The Biblyon Broadsheet

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons
Biblyon, Highland
Monday, November 11, 1985
Jerry Stratton, Ed.
Sailing the high seas—Saturday, November 14th, 2015
Galleon over earth horizon

See my earlier article, Silver sail and gold, above a dappled sea, for non-numerical details on the politics and excitement of driftwood ships in the space above Highland.

The summary is that ships ride the gravity flow with driftwood. They catch the solar wind with sailcloth.

Building a driftwood ship

The first step in building a driftwood ship is acquiring the driftwood. Driftwood blocks the gravitational attraction of large bodies, thus making it possible to not fall back to a planet in a spectacular crash. Driftwood grows in rocky, cold environments with thin atmospheres. It grows best on Mars, but can also be grown on high mountaintops on Earth or similar planets.

Driftwood should be cured before use. Uncured driftwood reduces maneuverability by 5. Each year of curing reduces that penalty by 1, up to a maximum of five years curing on-planet. Driftwood can be cured more quickly or more efficiently in space. Driftwood cured in space reduces the maneuverability penalty by 1.5 per year, to a maximum of 7—that is, ships made from driftwood cured for five years in space will have +2 maneuverability.

Space is big. It is very easy to lose track of curing stacks when curing in space.

After curing, the wood should be coated with a varnish of wood resin to preserve the cure. The best resin is driftwood resin. This provides a +1 to maneuverability. Other wood resins do not affect maneuverability, and non-wood mineral oils reduce maneuverability by 1, while tar oils reduce maneuverability by 2.

Without varnish, the wood may become infected and eaten away by insects or other creatures.

Adjustments to ship cost and maneuverability:

Technique Maneuverability Cost Movement
Planet Curing +1/year +10%/year
Space curing +1.5/year +15%/year
Driftwood resin +1 +25% +1
Mineral oils –1 –5%
Tar oils –2 –10% –1

Weaving sailcloth sails

Unlike driftwood, which grows best on Mars but can grow in other places, the sailmoth only produces thread on Mars, and only in the Martian highlands.

Appendix N Survey—Tuesday, October 13th, 2015
The Face in the Frost

One of the amazing works in Appendix N.

I read a lot of fantasy/science fiction before I started playing D&D. While I didn’t read much of, or even most of, the famous Appendix N, I had read enough related works to have a good idea of where BX and AD&D were coming from. I think one of the important takeaways from that oeuvre is how open everyone was to mixes. We had no problem mixing Herbert with Poul with Norton in our games, and neither did they in their stories.

That’s one of the conclusions that Jeffro comes to in Appendix N Survey Complete. Also apparent is that the sheer range of available works was unlimited by time. Jeffro writes that “It used to be normal for science fiction and fantasy fans to read books that were published between 1910 and 1977” but in fact we read things from before 1910. I’d be willing to bet the percentage of campaigns including the equivalents of Morlocks and Eloi was well into the whole numbers, and it is hard not to see the influence of the Island of Dr. Moreau in all the strange creature mixes in home-brew campaigns, or even in the canonical Monster Manuals. It’s also hard not to see the influence of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo in many early adventures.

Now, Dumas was perhaps out of the ordinary, because in many ways he was a precursor to modern adventure stories. The Antechamber of M de Treville is an amazing setup, and lays seeds for just about the entire series, all the way through The Man in the Iron Mask .

But even besides still-famous genre-ish writers such as H. G. Wells, Alexander Dumas, Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Arthur Conan Doyle, pre-twentieth century works were regularly mined and regularly read. I would expect many of us had read Frankenstein, Ivanhoe, and The Picture of Dorian Gray without thinking we were reading ancient history. They were part of the canon because they were great books. Flatland showed up in several short-story collections, and we were familiar with, though these were sometimes a bit hard to find, H. Rider Haggard and William Morris, among others.

The Bible itself figured into our reading, too, as can be discerned from some of the spells that Clerics had access to.

Currency and economic policy in the middle ages—Saturday, August 29th, 2015
Edict on Maximum Prices

Emperor Diocletian’s 301 AD edict setting maximum prices.

We live within an abundant and ubiquitous market. From specialist boutiques to supermarkets to sprawling shopping centers, we can easily travel to acquire our hearts desire, or, Acme-like, send a note into the ether and have it delivered to us—sometimes in twenty-four hours. We no longer even need to carry money or the one-to-one representations of it: a credit card will give us the ransom of kings. But if we do want money there is an ATM at the corner 7-Eleven that will dispense what we need. There is no need to go to the banker, the banker is always with us and always ready to say yes. There is no need to negotiate how much of our wheat we must trade for however much butter we need. We sell our time for paper and then trade that paper credit at known prices for what we need and want.

If we don’t like the price on our heart’s desire, someone else makes a different model at a different price. In the best parts of our world, all economic transactions are beneficial to both sides, because both sides are free to take it or leave it, and thus only take it when the trade is at a price they are willing to pay or accept.

This was not always the case, and even today you can travel to places where you are forced to sell or to purchase at prices not of your own choosing1, or where the value of money changes with the corrupt political wind.

Price controls

There are two basic rules of economics:

  • People will trade what they are willing to trade.
  • If there is a profit to be made, someone will find that profit.

These basic rules mean that:

  • Any barriers—natural or artificial—to desired trades increase the profit of those willing to surmount those barriers.

These are laws of nature, just like the laws of gravity. Laws and social pressures can get in their way, but it’s likely to hurt: in reduced quality, increased prices, or hidden costs. They apply to goods, services, and currencies. People will pay the price they are willing to pay, and accept the price they are willing to accept.

House of Gold, House of Passages—Saturday, August 22nd, 2015
Muse in the Domus Aurea

Inscribe a riddle on the base of this muse and you’re good to go. (Howard Hudson, CC BY-SA 2.5)

Imagine this: a palace with a triple portico a mile long, stretching between two hills, and the inside covered in jewels, gold, and mother-of-pearl, whose “courtyard was so large that a 120-foot stall colossal statue of the emperor himself stood there. It had…

dining rooms with fretted ceilings whose ivory panels could be turned so that flowers or perfumes from pipes were sprinkled down from above; the main hall of the dining rooms was round, and it would turn constantly day and night like the Heavens…

It sounds like a grand palace from a fantasy novel, something requiring a ton of CGI when the time arrives to film it, but it was a real place in 68 AD. It was the Roman emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea, or Golden House. The Domus Aurea was the second version of his opulent palace. The first, the Domus Transitoria, House of Passages, was destroyed by fire.

There were walls sheathed in polychrome marble, vaults and ceilings covered in vibrant frescoes by the artist Fabullus, and in precious stones, ivory, and gold, and gardens full of masterpieces of sculpture from Greece and Asia Minor.

The space that the palace and its yards used was cleared by the infamous Roman fire of 64 AD; one of the reasons Nero was suspected of causing the fire is that he used the space cleared by the fire to build his extraordinary palace.

That alone is enough to make this golden palace, profiled in the September/October issue of Archaeology magazine worthy of inspiration for a fantasy adventure.

But it turns out to be even more amazing. Nero was horribly disliked. After he died in 68 AD, and the wars for succession settled down, his successors “attempted to obliterate not only the emperor’s memory, but also all traces of the Domus Aurea, and to return to public use, land he had seized for his private projects.”

The 120-foot-tall statue of himself, which was patterned after the Colossus at Rhodes, gave one of the new projects a name: the Colosseum was built atop his artificial lake; the statue itself gained a crown and the new emperor, Vespasian, rededicated it as the Roman sun good Sol.

After some looting, the palace’s vaulted spaces were filled with earth, and massive public baths were built atop the now-underground palace.

The Biblical and other engravings of Gustave Doré—Saturday, July 25th, 2015

I haven’t used Gustave Doré as much as, say, Caspar David Friedrich or John William Waterhouse, but when I use him, I really use him. Moses Breaks the Tables of the Law appears twice in Divine Lore as well as in The Road, where the tablets of the law are one of the nine tablets of Enki.

I also used Jacob wrestling with the Angel in the main rulebook.

Part of the problem is that, as woodcuts, go, his are not as evocative (to me, anyway) as William Miller’s. This may be simply because the reproductions available online aren’t as high quality as the reproductions of Miller that are available. Take a look at the best version of his work on The Raven, and there’s some really good stuff there—at fairly low resolutions. I’d love to use his Angels departing with Lenore into the sky, but the quality of the image just isn’t there.

Browsing through his works for “most gaming/fantasy-like art”, Bohemund alone mounts the rampart of Antioch is something I might use eventually, and Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise has potential, with its sword-wielding angel at the edge of the wood pointing the way to an angry Adam and tearful Eve.

But for sheer Monster Manual weirdness and teenage sexuality, I had to go with Les Oceanides Les Naides de la mer which, besides its subject matter, is in color. Imagine your player character meeting those nymphs in the middle of a long sea voyage!

Adults, age ten and up—Saturday, July 18th, 2015
Basic D&D

“…for 3 or More Adults, Ages 10 and Up”

I started gaming with the Eric Holmes blue book (in the GM’s hands only), the AD&D Players Handbook, and the Tom Moldvay boxed Basic Set. Because the purple Moldvay box was the first complete version of D&D I owned and read, it is demonstrably superior.

I never even saw the original three OD&D books until years later, after college, when I scored one off of the then-vibrant Usenet gaming groups.

Going over the Holmes and Moldvay versions right now—I keep them in the same box—I noticed something I’d never really paid attention to in the introduction to the two rules sets.

Moldvay box:

The Original Fantasy Role Playing Game for 3 or More Adults, Ages 10 and Up

Dungeons & Dragons® Fantasy Adventure Game (“D&D® Game” for short) is a role playing adventure game for persons 10 years and older.

Holmes blue book1:

The Original Adult Fantasy Role-Playing Game For 3 or More Players

Dungeons & Dragons is a fantastic, exciting and imaginative game of role playing for adults 12 years and up.

Adults 12 and over. Adults 10 and over. There really is a sense in those books that we were entering a world where we had responsibilities, that we were going to take these tools and make our own way at something very new and very much completely under our control. We could do anything, and we had the responsibility that came with such power.

Most of the games of that era, as far as I can tell, didn’t even mention an age range. OD&D, 1st and 2nd edition AD&D, Traveller, don’t seem to have anything about it in their introductions.

The Pre-Raphaelite fantasies of John William Waterhouse—Saturday, July 11th, 2015

The Pre-Raphaelite movement is a gold mine for amazing fantasy artwork. Among the best was English painter John William Waterhouse. I use his work extensively in the Adventure Guide’s Handbook, and while I didn’t use the actual painting (yet), his The Lady of Shalott was the reason I used that poem in The House of Lisport. It’s just such an amazing piece of fantasy, the magical or fairy lady with knight-encrusted blankets and three candles lighting her waybill a prone crucifix… in fact it’s so amazing I just took out Waterhouse’s also-amazing Circe Invidiosa and replaced it with the Lady.

He created great paintings of rituals, from Circe Invidious with her preparing to turn Scylla into a hideous monster, to his Danaides pouring from three vases into a water-bearded cauldron, to, the most amazing in my view, his Magic Circle which is, precisely, a fantasy ritual, with burning incense, a magic staff, a magic circle, and a moon-shaped sickle. The sorceress has even attracted some ravens or crows to assist her!

Another favorite of mine is The Tempest, with the daughter of the sorceror Prospero sitting on the shoreline in a storm, watching what looks to be yet another ship dashed against the rocks by wind and wave. She’s worried mostly about her hair. I know that’s not the way the Shakespeare play goes, but it certainly looks that way in the painting.

Unlike the rest of the painters in this series, Waterhouse painted into the 20th century—which may have helped provide him his best subjects. In addition to painting from Dante and Shakespeare, he also had at his disposal the inspiring poetry of Alfred Tennyson, who died in 1892.

Do not miss Petty Gods!—Saturday, July 4th, 2015

Although Petty Gods was written for Labyrinth Lord and BX, if you are playing a game called Gods & Monsters you presumably want a lot of gods in your game. This book is therefore a great companion, not surprisingly, for Gods & Monsters, which is mostly compatible with BX anyway.

If you are looking to fill your Gods & Monsters game with approachable deities, you’ll find more than your fill in the 206 pages of lesser gods here. They are what the Adventure Guide’s Handbook calls demigods, spirit gods, and heroes. You can easily populate your game with a new god for every adventure if you wish, without fear of overcomplicating your world any more than providing a unique monster for every adventure.

Speaking of unique monsters, there are 66 pages of “minions, knights, & servitors” that puts many dedicated monster books to shame. Add in several pages of cults, divine items, and spells and this book plus your regular GM workload should turn your brain to tapioca in less than a month.

That is, if you were to read the whole thing all at once, which, as dedicated gamers know, is something you never do to a tome as thick and dangerous as this.

The spells are mostly very appropriate for Gods & Monsters spirit manifestations—that is, they are very divine and not so much magical.

Alignments in Petty Gods are designed for Basic/Expert’s Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic single axis, so you’ll need to set your own alignments for the dual axis in Gods & Monsters.

The book’s old-school bonafides are provided by both old and modern old-school stars: a prologue by Jennell Jaquays1 and a foreword by James M. Ward2; and an appendix by Tekumel’s M.A.R. Barker. Michael Curtis provides one of the appendixes, and Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr. provided the bulk of the editing.

It’s a very clean production. The typos, while numerous, are more of the missing article variety, or doubled thought and occasional real-word misspelling.3 I don’t recall seeing any that change the meaning.

Older posts.