The Biblyon Broadsheet

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons
Biblyon, Highland
Tuesday, October 13, 1987
Jerry Stratton, Ed.
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
Jonah

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.

Elijah

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.

North Texas RPG Con Event: House on Crane Hill—Tuesday, March 21st, 2017
Belle Grove through cypress

Welcome to Delarosa Manor. Some houses were born evil…

If you can make it to the North Texas RPG Convention on Saturday, June 3, I’ll be running a game of Gods & Monsters. The event is “House on Crane Hill”. As I write this, there are three earlybird tickets available, and there will be four free tickets available on April 15 at midnight.

Assuming you have an account on the NTRPGC sign-up site and are logged in, here’s the event page.

The adventure will use pre-gens at first level. Bring dice, pencils, and your Barrett’s Electromagnetic Field Generator.

Crane House is an idea I’ve been working on for quite a while now. Tell me if you’ve heard this story: a hand-selected research group is chosen to spend a week investigating an abandoned house known for its supernatural activities. But this is no ordinary haunting.

No living organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Thus Shirley Jackson began The Haunting of Hill House. Many movies and books about malleable haunted houses and malleable realities have inspired this adventure. The first such story I read was in issues 34 to 37 of Werewolf by Night in Marcosa House (available in Essential Werewolf by Night, volume 2). Doug Moench’s Marcosa House was heavily influenced by Richard Matheson’s Hell House (and the movie, The Legend of Hell House). Matheson, along with half the works listed here, was inspired by The Haunting of Hill House (which became the 1963 Robert Wise film, The Haunting).

The First Language—Saturday, February 11th, 2017
Hebrew Inscribed Tablet from Gezer

A proto-Hebrew calendar from Gezer, dating potentially from the tenth century BCE.

There is a very interesting article in the latest Biblical Archaeology Review about the evolution of the Hebrew language and its treatment as a holy language. On its most general level, How Hebrew Became a Holy Language by Jan Joosten is a nice summary of how languages evolve, which can be very useful if your adventurers delve into ancient ruins with ancient inscriptions, or, Tarzan-like, meet up with ancient lost civilizations.

Subtle changes in the meaning of words and subtle changes in the use of grammatical constructions altered [Hebrew’s] nature… A phenomenon that illustrates this evolution can be found when words with a general meaning came to be used exclusively to designate specific religious items or concepts. For example, take the Hebrew word torah. In most of the Biblical books, torah simply means “teaching,” or “direction.” In the late books of the Bible, however, torah takes on a different meaning. It now refers to the book in which Jewish law is written down.

This is an obvious way of laying down red herrings or wild goose chases for the player characters to follow. Interestingly, a similar process happened to the word “bible”. The term (as biblia) originally meant any collection of scrolls and later books; the term biblia sacra meant “holy books” and was brought into French as just “Bible” from whence it was brought to English. But nowadays, “bible” can also mean any authoritative work. That might be an interesting evolution for any sacred object in your game. A non-player character tradesman might well describe an extremely-well-made tool as the excalibur of their profession.

Hebrew also, of course, borrowed words during their many tribulations:

The Book of Ezekiel contains dozens of loanwords from Babylonian; Exilic and post-Exilic books of the Bible evidence a high proportion of Aramaic loanwords. The latest Biblical books attest around 20 words borrowed from Persian.

One of the ways that words get borrowed is through similarity, changing the meaning of existing words in the language (Hebrew, in this case) due to a similarity with words of nearby cultures:

Nothing will be restrained from them, which they imagine to do—Saturday, December 24th, 2016
Basic D&D

Merry Christmas from 1981!

A while back, Erik Bader wrote on Google+:

I finally dug out my beat up old 1st ed PHB for a decades-later reread and I was surprised to realize most of the rules to actually play the game aren’t in there! You can’t really roll up a character (the instructions it says are in the DMG) and you can’t hit a monster (again, in the DMG).

Now, the DMG didn't come out for what… a year or more later, correct? What the heck did players in 1978 do with this book in the meantime? 

As I recall, the only piece of information really necessary from the DMG for creating characters was how to roll stats, and I expect players in 1978 just continued to roll stats however they rolled them before, probably without evening noticing it was missing. I know I had trouble separating “what we did” with “what the rules were” back then whenever playing in a new game group.

I came a little after 1978, but had a limited budget. So our group used Holmes (our DM, who introduced us to the game, already had it) and the PHB1, and never noticed anything odd with that. At the time, we were overcome by a spirit of discovery and creation. It was all about “what can we do next”, not “what's holding us back.” We barely if at all noticed anything holding us back.

It wasn’t just us in our little gaming subculture that people felt that way; it was in many ways a spirit of the times. Many of my friends were out in their garages forcing their cars to do things the manufacturers never intended them to do. In Ham Radio and CB Radio no rig was complete without some customization to take it up to 11.

And, closer to home, it was very much a programmer’s perspective, and of course many of us were also amateur programmers at the time, on a TRS-80 Model I, Apple ][, Atari 400, Commodore 64, TI99/4 or so on. Those computers really couldn’t do much, but that’s not the way we looked at them. We were always on the lookout for what more can we do? It’s absolutely amazing the kind of video game clones we got on those old computers. The TRS-80 Model I was black and white, with 128x48 “pixels”—that’s like playing a game on a four-tenths-inch by one-tench-inch square of my current mobile phone—and yet we managed to have fun playing Pac-Man clones, Armored Patrol clones, Space Invaders, and much more.

The text adventure craze came about because it provided great game play beyond the limits of the actual hardware of the time. If the computer’s graphics didn’t match what our brains expected, we would harness our brains to create what graphics we wanted.

Which is, of course, a lot like tabletop roleplaying.

North Texas RPG Con 2016—Saturday, November 26th, 2016
Gateway to Adventure

This display brought back memories. I don’t think I ever saw the product display, but the “Gateway to Adventure” image was on the TSR catalog that came with my Basic and Expert boxed sets, and it was filled with strange things I didn’t think I’d ever see.

Last June, I attended the North Texas RPG Con. This was my first gaming convention since Forge Midwest a couple of years ago. Like Forge Midwest, this is a gaming convention where all you do is game—and, of course, chat with people about gaming in between gaming.

Intercrime miniature final fight

The final fight with Firearm in Intercrime’s secret lair!

I signed up ahead of time for five games, although I ended up having to cancel the first one due to my mis-entering the dates in my calendar. I ended up playing Villains and Vigilantes, D&D, Empire of the Petal Throne, and BX.

The Villains and Vigilantes game was under the new, third-edition rules, run by Jeff Dee. The rules seemed very similar to the old rules, except that the attack vs. defense table has been removed and replaced with a simpler d20 roll against a standard target number. And, while it didn’t affect us at the table, there is some sort of a point-based character-creation system.

The pre-gens were pure seventies superhero team, a bunch of mostly-unrelated heroes banding together to have a grand time. Running away with the MVP award, if we’d had one, would be The Schnozz, a Jimmy Durante type with a floppy hat and a big nose with precognitive smell.

“The future,” he said, “smells strange.”

Many of the old V&V standbys showed up, from CHESS to Intercrime, the latter not surprising since this appears to be the adventure Intercrime: Hostile Takeover.

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