Sunday, October 26, 2014

Playable Monsters from the Tome of Horrors

Playable Monsters from the Tome of Horrors

A Mini-Review for the Swords & Wizardry Edition

Unlike Labyrinth Lord, there aren't too many 3rd Party products for Swords & Wizardry, much less new races.   The Tome of Horrors Complete, by far one of the largest monster collections, allows playable versions of monstrous races: Crabmen, Dakons, Dire Corbies, Half-ogres, Mongrelmen, Stormwardens, Tabaxi, and Tsathars.

In terms of features, more than a few of them are quite strong. A lot of them do have class and level restrictions (not detailed here), although any OSR games I played never made it far level-wise to see the effects in place. And what classes the monsters are restricted to tend to be ones that supplement their natural abilities.


Defenses: The player-character Dwarf has a +4 on saving throws against any magic.

Stone Sense: Dwarfs easily takes note of certain features of stonework: sloping corridors, moving walls, and traps made of stone – in particular: falling blocks, rigged ceilings, and tiny arrow slits designed to release poison gas or darts. They can also identify whether stonework is recent or not. There is no established die roll or rule for using these abilities; exactly what a Dwarf does or does not perceive is up to the Referee.

Darkvision: Dwarfs can see in the dark to a limit of 60 feet.


Darkvision: Elves can see in the dark to a range of 60 feet.

Find secret doors: Elves have a 1-in-6 chance to notice a secret door automatically and have a 4-in-6 chance to find secret doors when actively searching, unlike the other races, which have only a 2-in-6 chance.

Defenses: Elves cannot be paralyzed by ghouls.


Darkvision: Half-elves can see in the dark to a range of 60 feet.

Find secret doors: Half-elves have a 4-in-6 chance to find secret doors when actively searching.


Defenses: Halflings gain a +4 on saving throws against magic

Attack Bonuses: Halflings have a +1 bonus when using missile weapons.


Humans are the default race for Swords & Wizardry, and thus they receive no specific bonuses or penalties as do the other races. Humans are a hardy breed, fighting vigorously to expand and guard their civilization in a dangerous world. Many perils lurk beyond the borders of the human lands, but humanity must be ever alert to the possibility of treachery within its own territories and kingdoms: The very individuality that makes humankind so diverse and energetic as a race can also breed those who are dark of mind and willing to cooperate with the forces of evil and chaos.

Note that non-humans cannot be Assassins, Druids, Monks, Paladins, or Rangers as player Characters.

Without further ado, let's take a look at what we have.


Crabmen are tall, peaceful creatures which live around coastal regions. They start the game with an extra hit die, can swim, have an exoskeleton which is equivalent to full plate (AC 3 or 16 depending on system), but they can't use manufactured weapons and instead fight with crab claws (1d6). Given the expensive nature of full plate (100 gp) and usefulness of more hit points, crabmen make for great martial characters!


Dakons are sapient gorillas and more down to earth than the crabmen, gaining a +1 to Strength (not above 18, no other race than half-ogre gets this), +1 on grappling, can climb walls as a thief no matter the class, can see in the dark, and deal 1d4 damage on unarmed strikes instead of 1d2.


Dire Corbies are crow-people who are very vicious warriors and hunters. They can see in the dark and suffer no penalties from fighting while blind, and can hear through doors and thin walls on a 1-3 on a d6 roll. They can surprise foes on a 1-2 roll when fighting in darkness, and their feathers give the equivalent of leather armor (8 or 11). A lot of their abilities are perception-related, but more in line with the standard races.


Half-ogres are outcasts from both races' societies and tend towards physical professions. Mechanics-wise they are sort of unimaginative and bland in comparison to the other options. They get +1 to Strength and Constitution but -1 to Intelligence and Charisma, can't bring scores below 3 or above 18. They can see in the dark and gain an additional hit die. Crabmen are still superior choice IMO.


Mongrelmen are hideous creatures seemingly composed from the body parts of different monsters, but are actually good-natured. They have +1 to Strength and Constitution but -3 to Charisma (as usual, none above 18 or below 3). They can see in the dark and can perfectly imitate the sound of any creature they previously encountered. Nothing much but a potentially creative sound-based ability.


Stormwardens are folk who dwell high in the mountains and can innately control weather patterns. They gain nothing except for casting Control Weather once per day as a 10th-level Magic-User, except that the change is immediate in a 1,000 radius. The effects persist for 10 minutes before returning to normal.

Seriously, a 1,000 feet area of effect. Flash floods, tornadoes, blizzards, deadly heat or cold. There is so much potential awesomeness and abuse.


The Tabaxi are reclusive cat-people who live deep in the forests and jungles. They possess greater than normal speed (15 instead of human 12), and can surprise opponents on a 1-2 on a d6 roll when alone or among others of their kind. They can see in the dark and have claw and bite attacks (1d4 and 1d3, respectively). A robust race sure to please furries and otaku.


Tsathars are evil underground frog-people who worship Tsathogga. They reproduce by planting eggs into living creatures and breed giant frogs for war. Sound cool and flavorful, but what do they get mechanically?

Nothing. Nope, nada, zilch, not even the unrestricted access to classes and levels that humans get. It's a shame, because the monster entry has some cool stuff like being able to jump far and swim and breathe in water. I suggest putting those in for Tsathar PCs.

In conclusion, my favorite races are the dire corbies and tsathars society-wise, but in terms of abilities the Stormwarden tops the list. All but the Tsathars gain a lot of features, which are good, but be careful about allowing them as a few are natural options for certain character concepts (crabmen and half-ogres for fighters, or dire corbies and tabaxis for thieves/mobile fighters).

Adding Culture: Goblin Grave Bards

Adding Culture: Goblin Grave Bards

People always wanted to play as monsters in fantasy RPGs.  From 3.X's Savage Species to 2nd Edition's Council of Wyrms campaign setting, many gamers sought to move beyond the bog-standard array of Tolkien-clone Player's Handbook races.  Countless homebrew and commercial products have dipped their hand into this realm, some of it good, others bad and poorly thought-out.  Even if you get well-rounded, balanced versions of monsters suitable for player use, there's usually something missing especially in the cases of less iconic monsters.

A nuanced and three-dimensional society.

Dwarves, elves, and halflings are iconic races.  From JRR Tolkien's work to pages upon pages of setting detail across the decades, we have a very good idea of what kind of traditions and mores they hold.  With the exception of some settings, the more monstrous races such as goblins, giants, and centaur don't really have a lot going for them beyond some sparse detail and vile activities to make them suitably evil for heroic adventurers to slay.  In general, goblins are wicked, love to raid, constantly fight each other, and are more technologically primitive than the Player's Handbook races.  Some goes for orcs, ogres, ettercaps, a lot of evil giants, and other monsters.

I feel that departing from this standard can be good for many reasons: one, it allows for monster PCs to have more role-playing potential beyond "I'm a Choker, I live underground and hunt my prey!"  Two, it's just a lot more interesting to add nuance and depth to make them feel more alive than primarily as enemies to defeat.  This might not be suitable for all campaigns, but it can be a fun way to add some spice to the setting.

The Art of the Grave Bard

Goblinoid folklore teaches that spirits are capable of going to and from the Material Plane and spirit world through entry points of their corpse’s current location.  Like the humans of Aleria and adjoining nations, goblins entomb their dead in graveyards and mounds.  They figure that time spent in a graveyard can get dreary and gloomy over time, so goblin bards regularly visit sites of the dead and perform acts they figure will entertain the spirits.

Oftentimes they perform their work with no crowd, but sometimes others come along to watch.  It’s not uncommon for wealthy beneficiaries to hire such entertainers for private tombs and graves, their plays and shows personalized by the hobbies of the honored dearly departed.  More than a few people view such an occupation as disrespectful, feeling that the dead should instead be honored with quiet observance.

In the goblinoid homeland, bodies are buried in expansive tombs acoustically designed to carry sound vast distances, allowing music to travel far and wide.  Bards spend a great amount of time researching the lives of the deceased to tailor their songs and plays for maximum appeal.

Grave bards aren't always just done for aesthetics.  A grave bard with proper training and magical talent can actually infuse the area with protective magics, making it harder for necromancers and other such folk to tamper with the bodies and souls of the honored dead.

Greetings and Welcome

Welcome to my First Post

Hello there.  If you found this blog, you were probably linked to it by one of my social media accounts or advertised forum posts.  Even if you're familiar with my work, I feel that a little introduction is in order.

My name is Ray Chapel.  I post on a lot of table-top role-playing game websites under the username Libertad.  I am a long-time player of Dungeons & Dragon and an avid enthusiast of other games such as the World of Darkness, Eclipse Phase, and much, much more.

I figured that in addition to Twitter and the other usual suspects, a blog would be a good repository for all of my product updates, articles, reviews, and assorted work.  And I do have a lot to say.

Welcome to my online home, and stay tuned for more updates!