The Biblyon Broadsheet

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons
Biblyon, Highland
Wednesday, January 10, 1990
Jerry Stratton, Ed.
First Level Magic-Users are Useless—Thursday, January 16th, 2020

“That betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how early editions of the game are played. Basic, 1E, and to some extent 2E emphasized the problem-solving skills of the player, over the in-game-power skills of the character.”

Believing that once a character’s special abilities on the character sheet are done, there’s nothing left to do, is a very modern attitude and ultimately alien to the original aesthetic of the game. — Greyhawk Grognard (First Level Magic-Users are Useless)

Great tips for game masters—Thursday, January 9th, 2020

“… if there are no stakes, then there’s no real victory… The best campaigns are based on the players interacting with the environment, and if they have no real choice, then there’s no real interaction.”

These are great tips for any game master, not just Dungeon Masters. Regarding the first tip, “don’t fudge”, I’ve long come to the point where I prefer not to use a shield to hide die rolls. It’s both a lot harder to fudge die rolls when the players know what they were, and it’s a lot more exciting to see how close the monster came to succeeding or failing.

An IP lawyer talks about role-playing and copyrights—Saturday, November 9th, 2019

“WotC has a history of taking advantage of gamers’ ignorance of contract and intellectual property law and lack of wealth when making similar demands, thus harming the gaming community and industry, so it’s time those issues are addressed.”

It’s been a long time since I wrote my series on gaming copyright and why, and what kind of, open source licenses are useful and what are merely backdoor attempts to bar people from doing what they’re legally entitled to do under copyright law. As I stated regularly, I am not a lawyer, just an interested amateur. Frylock, as his name might suggest to you if you’re up on your Shakespeare, is a lawyer. He’s just started a series on copyrightability in RPGs, specifically stat blocks, at Frylock’s Gaming & Geekery.

His inspiration is very similar to my initial inspiration for writing Gods & Monsters: a threat from Wizards of the Coast. His came directly, however; mine only came obliquely through Ryan Dancey on Usenet. Keep an eye on his series—the first installment is very informative—and keep an eye on whether there’s a legal battle at all, or WotC/Hasbro just ignores him.

House on Crane Hill at North Texas 2019—Wednesday, February 13th, 2019
Belle Grove through cypress

The sky is grey toward the sea. The water beats steadily against the high grass, and a low mist rolls across the waves toward you.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:

Recently, you have each been contacted by Dr. Jean deMontagne, some of you directly, some of you after a friend recommended you, to take a seaside vacation at Delarosa Manor, which the locals call Crane House, forty miles up the coast from Crosspoint between King’s Head and Jackson Village. You should set out on Monday, November 2, and thus arrive on November 3 or 4.

This is a working vacation. Dr. deMontagne asks that you search the house for a small, brass coffer once owned by Louis Merrikitt and marked with two strange symbols. He offers you ten shillings each to compensate you for that small task, and he offers another hundred for the coffer, should you find it. He tells you that the manor is yours for the month of November as you wish, although the actual task should take no more than a day or two.

House on Crane Hill is a haunted house adventure inspired not just by Shirley Jackson’s amazing story but also by her many imitators1, some good, some bad, and some horrorble. I have been fascinated by haunted house stories ever since I read the Hell House rip-off in Werewolf by Night back in the seventies—a comic I still read from time to time. These stories don’t just hint at a fundamental weakness in reality. They shove it down our throats. It took a long time for me to get around to reading the source for them all, but once I read The Haunting of Hill House I was hooked on Shirley Jackson, too.

Was table-top gaming inevitable?—Monday, October 22nd, 2018
Runequest cover

Today, Gods & Monsters in its public form turned 18. On October 22, 2000, I posted a link to “The Game” on rec.games.frp.misc asking for Blues Brothers-style constructive criticism. Eighteen, of course, is only significant in gaming terms or adulthood, and in the former case only for those games that use 3d6 for stats. Combined with a sad event from two weeks ago, it has me thinking again about role-playing history and how lucky we are to have had Dungeons & Dragons in particular and tabletop fantasy roleplaying in general.

The other event is that Greg Stafford died on October 12. He founded the Chaosium in 1975 to publish his fantasy board game. Through it he published, in 1978, the highly influential RuneQuest game, set in the highly influential Glorantha world, which used the same world that his earlier board game did.

It is hard for someone who wasn’t quite there—I started gaming in 1981—to describe just how influential Glorantha and RuneQuest was, the idea of basing the rules on the setting.

In his tribute to Stafford, Zenopus relates a fascinating and telling story about how Greg Stafford was introduced to D&D:

I used to work for Bergamot Brass Works, a belt buckle company out of Lake Geneva, WI after high school. Real hippy job. I'd take buckles, hitch hike around and sell them to shops, etc. After a while, though, I moved to California. My friend of the time remained there, selling buckles (we were called Buckle-itis).

Through various circumstances I'd decided to publish my first boardgame, White Bear & Red Moon, on my own. As I was finishing up work on it, I got a package in the mail from my old partner Jeff. His cover letter said, "I was picking up my catalogues from the printer the other day and there was this guy waiting for his stuff. I asked what it was, and he said it was a fantasy game. I said, 'Hey, my buddy in California is doing one too! Can I buy one from ya?'"

Of course the guy was happy to, and so Jeff sent me this strange little booklet called Dungeons & Dragons.

Command-line Die Square—Wednesday, June 27th, 2018
Skull d6

Is it any surprise that a die covered in skulls is biased?

Because Pythonista does not contain scipy, calculating chi-square values using it can have trouble on edge cases. This command-line script can run on data files created by the DieSquare mobile app, and uses scipy to make more reliable calculations.

Specify the DieSquare data file on the command line.

  • $ ~/bin/diesquare "Bronze d20.diesquare"
  • Degrees of freedom: 19.0 X-square: 20.6
  • p-value: 0.359317617197
  • d20 bias is unlikely.

You can also specify the die size and a file of tab-delimited or colon-delimited data. The file should contain two columns: the result, and how many of those results occurred.

The DieSquare file format is:

  • d6
  • 1: 3
  • 2: 16
  • 3: 9
  • 4: 8
  • 5: 6
  • 6: 18

That is, any line beginning with a lower-case “d” is assumed to be specifying the die size; any line with a number followed by a colon and space followed by a number is assumed to be a result. You can also put comments in by preceding the line with a pound symbol (#).

And as you might guess, this die is almost certainly biased.

  • $ ~/bin/diesquare "Skull d6.diesquare"
  • Degrees of freedom: 5.0 X-square: 17.0
  • p-value: 0.00449979697797
  • d6 bias is probable.

The code itself (Zip file, 1.6 KB) is very simple.

[toggle code]

  • #!/usr/bin/python
  • #http://godsmonsters.com/Features/my-dice-random/diesquare-ios/command-line-die-square/
  • import argparse
  • import scipy.stats
  • parser = argparse.ArgumentParser(description='Calculate Chi Square p-value using DieSquare data files.')
  • parser.add_argument('--die', type=int, help='die size')
  • parser.add_argument('data', type=argparse.FileType('r'), nargs=1)
  • parser.add_argument('--verbose', action='store_true')
  • args = parser.parse_args()
  • class ChiSquare():
    • def __init__(self, die, rolls):
      • self.die = die
      • self.parseRolls(rolls)
    • def parseRolls(self, rolls):
      • self.rollCount = 0
      • self.rolls = {}
      • for roll in rolls:
        • if not roll:
          • continue
        • if roll.startswith('d'):
          • self.die = int(roll[1:])
          • continue
        • if roll.startswith('#'):
          • continue
        • if "\t" in roll:
          • separator = "\t"
      • if args.verbose:
        • print(self.rollCount)
        • print(self.rolls)
    • def calculate(self):
      • if args.verbose:
        • print '\n# ', self.die
      • expected = float(self.rollCount)/float(self.die)
      • freedom = float(self.die - 1)
      • observed = self.rolls.values()
      • expected = [expected]*self.die
      • chisquare, pvalue = scipy.stats.chisquare(observed, expected)
      • print "Degrees of freedom:", freedom, "X-square:", chisquare
      • print "p-value:", pvalue
  • calculator = ChiSquare(args.die, args.data[0])
  • calculator.calculate()

Half of the code is just parsing the datafile; the actual calculation is a couple of lines using scipy:

  • observed = self.rolls.values()
  • expected = [expected]*self.die
  • chisquare, pvalue = scipy.stats.chisquare(observed, expected)

The variable “observed” is the list of observed result counts. The variable “expected” is the list of expected result counts. For example, rolling a d6 60 times, the expected result count is 10 for each result, so expected will equal “[10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10]”. And observed will be the actual results; for example, in the above data the die face 1 was rolled three times, 2 sixteen times, 3 nine times, 4 eight times, 5 six times, and 6 eighteen times. This is the list “[3, 16, 9, 8, 6, 18]”. The script, of course, uses the lists it constructed by reading the datafile.

Surprise and initiative in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons—Wednesday, June 13th, 2018
Charles Marion Russell

Initiative, surprise, who knows?

Last weekend I ran an AD&D game at the North Texas RPG Convention, a run through Karl Merris’s Fell Pass from Dragon Magazine 32. Fortunately, I also ran a playtest with my local group, because I’ve forgotten a lot about how AD&D worked. Much of what I didn’t forget was wrong. I’m pretty sure we always used d10 for initiative, for example.

When I started using Gods & Monsters, I planned never to run AD&D again; preparing for this game I began to remember why. It’s not that the rules are overly complex; it’s that they’re explained in bits and pieces, scattered throughout the text, with strangely-ignored edge cases.

Take surprise, for example. Surprise is basically very easy. Roll a d6 for the entire group. If you roll a 1 or 2, the group is surprised, and that’s the number of segments they’re surprised. Individuals with high dexterity can adjust that up or down.

That some characters are surprised only on a 1 on d6 isn’t a big deal either, because the group uses their most advantageous member for the surprise roll. And that some creatures (and characters) have specific rules for when they cause surprise also works surprisingly simply, though it could have been worded better. When a group with special surprise rules meets a group with special not-surprised rules, the range needs to be converted to a modifier from the standard, and then applied to the die roll. It seems like it would have made more sense to have it be a modifier to begin with, but that’s D&D.

But no mention is made of characters who roll a percentile die to be surprised. If their most advantageous character is a Monk, and they roll 19 on d100, this means they’re surprised. It cannot possibly mean that they are surprised for 19 segments, however.

I chose to read the Monk surprise as basically a 1 in d4 chance, so that if the most advantageous party member is a Monk, the party will only be surprised for one segment.

Well-behaved deities seldom make history—Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

I was inspired a few weeks ago to make a Gods & Monsters t-shirt out of Doré’s engraving of Moses breaking the tablets of the law. After a minor issue with the first batch, they are ready. I have one in white and one in ash grey.

It looks nice enough that it inspired me to finally open the Zazzle store I started back when I first published Gods & Monsters back in 2000. This means you can also purchase an “I survived Illustrious Castle” with the completely esoteric symbol of Eliazu on the front. I made up those shirts for the first group to go through Illustrious Castle in its Gods & Monsters form. I also made up shirts that said “I died in Illustrious Castle”. I don’t know what happened to them.

This page should automatically update with the latest Zazzle products, should there be any more.

Well-behaved deities (ash)
Well-behaved deities seldom make history, a t-shirt in ash.
Well-behaved deities (white)
Well-behaved deities seldom make history. A t-shirt in white.
I survived Illustrious Castle t-shirt
From the time capsule, a never-before-released shirt from 2000 or so. I distributed these to the first players who went through Illustrious Castle (and survived).

Older posts