Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "Legions of the Undead"

Standard Introduction
            I have been writing about Dungeons and Dragons semi-regularly this year and in the course of writing those I found a 30-day blog challenge.  As I have done those a couple times before it seemed remiss not to jump on this one.
            If you want here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Disney Movies, here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Video Games, and here is a comically out of date 30-day challenge on Movies (it is old and the writing is rubbish).

Day 19- Favorite Undead
            There are 10,000 monsters in this gods damned game.  Today is Undead, my favorite type of monster.  Look to my blog about Vecna (and undead god) for a little more, but generally it can be summed up with, “Undead encapsulate a good metaphor for Dungeons and Dragons.  Exploring the ruins of the old world, plumbing for their secrets, and facing the horrible monsters they left behind”.
            Let’s go.

            I think these two are closer to one another than their appearances might lead you to believe.  One is a skeleton that has purple flesh running thru it and causes paralysis with its tongue.  The other is a gaunt purple skinned creature that causes paralysis with its claws.  They have the same sort of role in a combat encounter, stop the movement of characters with weak Constitutions.
            I’ve never used these guys for anything but goons, they are not exactly thinker types and I would say that they are probably not the first choice on the Necromancer’s “To-Make” list.  They are a good monster to sprinkle into an encounter to make things more dangerous, but not more dynamic, they literally slow things down.

            These guys look so cool, and their use of the reach rules makes them strong encounters in any situation in which closing ground is difficult, a narrow bridge, an elevated area, that sort of thing.
            I haven’t used these to great effect, but have had them used to great effect against me back when they first came out in 3rd edition.

            Another awesome looking monster with a cool concept.  They slowly burn a trapped soul within their chest to grant them power.  I can’t even think of a way to make that better.  4th edition did by providing 3 types which took the concept and cranked up the extremeness of it.  Kudos to 4th edition.

#4: Vampire
            Quintessential bad guys of literature and screen.  They have been translated everywhere and are almost always great.  They are kind of the best monsters in fiction for all that has and can be done with them, but are not necessarily the best in Dungeons and Dragons.
            I actually think these guys were interpreted too faithfully in 3rd edition.  The number of weaknesses and abilities got to be cumbersome, so much so that I just never bothered.
            Even the best movies and books about Vampires tend to leave some of the mythology at the door so that they do not have to comment on running water; holy water; holy symbols; sunlight; silver; garlic; OCD; blood of virgins; the ability to talk to wolves, bats, insects; the ability to shapeshift into creatures of the night; the ability to transform into monsters; the ability to turn into mist; the need for soil of their homeland; the need for a coffin; vulnerability to fire; vulnerability to falling in love with bland women who consider “clumsy” to be a personality trait; the need for torpor; blood potency; spellcasting ability; the nature of the soul; transformations of one’s face in order to feed; strength level; flight; drinking blood; hypnosis; rivalry with werewolves; and jiminy cricket this list could go on forever.
            I think that a “Make your own vampire” feature might have been cool.  Pick two weaknesses of varying strength, pick three abilities of various strength and get an approximate challenge rating for facing your players.
            Oops, thought of another one, Lack of Reflection.

#3: Wight
            I had a really good use for these guys in a 3rd edition campaign in which a magical plague transformed hundreds of people into wights to be used as somewhat intelligent slave labor in the excavation of a section of underground city.
            When the players found the whole thing while looking for missing people, all of the wights had been left in holding pens and cages, they then began crying out for help in low moaning voices, “Save me,” “Save us,” “Where am I,” “Please help me,” and I do lots of voices so it was pretty creepy.  I managed to pull off some rather haunting images of pale clawed hands reaching out from between bars not to strike but to beg for mercy.

#2: Mummy
            Mummies, much like Rats from my entry on “Favorite Animals” have access to disease as a secondary rules benefit.  Beyond that, they have a lot of pop culture recognition, obvious exploitable weaknesses, and plenty of significance as a cultural marker in certain settings (Egyptian theme being the most obvious).
            Magic the Gathering just did an Egypt themed setting and the clever thing they did was take Zombies and Mummies, undead creatures associated with Black Magic, and making them more associated with the veneration and societal order of White Magic.  This is a subversion and I like it a great deal.  I think this sort of twist on what is expected can be applied to mummies in DnD and I think I will attempt something like it in the future.
            I have used Mummies before, in 3e and 4e, both times to good effect.  They make good slow moving goons that deal a lot of damage and leave an impact on play in the form of Mummy rot.  They are good monsters.

#1: Lich
            They are the best bad guys.  HARD STOP.
            I don’t know what else to add.  They are a threat up close, at range, they are capable of plans, their weaknesses are not debilitating but still exploitable.  They are the best bad guys.
            I already talked about the king of the liches, Vecna in my “Favorite Deity” entry.  They are the best.

A Special Mention: Zombies
            As I write this I have learned that George Romero died just this past Sunday.  If you don’t know, he invented the modern idea of what a zombie is with the movie “Night of the Living Dead”.  I would like to point out that do to a strange error when securing the Copyright, the movie entered the public domain almost immediately, meaning George made only a tiny fraction of the money he should have for all the times the movie has appeared or been shown.  The converse of that is the movie ended up appearing everywhere and on everything which led to it being so iconic and influential.

            The reason I want to point that out is it illustrates everything wrong with copyright law, the law does not protect creators, it protects people who know how to fill out paperwork.  It also shows how valuable and powerful the Public Domain is.  The ability for things in the public domain to be used by a wide audience allows those bits of media to quickly transcend what might have only been a cult status and change the way people look at fiction.
            I wish there had been a compromise on this.  That Romero had been able to make money off of his insanely influential movie, and the movie to be diffused into the public consciousness without needing a marketing machine like Disney or Warner Bros behind it.
            I wish more things, after having made back a healthy profit, could be released to the public domain so as to be seen as part of media culture.  So as to benefit the creators and the creative community.  Kind of like how Dungeons and Dragons provides rules and materials to help people be more creative, but at the same time is a brand that sells books and materials.  It is a business, but it is a business that serves as a powerful tool to educate people about their own creativity.
            George Romero leaves behind a potent legacy.  He was vastly more influential than I think he ever pictured himself being and added to the world.  The world is a better and more interesting place for him having been in it.  We should all be so lucky to live as long and be as positive an influence as George was.

Coming Tomorrow
            Tomorrow I am going to talk about my least favorite monster.


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