Design & Development10/20/2006

Tales of Summoning, Idols, and Dice

We're hoping this column becomes your window into roleplaying design and development -- or at least the way we approach these things here at Wizards of the Coast. We'll handle a wide range of topics in weeks to come, from frank discussions about over- or underpowered material, to the design goals of a certain supplement, to what we think are the next big ideas for the Dungeons & Dragons game. All of this comes bundled with a healthy look at the people and events that are roleplaying R&D.

Let's see what we have here in the mailbag...

Summoning Animals

We’ve gone to the mailbag once more to share some of your many strange tales around the gaming table, with several topics originally raised in Ask Wizards. Back on 10/09, Kyle wrote in asking about summoned creatures. We responded (indirectly, admittedly, but we loved this story) with the reasons behind a certain 3.5 spell revision:

“Before adjustments were made to the summon nature’s ally spells, stories abounded of unscrupulous druids calling forth whales to fill dungeon corridors, as effective as any wall. Hence, the 3.5 additional text reading: “Creatures cannot be summoned into an environment that cannot support them. For instance, a porpoise may only be summoned in an aquatic environment.” Porpoise was the example given… but they were really thinking of whales when they made this change.”

Players wrote in with stories of their own “monster bombs,” either whale or otherwise, and all manner of the rules as written being bent, folded and mutilated:

Of Lions...
“Before that particular ruling on hostile environments and summoned creatures was pointed out to our gaming group, I had a druid who would summon lions in mid-air, directly over an opponent. This allowed for a number of things: first, it facilitated a charge attack, downward, getting in its full attack plus rakes as per the lion's pounce ability. It also dealt damage to the target per the damage from falling objects: placing an average lion at a conservative 400 pounds (the Monster Manual lists their weight at between 330 and 550 pounds), that's 4d6 points of damage just from getting hit by a falling lion.”
“The most serious problem my group had consisted of a creative wizard who would summon an earth elemental over an enemy’s head. The creature, appearing in empty space, would immediately fall and deal some pretty hefty damage. Eventually it was banned because the: “Creatures cannot be summoned into an environment that cannot support them,” was interpreted quite literally to mean that the air can not physically support a creature.”
“Here’s a story for you: The adventurers looked down from the balcony of a great temple at the ritual below. The oracle who traveled with the party was about to be sacrificed to the dark goddess Lolth by the high priestess of the temple.

“The players whispered to each other in a huddle well away from the Dungeon Master. Coming up with a plan, they returned to the ledge of the balcony, where Znell the wizard said: 'I cast summon monster, and summon a celestial buffalo on the ledge directly above the high priestess.'

“The buffalo is not a particularly agile creature, and when on a ledge can be easily tipped right off. Accordingly, the buffalo was given a good push, and with a loud mooo fell upon the surprised drow priestess for a good 20d6 points of crushing damage, killing her instantly.”
...And Dinosaurs (Oh My?)
“I played a druid who would use wild shape to turn into a bird, fly above airborne adversaries, and then wild shape into an anklyosaurus.”

Other players sent in their tales of animal mayhem. Not a whale in the air, a whale in the gullet can be just as handy:

A Very Big Pill
“Our DM put us up against a Huge green dragon in the forest, which scarfed down my wizard friend. Racking his brain on how to get out of this situation, he came up with the idea of using polymorph to turn into a baleen whale inside the dragon's stomach. Being a somewhat slick environment, as the wizard grew he slipped right out of the dragon's stomach, up its throat and out its mouth. Hearing our DM mimic the sounds of a green dragon coughing up a baleen whale was hilariously priceless.”
At Least He Was Tasty
“It seemed that the ominous tower we’d spotted had no exterior door (blasted mages always making impregnable towers!). So, being the druid/catlord, I was nominated to scale the outer wall. It took time, but I succeeded -- only to be spotted by a lucky, many-eyed sentry and imprisoned. And there I sat in a dank cell, not daring resume my human shape for fear they would make me talk.

“More days passed, and hunger became an issue. Water leaked from above, but no one came to feed me… until a plump weasel happened by, which I promptly ate.

“Moments later, the party's barbarian triumphantly crashed through the cell door to save me while asking if I got the halfling’s message. “What message?” I inquired. “Y'know, the ‘we're gonna save you, hang tight’ one! He snuck in as a weasel and…"

“That’s precisely the moment he saw the tufts of fur and the look off "Oops," in my character's eyes.

Tales of the Idol

Is it, as some players have suggested, an early statue of Orcus, or a float in the “Fat Dudesday” parade? The 07/28 Ask Wizards discussed the gem-eyed idol seen on the cover of the PHB II as well as the 1st edition Player’s Handbook. While there are no official origins for the statue (at least, none known to this humble website producer), we solicited your opinion on the matter – with Morgan answering the question in epic fashion:

Lakshesherek Cast Down
The idol is a 2,500-year-old statue found deep in the Amedio Jungle, built by the Hrua, an Olman tribe, as tribute to their supposed god Lakshesherek.

Lakshesherek was a nalfeshnee grievously wounded and banished to the Prime Material Plane by Erythnul. His battered body was discovered by a hunting tribe of the Hrua, who restored his health and worshipped him.

During his convalescence, the Hrua's finest crafters constructed this statue, made of granite heavily veined with thinaun*. The eyes are carved from hunks of Erythnul's own crystallized flesh and blood, which coated Lakshesherek's claws after his desperate (and failed) attempt to defend himself from the god's wrath.

For more than 60 years Lakshesherek ruled over the Hrua, becoming more and more convinced of his own godhood as the years passed and his worship widened throughout the jungle. Certain of his divinity, he called together a great council of the elders of the Hrua and smaller surrounding tribes… then systematically slaughtered each and every one, binding their souls into the statue’s gems. Lakshesherek began a reign of terror, enslaving and sacrificing inhabitants of the Amedio jungle to grow the power within the gems, with which he intended to replace his own eyes.

This highly displeased Erythnul, who intended the banishment to be a warning to other nalfeshnee, and not an inspiration. However, though he didn't have a reputation for deviousness and guile, the god saw opportunity within the situation.

Erythnul's Plan
Erythnul's legions had recently endured heavy losses from the forces of Hextor, a newly arisen demigod whose carefully laid betrayals and plans had brought him disturbingly quick to the forefront of the pantheon. Erythnul saw no greater way to check Hextor's progress against his territory than to see that his hated brother, the aasimar paladin Heironeous, ascend to godhood as well.

Accordingly, Erythnul sent a vision to Heironeous of the Hrua's souls calling for the paladin's aid, whereupon the paladin traveled to the Amedio jungle and sought out Lakshesherek. The battle raged back and forth for three days, and in the end Heironeous impaled the mad demon against his own statue, whereupon the thinaun within trapped his soul, preventing it from returning to the lower planes. Heironeous then shattered the gemstones upon the altar, freeing the souls of the Hrua tribe—and thus earning the gratitude of their ancient gods, who collectively blessed his ascension into godhood in thanks for his valorous act.

The Statue Rediscovered
For countless years, the abandoned temple lay within the jungle undisturbed. However, in 576 CY, a small group of Olman raiders discovered it and, in a bout of superstition, gave the statue offerings before continuing on a risky raid against a Scarlet Brotherhood slaver camp.

Despite overwhelming odds, the Olman successfully raided the camp, and returned to the statue to more properly venerate it, refashioning the gemstone shards into suitable eyes, and setting up their base of operations within the temple… unknowingly waking the long-dormant soul of Lakshesherak. As their encampment and success grew, the Olman began to more fervently worship the unknown god, sacrificing Scarlet Brotherhood slavers to the idol. Accordingly, the trapped nalfeshnee began to grow in power, his soul rebelling against the bonds of the aged and weakened thinaun.

At present day, the eyes serve as the last vestige of power holding the nalfeshnee at bay, fragments of divinity keeping the weakened thinaun bonds intact.

* from Complete Warrior, pg. 136

Dice Weirdos

Finally, we end this mailbag session with a look at spooky tales of dice (since it is almost Halloween!), including the strangest, most disturbing ritual ever for getting your d20 to roll properly. Be warned...

About a year ago, we found a red and white d20 in the driveway. The die was really worn and looked pretty old, with about three of the numbers faded. No one we knew had ever used dice of that color, and we had no idea where it came from. This "Ghost Die" has only been used once, on accident, to get a natural 20. No one is allowed to touch it again until the time comes we need a natural 20.
The game store where my friends play is a creepy place. One year, everytime we gamed, no matter what time or day, a thunderstorm appeared... and not a little storm that strikes two or three times and then passes over. No, these storms lasted for hours. But that was not the really strange part of gaming in that store basement.

The true horror came later. It started out simple, two people rolling the same number on a d20. Then it got worse. People started getting the same result (factoring in stat modifiers) regardless of what they rolled. Then, several weeks later, everyone rolled 2s. For three straight hours! It did not matter what die people rolled: d20, d100, d4: everyone rolled a 2. I was DMing at the time, and when 40 orcs miss with 2s, it gets disturbing.
If dice are rolling really bad, and swapping them out is not working, there are only two things for you to do. One is to stroke the beard of rotund man for luck; this action generally shocks the dice out of their funk. Should there not be a "big and beardie" bloke around, there is the second option: Rub the offending dice on the belly of a baby, preferably a sleeping infant, then the dice will roll just fine. However, the DM may object (as mine did) that stealing the luck of a sleeping baby is just wrong. And it is.

But it really hauled us out of a particular jam.
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