The Biblyon Broadsheet

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

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

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?

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