On the Quest for the Hammer of War II

Yesterday we took our first look at the digital version of Warhammer Quest. Today we're going to look even deeper under the hood.

The Changing Game

Me recommend not playing on hardcore mode sounds crazy, right?

I'm going to talk about the money, because it's relevant to the design. When it was released, I paid $4.99 and bought Warhammer Quest. 

The $4.99 includes the first campaign and the 4 basic heroes. At first, this was all I purchased. I began a hard-core game. There were other heroes available at launch, and soon I paid $2.99 each to purchase the ogre and shadow strider. This was helpful because I could level 6 characters and if i lost one, I didn't have to start with a new level 1 character. This 11 dollars purchase was very enjoyable. I spent about 30 hours on the basic campaign and questing, ending with my heroes around level 5. This included more than one party wipe.

At the time the only in application purchases was the option to purchase in-game gold at ridiculous rates. $3 for 4,000 gold, up to $30 for 60,000. 60,000 gold doesn't go as far as you think, I collected over 3 times that in just a standard play-through. 60,000 gold only levels 4 characters to level 8. It is also cash spent that removes gameplay. I generally try to avoid those kinds of purchases.

In case this isn't clear, the game is a fantastic value. I recently took my wife to see a movie, 32$ and two hours later it was over. $11 for 30 hours of entertainment is an excellent value.

I then put the game down for over a year. When I picked it back up again, they had released several new heroes, two new campaigns (skaven and brutal hoard), and new undead units and tilesets. I purchased them all. The campaigns are $4.99 each, the tilesets/monster packs and characters were $2.99 each. I spent around $30 to pick them all up. This provided another 40 hours or so of gameplay to complete each of the new campaigns.

A short word on each of the purchases. The new campaigns are connected to the old one on the overworld map. You can start the new campaign by simply fast traveling or just by organically exploring the map. The Skaven campaign (Riekland) challenges players from 2nd to 6th level, and the Brutal Hoard Campaign (Averland) raises the level cap to 8 and challenges players from 4th to 8th level. 

In the year since I played, they also introduced another IAPLore Magic. Each point of Lore Magic allows you to kill all the enemies, or raise all your dead, or double the gold rewarded for finishing a dungeon. You get 3 points for free.

You can of course purchase them for .99 cents each, get 5 for $3.99 or 20 for $9.99.

The Rub

When I played the base game, I somewhat infrequently lost players and had to re-level them. More than once I had a complete party wipe, but there were always new characters to pick up the gauntlet, and it was fairly easy to get new characters up to speed.

However, when moving into the expanded content several things changed. First, the investment of the characters went up. Way up. Characters now might have upwards of 6 or 7 rare items, the result of multiple quests and thousands of gold. In addition a level 6 or 7 character is nearly a 20,000 gold investment in itself.

You know what? That's fine. The real shock came from the vampire/zombie and necromancer/skeleton expansion packs.

These expansion packs are what is left of the abandoned Wissenland expansion (Warhammer Quest: Never Lucky), one of the undead and gothic castles. That expansion was abandoned when Rodeo games (a small four person studio) got the contract to produce Warhammer 40K Deathwatch, another tactical squad based game of space marines versus tyranids. It is also quite good. But this caused them to abandon Warhammer Quest and release the content in progress as monster expansion packs.

So here's the thing about Vampires, Vampire Thralls, and Necromancers. Death Shriek and Crystal Maze. Death Shriek requires no LOS and attempts to stun your entire party with a high chance of success. Crystal Maze removes one of your players from the game for a turn, and if the caster is killed, the unit dies also. One of these units given a turn can wipe the part on an unlucky roll. They can appear in groups of 1-4, but usually only appear 1 or 2 at a time.

To be clear, Dungeons take about 10-20 turns to clear. Sometimes more, sometimes less. A die is rolled every turn. There is a 1 in 36 chance of two enemy spawns in a row. Unsurprisingly for a 4th-6th level party, these encounters were frequently fatal.

What's more is that the new tilesets primarily consist of long hallways with obstacles. This means the vampires and necromancers would frequently spawn up to two or three tiles away (20-40 squares, when units have a movement of 5-6) and the obstacles in the hallway would impede progress. This meant you would frequently be in situation where you couldn't melee the magic-resisting vampire because your warriors couldn't reach him because of all the trash mobs between you and the target. And since they can resist magic and ranged doesn't do enough damage, it's difficult if not impossible to kill them on the turn they appear.

Now, if I had a 6th level character die, I couldn't just restart with a new 1st levelcharacter, because the only way the characters gained levels was by being the person to kill an opponent. At that level, they would only do minor damage and would either need a lot of equipment or luck to  manage to hit an opponent of that level, much less slay one. You could of course spend some time trying to get one down to low hit points and give the new character a chance to hit them, but every extra round you are in the dungeon is quite deadly. Another option would be to reset the low level quests and spend a long time just blowing them completely out of the water with level 6's and one level 1 character every time someone died. The random quests are based on average party level, and unsuitable for leveling.

Now, having a party of 8th level characters has shown me that these encounters are quite manageable. What this indicates is that the new expansion must have been geared for a higher level cap and level range, because for a 7th or 8th level party they represent real danger, but not a panicked near wipe every time they appear. I do not fear them as I once did.

Blood for the Blood God!
A lot of this has to do with the changing nature of play, and is similar to what occurs around mid-level in most games of Dungeons and Dragons. Put quite simply, by the time you are likely to be killed in an encounter (rocket tag, 3.5 expected losses, etc.) you have access to magic that allows you to raise your companions from the dead. Why is this? The amount of investment in the character sort of demands it. Not simply because you don't want to have your character die, but because the character often becomes central to the events. Not only is a new character unsuited for the challenges, they will have little connection to the events of the campaign.

Look at the solutions various versions of Dungeons & Dragons have demanded. For adventure paths, 3.x/Pathfinder suggest creating a new character one level below the average party level. The path contains the story, so the character is replaced by one of approximately equal power to able to handle the challenges of the adventure. In a more old school sandboxy type campaign, you'll find henchmen, hirelings, and "secondary" player characters all over the place. This way, if someone dies, a new character who's already involved in events can step forward. And of course, there's always the raise dead option for when a corpse is available or resurrection or reincarnation for when you managed to get yourself disintegrated or fallen in lava.

Of course, the same is true of Warhammer Quest, for the low, low, price of 1$.

And to be clear, there are resurrection options available to the wizards in the game, while on the mission. Of course the problem is that Death Shriek stuns most of the party, and they all end up dead. Your wizard can't raise anybody if he's a corpse. 

Rodeo Games makes some of the best turn based tactical strategy games. Full period. They are a small company, writing games for a niche I happen to love, and they got there by doing hard work with the promise of nothing. They do right by their Games Workshop licenses  and have excellent customer service. So I have no problem with giving them money. And indeed, to avoid several unexpected, uncontrollable wipes, some magic points were used. 

Of course, now I won't be playing the game in Hardcore mode anymore.

This particular element of design didn't detract from my experience of the game. I think the variety provided by the monster expansion packs helps a great deal. And you've got more than one option. If you don't purchase them, you can play hardcore mode. You'll face the above challenges, but you'll be less likely to view them as "Unfair" and more likely to trace your failure to a poor decision you made. Or you can play regular mode and pick up the expansion. Or you could do what I did, and experience your failure not as a loss of your time, but one of a dollar in your pocket. I earn way more in one hour then I spent on magic points and losing those characters was an investment of dozens of hours.

It's game design that hits you where you feel. It certainly qualified as an interesting choiceone that was painful to make. That is the mark of good design, I think.

And who knows? It's early yet. We might see an expansion for Wissenland yet, along with a few more characters. I got a hope.


That's not all of course.

Warhammer Quest is a beautiful game. When you visit a city, a book opens and the city builds itself from the page. Weapons and armor equipped are visible on your characters. Blood splatters as you wound enemies. Lights spin on the ground. The dungeon is incredibly detailed.

And because it's on an iPad, the physicality of it adds to the experience. You tap on an enemy to attack themyou literally hit them to hit them.

You can't underestimate these factors. One of the reason Hearthstone is such a wildly popular game, is the visual design of it. When you start the app, you open a magical wooden box where you store your cards. When you open a pack, it shakes and bursts apart. A legendary card results in a brilliant golden halo burst across your screen. It is intensely satisfying. 

Warhammer quest has that attention to detail. Smoke drifts by on the opening screen. Light sources sparkle and gleam, spells glow as they streak across the battlefield. Skeletons blow apart when struck by a club. The importance of the visual appeal and the user interface can't be understated. 

That isn't to say, eventually like all games, the visuals fade into the background once you get into the flow, and for all it matters it could be colored blobs moving through the plain grey dungeon (goodness knows I played enough Wizardry). The gameplay is solid and engaging, and that's the draw. The fact that is a pleasure to watch and use only increases it's appeal.

There's also a fair bit of replayability available. Not only is there a selection of characters to choose from, their development is somewhat random, as it is in the board game. When they level up, they usually gain a skill. There are more skills available then they can acquire. This means to unlock all the journal entries, you'll have to level up characters more than once to see all their available skills.  My max level Marauder has 7 out of 10 available skills. So each group of characters, even if they are exactly the same classes will play differently. How many wounds (hit points) and power and power store each character have also varies with level.

In addition, there are several hundred items in the game. Even now, I'm finding new items at quest locations. Most of the gameplay is very similar (and very fun and rewarding), but the quests actually shake things up quite a bit. Several ask you questions about what happened earlier, others add and change things in the battlefield, many give you choices to make during the quest, and there's even one or two puzzles. 

It is, quite simply, a wonderful experience for a dungeon bash aficionado. 

The Competition

So, why can't we having nice things? 

This isn't the only fish in the sea, and it's well established why Warhammer Quest went out of print and isn't sold any longer. There are other, more modern tabletop games that emulate the Dungeon Bash style. I've given more than one a try and they are all lacking.

Descent and Descent 2 is the most popular, including a campaign, characters, artifacts and more. But it requires one person to be the overlord and to play against the players. In addition, the experience of levelling and improving your character is very flat. Once it occurs, all the other opponents increase in power by an identical amount. 

A recent kickstarted entrant is Super Dungeon Explore, a chibi style arcade type dungeon crawl bash with features such as monster generators. But in talking with people who have played it, the winner is decided pretty quickly, leaving you to play out the last two or three hours before the game actually ends. In addition, it also requires one player to be the "console" and control the other monsters.

The suite of Dungeons & Dragons board games Ravenloft and Ashadon get the basic aesthetic correct and don't require a Dungeon Master, but are balanced inconsistently, have only the option for one chance based improvement, and limited campaign play. 

Somewhat unsurprisingly, there just aren't that many options available. These games are difficult and expensive to make with hundreds or sometimes even thousands of pieces, including miniatures. And usually by that point, people just throw in the towel and start playing Dungeons and Dragons if they thirst for more. 

That said, we are lucky Warhammer Quest got made and is available. It's a classic of the genera, beloved by fans, and done lovingly by Rodeo Games. 

If you get the chance, you should go kill some orcs. 

Hack & Slash 

On the Quest for Hammer of War

There are certain games that come along on certain platforms at certain times that define a purity of gaming experience. They are perfect traps for the mind. They are so powerful that even after you stop playing, when you close your eyes you see the game, playing out on the back of your eyelids:Tetris on Gameboy, Goldeneye on Nintendo 64, Street Fighter II Arcade cabinets, Bejeweled on smartphones. I'm sure you can think of one or two more.

Warhammer Quest for iOS on ipad is one of those games.

It's helpful that Warhammer Quest itself is considered one of the best, if not the best dungeon bash game of all time. Now out of print, after an astoundingly short print run of 3 years (1995-1988) if you wanted to get the tabletop version, you'd need deep pockets and a passion for ebay. But even so, that version is inferior to the digital version brought to us by Rodeo Games.

Why is the best dungeon bash board game of all time out of print? Money. Games Workshop is interested in selling goods that have a long tail, and although the tail was quite long on Warhammer Quest, with extra classes, treasure and dungeon expansions, and more, it wasn't long enough. Games Workshop is interested in publishing miniatures and miniature accessories. Books and cardboard are costly for them, and have a lower rate of return. The game, although popular, was never very financially successful. Only one person needed to buy the game. Only one expansion was needed for each group. There may come a day for a reprint, but it won't be soon.


We are talking today about he iOS version. Luckily, it's also available on Steam, so if you're reading this, you do have an opportunity to explore the game. But the iOS version is superior. 

As fun as dungeon bash games can be, they are a little fiddly. Warhammer Quest contains over 200 pieces, almost 100 different cards, and somewhere north of 200 pages of rulebook (although only 20 or so contains the game rules, the "role-play" book is the majority of that page count). Manipulating the actual game is quite time consuming. iOS removes that difficulty.

But that's just addressing what digitizing a game does. You get many of those features on Steam. Steam brings the game to a much wider audience (instead of just those subset of people with ipads). However, the portability of the ipad, along with the display is the perfect size to both show detail and play the game at. Open the game on the computer and it's in a small window. Blow it up full-screen and it becomes fuzzy. You're either too close or too far out. The display, size, and portability of the ipad version is sublime. As well as the fact that you rotate the ipad vertically to access the inventory. Which is just one of those mind-blowing innovations that we take for granted living in the future.

How do you check your inventory? You open the bag and look inside.

But what about the game itself? Why is it so good?

A design analysis of Warhammer Quest

Warhammer Quest is a dungeon bash game. You take a party of heroes and they descend into a dungeon, usually made of tiles and fight monsters and recover treasure. As they recover treasure, they become more powerful and level up. You may be somewhat familiar with the concept.

Dungeon bash is a specific board game niche. It's a relatively large niche title; Rodeo games has sold over 250,000 copies of the digital version (at leastsales may be above 500,000), along with however many actual print sales their were, so as niche as something can be that has a quarter of a million sales. But it isn't on the scale of a mainstream title, like Dominion, Dungeons and Dragons, or Settlers of Catan with tens of millions of sales.

A dungeon bash game is different than an adventure game in that it focuses on tile-based movement, line of sight, and tactical combat; this includes games such as the Dungeons & Dragons adventure games and Descent (and Descent 2). This is in opposition to adventure games like Arkham Horror or Talisman which are adventure games, due to a lack of tactical manuvering.

Both the digital and real world version of Warhammer Quest offered expansions in the form of new quests, new monsters, new treasures and new heroes. Warhammer Quest also contained a "role-play" book containing rules for moving among an overland, buying goods from merchants and more.

The digital version is a direct implementation of the complete game. Your party travels from town to town, completing random quests to earn money and gear along with storyline quests. In the quests, they move through each tile to the arrows, when then places a new tile in the dungeon, fighting monsters as they go. Each town has a specific market, and many of the optional characters are available. The rules inside the game, though opaque, are an honest translation of the spirit of the board game rules*.

*There are some minor changes, for example, ballistic skill counts up to six. In the tabletop game, it counted down, and any roll equal or higher to your ballistic skill would hit an opponent. The odds are still identical, though the numbers are reversed. Hence, "honest".

So, that's all pretty straight-forward. What is it that makes Warhammer Quest great?

The rule of 6

The basic system in Warhammer Quest is that you roll a d6. E.g. to attack someone you compare your character's weapon skill versus your opponent's weapon skill on a matrix, and if your number is equal to or higher to the target you hit. A 1 is always a failure an a 6 is always a success.

This is the cool part: Each turn a "Winds of Magic" roll is made. In addition to determining the amount of power your wizard has, any time a 1 is rolled (indicating the casters have no magic power available) an event card is drawn. 70%+ of the time, this is an encounter with monsters. This roll is made every turn, even while in combat! Not only do 2-12 new enemies appear, however any spell-casters you have are granted no resources to do anything about them.

For a board game involving risk and reward, this is a fantastic system. There are monsters, like orcs, that just attack. There are also monsters like Vampires, Shamans, or Spiders that can cast spells or have attacks that immobilize members of your party. There is enough randomness in this system to allow the no guarantees of outcomes. A slight run of bad luck can spell doom for even the most prepared party.

What this means, is that even in safe situations, small choices matter. Every turn spent in combat increases the chances of having enemies dumped on you, some of whom must be killed immediately. With your warriors pinned to the monsters they are fighting and your wizards who always have 0 power when new monsters appear, it constantly creates tense situations.

Every choice matters. Will you push ahead to uncover that next tile now, or take a turn and heal. Where are you positioning your party members? If someone drops, is there anyone with healing items next to them to revive them?

The plus side of course, is that even in a terrible situation, there's always a 1 in 6 chance of survival. Even if the attack is super-powerful or you're surrounded by spiders who are webbing you, there's that 1 in 6 chance your Marauder breaks free and kills enough of them to prevent them from locking down the party. So it isn't over until it's actually over.

Although it is over frequently enough. 

Resource Depletion

Of course the characters have resources to deal with these surprise situations of course. All resources deplete during the exploration of the dungeon and do not replenish until the dungeon is exited.

Wizards may have to deal with the flow of the winds of magic, but each has a personal pool of power that they can draw from to cast spells. Most often this is used to target those dangerous enemies during a turn an encounter is drawn. As they increase in levels, this pool also increases.

The other limited resource is inventory. Potions, bandages, scrolls, and rations can all help the players heal. High-level characters may gain regenerate rings or use powerful magic to heal themselves, but these are of no use if the character is dying.

When a character is dropped, they spend one turn dying. Unless healed, at the start of the following turn, the character is dead. On casual and regular modes, this simply means he/she receives no experience for exploring the dungeon and is removed from play. In hardcore mode, this means the character and his equipment are gone forever.

This means that another character has to be able to reach them (adjacent) and have a healing item available. Then they must use that item and the use of the item must be successful. Usually they are.

But for that 1 in 6. . .

Spell are always successful at healing, assuming it wasn't your spell-caster that was dropped, assuming it wasn't an ambush round and they had enough reserve to cast it, and assuming they don't need to do something more critical with their power.  Skills that heal do not have the same guarantee of success, and in fact sometimes even do damage.


So, of course, you just load up on cool items, right?

If only it were so simple.

Warhammer Quest has an unique inventory system. Instead of a paper doll system, each character has four common slots, four uncommon slots, and four rare slots as well as 24 slots split among all characters in the stash (which can only be accessed out of combat). In addition to items you might use, the stash must have room to contain "junk" artifacts for sale found during an adventure, as well as any replacements for healing or replacement items you wish to carry.

Of course you are constrained. You can't wear two helmets. If you have an uncommon helmet, and you put on a legendary helmet, the uncommon one is transferred to your inventory.

The whole system is filled with significant choice. You may notice that I'm not wielding a rare bow, instead opting for an uncommon one with my Marauder. It provides a strength bonus, increases his melee damage, which since he has 9 melee attacks (and only 1 ranged) is a good choice. The bow isn't available in a town or from an item quest, only as a random reward from a "rescue" quest for a fletcher or blacksmith. I also had to ditch my rare shield, needing the bonuses to armor, attacks, and chance to hit instead.

Those healing and replenishment items you want? They are expensive. It costs progressively more and more to level your characters (200->500->1,000->2,000->5,000->10,000->15,000). A common healing item costs 10. An uncommon one costs 100+. A common power store item for wizards costs 300, a rare one costs 1,000. Money is tight, often it's a choice between leveling a character or buying new equipment.

You are never outfitted as well as you wish you would be.

The Dungeon Tension

The fun of Dungeon Bash games, and in fact Old School Dungeons and Dragons (Original and Basic/Expert) comes from the tension in survival. The dungeon is dangerous, at any given moment it could violently kill you, but if you're lucky and skillful you can get away, having put one over on it.

This survival tension (and the importance of the hard-core nature of these games) means that the choices made during play matter and create for a pulse-pounding situation. After spending 6 hours and thousands of gold to outfit and level your grey wizard to 5, having him fall to the ground and be uncertain any of your teammates can reach him can put your heart in your throat.

You don't want to lose that time. Your time is important, you only have a limited amount of it before you die. It's kind of a rush.

The reason Warhammer Quest is such a good game is that it really skillfully consistently creates this tension. The original game did also, but the digital game sustains that feeling, speeding up the actual play of the game to focus on the fun parts, and is overall an excellent experience.

But for the full game, I don't recommend the hardcore play mode. . .

Find out why tomorrow in part 2 of our Warhammer Quest Analysis

Hack & Slash 

On the Thursday Trick, Monster

A monster trick?

The precedent was set for this from the original little booklets. From the introduction of monsters that can petrify by touch, or within 6", to Jellies, Molds, Slimes and Puddings, trick monsters have been a fundamental part of Dungeons and Dragons. They either create a dungeon hazard or something that adds a dynamic feature to a battlefield. I was in middle school the last time someone left green slime alone instead of trying to collect it to throw or befuddle some monster into walking into it.

Gary doubles down on the idea of the monster trick, in his archetypical trap list at the back of Volume 1, Greyhawk.

A small selection of that list is reproduced here:
Animals which appear to be perfectly harmless but are deadly:
Oxen which are cross-bred with Gorgons. small lizards which are able to breath fire, creatures which grow to huge size if approached too closely, or animals which turn to some horrid monster if touched are typical examples.
A giant with faces or multiple heads which can never be surprised, and with four additional eyes is able to see invisible and hidden objects and co-ordinate no less than two attacks per melee round.
Giants known as "Rock Giants" which so closely resemble stone that they can be detected seldom (1 in 12 is a good percentage).
Fire-resistant mummies. Many players will get used to frying these monsters with oil. but watch the fun when they run into one of these critters!
Skeletons who are able to hurl their finger joints as if they were magic arrows.
Monsters which are in endless supply due to a magical point of origin. "Greyhawk" had a fountain on its second level which issued endless numbers of snakes.
Containers which are filled with a gas or liquid which turns into a monster if the gas or liquid is dispensed.
. . .
Of a similar nature are monsters which appear to be something other than they actually
are such as:
An Ogre Jelly monster which appears to be a mere Ogre, but. . .
A Snake which is actually Grey Oooze.
A Giant Spider-like Black Pudding.
A Symbiotic Dragon which spits Ochre Jelly, Black Pudding, etc.
A seeming Golden Dragon which is actually mobile Yellow mold.
So from the very beginnings of the game, there were monsters which were monsters—you could hit them with swords, or talk with them or bargain with them. And there were monsters that were tricks. Creatures that had a specific vulnerability removed as given above. Mimics, molds, dopplegangers, and more. It didn't just stop at the official materials. Many "unofficial" monsters were designed as trick monsters, such as the slinger. It's not just something you fight, it's a puzzle to solve. Entire rooms or sections of hallway might be devoted to a creature, truly making it a trick encounter. Frequently "Boss" encounters in modern adventure paths often contain similar amounts of creativity: A white dragon in their lair isn't just a straightforward fight.

It seems likely from what we can tell that monsters rolled for encounters were likely monsters of various factions and any standard listed encounter was probably with a trick monster. The spacious nature of the dungeon turning it the game into one long strategic encounter.

That said, here's a broad overview of some of the many types of trick monsters you could have:

  • Weapons don't work. Sometimes it requires magical weapons, but some monsters may be immune to attack completely
  • Spell immunity or affected only by certain specific spells (such as a golem)
  • One type of monster that looks like another (gas spore, the other examples above)
  • A monster with a specific weakness that for some reason doesn't have that weakness (fire-resistant mummies as above, or a half-dragon troll)
  • Monsters which have only a certain critical weak points they can be hit (with varying armor classes).
  • Monsters that are working in tandem and have developed specific tactics by either working with each other or the enviornment
  • Monsters that look like items or other harmless things. (This category is huge: mimics, lurkers, cloakers, etc.)
  • Monsters that don't do damage, but otherwise inhibit or affect the party (e.g. rust monsters, disenchanters, aurumvoraxes that eat gold). These are especially motivating if they take things from the players and flee. This doesn't necessarily have to be about things either. Monster could cause the party to rage or become insane, et. al.
  • Monsters that punish players for engaging in traditional combat (petrification and level drain monsters)
  • Monsters that debilitate players or remove or negate some of their effectiveness when engaged (Anti-magic cone of a beholder, confusion gaze of an umber hulk)
  • Monsters, that by their nature, appear non-monstrous (e.g. items floating in a hallway are actually a gelatinous cube, crawling claws and undead both seem like non-living dead bodies).
  • Monsters that have non-standard abilities: Spellcasting, mutations, breath weapons, etc.
  • Monsters which cannot be killed (more akin to hazards) or stopped (such as generators) or monsters that can only be killed by affecting their environment (a lich's phylactery for example)
  • Unkillable monsters that come back to life once slain, or once killed, metamorphize into a new form
  • "Monsters" that are features or traps that can be killed (disabled), i.e. living wall
  • Monsters that are parasites (rot grubs, assassin flies)
  • Monsters that use magical items or other equipment

Further sources that contain more specific examples include the Tome of Adventure Design and the 5th edition Dungeon Masters Guide, both of which contain many examples of ways to modify and use monsters as tricks. A perusal of this list may note that this seems to be an entire category of creatures all to itself, perhaps truly deserving of the name "monster".

Hack & Slash 

On an Evil Night

What day is it?

Well, most of the time, it doesn't matter, even if you keep a calendar. That makes it very easy to make tonight (or any night soon) an evil night in your game. This is just like adding a holiday or festival except instead of never doing it because it adds work, you can easily do it because it adds adventure.

Every so often, the town knows an evil night occurs. What happens on this evil night?

  1. Every object inside every house animates and seeks to punish or protect those who have cared or abused them. The only place to stay is in a blessed dwelling, that remains uninhabited for the rest of the year.
  2. Ghosts of ancestors return and traverse the streets, wailing the deeds of the living and begging to hold them accountable. They cannot enter houses, unless some enormity large enough has driven them into a frenzy. Many who listen on that night will hear things they wish they could unhear.
  3. Beastboon. Everyone is taken over by their inner animal nature and transform into half-man half-animals. They spend the night fucking, fighting, and feasting. Not all survive.
  4. The goblin council. This night, each goblin becomes 10, each xvart 100, all of the same mind. A peace takes over their minds and they visit human communities united. Hordes and thongs of them. They cannot damage property, but woe unto anyone who discovers that they are outside. For they have little interest in quickly killing their prey
  5. Gates to hell quietly open at night fall and devils party in the street. Braver people leave their homes. Some may survive with their souls intact, though few do.
  6. A fog comes over each person at nightfall as the realm of dream crosses over with reality for but a night. Each person lives their own waking nightmare or fantasy for the night. Few awake the next day unchanged.
  7. Beastrise. Each animal, bird, and reptile in the village grows into a humanoid shape the size of an ogre. Many take what they wish and redress grievances during this time. Others, loyal to kind masters prevent them from any wrongdoing. 
  8. Bells toll at dusk, and everyone splits into two halves, one containing a certain set of skills and the other containing the rest. What happens between people this night is beyond the rule of law.
  9. At night, all the people in the town fall into furious torrid lovemaking until dawn. Few of them desire it (though there are always some that don't mind), but it's forced upon them due to a curse from a nearby wizard in a tower who seeks more female concubines for his harem.
  10. A god descends from heaven. Which one is always unclear. Some may choose to petition her, but the gods are fickle and prone to violence. 

Hack & Slash 

On the Lich Lord: Bentreign The Undying

Lords of undeath, I perused as a child. The adventure was silly, full of railroads, and bizarre siege-level combats.

But the interesting thing to me was the portraits of the five lich lords that ruled the undead island. In that spirit, for immediate use at least in a walk on cameo in your game, I present:

Bentreign the Undying

  • He is a male tiefling lich sorcerer
  • Tends to speak in meter or rhyme, unintentionally
  • An avid gambler and game player
  • Prone to fits of rage
  • Fluent in over 10 languages.
  • Loyal and obsessed with respect
  • Sadistic, suspicious, and paranoid
Phylactery: His is a small diamond coin, enameled in gold, and hidden among his hoard. 

By C. Campbell
Not blurry at full size
Damakos Bentreign is tall and thin, with a narrow triangular hairless face. He has two long tall thin horns that grow from his head, the left one broken.

He wears fashionable robes, in the modern style, and his hands and arms are so thin, the bone shows through in places. Otherwise, in a dim room, he could pass for a living being.

Damakos Bentreign lives in the last full standing tower in the Fortress of Runes, south of the grey forest, ostensibly named for the color of the dominate fungus in the area.

Damakos Bentreign was cursed from birth.

His father an Incubus, his mother brutally scarred and cast out of his village, he grew up surviving in the wilds and learning what little hedge magic he knew from his mother.

Soon afterward, she was murdered in front of him by a gang of bandits. They took him captive.

He lived with them for years, hating and needing their protection. It was during this time he lost four of the fingers on his left hand, cut off for the pleasure of some minor bandit that Damakos later slew, as punishment for "cheating" during a game. (Cheating in this case meaning, being a better player).

He had little empathy for other people after that childhood.

His demonic heritage gave him surprising power over magical energy, and he spent a time travelling from place to place, seeking out wizards. Sometimes learning from them. More often killing them and stealing their secrets. During this period, he fathered a child with the sorceress Lirill. He does not know the whereabouts of his illegitimate son.

Eventually, realizing that while he lived, what he had could be taken from him, he found and bargained with the ancient Dracolich, Naruzaek for the secret of eternal undeath, in exchange for a future un-named favor. Now immortal, Damakos has had too long to consider the dracoliches power of augury, and spends most of his energy trying to discover what task the old evil will ask of him.

He still speaks to his father on occasion.

  • Promises great treasure to those who would slay an ancient evil (actually a Dracolich) for him.
  • His illegitimate son or mother is asking for help to seek him out.
  • The grizzled old bandit captain has a final score to settle with him: he wants to finish their last game of backgammon to see who's really better. 
  • His Incubus father has not heard from him, and wants the party to check on him.
  • In addition to the standard, ancient hoard/evil plagues the land, etc.
Some final parting words. I've noticed the tendency myself to try to "save" the good stuff for later, but really, every game should be your most interesting game. It's not like there's a shortage of resources. Use whatever excites you in your game tonight, and it will last longer.

Hack & Slash 

On a 5e Class, Blood Warlock

Otherworldly Patrons

The beings that serve as patrons for warlocks are mighty inhabitants of other planes of existence—not gods, but almost godlike in their power. Various patrons give their warlocks access to different powers and invocations, and expect significant favors in return.
Some patrons collect warlocks, doling out mystic knowledge relatively freely or boasting of their ability to bind mortals to their will. Other patrons bestow their power only grudgingly, and might make a pact with only one warlock. Warlocks who serve the same patron might view each other as allies, siblings, or rivals.

The Blood God
Your patron is a lord of blood and life, a creature of primal power who holds the very secrets to mastery of all living things. Their motivations are powerful, demanding ever more and more blood and power from their warlocks. Beings of this sort include blood gods, gods of fertility and life, ancient stellar creatures of great energy and power, and hellish fiends.

Expanded Spell List
The blood god lets you choose from an expanded list of spells when you learn a warlock spell. The following spells are added to the warlock spell list for you.
Blood god Expanded Spells
Spell Level Spells

1stFalse Life, Ray of Sickness
2ndDetect Thoughts, Ray of Enfeeblement
3rdFeign Death, Nondetection
4thLocate Creature, Phantasmal Killer
5thModify Memory, Scrying

Power of the Blood
Starting at 1st level, your patron bestows upon you the ability to empower your eldritch blast. When you cast the eldritch blast cantrip, you may cut yourself causing blood to flow and doing 1d6 points of damage to yourself. However much damage you do to yourself is doubled and added to the damage of each eldritch blast. i.e. a 5th level Warlock cuts themselves for 4 damage and both eldritch blasts they fire do 1d10+8 damage. You take another 1d6 points of damage after the spell is cast as the wound continues to bleed. This does not increase the damage of the cantrip.

Mastery of the Blood
Starting at 6th level, you can use your blood to empower your spells. Each time you cast a spell, instead of it being cast at your level, you have the option to cut yourself, causing blood to flow and doing 1d6 points of damage to yourself. However much damage you do to yourself increases the spells effective caster level by this amount. i.e. a 6th level Warlock casting Vampiric Touch normally casts it as a 6th level spell, doing 6d6 necrotic damage. The Warlock cuts themselves for 3 damage and instead casts the spell as a 9th level caster, doing 9d6 damage. You take another 2d6 points of damage after the spell is cast as the wound continues to bleed. This does not increase the damage of the spell.

Pact of flesh
Beginning at 10th level, your patron teaches you how to use your own blood and skin in order to master arcane power. You can engage in ritual scarification of no less than 60% of your body. Doing so, grants you an additional spell slot. The scarification is permanent.

Pact of Sacrifice
Starting at 14th level, you can now use the blood of other creatures in order to power your spells. You must have access to a helpless or willing creature. This only affects living creatures with blood. You attack them with a sacrificial knife, scoring an automatic critical. In addition, using their blood to power the spell does an additional 3d6 damage to them, on top of the critical damage. For animals and other non-humanoid, non-sentient creatures, Power of the blood increases the damage by 1d4 doubled per bolt, and mastery of the blood increases the spell level by 1d4. For humanoids and other sentient creatures, power of the blood increases the damage by 1d6 doubled per bolt, and mastery of the blood increases the spell level by 1d6. For innocents or creatures of particularly powerful energy or blood (virgins, unicorns, children) power of the blood increases the damage by 1d10 doubled per bolt, and mastery of the blood increases the spell level by 1d10. A creature cannot provide a bonus higher than its hit point total.

Hack & Slash 

On Early Tropes, Charm Person

Charm person isn't what it used to be.

In the earliest games, charm person gave the magic user a slave. Fighters, ogres and mages were charmed and sent forward into traps and dangerous situations.

From the Original Dungeons & Dragons text:
Charm Person: This spell applies to all two-legged, generally mammalian figures near to or less than man-size, excluding all monsters in the "Undead" class but including Sprites, Pixies, Nixies, Kobolds, Goblins, Orcs, Hobgoblins and Gnolls. If the spell is successful it will cause the charmed entity to come completely under the influence of the Magic-User until such time as the "charm" is dispelled (Dispell Magic). Range: 12".- [Vol-1, p. 23]
"Completely under the influence of the magic user" with no hit die limit.  Quite powerful indeed. But is this how the spell was used?

"Mordenkainen was my first magic-user PC, as a matter of fact. In a fairly early stage of his adventuring career, Mordenkainen encountered a NPC in a dungeon, used Charm Person, and thus gained an apprentice. Bigby was then only 3rd level. After having him as a flunky for a fair number of adventures, I started playing Bigby as my PC." -Gary Gygax
From Gary's Recollections on ENworld:

Incidentally, I remember reading somewhere that the lone surviving PC from a party was captured by the kobolds(I think) and asked to be taken to the leader. The PC was a mage and had one spell left which happened to be charm person. Upon meeting the leader, he cast the spell, and the kobold leader failed his save miserably. It sounded like the PC befriended the head kobold and started calling the shots after that. What's the current status of that situation?
That is essentially correct. A female magic-user made common cause with the goblin chief after successfully charming him, assisted in arming and equipping the goblin forces, but when more PC parties began to riad the place I determined that she took what was available and beat it. No sense in risking one's life on behalf of goblins for no more than a heap of silver.-Gary Gygax
More from Power Score on Castle Greyhawk:
Charming NPCs in the dungeon to use as henchmen seems to be a pretty common tactic in the dungeon. The heroes were attacked by three fighters in plate mail. They charmed one and were quite pleased to learn he was 5th level, possibly higher level than the PCs themselves. Remember some evil wizards may try to do the same to the heroes. -Power Score
Over at Blog of Holding, Paul talks about Charm Person in a game with Mike Monard.

First of all, Charm Person is a pretty cool spell, as it unlocks a new sort of pokémon-collecting henchmen acquisition system at level 1. You might not get a castle and followers until level 10 or so, but you can, like Mike's level 1 magic-user Lessnard in Gygax's game, pick up a fifth-level fighting man as a bodyguard if he happens to fail his saving throw. In OD&D, Charm Person can be long-lasting or permanent, but Mike emphasized that it didn't do more than the name implied: it made someone your buddy, not your slave. If you didn't treat your new friend fairly, they might not be your willing ally forever.
I mention this because, when we encountered four bandits who tried to shake us down for 100 GP each, our wizard cast Charm Person on their lieutenant. Suddenly the lieutenant was all affability: he consulted with his men and they agreed to take us to "meet the boss." "But aren't we supposed to lead them into an ambush?" asked the dumbest of the bandits.
- Blog of Holding
And of course, endless arguments about what charm person should really be capable of have raged across magazine forums and the internet since the spells inceptions. But it seems pretty clear from the origins of use, that it turns an enemy into a party member. See some erudite discussion here at Knights and Knaves, or over here at Delta's D&D blog.

Hack & Slash 
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