Thursday, August 27, 2009

GrrrWhooo!? WhoooGrrr!? Owlbears anyone?

One of the most fundamental mid to high level Dungeons and Dragons monsters includes encountering the bizarre and terrifying Owlbear.
According to Wiki,

The owlbear is among the earliest monsters in Dungeons & Dragons and like the bulette and the rust monster, was inspired by a Hong Kong-made plastic toy purchased by Gary Gygax for use as miniature in a Chainmail game.[1]

1. ^ Greenwood, Ed. "Ecology of the Rust Monster."Dragon #88 (TSR, 1984). Account was later re-printed in the Ecology of the Rust Monster article in issue #346.

I find the origins of many D&D concepts quite fascinating and this particular example further demonstrates the imaginative genius Gary Gygax infused into the RPG realm.

That said, as a DM and fan of the D&D world (almost 25 years now) I never employed the horrid Owlbear. When I recently realized this glaring oversight as a DM, I felt remorse and shame. I did not do my duty as a DM and expose my players to one of the most basic and horrifying encounters of the fantasy RPG world. The more I've read about the beast, I can't for the life of me figure out why I didn't scar their minds with the death of a comrade by this disgusting beast. For example:

"The owlbear attacks with its great claws (two inches long on large males), its snapping beak, and then grasps a victim and squeezes and bites it to death. If it scores a paw hit of 18 or better with either of its forelimbs, the owlbear has dragged the victim to itself; and the opponents will take an additional 2-16 hit points damage from the hug, that melee round and every melee round thereafter until the owlbear is killed."
-Gary Gygax, Monster Manual, 1977

So I ask myself, "Whyyyyyyy?!!!" Why didn't I employ this? Can you imagine the horror of the pcs:

The stalwart band had emerged from the ancient tomb victorious. Victorious, but spent. Regular camp assignments were carried out as they bedded down outside the now exorcised tomb.

Halgar, their dwarven guide, began carefully placing the explosive charges provided by the Miners' Guild alchemist. His fingers probed around the stone archway, seeking weak points in the structure. Careful placement of the explosives would ensure the tomb be sealed and not used by any other lunatic necromancer hell-bent on lichdom. Despite his fatigue, he took extra care to follow the rune-script instructions while placing the charges. Not being able to reach the upper support stone, he motioned for Jdelmdst, the tall and lithe tracker to assist him.

Brack and Frack, the Joolberry brothers, began picking stones and tinder to start a camp fire. Despite the weariness their little frames felt, their nimble bodies quickly scooped up what was required to get the camp fire going. For a fire meant food, and food was the first thing on their halfling minds.

Elgarian flopped to the ground near the edge of camp. He could have swore the weight of his spellbook bag increased tenfold in the last several hours. He lay on his back, breathing the fresh air of the forest around him. Sun glimmered through the leaves above, reflecting off in patterns of gold and green. Life was good. They had just vanquished one of the most notorious necromancers in all of the land without a single casualty and, 'Elgar' managed to retrieve his master's amulet, which he now wore around his neck. This particular amulet was a bit gaudy, with barbed spikes around its sea-shell like appearance. Where it lacked in form, it made up for in function. Elgar's master would be proud indeed, for he could return to the ocean and continue his oceanic underwater studies. For this particular amulet imbued the wearer to breathe underwater, allowing him to study marine life for hours on end. Elgar's master was robbed of the amulet by a recent and nearly-caught thief who must have tried his luck escaping the local authorities tracking him by dodging into the tomb. His haste cost him his life and Elgar thanked the gods for his fortune when they found the body with amulet intact several corridors deep.
He fiddled with the amulet around his neck while laying on the ground staring up at the myriad pattern of light in the tree canopy above. Realizing that they had been in the tomb since early morning, he calculated they had spent nearly 9 hours below. Suddenly, he felt the call of nature and rose, reluctantly and with a moan, and walked a short distance into the woods to relieve himself.

Sir Luhjan ritualistically and methodically began removing his plate armor. He intoned the prayers of thanks to his god, his voice low and droning. While doing so, he stripped down to his breeches and undershirt and then began to clean and polish his sword, shield, helm and armor. When finished, he sat cross legged on the ground and continued his meditation and prayer.

Trillian, their healer, began unpacking medical supplies. Her now aged hands, withered and stiff, attempted to mix poultices and prepare wraps to treat the minor wounds. Later, she removed a now-damaged case and carefully inspected the contents. Three of the ten healing elixirs remained after their encounter with 'she who shall not be named'. Despite her vanquishing of the necromancer, Trillian aged 50 years in the process due to the necromancer's evil magics. Anticipating such a costly victory, she had brought an elixir that should return her vitality. She removed a beaker containing an azure liquid from the small chest. Pausing, she looked at the wrinkled hands trembling while they held the cure. She suddenly and painfully felt the ache in her bones, bones that at age 28 should not feel. Removing her helm, she caught sight of the distorted hag-like appearance looking back at her in the reflection of the metal. She was shocked at first, the reflection a cruel memory of her mother just prior to death.
She looked around at her companions and thought they were kind, indeed, for not commenting on the affects of the encounter. She looked back to the elixir and knew that she should save it for dire need - but they had finished their journey. Surely they could manage the trek back to town? Prior to their arrival they had only encountered several small goblin raiding parties, who were easily dispatched. She pulled the cork out of the vial and brought it to her lips...

Just then, a shrill cry issued from the direction Elgar had gone to relieve himself. Suddenly, the sound of a monstrous growling mixed with a deep, resonant hooting noise, not unlike a 1500 pound owl mixed with the crashing of branches and undergrowth.
Elgar frantically made it to the edge of the clearing near camp, bursting out of the foliage while a large form trailed dangerously close behind him. He turned at the most fatal moment as the beast loomed over him. It swatted him like a fly, knocking him stunned, and to the ground.

The group of adventurers scrambled to Elgar's aid. The hulking black-brown, fur and feather mass descended upon Elgar and scooped him up in it's large, bear-like arms. Claws raked his back while a large, hideous obsidian razor-sharp beak descended again and again upon the soft and yielding facial flesh. Elgar's legs kicked pitifully as the huge arms squeezed the life out of him.

Finally arming themselves, the party rushed the beast. As they were about to engage, the beast's head swiveled at an unnatural angle and looked directly at them. For a split moment they froze in their tracks while it transfixed them with it's gaze. It eyes were as large as dinner plates, red rimmed and exceedingly terrible to behold.

Elgar felt incredible and merciless pain for what seemed an eternity - spots of red, white and black filled his vision and then nothingness. He felt like he was in an unending inky blackness, unable to move. Also unable to breathe, he began to panic and then realized there was no need for panic. He had the amulet! Breathe he told himself. Breathe. The landscape around him began to clear, myriad streams of gold, green and blue shone through the waters all
around him. He moved his arms about him, they felt weightless and free as he swam as the fish did. Gliding through the water, he gazed at the wonders the underworld sea had to offer him...

Elgar's bones cracked and crunched while it squeezed the life out of him. He ultimately let out a pitiful rattled squeal punctuated with a final rupture-gout of blood from his mouth. After several long seconds of horrifying screams and then silence from Elgar, his once flailing legs went limp.

Now out of their shock, the party screamed in horror and outrage as they began to hack at the beast with ax, sword and daggers. The bear-like creature's thick fur and feathers prevented all but the most serious blow to wound it. The owlbear, oblivious to the wounds being inflicted upon it, continued to feast on the remains of the corpse's head.

After much effort, the party eventually slew the horrid creature.

While panting and cursing, Halgar, Jdelmdst and Sir Luhjan attempted to roll the owlbear carcass off of their companion. Unable to move it themselves, they called to Brack and Frack. Both halflings were on their knees weeping as they knew Elgar was slain. With a harsh command, Halgar managed to snap them out of their mourning. The effort required their combined strength as this particular grown male weighed an approximated 1300 to 1500 pounds. Once rolled over, they gasped in horror at the sight of their companion's remains.

Brack and Frack began their weeping again.

In it's death throe, the owlbear clenched Elgar's remains even tighter. After much cursing and frustration, Halgar, in a fit of rage, hacked off the owlbear's arms to retrieve their friend's corpse.

Jillian, in shock, remained at her gear during the entire, bloody encounter. During Halgar's temper tantrum, she snapped out of her delirium. She glanced at her reflected visage in th
e helm. Her skin was smooth and young again. Her hand still clenched the empty and now shattered vial in her hand, blood dripping onto the case and remaining two vials...

technical info: Owlbear Miniature: Dungeon Crawl Classics, Raging Owlbear. Sculpted by Jason Wiebe. Painted by Troy Nies using Vallejo Paints. Custom terrain by Troy Nies. Folliage: Heroscape Game. All materials purchased and available at CROSSROAD HOBBIES.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Concerning Wyrrrmmmsss and failing your perception check

Wyrms. Say it: wyrmsss... Again: wyrrrmmmzzz. It the kind of word that one cannot resist saying without throwing a slurred errrrrrmmmz in there - most often making one sound like a close relative of Grima Wormtongue. Griiiimahhh Wyrrrrrmmmtongha. Ok, I'll stop it now.

A wyrm, according to most fantasy references, in it's simplest form, is a wingless dragon. Whilst digging through my pile of antiquated minis waiting to be painted, I crossed another vintage 1985 Grenadier 'Wyrm'. I recall looking at the name on the package when I bought it - back at Meredith's Hobbies in Gateway Mall, Bismarck (circa 1985). 'Wyrm', I said it outloud, "Wyrrrrm." I liked the way it sounded so much I purchased it on that attribute alone.
But while looking at the unpainted mini recently, I thought back to my many years of being
a DM. I vaguely recall either a Dragon Magazine article or module or something that referred to Wyrms. Recently, after rediscovering this relic in my stash, I decided to research it a bit further. Not being able to recall that particular article or module plagued my brain for many days. On a hunch, I pulled out Gary Gygax's first Monster Manual. No luck. I then went to the Fiend Folio. No joy. I then went to the AD&D Monster Manual II. Victory was not mine. This Wyrm proved to be elusive indeed. Did I perhaps dream it, during one of my ma
ny mental trips while in High School? Nay, it surely existed! It was right there on the Grenadier miniature box!

I dug around on the internet and discovered this link:

So it appears that I wasn't imagining things. Wyrms did exist. The strange thing is the publication reference listed as Draconomicon 3rd Edition. The 2nd edition was released in 1990 - but my mini was from 1985! Did some vortex of time suck the sculptors of Grenadier into the future and then pull them back into the past with knowledge of the Wyrm?! I know as Glabrezu is my witness, that I did spy such knowledge prior to the Draconomicon. Also, I don't believe i've ever laid hands on a copy of such a tome.
Apparently, knowledge of the Wyrm is indeed guarded. Perhaps it is because they are such an incredibly rare and surely sought after creature.

Working only with the magical tome known as Wiki, I replicated what I perceive as a: Tundra Landwyrm. According to Wiki, it is a neutral landwyrm found in cold plains. It normally lies under the snow in semi-hibernation. It drinks the blood of warm-blooded animals.

This particular specimen has migrated further north, and is seen breaking through the ice to feast upon unidentified prey.

Technical Data: Mini: 1985 Grenadier 'Wyrm'. Ice chunks: insulating foam, Water, Snow and Ice: Vallejo 'Water Effects' Pacific Blue (26203), Foam & Snow (26231). All paint Vallejo Game Color Series. All Materials save for mini purchased at CROSSROAD HOBBIES, Dickinson, N.D.

Failing your perception check.

"Uh. Doc."
"Yes, yes. What it is now Mr. McGlenn?" Doctor Vincent Lee did little to hide his impatience with the mobster.
Michael McGlenn paused, swallowed hard as he adjusted his tie. "Did you hear somethin?" he whispered.
Doctor Lee sighed and raised his lantern a little higher, peering into the darkness. He thought he saw movement, just ahead, but dismissed the thought knowing they were the only living things here. He took a few cautious steps closer and realized what he mistook for movement was the reflection from his lamp on an ornate and extremely large sarcophagus.
"I told you before, it's just your imagination. Professor Armitage told us this section of the tomb has been untouched. We are the first to enter for thousands of years. We are surely the only souls here."
A deep, profoundly mournful moan suddenly droned from behind them.
Both Doctor and gangster froze, the hair on the back of their necks rising.
"Mr. McGlenn."
"Is your tommy gun loaded?"

Techincal Info: Reaper Miniatures, featuring Chronoscope line. Miniatures painted with Vallejo Game Colors Paints. GaleForce 9 Basing Grit: Rocky GF9:92023 used on mummies. Dungeons and Dragons "Dire Tombs" tiles are pictured. All items purchased at CROSSROAD HOBBIES, painted and photographed by Troy Nies.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Who put that there? Don't go in there! Halt! Who goes there?! (and dwarven nudity)

Consider yourself warned: The OOD will now reveal some recent additions to the miniature workshop in the M.O.N. (middle of nowhere).

Who put that there?!
Using some bits and scraps, I pieced together a 'trophy' mini that could be used
for a treasure marker in your D&D 4e adventure or any other mini-based game. The sword is from a Reaper Weapons pack purchased from Crossroad Hobbies. The pedestal is from an ancient (1984?) Grenadier pack. The gold and gems are a special concoction that I may detail in a future post. Pull the sword I dare you. Intelligent swords anyone?


As you can see, this Dwarven troll-slayer has just emerged from some stinkin' troll hole. He must have had a bit of fun judging by the look of his flail. Of course, bathing in the blood of his fallen is said to attract the dwarven women-folk. It's also known to work quite well as a stout elf-repellent.
Of course, showing your crack to the elves is quite effective as well.

You're lucky if they give you this verbal warning, but most likely command will order a barrage of serrated steel and fletching at anything that moves. This unit of Stirland Archers are ready for combat. My Warhammer Fantasy Battle Empire Army continues to grow. The army will be largely represented by Stirland forces. They look forward to serving the Emperor in battle! The unit is lead by two heroes.

The custom base was built using materials from Crossroad Hobbies: Galeforce Nine static grass and basing grit. The longer wheat/weed-like material was created from doll hair. The fence was custom-built using scrap balsa wood. All miniatures pictured were painted with Vallejo paints. Please visit Crossroad Hobbies in Dickinson, N.D. for all of your hobby needs.