The Biblyon Broadsheet

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons
Biblyon, Highland
Wednesday, June 26, 1985
Jerry Stratton, Ed.
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.

Ethereal engravings of William Miller—Saturday, June 27th, 2015

William Miller was a Scottish engraver. His artwork was created to accompany other people’s writings, and, as often as not, from the drawings of other people as well. This amazing image of Lochnaw Castle is from the Memoirs of Sir Andrew Agnew, by Thomas M’Crie. The engraving was from a drawing by R. K. Greville.

Lochnaw Castle

The Temple of Minerva and the Ancient Sarcophagi are from Select Views In Greece With Classical Illustrations, by Hugh William Williams, who also did the drawings that the engravings were based on.

Ancient sarcophagi Temple of Minerva

His engraving of W. Linton’s drawing of Delos could just as well be Tolkien’s Last Home of the Elves. His Faeries on the Seashore (after W. Danby) is otherworldly—helped along, no doubt, by the fact that it’s an engraving, but the engraver’s skill and artistic talent show.

Engravings, while they reproduced other pieces of art, were difficult, time-consuming pieces of art themselves. Good plates could take years to engrave.

I have not yet used any of these images in adventures or lore books, but I can’t imaging that, at least, the Temple of Minerva or the Ancient Sarcophagi won’t inspire some use. The ancient sarcophagi look like something you might see in the cold waste on the Road to the First City of Man…

The strange and marvelous history of the crypt of Balbus—Sunday, June 21st, 2015
The Crypt of Balbus

I could believe this was a crypt, if it was called “the crypt of…”. (Sailko, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

In the May/June issue of Archaeology, Marco Merola describes the uses put to unused shrines after the fall of Rome. Sometimes they were even looted while in use.

They have also uncovered a shrine dating to the second or third century A.D. dedicated to the goddesses Artemis, Aphrodite of Aphrodisias, and Isis, and the gods Meleager and Dionysus. Several centuries later, the shrine was still in use, despite some of its column capitals having been removed and used as tables in nearby homes. Evidence shows that in the years between the seventh and ninth centuries, a shrine to the god Mithras became a stable…

The place is called the Crypta Balbi not because it was a crypt, but “because the colonnaded portico and theater that enclosed the large courtyard made it dark inside even in broad daylight.”

Of course, several centuries later, the locals may not remember why it was called Crypt of Balbus, merely that that is its name, and there must be a reason. Why, the place is cold even in the summer!

If a shrine can become a stable (and isn’t that just begging for the kind of divine retribution that leads to adventures) after a few centuries, what kinds of uses can shrines and temples be put to millennia later? Your border castle wasn’t built on an old burial ground, it is the old burial ground! And the old burial building used to be a temple of Aphrodite.

The domestication of frozen water—Wednesday, June 17th, 2015
Changnyeong seokbinggo

An ice house in South Korea.

If there is any one modern innovation that would be both perfectly understandable to the medieval visitor yet completely amazing in spite of it, it is the ubiquity of ice.

Sure, matches are cool, but they’re really just fancy tinder kits. And the educated among our medieval ancestors would certainly know of the wonders of Rome’s waterways. But ice? Ice has never served man so well as it does today.

My grandfather worked, as a teenager, in an icehouse. He hated it. Ice blocks had to be big, or they’d melt. Water is heavy enough in small quantities; carrying those ice blocks to people’s trucks was a very strenuous task.

From there people could purchase it for their own iceboxes (the immediate predecessor to the refrigerator) or their own insulated or basement ice house. Or they could buy it when they needed it for a party and use it until it melted. But it was cheap only compared to what it cost the advent of ice houses, which is to say, compared to a near impossibility.

The ice “factory” my grandfather worked at didn’t create the ice: it kept ice from the winter when the lake froze over. Ice from the lake was cut into blocks and stored in a warehouse, then covered in insulators such as straw and sawdust to keep the heat out. The blocks were big enough that, properly insulated, they could keep for months, long enough to last through the summer until the lake froze again.

This also meant that ice could be transported in ships to climates that had no winter.

Storing ice became popular only when it became easy to cut ice, transport it, and keep it stored in bulk through the summer. A relatively wealthy market was also necessary for icehouses to become viable. Persia did it, when Persia was the center of civilization, and it was common enough in the United States as average wealth began to rise. But even then, ice was bulky and difficult to work with, and required year-long planning.

Simply popping water into a kitchen storage unit and waiting an hour? Incredible! The stuff is so cheap now we even toss it in chunks to kids to keep them quiet and amused. Ice is so cheap that soda—itself so cheap that it usually comes with free unlimited refills—is always cut with ice in restaurants. Think about that: this thing that was usually impossible at any price is now filler in sugared water.

Ice is everywhere today. Many modern refrigerators come with icemakers built in, but if not you can pop some water in a tray, put it in your freezer and have ice readily available in an hour.

If you have an abundance of water, you can make a limited refrigerator pretty easily. Evaporative cooling works on the simple principle that when water evaporates, it takes energy to do so. As long as the evaporated water leaves the area before it re-condenses, the area around the evaporation will be cooled.

Inspirational art: Caspar David Friedrich—Saturday, May 30th, 2015

Inspirational art can really set the tone for a book or adventure. When I went looking for good fantasy art on Wikimedia Commons, the art of Caspar David Friedrich really stood out. His Wanderer in the Sea of Fog was so inspirational I used it as the first image in the Gods & Monsters rulebook: an adventurer, about to set off into the unknown, surveying the visible world before descending into the mist.

The wanderer above the sea of fog

This is not the summit of his journey. It is only the beginning.

Other paintings I’ve used for various Gods & Monsters books are his Juno Temple, Cemetery Entrance, Monastery Ruins, Chalk Cliffs on Rügen, and, I think, the Abbey in the Oakwood. He has many more.

Two that really inspire me, though, are his Cross beside the Baltic and Man and woman contemplating the moon.

I strongly suspect that the cross partly inspired the cross in the snow in Song of Tranquility from Fight On! #7.

And doesn’t that tree look like it’s about to attack our contemplative moon-watchers?

The well of life: the revolution of reliable water—Saturday, May 23rd, 2015
Fréjus aqueduct arches

Impressive. If you didn’t know what it was for and you lived in medieval times, what stories would you create around these arches?

Outside of oxygen, water is probably the most necessary ingredient to human life. You can go without food for three weeks or more, though you’ll be weak at the end of it; if you run out of water you’ll die in three to five days, and you’ll be too disabled to survive after two. In hot or arid environments, you can die in less than a day.

Locating sources of safe water has been part of the human condition for our entire history. In a world without tap water, finding water and making it safe to drink often consumed our lives.

Kathy Jesperson, in the Summer 1996 OnTap for the National Drinking Water Clearinghouse, quotes from The Quest for Pure Water: The History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century about water treatment from 4,000 years ago:

The Sus’ruta Samhita, Sanskrit writings about medical concerns, dates from approximately 2000 B.C. and offers evidence that water treatment may well be as ancient as humans are. The writings declare that “impure water should be purified by being boiled over a fire, or being heated in the sun, or by dipping a heated iron into it, or it may be purified by filtration through sand and coarse gravel and then allowed to cool.”

As long as you’re going to the trouble to boil your water, you might as well make it more interesting by adding barley or other grains to it. This turns it into a very simple beer. Beer has been part of our daily diet since the time of the Egyptians. From the beginning of recorded history to the Middle Ages, brewing beer was a part of the homemaker’s chores. In the Middle Ages hops were used to keep it fresh during transport. As brewers learned more about hopped beer, beer lasted longer, and a trade in beer became possible.

In A world lit only by fire: the medieval mind and the Renaissance, William Manchester describes how common beer and wine were:

Archery contest—Saturday, May 9th, 2015
Woman with a bow

While our group was in Biblyon preparing for a foray into some ruins, we had a player character compete in an archery contest. Upon discovering that Biblyon ran an archery contest every autumn, the player decided that their character needed to take part, and they postponed the adventure a few game-world days so as to stay in town for the contest.

How difficult is it to hit a target in Gods & Monsters? A real target, the kind attached to hay bales?

The first thing to note is that this is not a conflict. It’s a contest, not just in name but in game rules. So it’s going to be an ability roll, against agility. Hitting a small but unmoving target is very easy, so the bonus will be +4. Range, however, is going to make a difference, and in this case the obstacle size will be the range of the bow used, 20 yards for a normal bow. If it’s twenty yards or more, there’s a penalty of one; forty or more, a penalty of two, 80 or more, a penalty of three, and so on.

For warriors, their Fighting Arts field will apply one way or another. A third-level warrior with a 10 agility shooting at a small target 40 yards away will need 10+4–2+3, or 15 or less, to hit.

Players will likely want their character to take some time, going for the +1 for waiting. It is, of course, very impressive to not wait if the shot is successful.

At these high numbers, bonuses to hit make a big difference. The difference between 19 or less and 20 or less is the difference between “might fail” and “won’t fail”. Because of this, higher level warriors and agile characters will be much better at archery contests.

A quality weapon can make a difference, too: bows with longer ranges will gain penalties more slowly.

Because this is not a conflict, but rather a contest, skill at it won’t be limited to warriors. Warriors can, of course, use their Fighting Arts field either with the appropriate bow skill or the weapon fluency skill. But non-warriors may well have an archery skill in Athletic Arts. Their archery skill is worthless in combat, but will help them in sporting events.

This is likely part of the appeal of impromptu jousts among warriors: those early tourneys involved real combat and thus separated the warrior from the dilettante.

Contests are pretty freeform in the Gods & Monsters rules, leaving the details up to you to tailor to the contest in question. I can think of two obvious ways to model an archery contest.

Skin a module 3: Thracia to The Lost City—Saturday, May 2nd, 2015
Ostrusha Mound fresco

(Ivo E. Stankov, CC BY-SA 2.5)

When I first started gaming back in the early eighties, I heard about Judges Guild, but I never saw anything from them. We had no game store near us until my cousins started a game rack in their parents’ dime store, and that contained mostly, if not all, TSR. By the time I got to college, Judges Guild had already lost their license to produce official AD&D products1 and had pretty much stopped publishing. I’m not sure I saw any Judges Guild stuff in the otherwise well-stocked game store on the Ithaca Commons.2

But I had heard about them—supposedly amazing adventures such as Dark Tower, Tegel Manor, and The Caverns of Thracia. I had dabbled in buying gaming stuff over the Internet in the old days of Usenet, when I picked up a zine or two and managed to score an OD&D box set. But it wasn’t until the dawn of eBay that I began to discover these old treasures. And then Noble Knight became a reliable source as well, a kind of Mile High Comics for gamers.

Most of my changes for Thracia (PDF File, 727.3 KB) are changes in names; I added a reason for the lizard-king to be waiting: he’s studying one of the Tablets of Enki. And the means that player characters arrive is by means of the teleport pads; once, all the ancient temples were connected; the controls have been destroyed, but the controls were merely mankind imposing their will on the divine. The pads themselves work still. So they enter the caverns by way of a teleport pad inside of the Temple of Apuiporo in the Yellow Forest on The Road.

Athena became Ishtar, Zeus Dupater, Apollo Sin, and Thanatos Enki, who appears draped in seaweed. These gods are all associated with the older religions, and Thracia is part of the empire of the first city of man. Lizard-men became saurians, not a big change, but the gnolls and dog-brothers became degenerate mananubi, the servants of the dragon Tifá. I already knew that these Anubis-styled creatures wandered the wastes outside of the City, and wanted to introduce them before they reached the City.

Winged Victory became Tifá’s servant, the demon Ebeorie from Helter Skelter.

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