The Biblyon Broadsheet

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons
Biblyon, Highland
Sunday, May 8, 1988
Jerry Stratton, Ed.
DieSquare for iOS—Wednesday, May 16th, 2018
DieSquare chi-square test on d20

Well, the die is apparently okay. That means it’s intelligent and it hates me.

Ole Zorn’s Pythonista for iOS is an amazing mobile development environment. If you can do it in base Python, you can do it, inside a GUI, on your iPhone or iPad. This makes it a great tool for gamers who are also programmers.

My dice always seem to be conspiring against me, which is a big reason I’m interested in running chi-square tests. R is an amazing tool for doing so, but it isn’t an amazing tool for entering the data. Last week, after yet another accusation from my teammates that my die is clearly biased to roll low—in a D&D 5 game, where high is better—I started to think they might be right. The first time the accusation was made, I said, look, it’s just because the die knows I’m attacking. I’m going to roll it right now for no reason whatsoever, and the die will come up 20. It did. The die isn’t biased to roll low, it’s biased against me. But it just kept failing.

I thought I’d better double check. Because I am a typical superstitious gamer, I have different dice for different purposes, and this is in fact the first time I’ve used this die—I had it reserved for playing rather than gamemastering. It occurred to me that, since I wrote Are my dice random? in 2006, I have acquired both a great mobile device and a great development environment for it. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to bring up a table of possible rolls, and tap on each possibility when it came up on the die so as to keep track of each count? That would make rolling through a chi-square test dead easy.

I wrote it this weekend in Pythonista. The basic idea is that you choose the die size, and then each possible die roll shows up in a table as a row. Tap the row to add one hit to that result. Slide to remove if you accidentally tapped the wrong row.1 Give the die a name if you want the results saved, and there is an icon to (a) share, for example, copy, the data or results, (b) trash the data and start over, (c) load previously-saved data. Data is automatically saved if you give the die a name. Once you hit a minimum of ten rolls per face on the die (with an absolute minimum of 50 rolls), it calculates the p-value for that data.

Combing damage dice into attack roll—Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

In Gods & Monsters, as in many role-playing games, the damage roll is completely separate from the attack roll. Dungeons and Dragons, historically, has had the same behavior: rolling a 20 is the same as rolling a 10, as long as both hit, with the caveat that a 1 always misses. The current edition, fifth edition, mixes things up a little by offering critical hits on a roll of 20, but a roll of 19 is still the same as any other roll.

This clearly goes against the grain for some players. You can see it in their eyes when they make a great attack roll and then roll a one or two for damage.

Because of this, I have occasionally considered making the damage roll somehow part of the attack roll, so that high attack rolls do more damage than low ones. The sticking point has always been that I’ve always thought about it in terms of the quality of the success, which would make such a rule more complex than it’s worth. It would also make it very difficult to damage opponents that were very difficult to hit, since the quality of success against an opponent that requires a 20 to hit, for example, will always be the minimum.

It occurred to me, though, that just using the raw attack roll wouldn’t be a big deal. While it’s true that, if you have to roll a 20 to hit and you’re doing, say, d8 damage, this would mean that you always do 8 points instead of 4.5, the real increase is from an average of .225 points per attack to .4 points per attack, since you’re almost never hitting anyway. Sure, it’s a big increase percentage-wise, but it really isn’t that big of an increase.

Using the raw attack roll makes the calculations much easier. There’s no adjustment for “how much did you make it by”. It removes agility, strength, and any situational modifiers from affecting damage unless you want them to, in which case just add it to the final damage.

Here’s how the common damage rolls in Gods & Monsters turn out in such a system:

The Great Falling War, Revisited—Tuesday, February 6th, 2018
Early Flight: Mort de Harris, Paris, 1824

“Whatever happens, I’ll send the results to Dragon Magazine!”

Delta’s D&D Hotspot claims to focus on “Math, History, and Design of Old-School D&D”, so it isn’t surprising that Delta has revisited the great falling war of 1983-84.

What is surprising is the data that Delta provides. After a lengthy analysis of the participants in the war, Delta adds:

The real-world statistics of falling mortality are expressed in terms of “median lethal distance” (LD50), that is, the distance at which a fall will kill 50% of victims (who are presumably normal adults). Smith, Trauma Anesthesia, p. 3, asserts that LD50 is around 50 feet (4 stories). Wikipedia asserts that LD50 for children is at a similar height; 40-50 feet. Dickinson, et. al., in “Falls From Height: Injury and Mortality” (Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, 2013) notes that LD50 varies greatly by injury type: about [34 feet] for those who land on their head or chest; about [73 feet] for those who do not.

Fifty feet is a long way, and I don’t think I would have ever guessed that the mortality rate were only 50% falling that distance. Asked to guess, I’d probably have said 75% to 85% at least. This may be yet another case where real life is allowed to be stranger than fiction. Even more amazing is how much of a difference knowing how to fall makes: raising the LD50 to seventy feet just by falling better sounds like movie reality.

Of course, even not dying there’s likely to be a lot of injuries involved—although seeing the LD50 numbers does make me wonder what the serious injury rate is, and whether I’ve been overestimating that, too—and Gods & Monsters, unlike OD&D has a system for that. As Leland J. Tankersley writes in the comments,

I think the fundamental problem in reconciling reality with D&D-like games is that health in D&D is in some respects binary—you are either dead or effectively so (0 hp or less), or else you are “fine” (1 or more hp, which might be “near-death” in some sense but which doesn’t impair your ability to act in any way. While LD50 may be 50' for a typical human, I feel confident in asserting without evidence that the vast majority of those that are NOT killed by a 50' fall are nevertheless incapacitated (broken/shattered legs, for example).

Rolling random levels across a range of experience points in AD&D—Saturday, November 4th, 2017
Substandard ability rolls

I’m prepping for a North Texas RPG Convention session, an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure I’m going to run in June, in which the characters should be from levels four through six. I wanted to create these characters completely randomly; the adventure is an old-school adventure designed for old-school characters. This means a random variety of abilities and levels.

Initially, I eyeballed the level range, going from class to class in the Players Handbook knowing that I didn’t want the lowest experience point total in the range to produce a level lower than four, and that I didn’t want the highest experience point total in the range to produce a level higher than six. I correctly calculated that I needed to roll d25,000 experience and add 10,000 to it.1 The easiest way to handle this was to roll d100,000, divide by 4, round up, and add to 10,000. So, on creating each character I randomly rolled a d100,000 and performed the calculation, possibly adding 10% if the character had an earned experience bonus.2

However, reading over the adventure I wasn’t sure if perhaps I might want to make the characters level 5 to 7 instead. This would make the calculation 22,500 plus d100,000 times .375. Since I still had all of the d100,000 rolls, I first just pulled out my trusty Tandy PC-73 and wrote a quick BASIC program to handle the calculations.

  • 10 INPUT A
  • 20 B=A*.375+22500
  • 30 B=- INT(-B)
  • 40 PRINT B

Since 10% is easy to add mentally, it was faster to handle that calculation on my own instead of adding another line of code to ask whether the character merited the bonus.

Nowadays I would usually use Pythonista on the iPhone or iPad rather than the PC-7, but I was in an old-school mode, and I’ve had this BASIC-programmable pocket calculator since I first bought in in 1986, often using it for repetitive game calculations.4

It worked well enough that I decided to keep track of the d100,000 rolls in a text file.

Mighty Protectors release: Villains & Vigilantes 3.0—Friday, October 13th, 2017

As of today, Monkey House Games is selling the new edition of Villains and Vigilantes: Villains and Vigilantes 3.0 Mighty Protectors. Since I contributed to the Kickstarter for the game, I have been able to read through it for a while now; I also played in an earlier version of the game last year at the North Texas con. It’s a worthwhile game, and a worthwhile update to V&V.

I really like how Villains and Vigilantes seems to create cool PCs against all odds. The Tenth Saint, who I wrote about while reviewing the 2.1 edition of the game, was a just a random creation for a review, but I thought it was so great I’ve kept it for actual play. Going through this rulebook for the first time, I created The Old Man of the Mountain just for review purposes, and now want to play him. It’s almost impossible not to create a cool hero in V&V.

The default character creation process remains random in the new Mighty Protectors edition.1 I started by rolling my birthplace, which turned out to be local. This meant skipping over the alien and other-dimensional birthplace charts and going to Species, where I rolled Monster, “a catch-all category for characters whose appearance or Abilities render them socially unacceptable…”

Most things have a default assumption of rolling, with choice allowed, but for Age and Gender the default is choice, with rolling allowed. “Non-human characters can be of any age, from a few hours to many aeons…”. I decided to be an ancient monster. I chose an even 1,000 years.

Earlier editions did not have a specific rule for rolling player character basic characteristics, that is, strength, endurance, and so on. It was assumed that you would play yourself and that your friends would stat you up. In Mighty Protectors the campaign’s power level determines your character’s five basic characteristic scores. In a standard campaign, characters have 18, 16, 14, 12, and 10 for initial characteristics. Randomness, rather than creating the score, applies the score to a characteristic. That is, every character has the same numbers (pre-powers) but in a different order. I ended up with:

  • Strength 18
  • Endurance 10
  • Agility 14
  • Intelligence 12
  • Cool 16
The Prophet is your bitch—Monday, September 11th, 2017

In the Adventure Guide’s Handbook, I suggested that prophets might get prophet spirits when asking for other spirits, so as to be forced to use divine guidance. Afterward, I wrote:

But more than that one spirit manifestation, prophets pray for guidance every time they call new spirits. Their deity will intervene if there's a spirit that their deity wants them to have. Don't hesitate to give prophets spirits other than what the player wanted when there's a good reason from their deity's perspective. Determine one or two spirits that the character should call, and if the character doesn't call that spirit, replace one or two they did call with what they should have. Tell them this when they call the spirits, so that they know their deity has different plans for them.

All but one of the Gods & Monsters archetypes are individualistic. The warrior, the thief, the sorceror, and the monk, are, once the game starts, self-sufficient. They could have an adventure without encountering any non-player characters or creatures.

The prophet must interact with their deity or pantheon every time they request spirit types. As the Adventure Guide, you can choose to have their prayers be answered, or you can choose to have them be refused, or you can choose to alter the request. You decide how and whether their god(s) will act.

Gods & Monsters assumes that prophets are rare, and that they have a direct link to the gods—which also means that the gods have a direct link to them. In a sense, the prophet is a link between the players and the Adventure Guide. The gods don’t know everything the Guide knows, but they do have a wider view than the characters. If an adventuring group contains a prophet, and the group loses track of the objective the gods want them to follow, they can and will let their servant know.

Some game worlds will place restrictions on when and how the gods can appear. An incalcitrant or frightened prophet might choose to avoid those times and places. But there is one spirit which requires them to come to the gods: divine guidance. divine guidance must be cast in a grove or other holy place, where the gods can influence the world.


As with most spirit manifestations, divine guidance is limited to the level and sphere of the spirit that manifests it.

But the gods are not so limited, and divine guidance brings the prophet to the attention of their god.

Life in a Medieval City—Saturday, April 15th, 2017

Joseph and Francis Gies’s “Life in a Medieval…” series is a useful series for gamers. I’ve just finished reading Life in a Medieval City and it provides details that should inspire ideas both for characters and for creating adventures.

The Medieval City of the title is, basically, Troyes, around the year 1250, in what was then only sort of France. The king of France didn’t control the Champagne area; the Count of Champagne ruled over the Province of Champagne, and Troyes was its capital.1 Nor was it the only area not under the control of the King, and Champagne itself was potentially under several jurisdictions.

The sovereign who granted Troyes its charter was Thibaut IV, whose talent as a poet won him the dashing sobriquet of Thibaut le Chansonnier (“Songwriter”). Even before he inherited the kingdom of Navarre (after which he signed himself Thibaut, king of Navarre and Champagne), his territories were extensive, though held from seven different lords—the king of France, the emperor of Germany, the archbishops of Sens and Reims, the bishops of Paris and Lancers, and the duke of Burgundy. For administrative purposes, the complex territory of Champagne was divided into twenty-seven castellanies, each of which included several barons and a number of knights who owed military service—altogether more than two thousand. (There were also a few hundred knights in Champagne who owed military service to somebody else.)

Language was fragmented as well. The literate used Latin as a common language—sometimes. The rest did as best they could with widely variant versions of French.

Because of the class structure, knowledge was also fragmented: all those strange things we read in medieval bestiaries, such as that “weasels conceive by the ear and deliver by the mouth” were there because the people writing the encyclopedias copied from (possibly misunderstood) Roman sources, rather than consulting the “Furriers, trappers, hunters, and poachers [who] could correct much of the natural history in the encyclopedias.”

In a fantasy game, of course, scholars have a very good reason for not investigating monsters at the source: the monsters are real, and it’s dangerous to investigate them. Which could make for a lot of fun when the encyclopedias don’t match what the monsters actually do.

Troyes was the major fair town in an area known for its fairs, and the authors take us through the kind of people who take part in the fairs and how they do it. As with Life in a Medieval Castle, they cover not only how the fairs grew, but also how they faded.

Can I legally use Gary Gygax’s name for my son?—Saturday, April 1st, 2017
Too Much of the Stupid

There may not be such a thing as a stupid question, but the world is awash in stupid answers. (R.K. Milholland)

My wife and I are going to have a son in May, and since we met while playing Dungeons and Dragons, we’d like to name him Gary. Is that legal? Can we do this?

First, congratulations on the successful character creation process. It can take a long time, but it’s also a lot of fun and very rewarding.

The short version is that names like Gary and Dave appear to be available for use, but tread carefully. This is a very gray area. Before you name your child anything, you should talk to a lawyer. And I don’t mean a rules lawyer!

The name “Gary” may be so common that it’s difficult to defend, but you could always use a similar name, such as Garry. The extra ‘r’ makes it look archaic, and a lot of people would get the wink-wink-nudge-nudge true source of the name. Even though the name is nearly identical, Hasbro might consider it small enough that it isn’t worth acting on the infringement. The usual advice I give, however, is that if you’re not certain, avoid the issue. Some other common name ought to be in the clear1, but copying D&D’s creator, while a very light shade of gray, means you’ll be dealing with Hasbro lawyers.

It’s always in your best interest to avoid encounters with the dreaded 12 HD Lawyer Dragon!

Short of talking to a lawyer (which is always a good idea when worrying about legal issues such as naming your child) it might be helpful to look at what other people have done. Paul Francis Gladd named himself Gary around the same time that Gary Gygax wrote Dungeons and Dragons with Dave Arneson. But he suffered legally from 1997 on. A city in Indiana capitalized on its nearness to D&D’s Gencon conference by naming itself “Gary”, but the city’s population has dropped precipitously since Dungeons & Dragons’ popularity rose. After several lawsuits, they’ve nearly gone broke.

Gary Gilmore ended up going to court and was shot by a firing squad just three years after D&D was published. The punishments courts can levy for copyright infringement are often severe, and I’m sure you’d agree you don’t want to inflict them on your son.

Your safest course of action would be to choose a completely different name, but if your heart is set on honoring the D&D founder, you might try a homonym such as Gharee, Garrie, or Gayri. Bearing a unique name will also give doughty young Gayri the respect of his classmates when he reaches school age.

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