Wednesday, July 21, 2021


AD&D Harpies-
Derived from the grecian myths, AD&D harpies have an alluring song that allows them to slaughter all who fail their save vs magic and are lured to it. As usually, the entire adventuring party will not fail their save, the question becomes how to save the entranced party members from 2d6 flying monsters with 3HD and 3 minor attacks... though this is rather complicated by an additional, deeper 'charm' effect that takes place on touch, a rather rude surprise to adventurers who stuffed their ears with wax to dodge the song.

Honestly, charm spam into being 'attacked, tortured, and devoured' by a bunch of bird women reeks of a TPK with little player agency or counterplay if the encounter is sprung upon you without forewarning. This post goes into the variation by edition and even suggests some potential countermeasures to this ignominious character death, mentioning that, at least in the AD&D version, the text does not state the song is a charm as the touch is, merely that it requires one to move towards the harpy, which could allow the character to sling arrows and spells as they walked towards the harpy. Since later editions specify that the entranced characters 'take no actions but to defend themselves' and proceed directly to the harpy, regardless of cliffs or dangerous terrain, this suggested strategem seems likely to be against the spirit of the rules, though later editions also tend to remove the charm on touch ability, giving entranced characters at least a single round to defend themselves after the song stops and, one presumes, the harpy flock goes for the kill.

All in all, a bit suspect as far as good monster design goes, but I'm not the biggest fan of any effect that means the player isn't playing. If it was just problemsolving to avoid hearing the song/disrupt the hearing of the entranced, that would be decent. But the squad of 3HD feathery maulers kind of puts a damper on that. Mythologically, they were abductors and befoulers (and conflated with Sirens) so focusing on them attacking supplies if denied their entranced thralls would be better, as 'how can we get these awful birds to stop shitting on us' is a more interesting problem than 'fight flying monsters that swoop down for a claw/claw/bite + charm spam.'

From Top: Vulch, Bat-harpy, true Harpy

The word harpies refers to three beings primarily- the Bat-people of the fault, the Vulch of Saresare, and the monsters of the name.

Bat People, or House Desmodia
Despite having supersonic vocalizations to daze most vertebrates, anaesthetic saliva, a diet of mammalian blood, and better than average odds of being bi disasters, the bat people of the cavernous earth of the Fault are not actually vampires.

all sorts, according to science

Birds do not, as a rule, live underground, so these batty creatures mainly exist because it made more sense to have bat-harpies in the subterranean tomb caverns of my megadungeon than birdly ones. After all, dungeons have a lot of opportunities to make walking towards an enemy a dangerous prospect, so underground harpies have a lot of potential. A pack of them charmed a character who was separated from the rest of the party by a fear effect from a headless horseman, but then rolled very low on the con damage from bloodsucking, allowing the player to survive. From this I reasonably assumed that, as flying creatures, these bat-harpies do not drink all that much blood in one sitting, which makes sense. You wouldn't want to be so bloated you couldn't fly, after all. And from this, it followed that, once the whole megadungeon thing calmed down, they would likely integrate into the already rather furry society of Phillipstown (dominated by wererats as it was) as a superior source of blood than the troll they had been feeding on before. And from there, they'd likely prove valuable as night scouts and mass-manipulators during the intersolar period, which would then give them the clout required to secure exits from the Fault once the 5th age began, escaping the curse/blessing of undeath. And in the more human-dominated lands beyond the Fault, they may have shaved their fuzzy faces and hidden their wings beneath cloaks while in human society and, with their foreign wealth, gotten into advantageous positions, extracted modest blood taxes far more amenable than taxes of silver, and so became the Desmodia family, with the branches extending to Queen's Coast, where they lived as sanctioned beings of Our Lady after initial tragic misunderstandings, and Vint Savoth, where imbibing corrupted blood did indeed make them more vampiric, tarnishing the reputations of those dwelling in Queen's Coast, whose dalliance in the military, the market, and the nobility were honest enough.

But those are just one family. There are doubtless more of the bat-folk in the caverns of the world, unfettered by the social structures of the Desmodia, winging through dungeons in search of blood.

No Appearing 1d6
HD- 1
AC- as chain due to dextrous flight, unarmored if not flying.
Move- twice human flying, half-human crawling on the ground or walls.
Treasure Type C- All will be very light objects
Morale- 4
Echolocation- Provided they can click and squeak, they can tell where physical objects are within their hearing.

Supersonic Song- Bat-harpies singing while stationary causes a chosen species (humans, typically) whether asleep or awake within 300', regardless of walls, to save vs spell or proceed towards the Bat-Harpy at maximum speed, not needing light to navigate and dropping any encumbering packs and items to move faster. They may defend themselves, but not from the harpies. There is a +1 to the save per 10 years of age(assuming human lifespan), as the higher registers are harder for the elderly to hear. The harpy chooses whether the entranced victim will fall into traps or off ledges or wade into water, or take circuitous but safe routes, depending on if they wish for a living victim or a corpse. Upon reaching the harpy, entranced victims are sonically sedated and stripped to expose veins, bitten (the bite causes no damage, being a minor incision from which blood is lapped) and have 1d4 points of constitution drained from them per feeding harpy, feeding taking 1 turn per harpy.
Surviving victims are then abandoned and the harpies flee, taking any lightweight objects they find interesting with them.

Directed Squeak- The subtle effects of supersonic vibrations on the brain can cause other effects when screeched/whispered directly at a target within melee distance, forcing a save vs Sleep or Confusion with the same +1 per 10 years of age to the save. Sleeping victims do not wake if fed upon.

Bat-Harpies must feed once per day or begin starving. They may feed more than once per day, draining another 1d4 points of constitution, but must space out these meals 6 hours apart or become bloated and unable to fly until 6 hours of digestion pass. They do not favor open conflict and will prefer to lure targets and attack sleepers, and corpses are of little use to them so they only kill those who attempt to kill them.

The other winged beings one might call a harpy goes by many names. Mercians called them Vulch, for Vulture-Harpy, Saresarens call them Ibn Nasir, Yubans called them the Yazata. They are long necked and bald, hairless in fact, and hold to a pacifistic, scavenger faith where they do no violence, and take nothing but what has been abandoned, subsisting on trash and carrion in their ascetic lifestyles. They were the first necromancers, though they sang to the restless dead to show them to their dreaming afterlives, and consumed them so their remains may return to the earth. The bell exorcists crafted their instruments from the tones of Vulch-humming, and the earlier, kinder portions of the Necronomicon were penned in part due to apprenticeship under one of them. Their song is for the dead though, not the living, and are able to live among humans as mendicant mystics in Saresare, quelling certain disturbances in the netherworld that go unnoticed or unmanaged by established funerary services.

And lastly, for the monsters that truly bear the name 'Harpy.'

The true harpies of the Fault are birds said to have the heads and torsos of women, though this is a misapprehension. Their 'breasts' are pectoral muscles for flight, their hair, downy feathers, their eyes the far-ranging, wide-open glare of an eagle, not a wide-eyed maiden. Their young are fed flesh, not milk, and they are not birds, despite the eggs and the feathers. They are monsters, creatures that descended upon ill winds from Beyond and now infest the jungles of the Fault and the Beast Islands. They speak your language in the fashion of birds, part cunning comprehension, half thoughtless mimicry. And they speak that which you most wished to hear, the words carrying on the wind and rousing you from sleep, drawing you off the paths with promises of knowledge. Do harpies truly know the secrets and answers, half-heard, or is it merely some monstrous trick? Either way, they are not particularly dangerous in melee combat, having sharp talons and teeth. They roost atop trees and cliffs, and knock the entranced climbers to their doom, or live near larger, more terrible beasts that kill those they lure, leaving the scraps for the harpies. They like shiny things, and so their nests are another sort of glittering lure, promising the treasures of dead heroes when in fact it is mostly fools gold and broken glass. They do befoul things they fear to attack directly with their excrement, ruining rations and marking the shat-upon with a smell that indicates to other creatures that here, here is man-flesh for the taking.

True Harpy

No Appearing 2d6
HD- 1
AC- as leather
Attack- 1d3 claws swoop, save or fall if climbing/precariously situated, fall prone if battered on unremarkable terrain. They may attack at any point during their movement.
Move- twice human flying, half-human crawling on the ground or walls.
Treasure Type C

Swooping Menaces- Harpies cannot be hit in melee by people they are tormenting, as they attack from behind, cause distractions to cover each other, and may well have some supernatural power to torment and victimize those who are alone. Targets the harpy is not targeting in a round may attack them as they fly by as normal.

Nest- Harpy nests glitter enticingly with potential treasures and sparkle from miles away. Harpies sing when they spot prey animals coming, their song reaching about 3 miles (ie, covering a 6 mile hex).
1d6 Nest Location-
1- 40'-90' tall tree (or higher!). Harpies begin attacking once creatures climb to 20' tall, hoping the fall will slay them.
2-50-100' tall cliff or waterfall. The nest will be situated halfway up, and harpies attack once prey are within 20' of the nest.
3- Rock island on raging river, deep lake, or sucking swamp.  Attacks begin once victims are swimming, pushed underwater on failed saves on hits
4- Ruins- highest point of ruin exterior, likely contains dungeon.
5- Bramble Patch- Very slow movement through patch, 1 damage to unarmored AC, harpies viciously harass as soon as the target enters the bramble.
6-Monster Lair- Harpies hope monster will kill entranced targets, less used to personal combat. Roll up a monster lair, Harpy morale reduced to 6.

Secret Song- Players may tell the GM what hinted-at secrets or mimicked voices would  lure them away on a failed save that lures them to the harpies, if the GM wishes to convey truths, half-truths, lies, or nonsense on that topic. Those without DEEP CHARACTER MOTIVES could be given rumors of treasure or simply be lured by the beautiful song. Affected players are not deeply hypnotized, just tempted, and may justify their actions to their allies and will defend themselves even from the harpies, who usually lurk in their nest out of direct line of fire until the time comes to dash the victim onto the rocks. Their goal is to listen to the fragmented information of the harpies, though the harpies themselves invariably foil this goal.

Excrement- Harpies can befoul targets with their droppings from above, with the usual to-hit roll, befouling 1 random inventory item and the target themselves. Though no damage is caused, the reeking smell makes stealth impossible until the character is washed with soap, and items are forever stained, smelly, and (in the case of consumables) ruined, though magic items get a save vs poison or similar.
The smell also attracts wandering monsters at double the normal rate, and the character must save vs a random disease unless they discard the befouled item and clean themselves within an hour or so.

As true monsters rather than simply carnivorous beings, spells such as Protection from Evil ward off harpies, and their very presence brings ill luck and ruin to the waking world.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021


I have put off this post for some time, for must admit I find halflings a mediocre addition to most fantasy games and can muster no excitement about them. Even in Tolkein's work from which the D&D halfling is derived from, their prosaic, domestic nature is in fact their defining quality. This is all well and good for a story with thematic purpose and authorial intent indicated to highlight the virtues of rustic civilians vs those consumed by power struggles, but in D&D games that message is rather hard to pull off outside of 'and then my character retired from the disgusting murderhobo life and lived happily ever after' which is a fine ending but a poor incentive for actually continuing campaigns.

They seem to be meant as a sort of 'underdog' character which I can understand the appeal of, but on the player-end of things, their impressive offensive and defensive bonuses spoil such notions for me, as they end up less underdog, more 'low-profile artillery platform/tank.' The idea is that to a halfling, humans and similarly sized foes would be like ogres, twice as tall and 8 times as heavy. But whereas ogres compared to humans have quadruple the HD and unarmed deal the same damage as a halberd, there's ludonarrative dissonance at play when that difference, one that we intuitively understand should be a nigh-insurmountable combat disadvantage, is represented in game by halflings merely suffering a strength capped at 17, max fighter level 6 or other such negligible differences that pay lip service to the notion that halflings face bigger, relatively speaking, perils.

AD&D Halflings

This is the monster statblock rather than the player bonuses, the player side of things being rather tamer in AD&D 1e but, in later editions and in various retroclones, prone to the defensive creep mentioned that turns them into short tanks. Tactically speaking, they may appear to be essentially goblins who cannot see in the dark, but are crack shots with the bow and sling. +3 to hit with their ranged weaponry is, for masses of soldiers, incredibly menacing, moreso even than Elves. They also resist magic, saving as 4 levels/HD higher, have a few uninteresting fighter/leader types of levels 2-4 based on # appearing, and have 1d4 dogs per halfling when encountered in lair. All in all, fighting halflings would be a numbers game that one would be unlikely to win, and they have treasure type B, which is likely to be no more than a few thousand GP worth of treasures and maybe some halfling-sized magic arms and armor on the leader types. Not at all worth the effort required to defeat, treasure wise, for most would-be pillagers.

There are also the Tallfellows, who are taller and get along with elves, and the Stouts, who are shorter, have infravision, and get along with dwarves. From this I conclude halflings are just shorter humans/elves/dwarves and not actually their own thing, and move on.

Sunset Realm Halflings, or Little People
They're just short humans, or if you take the halfling viewpoint, humans or 'hugemans' are just tall halflings. Most commonly found in the Beast Islands, they hold they are the original humans, and those humans who left small islands for the gigantic mainland grew larger as their habitat did, much like goldfish. Halfling, though not a slur, is a slightly rude term to refer to them as, a diminutive -ling suffix and assumption of deviance from a 'whole' norm. "Little people" is a generally acceptable term when referring to them as a group based on height rather than the actual culture they hail from.

Those who live in the moonlands are rumored to see in the dark, but in truth, those often dark lands simply encourage people to lean more heavily on senses beyond sight. Little clicks for makeshift echolocation, feeling air currents, smelling and hearing, and of course, simply letting ones eyes adjust rather than brandishing a torch can all contribute to this notion.

Due to their small size, they favor training beasts as guards and hunters, and are the origins of the 'Beast Battling' culture of the isles. They also are excellent sailors, mostly culturally but partly physically. After all, a 200 pound grown human requires more food than a 60 pound one, so their ships can be trimmed down and lighter weight compared to larger ships to take advantage of the winds and currents. Rowing is one aspect where they lose out to larger sailors, so most ships of levels larger than personal rowboats are entirely sail-reliant.

Islander customs of beast-befriending can be traced all the way back to the 2nd age, with children who had come of age being sent through rites of passage to claim a pet to serve as their friend and defender. As technology advanced, the war-torn 3rd age added a reputation as trap-makers, as it was easier to defend ones home with gravity, torsion, and so on than with force of arms. The technical skills required to build such devices also allowed one to identify and disarm them, and so 'security specialists' were often hired from the Beast Islands for all manner of legitimate and illegitimate ventures, making the trap-maker reputation shorthand for 'burglar.'  The 4th age saw them in conflict with the dwarves, desiring the  banned clockwork and gunpowder tech which cared not for the size of its wielder, and this gave the Beast Islands, already regarded as roguish, a further reputation for piracy, as dwarvish and Saresaren ships became prime targets of Beast Islander ships aiming to claim the unobtainable tech, and settling for whatever else was onboard. The calmer 5th age saw the rise of fine beast islander alchemists, as trade opened up and technology advanced further, and before the 6th age, the islands became known as the scientific hub of the world, surpassing the rationalist Saresarens and the stagnated dwarves.

On a less lore-heavy note
Rules for Halfling Players(Also children, goblins, ratfolk, and other ~1 meter tall beings)
HD per level never higher than 1d6
5-in-6 chance to hide, gain surprise, etc etc, compared to base 2-in-6, at least vs larger entities in larger environs. Not applicable in metal armor.
Saving throw bonuses based on whatever your system says, based on things missing you mostly
"Darkvision" is a more like a skill for moving without sight. Unless Goblin, they do see in the dark.
Weapons are 1d6 1-handed, or 1d8 2handed, and d10 weapons are too large (guns aside).
Though not explicit, it is assumed most entities find you less threatening due to size, which has its pros and cons