B/X Essentials: Demihumans of Dolmenwood (OSR)
All righty, this FREE installment of the B/X-Essentials series codifies some of the delightfully weird things that roam Dolmenwood on 12 pages, 1 of which is the front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
We begin this installment with a brief foreword before introducing us to Dolmenwood’s elfs, the fairy elf, who has Charisma as a prime requisite. Contrary to standard rules, an elf may raise Cha by point swapping during character creation.
The race-class requires at least 9 in Charisma, Dexterity and Intelligence. The race-class caps at level 10, yields d6 HD, and uses the XP-progression and (TH)AC0-value of the regular elf class. A difference, though, would be that the save vs. rods/staves/spells progresses equal to the standard elf’s Death save, which makes the class more aesthetically pleasing to me – from a rules point of view. In contrast to the standard elf-class, Dolmenwood’s elf race-class gets a glamour at first level, with another one gained every level thereafter, excluding 4th and every 4 levels thereafter – we thus a total of up to 8 glamours over the race-class’s ten-level-progression. It should be noted that Dolmenwood’s elves gain these instead of regular spellcasting. Elves may use any weapons and armor, and do not die to old-age, are immune to non-magical diseases and may not die of starvation or thirst, but do become insane and bloodthirsty if deprived of sustenance, which is a unique angle. Elves studying a text for an hour get read magic, and may use arcane caster items, including scroll use.
Elves always count as having at least a Charisma score of 14 for the purpose of tests based on physical attractiveness. Personally, I think this attractiveness clause should only apply to mortals. Elves can notice passages to Fairy with a 3-in-6 chance and are immune to sleep spells and gain a +2 bonus to saves vs. charms and illusions. They are immune versus a ghoul’s paralysis. Now, what do these glamours do? Well, they allow an elf to charm a single mortal addressed, who must, on a failed save, believe the elf’s words – but only for a moment, and after that, the mortal will know what has happened. Another glamour allows for shapechanging – quick alterations work smoothly, while more dramatic ones require a turn of concentration, but the elf may not assume the precise look of another target. The elf may also disguise objects, see perfectly in the dark as in a moonlit night, alter the look of garments, communicate with any being – or vanish from sight for one round, but this one has a limit: A target may only be affected once per day by it. There also is a 2-in6-chance that an elf may short-range teleport (60’) by using shadow doors. This makes the elves feel like a fey class – why? Glamours have no daily cap. Once you know one of them, you can use it as often as you’d like! They are very potent, and the teleportation’s flavor and unreliability make the combat-relevant option always at least a bit risky, keeping it from becoming OP. Elves may learn up to class level runes by service to the lords and ladies of Fairy…but they pay for their power a hefty price: They take double damage from cold iron, and contact with silver imposes a -2 penalty to attack rolls and saves…and there are no gods in Elfland. Elfs have a 2-in-6 chance of not being affected by beneficial divine healing spells. OUCH! (Yep, hostile clerics can still kick their behinds!)
The second race-class within would be the woodgrue, who also has Charisma as the prime requisite (and may do the same switcheroo as the elf for Charisma during character creation); requirements for the woodgrue (aka demi-fey) would be a minimum of 9 in Charisma and Wisdom. They may use leather armor, but no shields, and may use all weapons. They see normally in darkness and has a 3-in-6 chance of going unnoticed when hiding in shadows or woods. If they have a minute, they can hide an item in a location so it may only be found as a secret door. Woodgrues can communicate via woodwind instruments, allowing them to contact all woodgrues and their indentured servants within 1 mile per class level. The race-class caps at level 10, grants d6 HD, and its (TH)AC0 starts at 19, and improves to 17 at 5th level, 14 at 9th level. The class has its own save-progression, with Death saves improving from 13 to 8, Wand save from 12 to 7, Paralysis from 14 to 9, Breath from 16 to 11, and rod/staves/spells from 14 to 9. XP-progression is closest to the dwarf race-class, but slightly quicker – at 2000 XP, you’ll have level 2, and 400,000 XP will suffice to reach 10th level.
The signature ability of the woodgrue would be the mad revelry: 1/day per level, the woodgrue may play a wood wind instrument: Anyone hearing the tune may make a save vs. spells (fairies and demi-fey get +2) or be affected by one of 8 effects, which include stripping, piggybacking or confessing a sin or the like. Seriously cool roleplaying potential there! Woodgrues are bound to the laws of hospitality and may not use mad revelry when properly invited. They take double damage from cold iron, and a woodgrue invited to a party or celebration MUST partake. A save may allow them to refrain, but they will be drained by the experience. They have the same vulnerability to silver as the elf.
Now, I mentioned favors of the elf lords and ladies: These require usually taking a quest, and upon completion, a reaction roll is made: 2d6 + the character’s Charisma modifier, with modifications based on magnitude of service rendered, experience level and race of the target. Mortals are more penalized than demi-fey, for example. A brief table determines the type of runes, if any, you can get. Each such rune is a boon that may only be used a number of times. Elfs may have up to class level elf runes; other classes and races can only ever have one of these at a given time. Rune activation takes but a thought and may not be interrupted. Runes are available in three strengths: Lesser, greater and mighty.
Each of them can only be used a limited number of times, though the number of uses hinges on the level of the character that has gained the rune. This does leave me with a question, though – do you track when the rune is gained, or the current level? When, e.g., an elf has received a mighty rune at level 9, he can use it once, and then it’s gone. However, the table does not that, at 10th level and beyond, the mighty rune may be used once per year. So, if a 9th level character waits a level, does the mighty rune now work once per year or is it still gone upon being used? This is more relevant for the elf class, who could have multiple ones. As another example: An 4th level elf who used a greater rune, usable usually once per experience level, gets a level. This bumps the elf to 5th level – can the elf now use the rune at the new frequency of 1/week? If a 9th level elf has used a greater rune already this week, how does that change at 10th level, when it becomes available once per day? This needs clarification. Beyond spell-like effects, we can find summoning the wild hunt, getting a flower that cans end targets into a deep sleep, etc. – cool examples!
Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the elf rune engine needs a bit o clarification in my book, but otherwise, both are as good as we’d expect. The artworks are nice. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is okay at this length, but not ideal.
Gavin Norman’s Demihumans of Dolmenwood stand-alone pdf is a fun offering; I very much enjoyed the flavor and style of both the tweak on the elf class and the woodgrue. The runes are super exciting as well, but still suffer from ambiguities at the heart of their engine. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down.
You can get this neat pdf for FREE here on OBS!