the war. A few dozen traumatised survivors of the East Basin research station (now a shattered ruin) eke out a humble existence in a camp in the forest. They know that there’s a shanthic structure some 30 kilometres north-west of their position. Volunteers with useful skills are required to investigate the structure and report any activity, shanthic or otherwise.


Random Encounters in the Forest
The shrine is two days’ journey on foot from East Basin. Check once per day for an encounter (2 in 6 chance). If an encounter is indicated, roll 1d6:

1. Bear (1)
2. Scrade (1d3)
3. Tarro (2d6)
4. Tarro (2d6)
5. Weaches (2d6)
6. Wolves (1d6)

Random Encounters in the Shanthic Shrine
Check twice per hour (1 in 6 chance). If an encounter is indicated, it will be with 1d6 dark weaches.

Key to the Shrine
On the surface, the shrine consists of a plain stone building, approximately 9 metres (30 feet) across and hexagonal in plan with a multi-faceted dome-like structure for a roof. There is one doorless entrance. Inside, dry brown leaves rustle and crunch underfoot. A few small insect-like creatures scuttle about and spidery things (loosh) have constructed nests of coarse threads near the ceiling. These little creatures are mostly harmless but if the characters mess with them there is a 2 in 6 chance that something will bite back – THB +0; AT 1 bite (1 hp) – and a 1 in 6 chance that the bite is venomous – make a saving throw or be incapacitated (effectively paralysed) for 1d6 minutes.

From the floor of the building, stairs descend into darkness. Shanthas, like most creatures native to Jorune, use Tra-sense to apprehend their surroundings. They have no eyes and therefore do not require light. Humans, however, will require a light source of some kind in order to proceed.

Level One

HarbingerLevel1Scale: 1 square = 3 metres (10 feet)

1. Antechamber: Four-foot-high cylindrical stone pedestal in centre of room, carved with abstract patterns and with a small depression in the top. If a charged red crystal is placed in the depression, a sudden loud scraping sound is heard and segments of the stone floor of the northern passageway descend, forming stairs down to Room 1 on the lower level. The crystal remains charged. If it is removed, the stone steps rise to resume their former positions, sealing the lower level.

There are two small blackened crystalline objects on the floor. These are the remains of exploded evids. (See “dark weach” in Creatures, below.)

2. Bouncers: Anyone entering this chamber is attacked by evid security. Lying in the NE corner is a red crystal (see Objects, below).

Dark weaches (4): AC 12; HD 1; hp 6, 2, 2, 6; AT 1 sting (special); MV 1 (6); SPC Optional movement (fly); sting inflicts Brain Blast dysha; XP 29.

3. Strangers: Two ragged-looking humans and a thriddle are here. The thriddle accompanies the men under duress. Its trid-nodes are all a-quiver.

The bearded, haunted-looking man who calls himself Vagabond is a Scientist. He lost his wife and child in the shanthic assault on the colony sites. He distrusts all thriddle, believing that they aided the shanthas somehow, or – at the very least – that they know something they’re not telling. He wants to find out what that is. Referring to Bromo Ho-Hid, he says, “This creature will help us uncover the secrets of the shanthas. Or it will suffer.” Vagabond carries a laser pistol with a full power clip (equal to 10 power cells).

Vagabond: AC 10; HD 2; hp 6; THB +0; AT 1 laser pistol (1d6); ST 14+; MV 4; XP 30.

Kagemusha is a Soldier. He is as calm as his companion is twitchy, and has a slightly “spiritual” demeanour. He says, “The shanthas are warriors in the shadows. When they strike, they do so with stealth, with accuracy and without remorse. To protect ourselves, we must learn about them. To fight them, we must become like them. For the sake of what’s left of humanity, we too must become shadow warriors.” He wears leather armour, wields an antique sword from Earth and has one knife in his belt and another in his boot.

Kagemusha: AC 12; HD 2; hp 11; THB +2; AT 1 sword (1d6); ST 14+; MV 4; XP 30.

Bromo Ho-Hid is a youthful thriddle scholar. Kee was on a research expedition that was attacked by hungry wolves and, in the confusion, Bromo Ho-Hid became separated from kis fellows. Kee saw a camp fire and approached the two humans for assistance. They, however, had other ideas. Bromo Ho-Hid wants only to return home, and will be grateful for any assistance. Kee can explain the function of red crystals. Kee has a pouch containing some coditch cakes and a brynk-wood pipe but no giggit.

Bromo Ho-Hid, Thriddle: AC 10; HD 1; hp 2; THB +0; AT 1 kick (1d3); ST 18+; MV 4; XP 15.

4. Empty Chamber: That’s all it is.

Level Two

HarbingerLevel2Scale: 1 square = 3 metres (10 feet)

1. Antechamber: Four-foot-high cylindrical stone pedestal in centre of room, carved with abstract patterns and with a small depression in the top. It functions identically to the pedestal in Room 1 on the upper level. Anyone trapped on the lower level without access to a red crystal is in trouble.

2. The Learning Zone: Triangular stone pedestal with vertical notches holding three sarceens (see Objects, below). A hidden compartment in the pedestal holds a small beagre-leather pouch containing three red crystals. The sarceens contain the following data:

  • Primer on shanthic mythology and cosmology.
  • Information about the nature of evids – and the methods of their construction, though this will be gibberish to anyone insensitive to isho, like humans.
  • Contains what seems to be a vast, confusing catalogue of names and battles in the remote past. This is actually an epic “poem” – the shanthic equivalent of the Iliad, perhaps – but without an understanding of shanthic metrics, let alone the function of isho in their complex language, it is completely unintelligible and likely to induce a headache.

3. The Red Harbinger: Seven-foot-diameter stone globe on a short, cylindrical pedestal. Five red crystals are embedded in the globe’s surface, spaced equidistantly around its equator. Anyone touching a crystal receives a slight charge of Desti energy (1 point of damage) and a temporary increase of 1d6 points to his or her Presence attribute (18 maximum), lasting one hour. During this time, the character may notice glimpses of strange colours out of the corner of his or her eye. In particular, red cloud-like patterns seem to shift and glide over the surface of the stone globe.

If the crystals are pried from their sockets, they become normal charged red crystals.

4. Sholari in Shyee: Dessicated corpse of a shantha. This was the Ca-Desti sholari (“priest”) who maintained the shrine. He succumbed to shyee (“the isholess state”, i.e., death) when the deadly anti-shantha virus was released into the atmosphere by the human scientist Bomoveris. Around the shantha’s neck is an amulet of small carven stones studded with tiny crystals of various colours. This object wards off weaches – not dark weaches, but the regular bloodsucking kind. Lying beside the body is a shanthic blade – a sword made from the thailier (talon) of a corondon. Its lightness and exquisite balance grant a bonus of +2 to hit and +1 damage.

Standing guard over the body like a faithful hound is another evid.

Gotey (1): AC 15; HD 4; hp 11; THB +4; AT 1 tongue lash (1d6-1); ST 15+; MV 4; SPC Lightning Blast dysha; XP 180.



The colonists brought animals from Earth, including – for some reason – bears. Many have escaped into the wilderness. On Jorune, competition for the role of top predator is – literally – fierce. It is not certain that bears will survive for long.

AC 13; HD 4; THB +4; AT 2 claws (1d3), 1 bite (1d6); ST 15+; MV 4; SPC Maul for additional 1d6 damage if both claws hit; XP 180.

Dark weach
Not truly weaches (see below), nor even animals at all, dark weaches are evids – isho constructs made by shanthas to act as guardians for places or things. A dark weach does not suck blood but on a successful hit its proboscis delivers a Brain Blast dysha to the victim. It can sting up to 21 times before it needs to rest and recharge. When “killed” these evids release their isho in an explosive burst, inflicting 1d6 damage on anyone within 3 metres (10 feet). (Agility save for half damage.) All that remains is a blackened crystalline remnant of the evid’s isho core.

AC 12; HD 1; THB +1; AT 1 “sting” (special); ST 18+; MV 1 (6); SPC Optional movement (fly), “sting” inflicts Brain Blast dysha; XP 29.

Another sort of evid. This one looks like a dog-sized spider with a coiled tongue for a body. The “tongue” is 3 metres (10 feet) long, flexible and fast. Its sharp tip strikes like a dagger. A gotey is also capable of launching the Lightning Blast dysha up to 14 times before recharging. When reduced to 0 hit points, its isho explodes causing 4d6 damage to anyone within 3 metres (10 feet). (Agility save for half damage.)

AC 15; HD 4; THB +4; AT 1 tongue lash (1d6-1); ST 15+; MV 4; SPC Lightning Blast dysha; XP 180.

Oily, foul-smelling, five-foot-tall insectoid pests. They hang from trees and ambush prey. On the ground, they jump wildly about, attacking in a frenzy with their sharp, serrated forearms (called “sherrids”). The malodorous brown oil they secrete makes a good lubricant for weapons and other equipment.

AC 14; HD 1; THB +1; AT 1 sherrid (1d6); ST 18+; MV 4; SPC Surprise attack; XP 22.

Four-armed, two-legged creatures with prehensile tails, tarro live in the treetops in forested regions. They fill the ecological niche on Jorune that lemurs and monkeys occupy on Earth. There are many different species. The common tarro, described here, is omnivorous and obnoxious. Startled tarro may screech, emitting a deafening, high-pitched racket that alerts everything in the area to the presence of intruders. 50% of common tarro are capable of launching the Stiff dysha (up to four times per day). They like to steal shiny or tasty objects.

AC 10; HD 1; THB +1; AT 4 claws (1 hp), 1 bite (1d2); ST 18+; MV 3; SPC Screech, Stiff dysha; XP 22.

Short bipedal creatures that look like a cross between a plucked game bird and a fig. They are highly intelligent, ever-curious masters of lore and languages.

AC 10; HD 1; THB +0; AT 1 kick (1d3); ST 18+; MV 4; XP 15.

Eyeless flying creatures native to Jorune. Picture a cross between a bat, a leech and a mosquito. When a weach hits with its proboscis, it holds fast to its victim and starts sucking blood at a rate of 1d3 hit points per round.

AC 12; HD 1; THB +1; AT 1 bite (1d3); ST 18+; MV 1 (6); SPC Optional movement (fly), blood drain (1d3 hp/round); XP 29.

The colonists brought wolves too. I know, right? Anyway, those that survive have answered the call of the wild.

AC 12; HD 2; THB +2; AT 1 bite (1d6); ST 17+; MV 6; XP 30.


Brain Blast
A blue orb that inflicts a sharp pain (1 point of damage) and disorientates the victim (-1 initiative for the next three rounds). The victim must also make a Physique saving throw or drop anything in his hands. Range is normally 9 metres (30 feet).

Lightning Blast
A red bolt of heat that causes searing pain and burns the victim for 1d3 points of damage. The name is something of a misnomer, since electricity is not involved. Range is 36 metres (120 feet).

Another red bolt, this dysha causes 1 point of damage and affects the victim’s muscular system, causing the arms and legs to jerk outwards from the torso to their fullest extent. Effectively, the victim performs an involuntary star-jump. If he fails a Physique saving throw, he drops anything he was holding. If he fails an Agility save, he falls to the ground. This dysha is potentially lethal to characters climbing walls or ropes, etc. Range is 36 metres (120 feet).


Red Crystal
Charged crystals, about the size of a golf ball, have various properties, depending on the type of isho they contain. They can be activated only by characters with a Presence attribute score of 9 or greater. Red crystals can be used (once only) to launch a Lightning Blast dysha at any target within range. This requires concentration and a normal attack roll.

These shanthic devices look like Celtic torcs made from finely carved and polished stone. They are imbued with information. To access the data, which is held in isho form, one must hold the sarceen so that its ends lightly touch one’s temples – and concentrate. If the character correctly attunes her mind to the device (i.e., succeeds at a Presence saving throw) she gains the information in the sarceen. The process takes a minute or two.

Dwarf vs. kraken

September 22, 2014

I bought a colouring book for my four-year-old nephew and was impressed by this doughty fellow, seeing off a tentacled denizen of the deep with nought but his trusty shovel.


Random referendum result

September 17, 2014

I’m half-Scottish and half-Welsh. I was born in England and grew up in Scotland. I’ve lived and worked north and south of the border – “baith sides o’ the Tweed”, as Burns would say. Hell, I’ve even worked in the Houses of Parliament, lair of the loathed Westminster elite.

My old office

My old office

In a word – and for better or worse – I’m British.

I was going to try and write something about my intellectual and emotional struggles with the approaching referendum on Scottish independence. Other gamers have written cogent and thoughtful pieces on their blogs, and I am broadly sympathetic to their views:

But I’ve left it too late. The people of Scotland – a quite staggering 97% of the electorate has registered to vote – go to the polls tomorrow. (As I write this, it’s a little over seven hours until voting begins.) After agonising for ages, and getting depressed and angry about the conduct of the campaigns, I find myself on the eve of this momentous election in unexpectedly high spirits, and even able to appreciate a certain absurd humour in the notion of a referendum in which millions of people will vote either Yes or No. What’s next? Cats or Dogs? Heads or Tails? Come to think of it, since polls suggest the result will be horribly close, I suggest a coin-toss would be cheaper and a lot less hassle. Or indeed an OSR-approved random table. Roll 1d6:

1. Resounding yes
2. Yes, but…
3. No, but…
4. Categorical no
5. Devo max
6. Goblins (2d6)

See you on the other side, wherever that turns out to be.


One-page dungeon: Tomb of the Mantis Khan

September 3, 2014

Scarmis - Art by Miles TevesHere’s a mini-dungeon I made for the inside of a birthday card. One of my objectives with this adventure was to present undead monsters that might not be immediately identified as such by the players. Don’t describe the mantis-undead as “zombies” or similar, but rather as large insectoid creatures with a fusty aroma, dusty grey-green carapaces and huge, inscrutable eyes. Yes, they’re in a tomb complex, but players of cleric characters should have at least a degree of doubt regarding their ability to “turn” these opponents.

The mantis-folk are based partly on D&D’s thri-kreen but also on Jorune’s scarmis – with a dash of Mongolian flavouring.


Sonic Attack

September 2, 2014


0 of 6 people have a soul (or a sense of humour)

August 15, 2014

My friend Craig spotted this. Enjoy!



Hamlets and Humph

July 22, 2014

Jeff Rients’s table for generating random hamlet names made me snort tea down my nose, and reminded me of something I heard some years ago that caused a similar involuntary (and uncomfortable) explosive nasal exhalation of my midday cuppa.

It was an episode of the long-running BBC Radio 4 comedy programme I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, recorded before an audience in the city of Nottingham. As was customary, the legendary (and, at the time of which I speak, octogenarian) chairman Humphrey “Humph” Lyttelton opened the show with a short, humorous lecture on the locality, which included these remarks:

It’s well documented in official records that the city’s original name was “Snottingham” or “home of Snotts”, but when the Normans came, they couldn’t pronounce the initial letter “S”, so decreed the town be called “Nottingham” or the “home of Notts”. It’s easy to understand why this change was resisted so fiercely by the people of Scunthorpe.


Jorune: Year One session report (1)

July 6, 2014

Kai Zarin and Smithson observe the arboreal aliens. The creatures, though eyeless, seem to return their scrutiny. They perch among the branches, picking and eating the dark, fist-sized fruit of whatever the hell kind of trees these are. Occasionally one emits a short, sharp screech like fingernails on a blackboard. Smithson, the scientist, knows the creatures for tarro – Jorune natives roughly analogous to Terran monkeys and lemurs. There are several different species; some are dangerous. These ones seem harmless, or at least apathetic. Smithson, Zarin and their two companions leave the tarro to their noisy feast and continue their journey.

Zarin and Smithson are survivors of the short yet devastating Human-Shanthic War. Along with the couple of dozen other colonists who escaped the destruction of the East Basin field station, they have been living hand-to-mouth in an alien forest for several months, ever fearful of renewed assault from surviving shanthas. Kai Zarin is a roguish troubleshooter who worked as a security consultant. She wears deflector armour and has a laser pistol with a single power cell remaining. Smithson was a researcher. He too wears deflector armour, but carries no weapon more advanced than a knife. He does however have a valuable medical kit, and knows how to use it. They are on their way to reconnoitre a stone structure – seemingly abandoned, presumably shanthic – some 20 km from the community’s encampment. They are accompanied by muscle in the stoic, red-shirted shapes of Serafinowicz and Popper.

The day after their encounter with the tarro troop, they reach the mysterious building. It is hexagonal, nine metres across, with a multi-faceted dome. The sole entrance is doorless, and the floor of the single room beyond is carpeted with leaf litter. Small insect-like animals scuttle among the dry leaves and hand-sized spidery things (Smithson identifies them as loosh) inhabit nests of coarse threads near the ceiling. In the centre of the floor, a flight of stairs descends into darkness. Zarin turns on her torch and, treading carefully to avoid disturbing any of the creepy-crawly fauna, the group descends.

At the foot of the stairs is a square chamber nine metres across, cut from the solid rock. Passages lead off to the west, north and east. In the centre of the chamber is a cylindrical stone pedestal, a metre or so tall, carved with abstract linear patterns and with a golf ball-sized depression in its top. Lying on the floor are two small black objects. Upon closer investigation they seem to have some kind of crystalline structure, but they are charred and melted as if by great heat.

Surmising that something should go into the hollow space atop the pillar, Zarin and Smithson search the chamber for a suitable object but find nothing. The crystalline things are somewhat too large and the wrong shape anyway. Smithson tries pouring some water from his survival kit into the depression, with no effect.

Investigating the northern passageway, the party finds that it ends after only six metres. They search for concealed portals but find none. They do notice, however, that the floor of the passage is marked by hair-thin transverse cracks, regularly spaced every 30 cm or so.

They try the passage to the east. After about ten metres it opens into a parallelogram-shaped chamber some nine metres wide by twenty metres or more in length. It appears to be empty, but another passage leads off in a north-westerly direction. Following the passage, which is fifteen or twenty metres in length, Zarin sees soft light ahead and hears muttering voices – they sound like humans, speaking English – and alerts the others. Cautiously, weapons at the ready, the party advances. At the end of the passage is a kite-shaped room approximately eighteen metres by nine. Within are two rather ragged-looking humans, unknown to the party, and a smaller creature that looks something like a plucked gamebird with its eyes on tall, swaying stalks. A pair of stumpy organs on its backside are quivering. Neither Zarin nor Smithson has set eyes on such a being before, but Smithson knows it for a thriddle, a species present on Jorune before the human colonists arrived but whose precise origin is the subject of debate.

The strangers become aware of the party and, startled, the two humans draw weapons. One, a bearded man of middle age, has a laser pistol (immediately attracting Smithson’s acquisitive interest), while his companion, an athletic-looking fellow clad in black and wearing a bandana, flourishes what looks like an antique Japanese sword from Earth.

They stare at the party and the party stares back. The thriddle’s organs quiver apprehensively.



Déjà vu

July 5, 2014

I’ve been looking at the so-called Basic Rules for 5e. Is it just me or is the advantage/ disadvantage rule, wherein you roll two 20-siders and take the higher/lower of the rolls according to your PC’s abilities remarkably similar to the positive/negative double roll mechanic in Christian Mehrstam’s Whitehack, published last year? I’m not implying anything, and I don’t really like the rule in any case. I just found it interesting, that’s all.

AD&D 2e rendered grognard-friendly

July 2, 2014

Apparently, there’s a fifth edition of (A)D&D coming out. It’s a big deal because this edition is designed to appeal to absolutely everyone. Good luck with that, WotC.

Meanwhile some people are still struggling to come to terms with the first major reboot 25 years ago.  AD&D 2e doesn’t get much love in OSR circles. Indeed, it comes in for quite a bit of stick. We hate nonweapon proficiencies, cry the naysayers. Where’s my half-orc assassin? Demons and devils are called tannery and batzoo or something. THAC0 involves subtraction! The artwork is hatefully bland. And so on, and so forth.

But does 2e really stray so far from old-school sensibilities? Does it, in fact, differ much from the Gygaxian splendour of 1e? Let’s take a look at the core books and see if there’s a system in there that a dyed-in-the-wool (yet open-minded) grognard could conceivably enjoy.


Chapter 1: Player Character Ability Scores

Use Method I (3d6 in order) – page 13, column 1. Crybabies use Method V (4d6, drop the lowest, arrange as desired) – page 13, column 2.

Chapter 2: Player Character Races

Use as written. But, you bleat, where is the half-orc? Nowhere, I reply. Just like it’s not in OD&D or Basic D&D and no one complains about that. If you really can’t bear to play anything else, get The Complete Book of Humanoids and play half-orcs, dinosaur-folk and wemics to your heart’s content.

Personally, I’d dump half-elves and probably gnomes too.

Chapter 3: Player Character Classes

Look at page 25, column 1. What does it say in the blue box?

Fighter, mage, cleric, and thief are the standard classes. They are historical and legendary archetypes that are common to many different cultures. Thus they are appropriate to any sort of AD&D game campaign. All of the other classes are optional.

So you don’t like specialist wizards or priests? Don’t panic; they’re optional. Stick with the four core classes. Dump the thief too, if you feel you must – although the 2e thief is probably an improvement on 1e. Add rangers or bards to taste; they’re improved too. But it’s up to you. That’s what optional means.

Chapter 4: Alignment


Chapter 5: Proficiencies (Optional)

Look, there’s that word again. Right in the chapter heading. And underneath (page 51, column 1) it says:

All proficiency rules are additions to the game. Weapon proficiencies are tournament-level rules, optional in regular play, and nonweapon proficiencies are completely optional.

Need I say more?

Chapter 6: Money and Equipment

Note the encumbrance rules on pages 76-79. Guess what? They’re optional.

Chapter 7: Magic

Spell components (pages 85-86) are optional. It’s your call.

Chapter 8: Experience

We’ll come back to this.

Chapter 9: Combat

There are lots of blue boxes filled with optional rules to increase complexity and reduce playability. Ignore  them.

Use THAC0. Don’t like it? Change it. Make combat charts or, if your old-school scruples will let you, convert to ascending AC. It’s easy. For AD&D purposes, 20 – AC = AAC. Then extrapolate the attack bonuses by class from Table 54 (page 91). Here, I’ve made a chart for you. Click to make it (slightly) larger.


Initiative is a bit weird – roll 1d10 per side, low roll wins – but perfectly functional. Either use it as written (applying the modifiers from Table 55) or substitute your favourite version. It’s hard to go wrong with 1d6 per side, high roll wins. Again, ignore everything in blue boxes.

Chapters 10-14 and Appendices

All fine.


Most of the 2e DMG is what Joesky would probably call BLAHBLAH BLAH. For the most part, you can safely ignore it. If it’s in a blue box, be especially wary. Only one thing really concerns us here:

Chapter 8: Experience

There is some tosh in this chapter, it must be said. Experience points for surviving? Er, I don’t think so. XP for “playing intelligently”? Too subjective. XP for achieving “story goals”? Don’t get me started. (You see? I’m a grognard too.)

But wait! After the bit about XP for defeating monsters (which is fine) there’s another one of those blue boxes containing optional rules. You can ignore pretty much everything else in the chapter and pay attention to this little box (page 47, column 3):

As an option, the DM can award XP for the cash value of non-magical treasures. One XP can be given per gold piece, or equivalent, found.

That’s it. That’s everything you need right there.


It’s a monster book. I don’t have much to say about it. As for the wailing and gnashing of teeth about demons and devils being called something different, here’s a thought. Change them back. Happy now?

To sum up, AD&D 2e is already quite grognard-friendly. It’s important to note that the rules are presented in a modular format. Many of the elements that seem to cause some people consternation are entirely optional and clearly labelled as such. It’s a matter of picking and choosing from among those options to achieve the desired play style. The point is, you or I can cheerfully disregard all the rules we don’t like and we are still playing 2e by the book. At its heart, stripped of all those blue boxes, it’s a fairly streamlined iteration of the game, not vastly different in either complexity or tone from B/X, Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry Core.

As for the hatefully bland artwork, with the exception of Tony DiTerlizzi’s fine contributions, I concede the point. I can’t do anything about it. Draw your own succubi.



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